False Definition of ‘Personhood’

Electa Draper writes for The Denver Post today:

The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the go-ahead to proponents of a ballot initiative seeking to amend the state constitution in 2008 to define personhood as a fertilized egg. …

The amendment, if approved by voters, would extend constitutional protections from the moment of conception, guaranteeing every fertilized egg the right to life, liberty, equality of justice and due process of law.

Kathryn Wittenben, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, argued that the measure is misleading, reports Draper: “Proponents of this initiative have publicly stated that the goal is to make all abortion illegal, but nothing in the language of the initiative or its title even mentions abortion.”

But the “initiative’s 20-year-old proponent, Kristi Burton, founder of Colorado for Equal Rights,” was undeterred: “This is a very simple petition. That’s all we need… The people of Colorado will support protecting human life at every stage. More than that, we have God. And he is enough.”

And Dinesh D’Souza wonders why atheists bother to criticize Christianity and its politics?

Diana Hsieh points out the inevitable consequences, should the measure pass (which is highly unlikely). Hsieh mentions a “horrifying story of a woman allowed to die of a totally non-viable ectopic pregnancy due to Nigaragua’s strict anti-abortion law.”

Here is a summary from the original article:

Two weeks after Olga Reyes danced at her wedding, her bloated and disfigured body was laid to rest in an open coffin — the victim, her husband and some experts say, of Nicaragua’s new no-exceptions ban on abortion.

Reyes, a 22-year-old law student, suffered an ectopic pregnancy. The fetus develops outside the uterus, cannot survive and causes bleeding that endangers the mother. But doctors seemed afraid to treat her because of the anti-abortion law, said husband Agustin Perez. By the time they took action, it was too late.

And this is what is called the “culture of life.”

Is More Government the Answer to Global Warming?

John Stossel points out that central economic controls don’t work.

There are good reasons to begin with a presumption against government action. As coercive monopolies that spend other people’s money taken by force, governments are uniquely unqualified to solve problems. They are riddled by ignorance, perverse incentives, incompetence and self-serving. The synthetic-fuels program during the Carter years consumed billions of dollars and was finally disbanded as a failure. The push for ethanol today is more driven by special interests than good sense — it’s boosting food prices while producing a fuel of dubious environmental quality. …

[E]ven drastic plans to cut the use of carbon-based energy would make only a negligible difference. As John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and a member of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, wrote last week in The Wall Street Journal:

“Suppose you are very serious about making a dent in carbon emissions and could replace about 10 percent of the world’s energy sources with non-CO2-emitting nuclear power by 2020 — roughly equivalent to halving U.S. emissions. Based on IPCC-like projections, the required 1,000 new nuclear power plants would slow the warming by about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per century. It’s a dent.”

Bill Ritter wants to reduce Colorado’s emissions by 20 percent by 2020. True, he also wants to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050, but there are four main problems with his “plan.” First, Ritter’s plan is fantasy. Neither he nor any of his advisers have the faintest idea of how that goal might be achieved. Second, if Ritter’s plan results in merely pushing people out of Colorado to avoid the high taxes and expenses, Ritter won’t have accomplished much by way of “solving” global warming. Third, Colorado contains a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Fourth, even if Ritter could seriously reduce emissions through political controls, the benefits would be miniscule, while the costs would be astronomical.

Welfare for All

One might think that the welfare state started out soaking the rich in order to subsidize the poor. Yet the Social Security payroll tax, a regressive tax in its collection, has always redistributed wealth from the young to the elderly, regardless of income, though the distribution does favor the poor somewhat. Increasingly, the welfare state is about soaking the middle class in order to subsidize the middle class.

Ernest Istook of the Heritage Foundation provided some scary numbers in a recent editorial. He writes, “Today, almost half of America’s children — 45 percent — have their health care paid for by taxpayers. The children’s health bill (SCHIP) now before Congress would boost this to 55 percent.” SCHIP stands for “State Children’s Health Insurance Program,” which is (obviously) mostly funded by federal tax dollars, Istook notes. Istook calls the jump from 45 to 55 percent “the tipping point.” However, not only could SCHIP put most children in government-run health care, it could increase tax-funding of all health care from “almost half” to “the majority of all health care.” Istook predicts, “Eventually, the whole country would be under Washington-run health care, using tax dollars to pay the bills.”

The SCHIP bill claims to cover kids in families earning three times the level of poverty — $62,000 for a family of four — but it goes further, because states are free to disregard huge chunks of income to make more people eligible. This “free” health care for the middle class mostly substitutes government coverage for existing private insurance, because more than three-quarters (77 percent) of the kids who would be newly eligible are already covered by private policies.

Yes, SCHIP would redistribute wealth from from those with more money to those with less — on average. However, SCHIP would also redistribute more money from people like my wife and me, who have put off having children because of our insane tax burden, to people who choose to have children but not financially support them. The main problem with the welfare state is not that it punishes productivity to reward poverty. Its problem is that it punishes the responsible in order to reward the irresponsible.

Let me say this. It is likely that, when my wife and I finally manage to crawl our way out of debt despite handing over many thousands of dollars every year in taxes, we will make less than $62,000 per year as a household, primarily because we’ve decided to raise our (potential) children ourselves, rather than let government employees raise them. All of you pathetic vote buyers and faux social do-gooders can keep your goddamn “socialism for the children.” We want no part of it. We don’t want the government to force other people to pay for the health care of our children. No self-respecting parent wants that. But, as the welfare state expands, our culture does not value self-respecting parents; it values political nannies.

We ask for only one thing. We ask for you to leave us the hell alone. If you’d just leave us alone — leave us alone, for Christ’s sake! — we’d have no problem affording children or their health care.

The Morality of Force

Yesterday I discussed Governor Bill Ritter’s plans to ask for more tax dollars — for a goal yet to be decided.

The Rocky Mountain News article that I cited contains another telling line:

Ritter appeared before the committee to present his first proposed budget, which was received warmly, signaling it has a good chance of being adopted mostly intact.

Ritter told the committee that his “moral document” would boost funding for higher education and children’s health care…

In other words, Ritter believes that it is moral to take wealth by force from some people in order to give it to others. Thus, it is no surprise that Ritter wants to increase tax spending even more than it has already been increased in recent years. Yesterday I asked, “And how much will he ask for?” The answer is, “As much as he can get away with.” That is, as much as Coloradans will tolerate. According to Ritter’s explicit moral premises, there is no “moral” limit to increases in tax spending, so long as some people have wealth that other people “need.” According to Ritter’s philosophy, people who earn wealth have no right to it. In times past, Ritter’s “moral” philosophy at its most consistent was summed up by the principle, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

Yet Ritter is not content merely to forcibly transfer wealth and allow the recipients to define their needs. Instead, he wants to tell people what they need, then redistribute wealth accordingly. For example, Ritter’s administration thinks that children “need” to be taught more rigorously how to be good little environmentalists — at taxpayer’s expense, of course. As David Harsanyi writes for The Denver Post:

Not long ago, Ritter assembled the P-20 Education Coordinating Council to foster a “seamless education system from pre-school to grad- school.”

Nowhere in the literature of the P-20 Education Coordinating Council — and I’ve looked far and wide — does it mention anything about the educational system being used to politically indoctrinate children.

Yet, the Climate Action Plan [proposed by Ritter] says that “the state will work through the Governor’s P-20 Education Council and others to make sustainability curricula become standard fare in K-12 classrooms throughout the state.”

Why doesn’t Ritter “think big” and “be bold” and propose using the tax-funded “seamless education system from pre-school to grad-school” to teach endless classes on the theme, “Why Politicians Should Run Your Life?”

Ritter the Leader

Chris Barge wrote an amusing article November 8 for the Rocky Mountain News. He reports:

Gov. Bill Ritter said Thursday he may ask voters to approve a tax increase next year to pay for either health care, transportation or higher education.

But he emphasized that while all three priorities need extra funding, only one of them should wind up on the ballot. Colorado voters are too fiscally conservative to approve more than one tax increase at a time, he said.

Barge reports that Ritter told the Joint Budget Committee, “I don’t think we can go for all three. That would be unfair to voters and would demonstrate a lack of leadership on my part and on the part of the legislature.”

We wouldn’t want a lack of leadership! Because, you know, promoting a tax increase for an unspecified goal, that’s real leadership. Especially when we’re still in the initial phase of the spending hikes from Referendum C. And, assuming that Ritter can figure out which tax hike to promote next year, when can we expect requests for the other two items? And how much will he ask for? The “208” Commission promotes health controls that will cost over a billion dollars of new taxes every year (and those are according to the figures bought by the Commission). Is that the end of the list? Even if Ritter got more tax dollars for health care, transportation, and higher education, would he be satisfied, or would he ask for still more?

Apparently, Ritter thinks that leadership consists of expanding the power, scope, and spending of government. The particulars of how that happens are of secondary concern.

Sure-Fire Plan to Reduce Emissions by 80 Percent

Vincent Carroll wrote a very nice critique of Bill Ritter’s “Climate Action Plan.”

[F]rom Page 20: “We are not prepared today to address what the state’s position should be with respect to permitting new conventional coal-fired power plants that would serve Colorado consumers.” But they promise a verdict within 12 months.

Permit me to puncture the suspense: Under this administration, the state’s position will be to oppose the permitting of any new conventional coal-fired power plants — or to impose so many conditions that the end result is the same.

Carroll also notes that the plan discusses the possibility of nuclear power, though the “plan seems to dismiss current technology as inadequate while implying that it’s unsafe.” Carroll notes that nuclear plants successfully provide large amounts of electricity in many regions of the world.

What future awaits us if Colorado politicians prevent the building of new electrical plants? Kevin R. Collins, “president and CEO of Evergreen Energy Inc., a Denver-based refined coal producer,” rushes to assure readers that he’s on the side of fighting global warming in an article for the Rocky Mountain News. Yet he offers an uncomfortable warning: “Yale professor Charles Perrow, who follows power-supply shortfalls, says ‘I’m prepared to see many more blackouts occurring. … it’s really going to be a freight train running into disaster’.”

But then it struck me: there is a sure-fire way to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses in Colorado by 80 percent! If the state’s politicians keep jacking up taxes, putting the screws to business owners, and imposing higher costs through economic controls, they might eventually succeed in driving out 80 percent of the state’s population. Then emissions will go down by 80 percent! Problem solved.

Colorado has been a growth state. One government agency predicts that the state’s population will increase to 6.3 million by 2025 — around a 35 percent increase. So we’re supposed to increase population by 35 percent and reduce emissions by over 20 percent. Obviously, something’s got to give here.

“Freedom Has Failed”

This quote from Atlas Shrugged, from the villain Wesley Mouch, chilled me. The context is that Mouch and his gang have passed directive after directive, slowly strangling the economy. Mouch is considering the imposition of new, more expansive controls:

Freedom has been given a chance and has failed. Therefore, more stringent controls are necessary. Since men are unable and unwilling to solve their problems voluntarily, they must be forced to do it. (page 503, 35th Anniversary Edition)

This quote immediately made me think of the health-policy debate in Colorado. How many times have “reformers” blamed the allegedly “free market” in medicine — for the problems caused by decades of federal and state political controls? Since men are unable and unwilling to purchase “comprehensive” health insurance “voluntarily,” they must be forced to do it.

FreeColorado.com—Gov. Ritter’s “Climate Action”

From The Colorado Freedom Report:

Doubts About Ritter’s “Climate Action”

“Yesterday Governor Bill Ritter released a press release titled, “Gov. Ritter Releases Climate Action Plan.” But I wonder whether Ritter’s “ambitious call to action” will accomplish much, other than to force Coloradans to spend more money for cars and electric bills. …

“[T]he only way that we could reduce our emissions by ‘80% by 2050,’ assuming that we are not prepared to descend into mass poverty, is to take advantage of yet-to-be-invented technology and/or nuclear power that is able to mass produce cleaner energy that is less expensive than the energy we now use. …

“If there is no technological revolution in energy, then how does Ritter know that the best response is to reduce greenhouse emissions, rather than simply adjust to the slightly warmer temperatures? …

“Ritter’s plan will have essentially no impact on global warming, yet it could prove deeply destructive to the state’s economy. Realistically, the only way that global emissions of greenhouse gases will be dramatically reduced is if productive advances allow the mass production of cleaner, cheaper energy. To facilitate that goal, the best thing that Ritter and all politicians can do is stay out of the way and stop interfering with the economy.”

Recovering from Rationalism

I am a recovering rationalist. I thought I was pretty smart, back in 1992 (it must have been), when I first got my copy of Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. I read it, understood it, and was even ready to start correcting it. Or so I thought. In fact, I did not understand Objectivism, at all. Or, rather, I understood only a few of its tenets, and those poorly. I was certainly not prepared to apply Objectivist principles consistently in my own life. My main problem was rationalism. I understood the philosophy as an interconnected system of ideas, but I did not understand how those ideas were related to the real world.

Take, for instance, my (lack of) understanding of “life” as the standard of value. I wrote thousands of words over the internet explaining the problems with that position. For example, how is one to choose between length of life and strength of life? I created long, rationalistic chains of arguments that (I thought) demonstrated the absurdities of holding “life” as the standard. Of course, what I was not doing is looking at what life really is. I was not drawing the principles from the facts; I was trying to derive principles from floating deductions.

Another example may be found in my interaction with libertarianism. Within a few years, I went from enthusiastically promoting libertarianism to denouncing libertarianism. In 2002, I was still defending libertarianism, though I was starting to pay more attention to certain of its problems. I made two basic arguments in defense of libertarianism. First, “If libertarianism is roughly wanting government only to protect property rights, then Objectivism is a type of libertarianism…” In other words, I was starting with (dubious) definitions and then proceeding deductively, rather than looking at the content of libertarianism. Second, I argued that the Objectivist case against libertarianism makes little sense, because Objectivists interact with others who are not principled. I was attempting a reductio ad absurdum, rather than looking at the relevant facts about libertarianism.

I revisited the issue in 2004. I was becoming much more aware of the problems within the libertarian movement, but I still tied myself to libertarianism using rationalistic arguments. I again tried to point out the internal contradictions of criticisms of libertarianism, to reduce those criticisms to absurdity. And I remained stuck on definitions as a starting point: “a single term can[not] be used to name only a single concept. … [W]e frequently assign the same word to multiple concepts, and we rely upon context and explicit definitions to make clear our meaning.” In short, I thought I could re-define libertarianism into respectability. A bit later I wrote of “two libertarianisms” and declared that, by the correct “definition, I am a libertarian, I have been a libertarian for many years, and I anticipate I will always be a libertarian.”

By 2005, I was deeply alarmed by goings on in the libertarian movement, and I was beginning to look at what libertarianism is, rather than attempt to reconstruct it according to my prior definition. A month later, I declared, “I am not a libertarian.” I summarized my reasons: “For I do not want to be lumped together with the pragmatists, reactionaries, tribalists, nihilists, hedonists, rationalists, subjectivists, idealists (of the Platonic variety), propagandists, utopians, and kooks of the libertarian movement.” This was a big development for me. I had finally beat my head against enough concrete problems to begin to abandon my rationalistic view of libertarianism. However, I did not at that point explicitly understand that what I was starting to do is replace rationalism with an inductive approach. I continue to struggle with overcoming rationalism.

Unfortunately, the best Objectivist material about using induction to learn philosophy is not easy to access. A lecture by Darryl Wright helped me to understand the ethical significance of “life.” (Unfortunately, I cannot at this point recall the title of that lecture.) Far and away the most helpful material for me has been Leonard Peikoff’s “Understanding Objectivism” lectures. This outstanding material explicitly deals with the problems of rationalism. It is quite expensive; those who have a problem with the cost might consider finding a loaner copy or buying a copy to share. I’ve started Peikoff’s “Objectivism Through Induction,” which so far is also quite good. He discusses how to inductively approach issues such as causality, reason as man’s means of survival, egoism, and other critical topics.

I am thrilled that Peikoff is making available on his web page a podcast in which he answers questions. He has not so far dealt explicitly with the topic of rationalism versus induction in philosophy, but his answers explode the rationalistic premises of various questions. For example, in his new podcast, he explains why the possibility of human instincts cannot be derived from evolutionary history. Instead, he suggests, we should look to see whether people in fact have instincts. So those trying to overcome rationalistic tendencies can listen to Peikoff’s answers at the level of how they treat rationalism versus induction.

Doctors Need Freedom

What’s up with The Denver Post? At least in the Sunday edition of the paper that appeared on Saturday — I haven’t yet seen the paper as printed for Sunday — the paper published another front page editorial. (It also published a front page editorial in favor of Referendum C.) I don’t mean an editorial masquerading as a news story; I mean an editorial labeled as such, on the front page. A disclaimer appeared at the bottom: “The Denver Post’s editorial board operates independently of the paper’s news coverage.” But who approved a front-page editorial? Wasn’t it the same guy who manages the “paper’s news coverage?” So the front page editorial is odd, but, hey, it’s The Denver Post.

After calling Governor Bill Ritter “Jimmy Hoffa” for giving unions of state employees more power, the Post laments that Ritter’s move might alienate “business”. (Not particular businesses, just “business.”) The Post fears:

Without business in his corner, we fear Ritter won’t be able to effectively shepherd a comprehensive health care solution through the statehouse. And any plans he may have for a new revenue stream for higher education are dangling by a thread, too.

Perhaps more importantly, we’re concerned he’s lost whatever business support he had to reform Colorado’s budget process. … Ritter will be rudderless if he tries to convince voters to approve an extension of Referendum C.

So the Post (or at least its independently operated editorial board) is worried that, if Ritter favors unions too much, he won’t be able to spend more tax dollars and impose new government controls on medicine. Wow. That’s definitely worthy of the front page of The Denver Post. (I do agree that Ritter’s favoritism toward unions was bad.)

For now, though, I want only to reflect on the Post’s call for “a comprehensive health care solution.” What does that mean? It means that state legislators would spend more of other people’s money in order to expand the political control of medicine. Leading plans call for an expansion of health welfare and for health-insurance mandates. Who will decide how these welfare dollars are spent? Who will decide what the mandated insurance must cover? Some combination of politicians and bureaucrats, no doubt with plenty of input from special interests.

“A comprehensive health care solution” would further erode the ability of patients and doctors to associate voluntarily. It would further replace the judgment of doctors with the whims of politicians and bureaucrats. It would expand the political controls that have created current problems in American medicine.

A recent release from the Ayn Rand Institute makes clear the fundamental importance of restoring liberty in medicine. The release quotes a doctor from Atlas Shrugged:

Do you know what it takes to perform a brain operation? Do you know the kind of skill it demands, and the years of passionate, merciless, excruciating devotion that go to acquire that skill? That was what I would not place at the disposal of men whose sole qualification to rule me was their capacity to spout the fraudulent generalities that got them elected to the privilege of enforcing their wishes at the point of a gun. I would not let them dictate the purpose for which my years of study had been spent, or the conditions of my work, or my choice of patients, or the amount of my reward. I observed that in all the discussions that preceded the enslavement of medicine, men discussed everything — except the desires of the doctors. Men considered only the “welfare” of the patients, with no thought for those who were to provide it. That a doctor should have any right, desire or choice in the matter, was regarded as irrelevant selfishness; his is not to choose, they said, only “to serve.” … I have often wondered at the smugness with which people assert their right to enslave me, to control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind — yet what is it that they expect to depend on, when they lie on an operating table under my hands?