The Rwandan Mass Murder of 1994

I have been researching the mass murder that occurred in Rwanda over the course of a couple of months, starting in March of 1994. This was precipitated by the death of the President of Rwanda who’s plane was shot down by unknown persons. It’s estimated that anywhere from 500,000 to 1,000,000 people, mostly identified as “Tutsis”, were murdered by militias and government soldiers, most of whom were identified as “Hutu”.

The parallels to the holocaust during World War II are readily apparent. There was an extreme xenophobia resting in a “tribal-mindset” and a generalized belief on the part of the Hutus that their problems were the result of the hated minority group. The people committing mass murder also had the same mindset as the average German: that if their government ordered them to commit murder, then they had no choice but to obey.

The Objectivist position is that this “tribal mindset” in Germany was formalized by the works of Immanuel Kant who stated that one must do one’s “duty” in spite of any desires to the contrary. Kant also said that your “noumenal self” actually wants you to do your “duty”, even though there is no rational way to know what your “noumenal self” wants. The Nazi “translation” of Kant was to say that your “Aryan blood” tells you what your duty is, and, in practice, this probably just reduces to: “duty is whatever the leader says it is”.  Both 1994 Rwanda and WWII Germany were marked by a distinct anti-individualism with mystic notions about the power of the ethnic or tribal collective’s authority to govern the individual.

Since Rwanda is a non-Western culture, I don’t know where the Hutu majority got their anti-individualist mindset.  Rwanda was a German colony prior to being taken over by the Belgians after World War I, but I don’t know that German culture would have permeated Rwanda that quickly or comprehensively to call that the cause from the standpoint of the history of ideas. This “tribal mindset” is probably common in any primitive society, although I think it would be interesting to see if German ideas gave the “Hutu power” movement academic and cultural respectability.

The other interesting parallel between Nazi Germany and 1994 Rwanda is the lack of racial difference between the group committing mass-murder and the group that was the victim of the mass-murder. The hatred was not based on race, since Hutus and Tutsis are racially indistinguishable, just like Germans and Jews were racially indistinguishable. Although I found commentators referring to Rwandan culture as racist, I think a more accurate description might be “tribal mindset”.

“Free Will” and “Determinism”

I was thinking about the “determinism versus free will” debate yesterday, and I had a couple of thoughts that I thought might help in this debate. I am aiming my thoughts at people who are generally secularists and who look for naturalistic explanations for all phenomena.

First, I think it’s useful to think about things that clearly *are* determined. These are all non-living things, some of which are man-made and some of which are not. Examples include: billiard balls on a pool table that bounce when struck by other billiard balls, water reacting to a pebble being thrown in it with waves, the planets moving in orbit around the sun, a mouse trap when it is set and then sprung by a mouse, a basket ball that is dropped from a height and then repeatedly bounces -but less and less until it comes to a stop, and a rube goldberg machine. Both a proponent of determinism and an opponent of determinism will agree that all of these things are completely “determined”. These things possess no “internal will” that causes them to act as they do.

Second, it is also useful to look at the human mind to see if all of our mental actions are the same in terms of “level of choice”. Internal introspection of your own mind is the only way to really do this. There are certain “mental behaviors” or “mental actions” that seem less “chosen” than others. Normally, your emotions typically just react to external stimuli with very little or no ability on your part to avoid feeling those emotions. You feel anger, hatred, sadness, or happiness in reaction to certain perceived events seemingly “automatically”, like a mousetrap going off. At any given moment, your emotions seem closer to the examples of non-living things that are determined. If you are a man interested in women, and you see a woman with a certain body shape, size, and age-range, who behaves in a certain way, you feel a certain amount of romantic desire for her. If you are a woman with a child, you will normally feel fear if you see your child facing some sort of danger -or you will feel hatred or anger for the source of the danger towards your child. If someone tries to rob you with a gun, you will feel fear or anger. If someone you care about dies, you feel sadness. In all cases, you have little choice about the feelings that you feel at that moment. Your actions with respect to those feelings appear to be more under your control, but not the feelings themselves. Over time, your emotional reactions to certain things seem like they change. If you see someone you were romantically involved with several years after you broke up, you may no longer have the same romantic feelings you once had for them, or not to the same degree, but this happens over time. At any given time, one’s emotions are more fixed. (Some psychological schools seem to be based on the assumption that your thoughts can change your emotions over time, so if you change your thinking, which is under your control, then you will eventually change your emotions, but that is beyond the point here.)

But, when it comes to certain tasks, your ability to mentally solve problems seem less “automatic” than your emotions. For instance, if you are a physicist trying to solve a complex math problem, you actually have to sit down and work on the math problems. If you are a doctor trying to diagnose a patient’s illness, you actually have to draw on your store of knowledge and try to come up with a diagnosis. If you are a computer programmer, you actually have to sit down and try to figure out what data structures and if-then-else statements will solve the problem you are trying to solve. If you are a lawyer, you have to think about the facts of the case, and then go research the law and try to determine what legal precedents the facts of your case fit into. If you are a structural engineer, you have to decide what are the requirements of your building, such as: What will it be used for? How many people will use it? etc. Then you actually pick construction materials, work out the load requirements, etc. This applies equally to “blue collar” occupations. If you are a taxi cab driver, and your fare wants to get to the airport from downtown in less than 30 minutes, you have to consider the time of day, the traffic conditions, which roads are under construction, possibly consult maps, and mentally devise a route. In all of these cases, the mental activity involved is not nearly as “automatic” as when you feel an emotion. They all involve thinking to solve the problem of human survival.

Now, I think that a dedicated determinist is just going to say that all of these examples of thinking are “illusory” examples of choice because at some “lower level”, we are all just made up of some substance(s) that appears wholly determined. For instance, he will say on the molecular level, an atomic level, or a subatomic level, you are actually determined. He says this with the following reasoning: Your brain is made of nothing but molecules (or atoms). Molecules are entirely determined. Therefore, your brain is entirely determined. In other words, your mind is actually just a more complicated example of things like the mousetrap discussed above. My concern with that sort of reasoning is that it basically says: what you perceive as reality is not really reality at all. “Reality” is the molecular level, and the world that you perceive is nothing but an illusion. But, if you cannot count on what you perceive, including your perception of the choice to think, then I am not sure that any sort of knowledge of the molecular level, or any other level, is actually possible. Without knowledge, life would seem to be, as Hobbes said in another context, “nasty brutish and short”.

The Plano Ordinance Banning Discrimination Is An Attempt to Substitute Force for Reason

Even though I live in Plano, I apparently missed this ordinance banning discrimination against homosexuals by businesses when it was originally approved earlier this month. I am opposed to the ordinance for the same reason I oppose the initiation of governmental force *even* when it is for a supposedly “good cause”.

In my personal life, I don’t discriminate against gays and racial minorities because I don’t think it is in my rational self-interest to do so. If a person has a value to offer me in trade, or has a new idea that is true, then it would not be beneficial to my life to avoid that person just because of his skin color or sexual preference. (Similarly, I don’t pretend to like someone  -as many white “liberals” seem anxious to do- when that person behaves like an obnoxious moron, and happens to be a member of a racial minority group.)  Even if certain sexual preferences are irrational, that would not prevent me from buying or selling goods or services from such a person, since their private sex life would have no bearing on the purchase or sale of goods and services. I don’t pick my grocer based on what he does in his bedroom, but based on whether he sells me the best groceries at the best price. Economically, speaking, such discrimination will also fail, because any business that refuses to sell to a particular customer group would invite competition from other profit-seeking businesses. (The mere fact that there is a sufficiently large enough political majority in Plano willing to enact such an anti-discrimination ordinance tells me that there are large numbers of people and businesses willing and able to sell to homosexuals, or the ordinance never would have passed in the first place.)

My opposition to the Plano ordinance also isn’t based in the silly “religious freedom” arguments that get advanced by some conservatives. By this reasoning, people can engage in human sacrifice or cannibalism and then claim that it is part of their “religious freedom” to do so. Government must protect individual rights, and this means that it can rightfully prohibit any action that violates rights. But, fundamentally speaking, government can *only* protect rights, not make people use their minds when they choose not to. This is the proper basis of religious freedom. Even if the majority of people were atheist, the religious minority, would need to be left free to have and speak their beliefs, because there is no way to force them to use their rational faculty if they choose not to. Only reason and persuasion can change them.

The reason I oppose this ordinance is because it is based in the assumption that reason and persuasion are not the proper means of dealing with other men. This ordinances is based in the assumption that one can instead simply rule over men with a gun as your only syllogism. But, when the initiation of force, not reason, becomes your method of dealing with men, watch out! Soon your society will stop being governed by law and reason, and will instead be ruled by those who are most effective at brutality, force, and violence. (Then your society will perish.) 

I Just Realized There is No Authority Under The Constitution for the Feds to Impose a 21-day Quarantine on Persons From Africa

In a previous blog post, I wrote that the President and the Federal government should impose a 21-day quarantine on persons entering the country from areas of Africa stricken with ebola. I now no longer think the Federal government has the power to do this under the Constitution. In fact, there is no Constitutional authority for the Federal government to restrict entry into the United States at all.

The Constitution is a charter of enumerated powers for the Federal Government. It lists what powers are expressly carved out of state sovereignty( ) If it does not list a power as belonging to the Federal government, then such power is reserved for the states. (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Article I, Section 8 lays out Congress’ powers, and it says nothing about quarantine. In fact, it appears to give the Federal government no power to regulate entry into the country at all, except for the purposes of imposing duties (Art. I, Sec. 8-1) It also says Congress can make uniform laws of naturalization (Art. I, Sec. 8-4), but that is just how people become citizens -not whether they can enter the country. That means the Federal government must be relying on the “catch-all” of Art. I, Sec. 8-3, (“To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations…”), but I fail to see how people entering the country is “commerce” under original meaning. It now appears to me that Congress has no power to restrict entry by people into the country at all -assuming we are going to actually take the Constitution seriously, which I do. 

I did some further research online, and discovered this article: It basically seems to say that the courts have found an “inherent power” in the Constitution that allows the Federal government to restrict entry into the country. From the stand-point of original meaning, this seems as problematic as the “penumbras and emanations” that supposedly give rise to a right to privacy in the Constitution ( I don’t see how Scalia, Thomas, Bork, or other originalist scholars could look at themselves in the mirror in the morning and claim some sort of unenumerated “inherent power” of the Federal government to restrict entry into the country.

Does this mean that quarantine cannot be imposed? I think it must occur at the state level. Each state government must establish its own quarantine laws, consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.( As long as some sort of hearing with objective rules of evidence and sufficient proof of a threat to others occurs, then this is probably sufficient. The additional implication of my new understanding of the Constitution, which I won’t get into too much here, is that each state would appear to have the power to set its own rules for entry into that state by immigrants from other countries. This might not be the result that originalists like Scalia would like, but it is what the Constitution seems to require under original meaning.

President Refuses to Impose 21-Day Quarantine on Persons Entering the Country From Africa Because He Wants to Sacrifice The Welfare of Americans

Today, I got confirmation from an article that the reason the President and other federal officials are not imposing a 21-day quarantine on people entering the country from ebola-stricken portions of Africa is due to a morality of self-sacrifice that I reject:

“‘It’s typical of what America does best,’ Obama said of the response team. “When others are in trouble, when disease or disaster strikes, Americans help.'”

The President and other federal officials believe it is my job to sacrifice my life for strangers.

I pursue my own rational self-interest, and I am only interested in the welfare of others to the extent that it promotes my own life. For instance, if I had a wife or children, I would be very interested in their welfare because it enhances my own life to have them around. I would take large risks in order to ensure their safety. The same goes for my friends. But, I am not going to willingly sit by and endanger my life, and the life of my friends and family for total strangers.

I recognize that the risk of a major ebola-outbreak in an advanced semi-capitalist economy is small given our superior medical care, but I don’t engage in self-sacrifice, even when the risk is small.

If You Were a Healthcare Worker at Presbyterian in Dallas Who Is Subject to the State’s Travel Restriction, You’re Rights Are Being Violated

I have decided to offer my services as an attorney to any of the health care workers from Presbyterian for free for what I regard as an unconstitutional violation of their liberty without due process of law. If anyone knows any of them, have them call or text message me at 214-336-7440 and I will go down to the Northern District of Texas Federal court today and try to get a temporary restraining order regarding the travel ban that has been imposed on them by the state. I think this is a Section 1983 civil rights case.

“I need wider powers!”

In her novel Atlas Shrugged, the socialist villains get together after their numerous attempts to control and plan the economy have resulted in wider and wider disasters. Rather than undoing what they have already done to cause the problem, the lead government bureaucrat, Wesley Mouch declares: “I need wider powers!” A similar spectacle could be seen today with respect to the Ebola outbreak that occurred in my home city of Dallas. It has been revealed that the second nurse from Presbyterian hospital to be infected by “patient zero” reported to the CDC that she had a slight fever. She was planning to fly by plane to Ohio, but she requested guidance from CDC on the matter. Their response was typical of a government bureaucracy:

“Vinson told the CDC her temperature was 99.5 Fahrenheit (37.5 Celsius). Since that was below the CDC’s temperature threshold of 100.4F (38C) ‘she was not told not to fly,’ the source said. The news was first reported by CNN.”

Note the double negative here. This is the kind of “weasel language” you would expect from a government bureaucrat trying to cover himself. Instead of saying: “We told her to fly,” which is what really happened, the CDC says: “she was not told not to fly,” in the hopes that they can deflect blame.

As a result this woman flew form Ohio to Dallas, while she was symptomatic. This is significant because ebola only becomes contagious when a person has begun to show symptoms, such as a fever.  The CDC, whose alleged purpose is to protect the public from the spread of infectious disease told someone they knew to be symptomatic to board an airplane and fly, thereby potentially spreading the virus throughout the country.

The CDC’s response to the fact that they failed to advise this woman not to fly, which, from every indication, she would have voluntarily agreed to if they had simply asked her?: 

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering adding the names of health care workers being monitored for the Ebola virus to the government’s no-fly list…”

In other words, the very people that our nations hospitals are depending on to treat patients -doctors and nurses- are going to be placed on the same list as suspected terrorists and told that their right to travel is being restricted without due process of law. The issue of whether and when someone can be restricted in their liberty by virtue of having a dangerous communicable disease is a complicated issue. There may be times when it is justified -but it should never, under any circumstances, occur without that individual being given notice and a hearing in front of a judge. Yet, these people are apparently going to be arbitrarily placed on a no-fly list with no hearing at all.

The CDC’s response to their failure is to whine like the villain Wesley Mouch: “I need wider powers!”

This is the essential problem with all government. Government sets rules that are (ultimately) enforced by the barrel of a gun. The CDC bureaucrats only act if there is a rule telling them to act -which is as it should be. So, its no surprise that when this nurse was under the temperature threshold for their no-fly rule, no one at the CDC was going to “stick their neck out” and recommend that she not fly. A bureaucracy doesn’t reward incentive by its employees like a for-profit business -so there would only be “downside” if a CDC employee took initiative. Now the CDC response is to claim they need arbitrary power to put people on a no-fly list without due process of law. The real solution is to recognize that “government funded science” is a contradiction in terms, and end the CDC and income taxes so that private individuals can voluntarily work towards real solutions to the world’s problems.

On Compromising One’s Ideology “For the Good of the Country”

This is always an interesting perspective on ideas to me. (I’m being kind in the use of the word “interesting”.) This blogger speculates on what will happen if the Republicans take over the Senate in November: “Will congressional Republicans, especially in the House, want to rack up some legislative accomplishments or will they be more interested in putting their 2016 presidential candidates’ interests ahead of the country’s?”

Notice how the assumption is that if you have a political ideology, in this case, the 2016 Republican presidential candidate’s ideology, which I would assume Republicans in the House agree with, then people expect you to give up that ideology in the “interest of the country”. But, presumably, the reason you hold a particular political ideology is because you think it’s implementation is for the “the interests of the country” -although even that expression is a little vague, and smacks of an implicit political collectivism in which some people’s interests are sacrificed for the interests of others. Whether the Republican ideology is, in fact, “good” is another story -and Republicans are vague and contradictory as to what their ideology consists of, exactly.

Most reporters don’t ever want to address the actual substance of an ideology, because that would take more thinking than most of them are capable of. Instead, they speak in vague generalities about “putting your country’s good ahead of your ideas” -which makes you wonder what they think political ideas, or any ideas for that matter, are good for? Ayn Rand gave some interesting commentary on precisely this point in her essay “Selfishness Without a Self”, found in Philosophy: Who Needs It: “If the politician is convinced that his ideas are right, it is the country that he would betray by compromising. If he is convinced that his opponents’ ideas are wrong, it is the country he would be harming. If he is not certain of either, then he should check his views for his own sake, not merely the country’s -because the truth or falsehood of his ideas should be of the utmost personal interest to him.”

If the above-quoted Wall Street Journal article were substantial, the writer would talk about the substance of the Republican ideology (as best as that can be discerned) and then discuss whether those ideas are right or wrong. But truth doesn’t matter to most reporters or newspaper editors.

Ashya King Case Illustrates The Evil of Socialized Medicine

The case of Ashya King seems to be in the process of cover-up by the leftist media, which simply isn’t reporting it to any significant degree. His parents took him out of the country to receive an experimental medical procedure for a brain tumor,at their own expense, that was not approved by Britain’s National Health Service, and Great Britain put out a warrant for his parent’s arrest. Under socialized medicine, some people will be denied treatment, apparently even if they are prepared to spend their own money to obtain said treatment:

“Mr King said in an earlier video posted that the family wanted to seek proton beam therapy for Ashya – a cancer treatment that the NHS would not provide.”

“Many also have ethical committees – or similar groups – that will consider individual cases when treatment options are disputed. Beyond that patients can – and have in the past – applied for a judicial review.” (Translation from “socialism-speak”:  A death panel will decide if the State thinks you are worth saving.)

“Ninety-Three” by Victor Hugo

Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo is set during the civil war that occurred in France after the revolution. There was an uprising against Paris’ revolutionary government by the Chouannerie region. The peasants in this region tended to support the Catholic Clergy and the local nobility, so they opposed attempts by the Revolutionary government in Paris to secularize the country and to unseat the nobility.  The plot revolves around the military conflict between Gauvain, a former noble and leader of a Republican army in the region and his uncle, the Marquis de Lantenac, the leader of one of the royalist insurrectionist groups. Cimourdain is a former Catholic priest turned firebrand Republican, who is apparently committed to the cause at any cost. (These main characters all appear to be fictional.)

The conflict between the teacher/”father” Cimourdain and the student/”son” Gauvain was quite good.  It’s easy to write a story where the good guy is in conflict with a bad guy. Everybody knows who you’re supposed to root for. It’s much more difficult to set up a situation where the good guy is in conflict with another good guy. (Parenthetically, I think that’s why everyone likes to see the comics where one superhero is in conflict with another superhero -like “Wolverine versus The Hulk”: they’re both good guys, so how will the conflict be resolved?) This conflict centered around Cimourdain’s desire to obey the Revolutionary government’s ordinance that no quarter was to be given to the rebels, which were regarded as “brigands”, and Gauvains desire to show mercy towards defeated enemy soldiers. Cimourdain had been sent to the conflict to oversee Gauvain, who was reputed to be ignoring the revolutionary government’s decrees on this matter. Cimourdain promises Robespierre and Marat that he will guillotine any officer who disobeys the governments orders. Then he discovers that he will have to oversee the man that he views as his “adopted son”, Gauvain. Thus, there was not just external conflict between Cimourdain and Gauvain, but Cimourdain also had enormous internal conflict between his desire to see the revolution succeed and his desire to protect Gauvain.

I also liked the main bad guy, Marquis de Lantenac. He was Gauvain’s great-uncle and raised by him, which, once again, gave the feeling of the “father” and “son” in conflict, which seems so contrary to the “natural order of things” that it makes for a good story. The Lantenac often spoke of duty, and he was portrayed as totally disinterested in his welfare or the welfare of others. He was prepared to die in his efforts to restore the King, but he was also prepared to kill anyone else who stood in the way of that end. Even though it is clear in my mind that Lantenac would be a morally bad person, he gives a speech to Gauvain that is probably the best justification I think possible for the reason he is a Royalist. (Basically that social stability is best served by maintaining the monarchy and the feudal order.) Unfortunately, I think the biggest weakness of this novel is the fact that there was no well-developed character on the Republican side who was equally as ruthless as Lantenac. The only character that comes close is Marat, an actual historical figure from that time, who seems prepared to guillotine anyone in the name of the revolution. But, that character is undeveloped, probably because he was a real person. This meant that Hugo was probably somewhat constrained from making him anything but a minor character.

Some themes touched on in the story include justice versus mercy and duty versus love of life. The themes related somewhat to two questions: Does “the ends ever justify the means”? and When should someone be forgiven?  The themes were illustrated fairly well by the major conflicts. For instance, Cimourdain stood for “justice” (strictly following the rules) because he wanted to follow the revolutionary decree that Lantanac was to be guillotined if captured, while Gauvain wanted to give him an honorable military death by shooting him. The conflict of Gauvan and Cimourdain also delt with the issue of when does “the ends justify the means”, if ever? Specifically, they debate whether the revolutionary government was wrong to institute the reign of terror. Cimourdain says it is necessary to save the Republican government from external invasion and counter-revolution internally, while Gauvan said that such measures tainted the principles on which the revolution was founded. Gauvain’s own internal conflict about how to deal with a captured Lantanac illustrates the question of forgiveness.

The main thing I did not like about this novel was the author’s tendency to give long-winded descriptions of certain scenes and situations. He spent far too long describing three children (several chapters). It probably was necessary to show how cute and lovable these children were, since they were facing danger, and Hugo probably wanted the reader to care about what happened to them. But, after about a chapter, I thought: “Alright, I get it, these children are cute, adorable, and completely innocent.” This is more of a stylistic criticism on my part, though, since I simply prefer writing that is more to “to the point”.

Overall, the conflicts presented, and the interesting historical setting make it obvious to me why Victor Hugo is still read over a hundred years later.