Ayn Rand, the autonomy of the other

[From Bill Powers (940820.0400 MDT)]

Bill Leach (940819.0604) --

You say "We ought to give more of them a chance. We can afford it." and
I agree (and I think that Rand would have agreed) but only if we are
not forced to do so by others.

Somebody always gets forced when the community decides that some joint
action is desirable. The people who are forced scream bloody murder,
because a majority vote doesn't change their minds, or their reasons.
Look at the reactions to the gun control measures. Apparently, the
thought of being deprived of a street sweeper or an AK-47 or a rocket
launcher creates a huge error in some people. Eventually, because most
of the people in this country are afraid of anyone with a gun and
Congress will eventually become ashamed of being bought, the gun control
laws will be passed. I don't doubt that many gun owners will hole up and
resist the confiscation of their weapons by using those very weapons,
judging by the way they talk. They'll do it responsibly, though.

The majority isn't "right" of course, it's just a majority. But how else
would you work it, when most of the people decide they want something to
be the case, and some of the people resist? You can't have voting rights
and not have voting rights at the same time. You can't allow
manufacturers to spew their crap all over the landscape and keep your
world reasonably clean at the same time. There are lots of areas where
one person's freedom of action is a violation of another person's
freedom to choose a way of life.

Everybody has reasons for wanting what they want. Others have reasons
for not wanting the same things. If this doesn't create any conflict,
then fine, who cares? But when my getting what I want prevents you from
getting what you want and vice versa, we have a problem. Sometimes this
problem can be solved by some clever person who finds a different action
that will give both parties what they want, by a different means. Then
there's no problem any more. But sometimes one or both parties simply
have to change what they want if the conflict is to cease. That's what's
hard. They both have to go up a level, or as many levels as necessary,
to find the place from which the change can be made. And they have to
negotiate changes that they can both accept, and then accept them.

Of course the alternative is to try to win the conflict. That merely
increases its severity and ends in violence. Ebling Mis, the first mayor
of Isaac Asimov's mythical First Foundation, had a sign on his office
wall which said "Violence is the last resort of the incompetent." Or
something like that. Hear, hear.

As long as you're IN a conflict, you can't do anything about it but win
or lose, either of which is generally pretty costly. Would you design a
reactor control system in which one system wants the cooling water to be
turned on, and the other wants it to be turned off, with the stronger
system winning?

The very basis of science presumes that there are "truths" and
"reality" that are independent of whatever any one of or any group of
us may think about such matters.

That's the ideal, of course. Unfortunately, all we ever manage to do is
approximate it, and later on we always find out that we were wrong in
some respect. And this is in areas where we have solid experimental
evidence, theories with no known exceptions, and no particular reason to
want things to be or not to be the way they seem to be. When you start
talking about human interactions, science goes down the drain; people
start selecting from the evidence, exaggerating it, and trying to force
the answers to come out they way they want them, for very personal
reasons. This applies to environmental extremists and nuclear power
extremists alike, to pro-lifers and pro-choicers, to capitalists and
socialists, to white supremacists and civil-righters, all down the line.
Everybody claims to know the "truth" about "reality" when what's
actually going on is that they just want to win the argument. No matter
what they say, you can always come up with a counterexample that
destroys their positions, and they will respond by saying "Oh,
_that_..." and flip you off.

The "right" answer always comes down to what people are willing to
accept as right. There's no way to get away from that.

How to decide when it is "OK" for one or even a large group of people
to be permitted to force their will upon another is a difficult
question (THE difficult question?).

But it's not quite the right question, because the whole argument is
about how you determine what _is_ OK. If a large group forces its will
on a small group, that is what it does. Who is the referee, to say
whether that is OK or not OK? Who appointed the referee? The problem is,
whenever we see some gross injustice or error taking place, we want to
turn around and complain about it to somebody. Who do we complain to?
It's going to be either the perp or the victim; there's nobody here but
us. All we can do is try to understand the consequences of behaving in
certain ways, so we can decide whether we like the consequences. But we
still have to decide that; there's no ultimate tribunal on this earth,
although some think there is one in the hereafter. However, even the
threat of the hereafter doesn't settle the issue, because whichever side
you're on, you're sure that God will see that your actions were
justified, or else you don't believe there is one -- in either case, the
buck comes right back to your own desk.

There's no way out of this. We simply have to deal with each other.
There's no point in appealing to objective reason, objective truth, or
objective fact. That can't possibly work, because we make up our own
minds about what we will accept as being reasonable, true, or factual.
Each person decides that alone. We just have to accept the fact that
we're autonomous beings and that everyone else is, too. Is that a fact?
The proper question is, do you agree?

The tools we have for getting along with each other are negotiation,
reason, persuasion, request, compromise, promise, explanation, and
communication, to name a few. They are all methods that recognize the
autonomy of the other, that reveal an inclination to grant the other the
same status to which one lays claim for oneself. They follow from the
simple realization that you can't reach into anyone else's head and
change a reference signal. Never could, and never will.



The charges against the American system are faulty. Slavery, for
example was literally forced upon the country by the British ruling

I see. How did they do that? Did they have some sort of diabiolical
machine that sent electric currents into the heads of Americans,
creating reference signals saying "Gee, I've just got to have some

The notes of the Constitutional Convention make it quite clear that the
opinion of virtually all of those present was that slavery was an
abomination of the "American Ideal".

However, there was pretty general agreement that Negros shouldn't vote
-- after all, only white male property owners really should vote. They
were men of their times, as well as visionaries. Jefferson is praised
for freeing his slaves -- but he had to have some to free them.

What are you going to say? "Oh, _that_ ..."?

The so called "abuses of labor" were on rather rare occassions true but
misrepresented the real picture. This country produced a society where
being poor put you well above the average in the rest of the world

You're making up facts now. What constitutes an abuse is in the eye of
the beholder, and of course if you're beholding from the point of view
of the employer, you can dismiss all that whining as showing that you've
spoiled these ungrateful men, women, and children by being too generous.
It's those do-gooder child labor laws that are the root of the problem.

Just BEING an attorney should be a capital crime!

Come on, you're going soft. Let's torture them to death!

Manipulating the value of a country's money for profit is theft but it
currently is not a crime even though it should be such.


The acts of the EPA are treason against not only the nation but mankind

YAY! Where do I sign up for the firing squad? Let's rip off those
catalytic converters and particle collectors! Let's pipe New York's shit
right into Long Island Sound, show 'em what we're made of! Pile up the
landfills! Hell, throw the stuff in the park, it's closer. Let the power
boats loose, we'll build up an immunity! Oil spills keep the waves down!
There are too many damn birds anyway and who ever ate an otter?

Come on, Bill, don't be so half-hearted.

Bill P.

<[Bill Leach 940821.00:42 EST(EDT)]

[Bill Powers (940820.0400 MDT)]

... AK-47 or a rocket launcher ... because most of the people in this
country are afraid of anyone with a gun and Congress ...

For a person that is usually quite objective and unwilling to "buy into"
extreme views, it certainly appears to me that you have bought "anti-gun"
propaganda hook line and sinker. You of all people should know that
guns, tanks or even cars are not in and of themselves any sort of

The anti-gun campaign is one of the most irrational activities that I
have observed in my lifetime. It reminds me of the same sort of thinking
that is employed by those that think that knowledge, information or
discovery should be kept secret (or more importantly, that it even CAN be
kept secret).

The people that really want to apply force to others will do so and with
guns if they so choose. The will also be comforted by the knowledge that
people that do not act in their manner will not be able to resist.

The majority isn't "right" of course, it's just a majority. But how ...

To start with, THIS form a government is based upon concepts that were
acceptable to a much greater percentage of people than just a majority.
Additionally, laws extending the authority of government over the people
still require, in principle, the same percentage of consent. The
founders declared limits to the authority of government and recognized
that "government derives its 'just' powers from the consent of the
governed" (for starters). But then the problems (with this system) occur
when enough citizens fail to recognize that any abuse of anyone by that
government is a serious threat to their own personal safety and thus fail
to act to protect others.

You can't allow manufacturers to spew their crap all over the landscape

and keep your world reasonably clean at the same time.

Yet another (obviously in my opinion) uncritical acceptance of the "party
line"! The real facts of the matter are that the more technically
advanced a society is, the less that society pollutes (per capita but
often per square mile land area as well). Whether any of the brain dead
"greens" want to admit it or not, the most industrialized countries are
also the least polluting countries (always per capita and often by any
other measure). What should be embarrasing to the greens is that even
the studies commissioned by their own organizations prove this assertion
much less work done by researchers that don't really have a political
agenda. The fact that the more technological a society becomes, the less
it pollutes has been true for a great deal more time than the NRDC has
been around (indeed there is significant evidence that much of the EPA
activities are actually making the overall problems worse not better).

... was literally forced upon the country ...

I see. How did they do that? Did they have some sort of ...

Are you really serious with that question?

Slavery was an abomination of ...

However, there was a pretty general agreement that Negros shouldn't vote

-- after all, ...

Yes indeed, and and women certainly did not vote either but the idea that
maybe one person did not have the right to control another was
germinating (even if not in those express terms). As with any
significant change in thinking, it had to start somewhere. Indeed, even
the issue of slavery might not have been of much concern until the
founding fathers considered the implications of slavery in the light of
what they professed to believe about "natural rights".

What are you going to say? "Oh, _that_ ..."?

No, I agree, Jefferson was a man of his times. A man that eventually
faced the reality of what he was himself doing in light of what he
believed. I am quite confident that you of all people will admit to
having done things in your past that you would do differently based upon
your increased understanding of the consequences of your own actions.
Such would doubtless be true even without the knowledge of PCT.

I AM MAKING UP FACTS? In the United States, the standard of living,
leisure time, and life expectancy increased continously over the first
two centuries, usually at rates not exceeded at an time in any other
country much less for two hundred years.

What constitutes an abuse is in the eye of the beholder, and ...

Yes, though from the point of trying to formulate a system of society, a
little more concrete concept of abuse is necessary. Even, in England
where child labor abuse was legendary (and often cited), technological
advance alone was reducing such practices. I am not claiming that sweat
shops where good but rather that the very economic and political systems
that brought about the means for change are the ones most often attacked.
There seems to be somekind of almost inane idea that "common" people were
"better off" before the "industrial revolution". The "common" people
were creating families of a dozen or more children and working them half
(and sometimes more than half) to death just so the family would survive.
I am afraid that hollywood has left most people with romantic ideas about
Sherwood's forest that just are not true.

Just BEING an attorney ...

Come on, you're going soft. ...

Of course, I am being facitious on one hand but I really do believe that
a great many attorneys go to considerable length to ensure that they
create situations where large sums of money flow their way no matter what
harm they may do to those the profess to be protecting. Maybe if they
too were controlling their perceptions using systems concepts that
recognized both the autonomy of individuals and the control system nature
of all people they would really be willing to do "their part" in
contribution to a better life for all.

The acts of the EPA are treason ...

YAY! Where do I sign up for the firing squad? Let's rip off ...

I have about concluded from many of the comments that you have made, that
you pretty well believe all of the "green" propaganda. I hope that I am
wrong but it sure doesn't look like I am. EPA director O'Reilly admitted
that the ban on DDT was purely political AND that the scientific evidence
did not support the ban. The ban on PCBs was based upon the results from
a single (foreign) study, never duplicated, determined to have been
flawed. If that we not bad enough, the EPA openly admitted that all of
the substitutes for PCBs are known to be carcinogenic chemicals, often
with other more specific health hazards (and it seems that there isn't
any dispute concerning the chemical that are presently used).

In the press release for the Ozone phenomenon, the EPA director used skin
cancer mortality rates based upon an often fatal skin cancer that is
still not accepted in the medical community as related to UV exposure.
Indeed, the propondering evidence is that UV exposure REDUCES the
probability of that particular cancer. The skin cancer that is related
to UVB exposure is rarely fatal (and probably would never have to be
fatal). Probably even more important than all of what I have so far
mentioned is that EVEN TODAY the original research results that were used
for the basis of the EPA and Congressional actions are not available for
peer review! One can only obtain the summary and conclusions.

Global warming is brought to you by the same guy that tried to terrify
the world with the coming ice age. His model today is not better in any
meanful way than his original... but then you know that.

Of course "We must act immediately! What if I am right? What is
starving a few hundred million more people a year compared to my
predicted disaster?" "Never mind, that the CO2::Global Temperature
relationship is quite problematical." Never mind that the known global
temperature extremes clearly without the assistance of mankind vastly
exceed anything that even the most radical of us has predicted." "Also
nevermind by the way, that the earth itself appears to be one incredibly
strong control system itself and that the 'delicate balance of nature'
truly appears to be nothing more than a battle cry!" "Besides we have
created high paying jobs in "industry" and government to administer this
program." "Forget that all of this takes money and resources, money and
resources that WE HAVE PROVEN could be used to make life better for all

We are literally trying to legislate to non-existance Cholrine based upon
research conclusion that are anything BUT sound.

We have heard "alarming" reports stated as though they were made WITH
SCIENTIFIC CERTAINTY that the Ozone layer is being destroyed BY THE
ACTIVITIES OF MAN at a rate much worse than predicted (conveniently just
prior to a NASA congressional budget hearing). No mention is made of the
fact that the model does not and never has predicted any Ozone
concentration variations with reasonable accuracy. We do not hear that
some astrophysicists point out that the global Ozone concentration
average matches sun spot activity very closely (more closely than any
other single parameter). No one mentions that the plume of an active
volcaneo exhausts directly into the Antartic Ozone hole. Considerable
effort has been expended to discredit the data by Dobson and
independently by the French in the 1950's on the existance of the Ozone
hole. We were told "loud and clear" that the major problem with Freon is
that it is such a stable molecule that it will literally "last forever".
Thus, the Freon concentration will build continously so that even if it
is not really doing much 'damage' to the Ozone layer now, it ultimately
must. We did not hear, of course, about the marine biologists that tried
to inform the "Ozone folks" that their statement was just not true. Not
only are there things that "destroy" Freon, there are actually natural
sources. Nor did we here about the researchers (I don't recall their
field of expertise) that discovered Freon consuming organisms on land.
Turns out, that because Freon was believed to be so stable, their
atomspheric measuring instruments used a Freon ratio (R-11/R-12) for
their continous self-calibration. Some significant data anomolies
resulted in the discovery that Freon was being consumed by biological

The list goes on for just this one subject. Isn't it curious also that
the patents on Freon expired right around the time of the Montreal
Protocols. Many people have discovered that they can gain both money and
power in the "doomsday" business. As little respect as I have for the
likes of Ralph Nader, that leaders within the government would resort to
such behaviour while claiming "scientific objectivity" is particularly

I accept that Oil Spills are generally not good. I do not accept that
they are the ecological disaster that our sensation seeking media,
politicians and certain "scientists" claim that they are. To start with,
the amount of oil spilled through the activities of man is a tiny
fraction of that which nature dumps into our waters AND HAS BEEN dumping
into the water since long before mankind knew what petrolium was.

The "doomsdayers" are rather arrogant in their persumptions about the
power that man has for changing "nature". A typical storm expends more
energy than all of mankind for a year. A hurricane expends more energy
in ten seconds than an Atom bomb (the Andrew/Hugo types considerably

Considering our present level of knowledge and understanding concerning
the eco-system Tom's favorite phrase applies: Don't just do something,
stand there!

And of course, I don't mean that in the extreme. I do think that we
should continually work to reduce damage to our environment but such
efforts should be made incrementally, measured for effect and above all
considered on the basis of both their demonstrated benefits and their
hazards to humanity. It is first necessary to have some idea of what
actually is damage. All of us, I think, recognize that oily slimy water
is not pleasent and when actually the result of the activities man, needs
to be addressed. But again, it is important to have some real
understanding of what is going on before instigating a crash solution. I
cite the lakes of the Adirondacks. The first "clue" might just come from
the meaning of the name in the original language... specifically "dead
lakes". Also, being an engineering type, I'm sure that you will
recognize that there is something not quite right about claiming that
acid rain is destroying the lakes when the lakes are already more acidic
than the rain. Then naturally, consistent with the handling of
"politically incorrect" science, the research that showes that the lakes
were even more acidic than they are today until the "slash and burn"
practices of the last century and appear to be only returning to their
"natural" state.

It is of course quite obvious that the Philostine Power and Light company
is responsible for the most acidic rain era known to have existed in the
history of mankind... or at least those fledgling christians must have
been burning one hell of a lot of wood!

I saved this for last:

Each person decides that alone. We just have to accept the fact that
we're autonomous beings and that everyone else is, too. Is that a fact?
The proper question is, do you agree?

The problem with your statement (in the way that you are making it) is
that you are only telling the philosophers (or anyone else concerned with
creating a "consistent", "reasonable", and "fair" system for society)
that there is no solution and for them that sort of information is
useless. That people often will not agree is a pretty generally accepted
fact. Add to that a generally accepted idea that war and anarchy are
both seem to be less than perfect means of handling associations between
people for all but a select few and one finds oneself faced with still
trying to answer such questions as "what should be done when people can
not or will not agree?".

Don't get me wrong in this, I think that PCT has a great deal to say
about the matter -- when the ultimate group standard is set. At that
point PCT can, in theory, help to understand the consequences of the
standard and any supporting rules. Naturally, I still feel that
understanding PCT will help anyone attempting to even think about such
matters much less actually try setting the standards. Even there
however, it is awfully easy (I think) to miss important facts that will
affect results.

I am reminded that the "romanticists" that lament our current situation
with all of our high technology, industry and such have both a VERY
selective memory and a seriously distorted understanding of history.
Dixie Lee Ray put it far better than could I but she was personally old
enough to remember what it was like to live in a community that did not
have electricity or motor vehicles.

We (the general "we") seem to have an ability to view "the simple life"
in a fashion that completely excludes the actual reality associated with
that sort of life WHEN EVERYONE tries to live in that manner (or more
correctly, is forced to do so).

This is pretty strong a statement but what I see here the founder of PCT
using a double standard. When it comes to the situation that PCT as a
research activity finds itself due to the political nature of the science
and funding community, it is bad. The central control of science funding
results in "one track" science. If you support the "party line", you get
the grants, if you have other ideas... But when it comes to industry
and business, you take the opposite tact, the more that government can
put their "thumb on the greedy bastards" the better. After all, we all
know that the likes of Ralph Nader or Ted Kennedy are only interested in
our welfare... and quite obviously they know better than any of us just
what's good for us.

I full well recognize that the foregoing paragraph was a bit unfair. You,
Tom and Rick have done an outstanding job of pointing out that NO
organization is itself autonomous, only the individual people working in
that organization are. The point being, that it seems to me, that
somehow you are ignoring the truth of that in what you seem to be
advocating. A President, Vice-President, Senator, or "Civil-Servent" is
no more likely (if even as likely) to care for the environment as a
businessman. One's odds of avoiding serious error are a lot better with
many thousands of business people than they are with a few hundred
congress critters.

You seem to be stating that you view mankind as now being on a "doomsday"
course and that if we don't act quickly AND DRASTICALLY some very bad
things will happen and soon.

My personal opinion is that the "state of affairs" is simply awful.
Pretty much "less awful" than at any previous time in history but still
awful. The perception of just how bad things are now is likely much
sharper than ever before and of course the perception of the current
situation is much better than the current perception of previous times.

Though I know that I am not saying anything that others have not said in
previous times but our prodigious increase in knowledge and technology
only serves to make "man's inhumanity toward man" even more painful to
witness. We know that we have the technology to prevent anyone from
starving. We know that we have the technology to provide "basic" medical
care to every person on earth. But we also know, or should know, that
the problem has never been (nor will it ever be) one of technology.

I doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that "property rights",
"ownership", and "right to some significant portion of one's own labor"
are essential for technology to flourish. Individual exceptions can
always be found but we have too many fine examples of how people function
when they are not secure in their person and their possessions. OTOH, as
you point out, when unchecked in any manner, greed and avarice can result
in horrible abuses of one human by another. I should also be obvious to
anyone with a grain of sense that any organization that is set up to
preform functions on the behalf of the citizens is the joint
responsibility of those same citizens when it comes time for someone to

I (of course) don't know the answers but I do know that I personally am
"less afraid" of a dozen INDEPENDENT pharmaceutical companies than I am
of ONE FDA (and no, I don't think that there are independent
pharmaceutical companies any longer -- but that is a whole 'nother

Let me add just one more "disclaimer" here: As much as I have
misunderstood what others have said on this server in the past, I full
well recognize that I could be doing much the same now. However, my
response is based upon both the literal wording and my perception of the
"tone" of what was said.

It is my feeling that you believe pretty much the following:

The activities of mankind are producing serious damage to the eco-system
and that if quick, major action is not taken soon this damage will
possibly destroy the system's ability to support life. I am going to
assume (for what I think are rather obvious reasons) that you do not
worship Gia and believe that humanity is a plague and "unnatural".

The population of the world will/has exceeded the maximum that the earth
will support on a continous basis.

The "institutions" of man are seriously flawed at their fundamental
conceptual levels.

I absolutely disagree with the first two (and I don't doubt that you
believe that for the first -- not after this "missive"). I really don't
even want to try to go into the second one at this time though it is this
belief that is very closely linked to overall political activity in the
world today. And of course, for that last one, I agree but realize that
I am only just beginning to appreciate why.