A Note on “Christianity: Good of Bad for Mankind” February 2013 Debate at The University of Texas

   I recently attended a debate titled “Christianity: Good or Bad for Mankind?”.  The participants were Andrew Bernstein and Dinesh D’Souza.  Bernstein argued on the side of “Christianity is bad for mankind.”  Dinesh D’Souza argued on the side of “Christianity is good for mankind.”  The debate was advertised with the following description: “Is Christianity the source of important truths, moral law, and man’s rights and thus profoundly good for mankind—or is it antithetical to all such values and thus profoundly bad?” https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/events/dsouza-bernstein.asp
   I was glad to see the debate, and hear the arguments, especially the arguments of Dinesh D’Souza, since he can be considered a “conservative intellectual”, so his arguments presumably represent the “conservative party line”, to the extent that there is a coherent line of thinking held by most conservatives.  However, I think that an important topic was not directly addressed in the debate, which tended to center around the issue of: “Does god exist?”  It’s possible that the debate devolved to this issue on the assumption that if god does not exist, then Christianity is bad for mankind, and if god does exist, then Christianity is good for mankind. I had mentioned this debate to some friends, and one of them saw the question of the debate not as “Does god exist?” but as: “Is Christianity good for mankind, regardless of god’s existence?”  This was also my major complaint about the direction of the debate right after I saw it.  After some thinking, I think this raises a more general question, which is: What is the relationship between “the true” and “the good”, if any?  Even if some of us atheists know there is no evidence for the existence of god (that it is not true), can it still be argued that belief in a supreme being is still good for mankind (that the belief is good), even if it is a sort of collective delusion?
The dictionary provides several definitions of “good”:
a. 1 a : something that is good  Merriam-Webster (2009-06-12). Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Kindle Locations 501629-501630). Merriam-Webster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
b. 1 b (1) : something conforming to the moral order of the universe (2) : praiseworthy character : goodness  Merriam-Webster (2009-06-12). Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Kindle Locations 501630-501633). Merriam-Webster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
c. 2 a : advancement of prosperity or well-being   Merriam-Webster (2009-06-12). Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Kindle Location 501634-501636). Merriam-Webster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
d. 2 b : something useful or beneficial  Merriam-Webster (2009-06-12). Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Kindle Locations 501636-501638). Merriam-Webster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
   Since the assumption here is that some sort of religion is “good for mankind” regardlessof its truth, then “the good” cannot mean anything mystical or supernatural.  For instance, the person arguing this position cannot claim that religion is “good for mankind” because god exists, and the only way for people to go to heaven is to live in accordance with the Bible.  Someone claiming that Christianity, or religion in general, is “good for humanity” in this context is implicitly claiming that regardlessof its truth, it is good for humanity.  In other words, they are claiming that even if Christianity is false, it still has purely secular benefits for mankind that make it useful.  For this reason, the last dictionary definition of “good” above makes the most sense.  “Good” means something that is “useful” or “beneficial” for mankind not in some other life, but in this life.
   What does it mean for something to be “useful” or “beneficial”?  Tangible items of technology are considered “useful” because they serve some person’s purpose.  For instance, an automobile is “useful” because under the right set of circumstances, people can use it to transport themselves quickly to a particular destination.  A particular scientific discovery can be useful for mankind because it allows for the creation of new technologies.  For instance, discovering the Law of Universal Gravitation allowed men to calculate the trajectories of planets and satellites, and eventually to fly to the moon.  The discovery of germ theory allowed men to develop methods of sanitation that improved human health.  If you consider enough examples of human technology and science, you quickly recognize that something is considered “useful” or “beneficial” because it serves some purpose that men have.  This applies to other areas of human knowledge as well.  We study history because “those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it”.  The subject of history is “useful” or “beneficial” because it enables us not to repeat the mistakes of the past.  (I also think it is useful to learn what past generations got right.)
   Some knowledge can be more immediately useful than other types of knowledge. Knowledge of abstract mathematics may not have any immediate benefit, but knowledge of Calculus is useful if we want to launch artificial satellites to predict when a hurricane is going to strike a major city.  But what is important to understand here is that knowledge is useful because it ultimately benefits human life.  This is true because men are beings of a certain type, with a specific identity, or nature.  We have mental faculties that allow us to gain knowledge by means of a certain method and this benefits our lives.  Our lives are not guaranteed to us, and if we want to live, then we must take certain actions.  We must gain knowledge through a specific process, and use that knowledge, if we want to live.  Objectivism says that “mans life” is the ultimate standard of the good, and that individual happiness is the purpose of holding man’s life as the ultimate standard of the good.  This all boils down to: if you want to live, you must take action that conforms to man’s nature and the nature of reality in general.  As Francis Bacon put it: nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.
     In order to achieve one’s ultimate goal of living, one must adopt certain principles that serve as general procedures of action.  For instance, if thinking is necessary in order for human beings to gain knowledge in order to enhance and maintain their lives, then that must be adopted as a habit.  Furthermore, one must act on one’s thinking, since thinking alone is not sufficient to actually produce the things necessary for survival.  It is not enough just to think about how you would build a shelter or find food.  You must actually implement the knowledge you gain to build a house and grow crops.  The facts of reality dictate what sorts of procedures are necessary.  For instance, the fact that human beings are born with a certain type of mental faculty, that has a specific nature, means that they must gain knowledge in accordance with a certain method.  This is called “rationality”.  The fact that the material values necessary for our survival (such as food, clothing, and shelter) do not exist in nature means that we must use our minds to determine how best to create those values given the pre-existing materials found in nature, and our knowledge of how to organize those materials in a manner that is most beneficial to our needs.  This is “productiveness”.  The fact that human beings can choose to use physical force to deprive others of the material values that they have created means that we must determine whether individual men that we encounter are men who produce the values they need to live, or if they will try to gain values from us by force.  Once this determination is made, one attempts to trade with men that produce, and one uses an appropriate amount of force to stop the men who insist on starting the use of physical force.  This is called “justice”.  These “habits” or “procedures of action”, such as “rationality”, “productiveness”, and “justice” are called “virtues”.  “Virtue” is the act by which one gains and/or keeps the things necessary for living.
   Now that “the good” is firmly established, we can turn to the question of “the true”.  The dictionary defines “true” as:
Dictionary definition: 2 a (1) : being in accordance with the actual state of affairs < description> (2) : conformable to an essential reality (Merriam-Webster (2009-06-12). Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Kindle Locations 1230332-1230335). Merriam-Webster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.)
   In other words, “the true” is: a proposition or statement that corresponds to reality.  Here are two examples of true statements: “The moon is 238,857 miles away, give or take a few thousand miles.” and “Washington DC is the capitol of the United States of America.”
   What is less apparent to most people is that “the good” can also be considered a form of “the true”.  For instance, the virtue of justice can be defined as something like: “Judging men and treating them accordingly.”  A person who uses force to gain the material values created by others is judged to be a criminal, and force is used against him to stop him.  The virtue of justice embodies a number of truths about human nature and the nature of the universe.  For instance, it embodies the truth that man’s survival is not guaranteed to him.  It also embodies the truth that human beings have the ability to choose whether they want to live by means of reason or by means of force.  All of these truths can be stated in the form of propositions, such as: “Man’s survival is not guaranteed to him.” and “Human beings have the power of choice when it comes to their actions.”  The virtues of rationality and productiveness similarly embody certain truths, and I leave it to the reader to think these through. [1]
   In addition to “the good” being a form of “the true”, it also appears to me now that if we want to live, then our knowledge of truth must affect our actions, vis-à-vis the aspects of reality that the truth recognizes. Several instances of true propositions should make this clear:
“If it is true that Washington DC is the capitol of the United States, then if I want to visit Congress, I must travel to Washington DC.”[2]
“If it is true that all men are mortal, then I cannot waste my life on things that aren’t important to me.”
“If it is true that someone is a financial genius, then I want him to manage my stock portfolio.”
“If it is true that human beings must take certain actions to live, and if it is true that the use of physical force will prevent them from taking those actions, then we must create means of stopping the use of physical force in that manner.”
   It does appear that there can be true statements for individual human beings that do not affect their actions, but it is only because given their particular purposes and situation, they never deal with the aspects of reality that the true proposition recognizes.  For instance, the statement: “The moon is 238,857 miles away (give or take a few thousand miles)” is a statement that is true, but knowledge of that fact for some people might not be used for anything because they don’t deal with those facts in their own lives.  However, if it is a true statement, and I want to build a rocket to the moon, then I will take it into consideration when doing my math calculations.  Saying ” vis-à-vis the aspects of reality that the truth recognizes” means I may know that it is true that the moon is approximately 238,857 miles away, but for my purposes, that knowledge never affects my actions because I am not in the space program and I am not an astronomer.
   The fact that if we want to live, then our knowledge of truth must affect our actions, vis-à-vis the aspects of reality that the truth recognizes, can also be understood by considering what would happen if one were to act on what one knew to be a false proposition.  The proposition: “I can fly merely by flapping my naked arms.” is false.  If I were to act on that proposition, despite my knowledge of its falsity, I would fail to gain the values necessary for survival.  If I tried to commute to work every day by such a method, my goal would be frustrated, and my life would be endangered.[3]
   An implication of the fact that our knowledge of truth must affect our actions is that the expressed propositions of others, where those others have provided no evidence of their truth, should be disregarded, and should not affect one’s actions.  The “onus of proof” says that the person making the assertion has the burden of proof.  This makes sense because the assertion of a proposition by another person, if accepted as true by the listener, would affect that listener’s actions vis-à-vis the facts that it allegedly corresponds to.  So before the listener changes his actions, he needs to have evidence presented that the assertion is true -that it does in fact correspond to reality.  Otherwise, acting on such an assertion could be disastrous for the listener if it does not correspond to reality.[4]
   Some might argue at this point that even if religion has no actual connection to reality, some of the moral principles it endorses are true because they can be tied to some purely naturalistic, and secular facts of reality.  For instance, Christianity says that stealing is against the Ten Commandments.  I agree that taking the property of others without their consent is generally wrong, absent some extraordinary emergency and assuming you can recompense them later.  The problem is that these “commandments” do not give you any reasons for why you should follow them, other than a non-existent being who said that you should.  (Additionally, some of the commandments are just plain wrong in almost any conceivable situation –such as “remembering the Sabbath day”.) 
For this reason, there is no way to connect these principles to the facts of reality.  Without such a connection to the facts of reality, you cannot know if a particular scenario might make the principle inapplicable because the factual situation is so unusual.  For instance, if you are stranded outdoors during a freak blizzard, and you break into an abandoned cabin and eat the owners food, with the intent to recompense the owner later, then you have not actually committed an immoral act.  This is because the purpose of morality is to provide you with a guide to how to live successfully here on Earth.  A moral principle that would counsel your own destruction has no connection to the purpose of morality, to man’s nature as a living organism, or to the laws of nature.  Morality is not a suicide pact.
   A Christian might respond to my hypothetical blizzard scenario by saying that the commandment only says you cannot “steal” and this is not “stealing”.  But, at that point, he is looking at the facts and attempting to tie the moral principle to man’s nature and the nature of reality, so this just proves my point.  Respect for the private property of others is a principle that you follow -if you want to live. It has a basis in reality and man’s nature.  You cannot even develop concepts like “theft” and “private property” without having some rudimentary understanding of human nature and the fact that human beings must produce the goods necessary for their survival, and be able to benefit from those goods. So, the Christian commandment “though shall not steal” cannot even be understood without some understanding of man’s nature and of the natural world.  Some people think that morality is not possible without religion.  Somewhat the opposite is actually true.  Religious morality is unintelligible without some reference to reality, man’s nature, and the fact that people must choose to live by choosing to act in accordance with reality.
   I suspect that Christian apologists like Dinesh D’Souza will claim that most people are too irrational or stupid to understand a reasoned argument for why they should follow naturalistic moral principles if they want to live.  Others have made similar arguments before.  For instance, Alexis de Tocqueville said:
None but minds singularly free from the ordinary anxieties of life—minds at once penetrating, subtle, and trained by thinking—can even with the assistance of much time and care, sound the depth of these most necessary truths. And, indeed, we see that these philosophers are themselves almost always enshrouded in uncertainties; that at every step the natural light which illuminates their path grows dimmer and less secure; and that, in spite of all their efforts, they have as yet only discovered a small number of conflicting notions, on which the mind of man has been tossed about for thousands of years, without either laying a firmer grasp on truth, or finding novelty even in its errors. Studies of this nature are far above the average capacity of men; and even if the majority of mankind were capable of such pursuits, it is evident that leisure to cultivate them would still be wanting. Fixed ideas of God and human nature are indispensable to the daily practice of men’s lives; but the practice of their lives prevents them from acquiring such ideas…General ideas respecting God and human nature are therefore the ideas above all others which it is most suitable to withdraw from the habitual action of private judgment, and in which there is most to gain and least to lose by recognizing a principle of authority.”( Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume II, Chapter V: Of The Manner In Which Religion In The United States Avails Itself Of Democratic Tendencies, emphasis added, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/816/816-h/816-h.htm#link2HCH0005, last accessed on 2-22-2013.)
   In other words, de Tocqueville thought that the majority of the human race was incapable of understanding morality on anything but religious grounds.  In fact, de Tocqueville thought that human beings were inherently “dogmatic”. (Id.)[5] For religionists like de Tocqueville to make this (likely erroneous) condemnation of mankind exhibits stunning shamelessness.  In the history of ideas religion has been the single greatest contributor to genuine dogmatism and irrationality.  Anyone who claims that people are too stupid or irrational to understand morality without an appeal to superstition is responsible for helping to perpetuate that irrationality by supporting religion.  Grasping the truth –by conforming your ideas to reality- is necessary for life.  Evading it only leads to destruction.

[1] This same notion is expressed in “Fact and Value” by Leonard Peikoff: “Cognition apart from evaluation is purposeless; it becomes the arbitrary desire for ‘pure knowledge’ as an end in itself. Evaluation apart from cognition is non-objective; it becomes the whim of pursuing an ‘I wish’ not based on any ‘It is.’” 
[2] Note that even “man-made facts”, such as the fact that Washington DC is the capitol of the United States, necessitate certain actions.  Although DC might not always be the capital of the United States, it currently is, so you wouldn’t go to New York if you wanted to visit Congress.  Man-made facts could be otherwise because they depend on human choices.  If we want to deal with other men, which is useful for living, we have to recognize their capacity to make such choices, and act accordingly.  However, it is even possible that the moon could someday be further away from or closer to the Earth than it currently is due to naturalistic forces or due to human technology, so this is really no different in terms of it being true that the moon is currently a certain distance away -allowing for slight variations due to its current orbital location.
[3] The only example I could think of where believing something to be true even though it is false might gain you something of value was a complicated scenario involving believing that a girl likes you, even though the facts seem to indicate otherwise.  Then you keep trying to court her, and eventually she comes around to liking you.  But, I don’t even think this is an example of this.  I don’t think it is actually productive to pretend that she likes you in this situation.  You would be better served by recognizing that she doesn’t currently like you, but you also must have some evidence that she doesn’t really know you, and if she got to know the “real you”, then she would like you.  So, you are being persistent because you think that she will change her opinion of you once she comes to understand your true character.  (It’s also possible that you think the girl is just a weak-willed fool that you can eventually cajole into liking you, but why would you want to be with such a woman long-term?  Assuming you just want to sleep with her, then it would make more sense to just recognize that she is a fool and target your flattery to appeal to her neuroses.  So it would still be better to recognize the truth in achieving your goal of seduction.)
[4]A note on “Agnosticism” is appropriate here:  “Agnosticism” is not taking a position on the issue of the existence of god.  This is the same as saying: Those who make claims without proof are the same as those who only make claims they can prove.  Which is the same as saying: Truth doesn’t matter.  Which is the same as saying: Living doesn’t require action in conformity with reality.
[5] He basically blurred the distinction between concepts like “dogmatism”, “trust”, and “credibility”.  I also think he failed to see a distinction between accepting the word of a scientist who can give us proof of why atoms exist, despite the fact that we cannot perceive them, and a priest who claims god exists and that no such proof is necessary or even possible.  The difference here is clear.  The scientist can provide proof for any that want to understand, while the priest demands acceptance without proof.  The scientist fears that he will not be understood, while the priest fears that he will be understood. (See Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume II, Chapter II: Of The Principal Source Of Belief Among Democratic Nations,http://www.gutenberg.org/files/816/816-h/816-h.htm#link2HCH0002)

The “Assault Weapon” Ban

“…no reason civilians need to own assault weapons and high-capacity magazines…”  http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/us-judge-bring-back-federal-assault-weapons-ban-18040037#.UNc95onjk1c
1) The “assault weapons” ban basically banned certain cosmetic features on some semi-automatic firearms (guns that fire one bullet for every pull of the trigger), that had nothing to do with the function of the weapon.
2) The only major change in the functionality of semi-automatic weapons that the assault weapons ban affected was the limitation of the magazine to 10 rounds. Does anyone really think that limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds will stop someone from going on a shooting spree?
3) The only way such a magazine capacity limitation might affect a shooting spree is to require the shooter to carry multiple guns or multiple magazines. Is Diane Feinstein seriously saying that her “solution” is for civilians at the scene of a shooting spree to tackle a gunman while he is reloading his 10-round magazine?  If civilians are going to be asked by Diane Feinstein to take personal responsibility for their own self-defense (a worthy goal), then why does she want to make it more difficult for civilians to own guns?
4) High capacity magazines do have a civilian use: In the Los Angeles riots in the early 1990’s, civilian business owners used AK-47’s and other semi-automatic firearms to defend themselves and their property from large numbers of rioters who wanted to harm them and destroy their life’s work. These civilian business owners were abandoned by the police and the local authorities, and they took personal responsibility for their own lives and the security of their community.

Does the Oil Spill Matter?

Imagine a hypothetical scenario: a valuable substance is discovered on the moon. This substance is so valuable that corporations are willing to spend billions of dollars traveling to the moon to extract it and bring it back to Earth. These corporations institute procedures and guidelines for the safe extraction of this substance from the moon, because it will affect their profits if any of it were accidentally spilled on the lunar surface. However, since human beings are neither omniscient, nor infallible, it is possible that accidents will occasionally happen despite everyone’s best effort to avoid them. When this happens, some of this valuable hypothetical substance would be lost. Since we are talking about the moon, and there is nobody living on the moon, there is no property damage, and there is no danger to human life. Would there be reason to complain when such a “lunar spill” occurs? If human life is your standard of what is important, then the answer is no. Human life and human property is not endangered. The only tragedy when such a hypothetical lunar spill occurs is the loss of this valuable hypothetical substance.

Now imagine a second hypothetical scenario, back here on Earth: If your neighbor negligently released a flammable, black viscous substance onto your property, and it substantially interfered with your use or enjoyment of your land, what would you do? Under the property laws of most American states you could likely file suit against your neighbor in court. The specific cause of action might vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it would typically be called something like “private nuisance” or “trespass”. The right to private property includes the right to the reasonable use and enjoyment of that property, and the law can and should protect it.

Now consider a current, and very real, event: An oil well in the Gulf of Mexico recently suffered a catastrophic explosion, and is releasing oil into the water. The primary tragedy here is the loss of human life from the explosion. This obviously was not an intentional act on the part of the owners or management of the oil company, but it did happen, either because people were negligent, or just because of a bad set of random circumstances beyond anybody’s control. This is not the first time an industrial accident has occurred, and it will not be the last. As long as human beings continue to be human beings, such events will occur –although I contend that such events are rare in a free society, made up of mostly reasonable people. To the extent that there is a causal connection between the negligent acts of any person or persons, and the loss of human life resulting from this industrial accident, and to the extent that that causal connection can be proven in a court of law, then there is, and there should be, legal liability for the person or persons responsible. In other words, to the extent that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is like the second hypothetical scenario that I set forth above, then the law can and should be brought into play.

However, the oil being spilled into the water, as opposed to the preceding explosion that resulted in a direct loss of human life, seems to have a lesser impact on the lives or property of human beings. The only two industries that are obviously affected by the spill are the fishing and recreational tourism industries in the Gulf region. “Recreational tourism” would primarily mean the beaches in the states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The legal solution to this problem is easy. Since the beaches are presumably owned by someone, they should have a legal right to go to court, and file suit against any person(s) who were negligent in causing the oil spill. This is exactly like the second hypothetical scenario I outlined above. With regard to the fishing industry, the legal solution seems a little bit more complicated for the simple reason that nobody owns the ocean. While fishermen should have a right to extract whatever aquatic life they want from the ocean, they have no property rights to the ocean itself. Perhaps it is time for property rights in the ocean to be defined and protected by government, but they appear not to be at present. Nobody can currently claim a right to an oil-free ocean, anymore than people could claim a right to the surface of the moon in my first hypothetical example.

Excepting the recreational tourism and the fishing industries, no other persons are damaged by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, because no other person’s property rights have been infringed. The oil spill matters no more than if someone were to spill a hypothetical substance on the surface of the moon.

There is a common sentiment that would take exception with me when I claim that, aside from the recreational tourism and fishing industries, nobody should care about oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. In fact this is more than just a “sentiment”, it is an ideology. That ideology is typically referred to as “environmentalism”. This ideology asserts that the oceans, non-human organisms, rivers, the land, and the air have a value apart from their service to human life and needs: “It is a belief in biocentrism, that life of the Earth comes first…” Earth First!. Web. 6-7-2010. http://www.earthfirst.org/about.htm This ideology asserts that human beings should, at the very least, return to pre-industrial technology levels. The fact that current human population levels could not be sustained by living at this level of technology means that this ideology, put into practice, would cause large numbers of human beings to die of starvation and disease. Indeed, wiping out humanity is the true goal of this ideology. Environmentalists with more of a conscience talk about government-forced birth control: “…cut the birth rate to one child per couple, for a few generations at least. The population would dwindle by about 5 billion people over the next century…” Engber, Daniel. Global Swarming Is it time for Americans to start cutting our baby emissions?. Slate.com. 9-10-2007. Web. 6-7-2010. http://www.slate.com/id/2173458 The more consistent adherents of this ideology talk about human extinction. The goal of human extinction is consistent with environmentalism because it holds that the Earth comes first. This ideology is far more dangerous than any industrial accident because it attacks the very root of human survival –technological progress, and the fact that humans should come first.

It doesn’t matter if most people who call themselves “environmentalists” don’t know that this ideology is opposed to human life. The majority of people who called themselves socialists during the cold war didn’t know that the logic of their ideology led to the gulags of Soviet Russia, and still probably don’t know it today, but that was the logical result of an ideology that holds that individuals must sacrifice their lives to the collective. Legitimate pollution problems can be solved with technological progress and the application of the laws of private property, such as the common law cause of action for private nuisance. Such problems cannot be solved by means of an ideology that opposes human happiness and progress.

Judge John E. Jones III for US Supreme Court

In between stories about the latest celebrity sex scandal, the news is occasionally noting that Justice John Paul Stevens of the US Supreme Court is going to retire, allowing President Obama to make another appointment. I would like to propose that Judge John E. Jones III, of the Middle District of Pennsylvania be considered for the job. Judge Jones was appointed by President George W. Bush for his present position, and is a Republican. But, Judge Jones was the presiding judge in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District Judge Jones ruled that the School Board’s policy on “Intelligent Design”, which is another word for creationism, violated the Establishment Clause. In an interview about his decision, Judge Jones responded this way: “A significant number of Americans, if you poll, believe that creationism ought to be taught, either supplanting evolution or alongside of evolution. And, again, you ask how the judiciary works. We protect against the tyranny of the majority.” Amen.

Why I Don’t Recite Any Pledge of Allegiance

I have recently started attending the meetings of a local, Dallas-area political club affiliated with one of the two major parties in the United States. At the beginning of all meetings, this group starts with a recitation of the “U.S. Pledge of Allegiance”. During this period, I stand in order to be polite to the other people there, but I markedly put my hands behind my back, and I do not state the Pledge. Since this would be seen by many as a “subversive” or “unpatriotic” action on my part, and in order to mentally “crystallize” my own thinking on the subject, I thought I would take a moment to explain why I do this.

The first reason I refuse to recite the pledge is because of the use of religious language (“under god”) in its text. Historically speaking, America is not “one nation under god”, which I take to mean a nation founded on Christianity or religion. America is a product of the Enlightenment. In order to understand this, some historical context is necessary. The Dark Ages represented a period of religious domination, and therefore social, economic, scientific, and political stagnation (and human misery). During that period, religious authorities controlled the moral and intellectual realm. The socio-political ream was controlled by the feudal aristocracy, supposedly ordained to rule by god, but in practice, sanctioned to practice tyranny over the minds and bodies of other men by the Church. The Dark Ages ended with the re-discovery of Classical Greek and Roman thought and philosophies, which had emphasized the value of human life in the here-and-now, reality over the supernatural, and the efficacy of the human mind to know reality.

The Enlightenment period of history, which started some time in the 1600’s, represents a naturalistic explanation for the origins of life, via the works of Charles Darwin, a rational explanation for the physical motions of the universe, via the works of Newton, and the beginnings of a secular basis for the political and social order, via the works of John Locke, and others. The founding Fathers of the United States took the ideas of Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers and used them as the intellectual basis for the 13 Republics formed soon after the American Revolution, and for the Federal Republic which today is known as the United States of America. Of paramount importance to the Founding Fathers was the right of individuals to “the pursuit of happiness”, as embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

In order for individuals to pursue their own happiness in society, some implicit understanding of the concept of individual rights is necessary. Individual rights is based in a morality of rational self-interest (or an implicit understanding of such a morality). Each individual must be free to pursue his own rational self-interest (his own happiness) in a social context. (It must be also be kept in mind that “society” is nothing more than a number of individuals, and that the individual lives in society because it maximizes his own self-interest.) Individual rights should be seen as moral principles defining and sanctioning a person’s freedom to pursue his own rational self-interest in a social context. Historically, America is the nation of the Enlightenment, and the nation founded on individual rights. It is not a society founded in a belief in the supernatural, which was the distinguishing feature of the Dark Ages. I therefore oppose the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge because it is not an accurate description of America.

Even if the “under God” language were removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, I would still not want to recite it. I have several objections to its recitation. First, I question the usefulness of any ritualistic recitals such as the Pledge. If the average person reciting the Pledge of Allegiance were asked what some of the key concepts in the pledge, such as “justice” and “liberty” meant, I doubt that he could give you a coherent explanation. There was an episode of the original TV series “Star Trek”, in which the main characters visited an “alternate Earth”, where stone-age men would recite a string of incoherent sounds that sounded strangely familiar, but you couldn’t quite figure out why. At the end of the episode, it is revealed that it is the US Pledge of Allegiance. Not only have the concepts been forgotten, but even the original words have been lost by the primitives reciting them. Every time I hear people reciting the pledge, I think of this episode of “Star Trek”. A “ritual” to me is nothing more than a formulaic endeavor that has no meaning and is meant to discourage thought and individualism, and to engender a tribalistic mindset. I find this utterly incompatible with the meaning and historical significance of America.

Additionally, an analysis of the words of the pledge reveals that it is a useless exercise. America is supposed to be a Republic (or, if you prefer, a “representative democracy”). The express words of the pledge say that you are pledging allegiance to “the flag”, but a flag is just a piece of cloth, and is merely another ritualistic display, so I don’t see any point in engaging in a ritualistic chant (the pledge), to a ritualistic display (the flag). The pledge goes on to say that the flag stands for the Republic, but the purpose of government is to serve as the agent, or servant, of “the people”, in the protection of their rights to life, liberty, and property. Therefore, I, as a citizen, do not owe the government allegiance, the employees of government –our elected officials- owe allegiance to the people that they represent (which would include me). I suppose you could say that you are pledging allegiance to “the people”, but “the people” are nothing more than a number of individuals, each with a right to pursue his or her own happiness, and all individuals are “equal under the law”, so there is no person or group of persons that one should rightly “pledge allegiance” to.

You could say that one is “pledging allegiance” to the concepts of liberty and justice, which are concepts that I fully support. But, I know that I support those concepts, and I actually take action to support them by thinking and writing about them -and by doing whatever small things I can to support liberty and justice in my professional and personal life. So long as I know that I support these concepts, and I take whatever action I am able to take to advance them, why do I need to engage in a ritualistic chant to convince others that I support them? Stating that you support the concepts of liberty and justice, but taking no action to advance them is to elevate form over substance, which is contrary to the spirit of our Nation, as best exemplified by the American expression: “Talk is cheap”.

John Grisham’s “The Rainmaker”

I recently watched the movie version of John Grisham’s “The Rainmaker”, and I liked the move so much, that I went to Half Price Books and purchased the novel that day. I thought that it presented the trials and tribulations of being a recent law school graduate, trying to make it as a solo-practicing lawyer quite well. I could relate to the fears that the main character Rudy Baylor must overcome as a newly practicing attorney. Going to court is pretty intimidating at first, especially when you are all by yourself, and don’t have the support of a firm with more experienced attorneys to bail you out if you get in over your head. I could also relate to the financial difficulties of the main character, when you don’t necessarily know when and where your next fee is going to come from, and you’ve got bills to pay. As a result, I read this book in 3 days, and enjoyed it immensely.

Although I generally could relate to Rudy Baylor, a couple of things that he did really bothered me. First of all, at the beginning of the novel, a lot of his behavior seems to be motivated by either greed or envy, especially the later. He seemed to hold a lot of resentment towards a lot of different people, and he acted on this resentment from time to time, such as when he destroyed property at a law office because they wouldn’t hire him.

The other thing that really bothered me were his improper ex parte communications with the trial judge throughout the novel. Before I explain what an ex parte communication is, let me explain the basic outline of the plot. The major conflict in the novel is a lawsuit Rudy Baylor files against a very corrupt insurance company, who has denied the claim of his client, who is dying of leukemia. The insurance company has wrongfully denied his client’s claim, and now they file suit, although it is now too late for the client to get the bone marrow transplant that would have saved his life. An ex parte communication is a generally prohibited communication between a party and/or their attorney or representative and the judge when the opposing party, their attorney and/or their representative is not participating in the communication regarding some substantive issue regarding the case before the judge. I am always careful not to engage in ex parte communications with a trial judge because it would get me in trouble, but I also agree that it is, ethically, totally improper, and I think that it can rightfully be prohibited. Our System is an adversarial system, where both parties argue their sides of the case, and then an impartial third party (the judge and/or jury) decides who is right and who is wrong. This system best ensures that the truth will prevail because each side has an incentive to makes its best argument to the judge or jury. Justice should be “blind” in the sense that the winner of a trial should not be based on personal contacts or friendships between a party’s lawyer and the judge, because we are a “nation of laws, not of men”. Ex parte communication would corrupt this adversarial system by allowing you to argue your side of the case without the judge hearing from the other side on the matter, which would thwart a just outcome.

Despite the fact that ex parte communication with the trial judge is improper, the main character, Rudy Baylor, does it over and over again throughout the novel. For instance, in Chapter 26, Rudy Baylor goes to Judge Tyrone Kipler’s office and explains to him why the case should be “fast tracked”, and the insurance company’s lawyer(s) are not there. In Chapter 34, Rudy Baylor, Judge Kipler and the insurance company’s lawyer are having a phone conference over a discovery dispute during a deposition, and the judge orders the insurance company lawyer off the phone, so that he can talk to Rudy Baylor alone. The judge is also hardly what I’d call impartial, since he clearly wants Rudy Baylor to win, and does everything he can to make this happen in the novel, although I agree that, given the set of facts in the novel, Rudy Baylor probably should win.

I agree that, morally, the executives at the fictional insurance company (“Great Benefit”) did something wrong for the simple fact that they had a policy of denying all insurance claims without regard of their merit under the insurance contract. At some point in the novel, it is revealed that the insurance company instructed its employees in their procedures manual to initially deny all claims. I think that this would be fraud. Generally, if you enter into a contract with someone with the present intention of never performing under the contract, then I believe it is considered fraud. While it is not fraud to default on the contract at some later time, so long as you intended to perform at the time you entered into the contract, if you intend to default on the contract at the time you entered into it, then that is fraud. Regardless of the present state of law, I think that it should be fraud, because you are, in essence, taking values from someone, without ever intending to reciprocate. In essence, you are conning them out of values that they wouldn’t part with, if they knew that you didn’t plan to live up to your end of the agreement. Great Benefit was incurring a debt, or obligation, when it accepted people’s insurance premiums. By deciding it was going to initially deny all claims, its managers had a present intention not to pay out under the insurance contract. I think that any corporate executive who instructed the corporation’s employees to deny all claims, regardless of the fact that some of the claims were legitimately covered under the policy, would be guilty of the criminal act of fraud, and could be jailed and/or fined.

Furthermore, if someone did die in the scenario outlined in Grisham’s book, then I think the insurance company executives responsible for the fraudulent scheme to initially deny all claims, despite some of them being meritorious, might be guilty of manslaughter, because they engaged in a reckless act (denying claims regardless of the fact that they were supposed to be covered under the insurance contract), which resulted in the death of an insured person.

I would also note that I do not consider the scenario outlined in the book to be very likely to happen under pure capitalism. I note this fact because I think that Grisham’s probable agenda in writing “The Rainmaker” is to push for Canadian-style socialized medicine. I had never read a “legal thriller” before I read “The Rainmaker” last week. (I have always preferred science fiction novels.) But, I have seen several of the movie versions of Grisham’s novels, and they always have a socialist political-viewpoint. So, I suspect that the message of “The Rainmaker” was: “Private insurance companies are evil because capitalism is evil, so we need socialized medicine, similar to the Canadian version.” However, Grisham is mistaken if he thinks the current American health care system is a free market.

The American medical system is not a free market for several reasons, some of which I will now note. First, Medicare and Medicade drive up prices by providing free medical care to people, who then have no incentive to economize on their use of health care. Second, there probably is no industry more regulated than the health care industry. Patients aren’t free to choose who will provide them with health care thanks to medical licensure statutes. This means they must go to a government-approved doctor. Licensure statutes artificially limit supply by arbitrarily limiting the number of medical practitioners, thereby driving up prices. Patients aren’t free to choose which drugs they will consume, since they must get permission from a government-approved doctor before they can purchase so-called “prescription drugs” from a government-approved pharmacist. Once again, licensure statutes for pharmacists artificially limit supply and drive up prices. When it comes to drugs and medical devices, the government won’t allow innovators to market new drugs and medical products without government approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which can take years. Furthermore, taxes are structured to favor third-party payment of health care, because the government favors employer-provided health insurance by giving companies a tax break for providing it, but if employees want to get their own health insurance, they don’t get the same tax break. This also tends to make people dependent on their employer for continued health-coverage. Additionally, although I think this is less of a problem now, thanks to tort reform, doctor’s malpractice insurance expenses were outrageously high because of arbitrarily high punitive damages awards.

I tend to think that punitive damages awards should be capped. (In a civil suit, “punitive damages” are not the damages a plaintiff receives to repair the damage done to him by the defendant, they are an extra money award given to the plaintiff, just to punish the defendant’s wrongful conduct.) In the book, the fictional insurance company is hit with a massive punitive damages award, but I’m not sure that this is the best way to deal with the problem. I think that the management responsible for the fraudulent scheme in the novel would need to have been removed. The stockholders are probably not responsible at all, yet, they are the ones being punished with a high civil punitive damages award. I think it would make more sense to allow the criminal justice system to handle punishment, rather than the civil courts. As I said earlier, the corporate executives in the novel would probably be guilty of fraud and manslaughter for instituting a policy of denying all claims, which resulted in death.

I also find it doubtful that someone would actually not be able to receive treatment for leukemia under capitalism, even if they had no health insurance, and the treatment cost $200,000, which is how much the bone marrow transplant that the fictional insurance company refuses to pay for in the novel costs. First, I would note that I am uncertain what the cost of $200,000 reflects. Is the $200,000 cost mostly just to cover the “R&D costs” (“Research and Development”) of the procedure, or the actual costs of labor and materials? If the $200,000 cost is mostly to cover the costs of the R&D that went into developing the intellectual property for the procedure, then it would be possible under capitalism for the owners of the intellectual property to give a massive discount to those who actually couldn’t afford the procedure due to poverty. For instance, if $150,000 of the cost of the procedure is to help cover the per-unit costs of the R&D that went into developing the patents and other intellectual property, while only $50,000 represents the cost of labor and materials, then the manufacturer could give a discount to this particular patient, after doing an audit of his personal finances to confirm that he is in fact poor. Even if they could only charge this particular patient, say, $60,000, they would still be making $10,000 on the sale, which is $10,000 they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. As long as they can perform a financial audit of the patient to determine that he isn’t lying about being poor, then the medical provider can charge rich people more, and poor people less, for the same procedure, and this would likely be the most profitable business plan they could adopt. For instance, with most pharmaceuticals, the manufacturing costs for the drug are extremely low. The reason they cost so much is to cover the expenses of R&D that went into the drug. This means that drug manufacturers could reduce the sales price for those who are genuinely poor, and charge rich people more, without much difficulty, and they would have an incentive to do so, because even if they make a lower profit on the drug for that particular customer, it is still a profit.

Even assuming that the $200,000 cost of a bone marrow transplant is mostly to cover the cost of labor and materials, rather than the cost of research and development, I think that the chances of a poor person getting a loan to cover the costs would be very good under capitalism. According to the novel, the chances of long-term success for the bone marrow transplant were around 90%. The character with leukemia is in his early 20’s, which means that, but for his leukemia, he would probably live to be about 75. So, his chances are 90% that he will live for another 50 years. This is a pretty good bet for an investor. Assume that he works for 50 years and that he can make about $30,000 per year on average, which is about $15 per hour, working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks out of the year. (This is an extremely low-ball figure in my opinion.) This means he would make $1,500,000 over 50 years. Assume he can live off of $15,000 per year ($11,000 is the approximate US poverty line). Then, he can pay $15,000 towards the $200,000 loan every year. Say that $10,000 of the $15,000 he pays every year is interest. This means the loan would be paid off in less than 40 years. The average yearly interest rate the creditor would get would be about 5% under this payment plan. (Actually, it would be a higher interest rate, since he is paying $5,000 towards principle every year, which means principle is being reduced every year, but I can’t remember how to figure the actual average interest rate over 40 years).

Five percent APR is about what you would pay towards a mortgage on a house. Certainly if someone is willing to give you a loan at 5% for a house, they would be willing to give you a loan at 5% for an operation to save your life, especially if the bankruptcy laws said that such a loan is non-dischargeable and they are allowed to garnish your wages and seize all assets if you default on the loan.

This all assumes that there are no private charities that would help a poor person with leukemia (doubtful), and that nobody else, such as his parents, friends, or family members, would be willing to sign a contract making themselves legally responsible for paying part of the loan, which is also a doubtful premise -I would certainly be willing to pay a portion of a friend or immediate family member’s loan for an operation to save their life.

This also assumes that it would, in fact, cost $200,000 under pure capitalism for a bone marrow transplant. I would note that capitalism creates the social conditions of freedom necessary for technological innovation, and reductions in the costs of products. For instance, fetal stem cell research creates the promise that we will soon be able to grow cloned organs and tissues in the lab, which will be a perfect match to your own body’s genetic code, thereby eliminating the risk of tissue rejection. But, every time medical innovators, who are the true “rainmakers”, get hit with massive punitive damages awards in court, or a new regulation by the government, technological innovation tends to dry up.

Canadian Socialized Medicine Can Kill You

This article suggests that the substandard Canadian medical system, which is more socialized than the American system, may have contributed to the death of a woman, who is apparently an employee of American movie studios. (I’m not sure why this particular skiing accident made national news, while numerous others don’t -surely these reporters believe that all human lives are equally important.) The evidence is piling up: socialized medicine will kill people.

DC Gun Freedom Amendment

According to this article, the Senate has added an amendment to a law to give the people of DC representation in Congress. (Whether the main bill is a good idea, or Constitutional, is another issue that I am uncertain on.) This amendment would make Washington DC one of the easiest places in the nation to own a gun. About the only local DC law that would not be repealed by it is the law prohibiting the carrying of arms outside of one’s home.

The reason I mention this article is because the DC gun freedom amendment got a lot of support from Senate Democrats, as well as Republicans. (“It passed 62 to 36, winning one more vote than the D.C. vote bill…”) Some of my “conservative” and Republican friends have expressed concern that with the Democrats in power, there would be a plethora of new restrictions on the right to keep and carry arms. I was concerned about this too, when I voted straight Democratic ticket, but there were other freedoms that I had to think of in this election, such as religious liberty and a woman’s right to an abortion, so I had to take a chance on Obama. So far my gamble is paying off. Ruth Bader Ginsburg managed to hold on until Obama was elected, which means that when she retires, she will be replaced by a like-minded Justice, maintaining the ideological balance on the court. Furthermore, not only have there been no new restrictions on gun freedom, but there is a debate in Congress on whether to give the people of DC more gun freedom.

American Housing and Credit Market Are Not Laissez-Faire

The notion that the current “housing crises” is in any way a result of laissez-faire capitalism is utterly ridiculous. Laissez-faire capitalism has never existed, and since the late 19th Century, when America came the closest to laissez-faire capitalism, what has existed in America is a growing welfare and regulatory state, similar to the fascist variety of socialism. This article makes it clear that the current economic problems were caused by the Federal Reserve, which is a government institution, and essentially represents a nationalized, socialist monetary system.

Under laissez-faire capitalism, gold or some other real value would serve as the basis of the money supply, and there would be a competition in money. This competition of money supplies would take the following form: banks and other businesses would issue paper money with a distinct look and color, which would probably be trade-marked, so that no other person or business could rightfully issue currency with a similar look. Their private currency would have to be backed by some “real value”, such as gold, silver, an index fund in the stock market, etc, otherwise nobody would be willing to hold it. Then, if any particular business’ money supply were over-inflated by it, people would sell that money in favor of other private money that was a more stable store of value and medium of exchange. This would be true laissez-faire capitalism in banking and money.