About stuarthayashi

Irrepressibly devoted.

Milo Yiannopoulos & Stefan Molyneux Whitewash Richard Spencer’s Racism

Stuart K. Hayashi

 
 
 

NOTE:  On February 18, 2017, I made some significant changes to this essay upon learning that in 2006, Milo Yiannopoulos had been walking around in public with Nazi paraphernalia.  This includes his wearing a Nazi Iron Cross necklace.  One might make the excuse that Milo Yiannopoulos had adopted the Nazi persona in his early twenties just to be “edgy,” but that is still pathological and not to be encouraged.  I am sad to say that I have known people who, in their twenties, repeatedly “joked” about admiring Nazis or wishing they could have been Nazis.  Without exception, all of these people had — and still have — self-hatred issues.  Even if we try to be charitable and try to assume that Yiannopoulos’s Nazi persona from his twenties was just some poorly-though-out youthful indiscretion and not done out of malice, it’s still a horribly unhealthy sign.  And that, as of this writing, Yiannopoulos is still whitewashing neo-Nazis such as Richard Spencer, indicates that the pathology is not “long passed.”

In an earlier draft, I said that Yiannopoulos was “Alt Lite,” meaning that he whitewashes white supremacists but does not go as far as saying that he is one of them himself.  Upon learning about Yiannopoulos actually going around praising Hitler and Naziism — even allegedly in jest — I have to revise that.  Yiannopoulos might not merely be alt-lite; he might be in the same category as Richard Spencer after all.

 
 
 

_____

 
 
 

No, Dummy, It’s Not OK to Punch Richard Spencer Over His Racist Speech
Richard Spencer is the neo-Nazi who famously coined alt-right.  You may recall that in January, as Spencer was being recorded on video, some terribly misguided vigilante punched him as he was speaking.  For the record, that was wrong and the hooligan should face assault charges.  Spencer’s propaganda is vicious — indeed, evil — but, as of this writing, it is still no more than speech.  No matter how evil someone is — even if people acting on his advocacy does great harm — violence against that person cannot be justified until and unless that person himself is behaving violently.

The reason is that even if someone advocates something truly evil, such as racism, through his speech, people are still free to avoid him or counter him by using their own speech to expose what is wrong with what he advocates.  Conversely, if someone is imposing his will through violence, then he is at the point where you cannot reason with him and you cannot simply avoid him; as long as someone chooses to act violently he can only be answered with force in kind.

One should not be “rationalist” about this and assume that I am saying that you cannot strike a violent party until and unless it has landed the first blow.  If a party demonstrates a long-term plan to enact violence upon you, you are right to call the police to apprehend that party prior to any blow being landed.  If, for example, someone like Charles Manson were plotting your murder, you would right to call police upon that party before any physical altercation broke out.

Richard Spencer indeed poses a threat to the republic in advocating his racism, but as long as that remains speech, the threat Spencer poses remains an indirect one.  On the contrary, when that vigilante punched him, that vigilante gave everyone probable cause to be concerned that that same vigilante might direct similar violence upon them; by throwing that punch, the vigilante made a concrete demonstration of how physically dangerous he is, and thus poses a more direct threat upon others.  Violence against those who advocate Richard Spencer’s brand of neo-Nazism cannot be justified until there is concrete evidence that those neo-Nazis are planning an act of violence upon person or private property, or if one has proof that they are already engaging in such violence.  At that point, one is called upon to bring such evidence to the police (here is my explanation why a free republic requires that citizens leave retaliatory force to the police and do not become vigilantes).

The same principle applies to scheduled speeches that are supposedly to be delivered by Milo Yiannopoulos.  Yiannopoulos’s sleazy antics did not justify the riots and vandalism at Berkeley; and those who riot out of purported protest against him are behaving as fascists.

 
 
 

Yes, Stefan Molyneux Fans, Richard Spencer Is a Neo-Nazi
Now that I have made that clear, it’s important to acknowledge that Richard Spencer really is a neo-Nazi and that, to the extent that people swallow his propaganda, he indeed poses a danger.  As a matter of course, people act upon their beliefs.  If they believe what Richard Spencer espouses, they will ultimately call for governmental initiations of the use of force upon innocent people — the likeliest innocent victims will be of dark-skinned “races.”

In the very video where Richard Spencer gets punched, right before the fist lands on his face, he is in the middle of denying that he is a neo-Nazi.  “Neo-Nazis hate me,” he insists.  Later on Twitter, however, he tweeted this out.  Under the guise of being tongue-in-cheek (as if a white member of an anti-immigration circle calling him- or herself a Nazi is sooo amusing), he is implicitly acknowledging the association of him with neo-Nazism:

richardspencernazi02

If you want to see for yourself the sort of racism that Richard Spencer promotes, you can go to the white nationalist propaganda website he owns and operates, called Radix Journal. It has some mentions of Ayn Rand you might find interesting. One of them is a piece titled “Ayn Rand’s Curious Bloodlust,” which goes out of its way to denounce the Ayn Rand Institute and, of course, Jews in general. It bemoans, “Faith, racial pride and even loyalty to one’s family if it isn’t based on selfishness were also judged harshly by Rand.” Interesting how it threw in “racial pride” between “faith” and “loyalty to one’s family” as if it’s equally uncontroversial, is it not?

You can also check out “What’s Wrong with Libertarianism?” authored by Richard Spencer himself. In that piece, he heaps hostility upon Gary Johnson while, of course, praising Murray N. Rothbard, Hans Hermann Hoppe, and Lew Rockwell. More interesting than that, though, is what you find in the comments section from Spencer’s alt-right fan base. “Albionic American” uses the triple-parentheses (((echo)))) for “Ayn Rand” at least twice, and proclaims the need to “restrict women’s franchise and sexual freedom, and instead enforce a benevolent but strict patriarchy.”

richardspenceraynrandecho03

That is Richard Spencer and the ideological company he keeps.

 
 
 

Milo Yiannopoulos:  Open Scorn for the Left, Respect for Richard Spencer’s Sleaziness
It is concerning that some people who call themselves Objectivists express admiration for Milo Yiannopoulos.  From the summer of 2015 to January 2016, I would have told you that I thought Yiannopoulos was not exactly in the alt-right, as being alt-right means going as far as Richard Spencer and Stefan Molyneux:  stating explicitly that different “races” have biologically innate behavioral differences and therefore the State must intervene to keep them apart.  I would have told you that instead Yiannopoulos is a leading figure in what is called the alt-lite:  people who do not state explicit agreement with the eugenics but go out of their way to provide a moral sanction to the alt-right, treating the alt-right as just another opinion and admonishing people to respect it as a legitimate hypothesis worthy of consideration and respect in a pluralistic republic.  While members of the alt-lite aren’t the ones fervent enough to stick their necks out and say all the racist rhetoric bluntly, they remain fellow travelers who provide encouragement to the more explicit racists and reinforce their antics.

Yet, upon learning on February 18, 2017, that Yiannopoulos actually has a history, going back over ten years, of hinting to people of some sort of sympathy for Naziism, Yiannopoulos might not be just alt-lite; he might really be alt-right and in the same camp as Richard Spencer.

As “proof” of Yiannopoulos opposing the alt-right, some of his fans quote him saying, “White nationalism is not the answer” and his saying that he doesn’t agree with how white nationalists are trying to counter the political Left’s collectivism with their own. But this gesture is merely perfunctory on his part.  You can tell someone’s real priorities by his actions.  Looking at Yiannopoulos’s actions — as I have done since the autumn of 2014, back when I was following the Gamergate controversy and when Yiannopoulos was then well-known only among those who knew about Gamergate — allows one to see that while Yiannopoulos heaps nothing but disrespect upon anyone and anything he misconstrues as leftist (such as free-marketers who stand up for the transgendered), he presumes that the alt-right’s racism must be paid respect and that its central tenets can only be, at worst, and as-of-yet-unproven hypothesis.

Yiannopoulos came out as the preeminent alt-lite apologist for the alt-right with the essay “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right,” which Yiannopoulos’s former friend Cathy Young accurately describes as “a whitewash, full of far-fetched arguments and misleading claims that consistently downplay this movement’s ugly bigotry.” “Establishment Conservative’s Guide” introduces Richard Spencer and the alt-right as follows:

 

There are many things that separate the alternative right from old-school racist skinheads (to whom they are often idiotically compared), but one thing stands out above all else: intelligence. . . .  The alternative right are a much smarter group of people — which perhaps suggests why the Left hates them so much. They’re dangerously bright.  . . .

The media empire of the modern-day alternative right coalesced around Richard Spencer during his editorship of Taki’s Magazine. In 2012, Spencer founded AlternativeRight.com, which would become a center of alt-right thought.

Alongside other nodes like Steve Sailer’s blog, VDARE and American Renaissance, AlternativeRight.com became a gathering point for an eclectic mix of renegades who objected to the established political consensus in some form or another. All of these websites have been accused of racism.

 

 
 

Note the question-begging presumptions that Yiannopoulos has in those paragraphs:  the large group of people who disagree with the alt-right’s members — which he misidentifies as “Left” — “hates them so much” for no better reason than that the alt-right figures are “smarter.”  If you compare Richard Spencer and his alt-right cronies to skinheads — which makes sense, given that white supremacism, and their support for the idea of having a government separate “races” by force, are what the two categories share in common — then Yiannopoulos is quick to dismiss you as behaving “idiotically.”  By contrast, Yiannopoulos has no sharper barb for Spencer and his alt-right cronies than “All of these websites have been accused of racism,” which is a far cry from Yiannopoulos admitting the obvious:  these websites “have been accused of racism” for a solid reason:  a reading of these websites demonstrates that these websites blatantly advocate racism.

After a quick and perfunctory admission, “Anything associated as closely with racism and bigotry as the alternative right will inevitably attract real racists and bigots,” he goes on to attempt to minimize this.  What Yiannopoulos would have us believe are the very few true racists and bigots in the alt-right “are the people that the alt-right’s opponents [merely] wish constituted the entire movement” (emphasis added). He disingenuously assures readers “there’s just not very many” real racists in the alt-right, “no-one [in the alt-right, definitely not Richard Spencer] really likes them, and they’re unlikely to achieve anything significant in the alt-right.”

Were it the case that it was unlikely for real racists to achieve anything in the alt-right, then it would have been unlikely for Richard Spencer to achieve anything in the alt-right. Yet Yiannopoulos already identified Richard Spencer as the alt-right’s thought leader.

He gave a “speech” that simply amounted to the arbitrary sentence “Feminism is cancer.” There was no equivalent “The alt-right cancer.” He told one left-wing student, “Fuck your feelings.” He did not say “fuck” to the feelings of Richard Spencer’s ilk (and the racist pseudoscience promoted by Richard Spencer and Stefan Molyneux end up amounting to nothing more than a sprawling rationalization for their own feelings, those feelings being prejudices and unproductive hostility). The implication of Milo Yiannopoulos’s public antics has consistently been that he regards Richard Spencer and the alt-right as having the moral high ground over anyone they consider “Left,” including moderate Democrats and even Yiannopoulos’s former friend, Reason magazine writer Cathy Young.

Yiannopoulos’s apologia for Richard Spencer and the alt-right is not some new affectation he adopted to sell books.  It goes back at least as far as 2006, when he was in his early twenties.  Back then, Milo was calling himself “Milo Andreas Wagner.” He wore a Nazi Iron Cross necklace out in public.

In 2009, Yiannopoulos uploaded this image — supposedly “jokingly,” of course.

I learned about those images from this blog post, which chronicles still other instances — all taking place prior to 2014 — of Yiannopoulos expressing some sort of anti-Semitism, often rationalizing that being Jewish precludes him from being anti-Jewish.

The main excuse for Yiannopoulos, naturally, is that all of these were mere “jokes” in crude taste. For an explanation as to why that excuse fails to mitigate concerns over the pathology of the crude “joker,” read this blog post of mine.

Of course, if we find that Yiannopoulos is at least as favorable to white supremacism as Richard Spencer is, that would still not exonerate the Berkeley riots from moral condemnation. What I said about violence still applies: if Yiannopoulos has yet to initiate the use of actual physical violence, then those who rioted against him demonstrate themselves to be a greater direct physical threat to others than does Yiannopoulos himself.

Now, to the degree that Yiannopoulos remains ambiguous about whether or not he realizes that Richard Spencer is a real racist — and, remember, Yiannopoulos mendaciously asserts that real racists are rare in the alt-right — that gives Yiannopoulos some weaselly wiggle room whereby he can maintain some plausible deniability about whether he condones Richard Spencer’s propaganda specifically. But Stefan Molyneux — with whom Yiannopoulos exchanged accolades in an online video interview — is less ambiguous: Molyneux’s apologia and whitewashing of Richard Spencer’s racism advocacy is much more direct.

 
 
 

Stefan Molyneux’s Excuses for Richard Spencer’s “White Homeland” to Exclude Nonwhites
Since the autumn of 2015, Stefan Molyneux — once most famous as the leader of a cult that was purportedly about anarchy — has become most famous as an online apologist and propagandist for Donald Trump (it does not appear that the cult has disbanded, though). You might have seen my prior critiques of Molyneux’s advocacy of eugenics, white supremacism, and government-enforced racial segregation. As an apologist for Trump, Molyneux has also found it necessary to make excuses for some of the unsavory characters who have been manipulating Trump (sometimes even Vladimir Putin). For that reason, Molyneux took it upon himself to make an entire video to rationalize, as purely justified, various disturbing behaviors on the part of Trump’s chief strategist, former Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon. To his credit, conservative commentator Glenn Beck has remained critical of Trump, Bannon, Breitbart News, and the alt-right. Beck pointed out that by catering to the alt-right, Steve Bannon and Breitbart News were elevating and reinforcing the white supremacist agenda of Richard Spencer. On this point, Molyneux decided that defending Steve Bannon against Glenn Beck naturally compelled him to defend Richard Spencer as well. The result is Molyneux delivering mind-bending rationalizations for Richard Spencer’s racism.

First, Molyneux approvingly cites Richard Spencer’s dishonest comparison of his own agenda to the establishment of Israel.   Richard Spencer says that his desire for purely white countries — which block nonwhites from entry — is simply to have an “ethno-state” that is to white Christians what Israel is to Jews, and therefore what he promotes is no more objectionable than is present-day Israel.  Molyneux announces that he shares in that evaluation completely.  As I’ve explained before, that comparison is misleading. More than a fifth of Israel’s population is gentile; this includes Arabs.  Over 16 percent of Israel’s population is Muslim.  According to Israeli law, these non-Jews are to be treated with the same rights and freedom as Jewish citizens. And, yes, as of this writing Israel is accepting orphaned child refugees from Syria.

Secondly, Molyneux resorts to pedantry to distract his audience from the fact that the general thrust of Glenn Beck’s criticism of Richard Spencer remains correct.  Glenn Beck faults Richard Spencer for advocating that the State intrude upon people’s private decisions on whether to have children or not; Beck is concerned about white supremacists calling for the compulsory sterilization of nonwhites. Molyneux replies that Richard Spencer is not calling for compulsory sterilization but is only advocating that tax money be spent to subsidize upper-middle-class whites to have more children, which means that Richard Spencer is benign and that governmental intrusion upon private families’ choices is OK.  (And this same Stefan Molyneux still calls himself an anarchist.😑 )

Here is the essay of Richard Spencer’s that Stefan Molyneux quotes and defends. Richard Spencer says, 

We are undergoing a sad process of degeneration. We will need to reverse it using the state and the government. You incentivize people with higher intelligence, you incentivize people who are healthy to have children [Spencer is demanding that the State do this ‘incentivization,’ and Molyneux approves] . . . .

Today, contraception and birth control are nothing less than a curse [when used by upper-middle-class white couples]! Those with the foresight to engage in ‘family planning’ [he means upper-middle-class white couples] are exactly the kind of responsible, intelligent people who should be reproducing. And increasingly, middle-class White families are so over-burdened with taxation and the rising costs of housing, healthcare, and education that they don’t feel they can afford children [you see? –S.H.]. This is not only a dysgenic catastrophe but a moral one as well.

On the other hand, individuals with low innate intelligence or even criminal personalities [Spencer means blacks and Latinos] — those who should be limiting their reproduction — can’t be bothered to purchase a condom.

Molyneux approvingly quotes Richard Spencer as saying that because nonwhites are out-competing the white population in terms of out-breeding whites, the solution is for Western governments to manipulate white citizens into having more children as a means of catching up to nonwhites and matching them (as if this is some contest).  Molyneux would then have his audience believe that this is not racist; this self-proclaimed anarchist does not even acknowledge how statist an intrusion that is. (This fretting over how white people in rich countries are not having enough children, in competition with nonwhites in poor countries, was started by the first eugenicists in the late 1800s, and this scare was revived in the 1990s. A moderate version of it is called “demographic winter” and the more fanatical version involves the alt-right screaming about “white genocide” in the West. For my deconstruction of this nonsense, read this post.)

Molyneux says of Richard Spencer, “He is making an argument based on facts. And you can agree or disagree.” If you don’t approve of this, “you would need to find arguments or counter-facts; Richard Spencer would be open to any counterfactual arguments that came his way [lie].” Molyneux’s ultimate assessment of Spencer’s white nationalism is, “It’s not racism if you’re pointing out empirical facts about ethnic differences. It’s just facts. You hate facts, I guess, if you’re on the Left [translation: by ‘Left,’ Molyneux means everyone who doesn’t swallow his rhetoric on race].”

Below, you can watch the excerpt from Molyneux’s Steve Bannon apologia that makes excuses for Richard Spencer:

 
 
 

Stefan Molyneux Floats Proposition That “This Battle Has Moved Beyond Words”; Richard Spencer Approves
Richard Spencer apparently recognizes an ideological ally when he sees one, as he has taken to retweeting Stefan Molyneux’s propaganda.

richardspencerretweetsstefanmolyneux09feb2017bf

This is one I find quite noteworthy:

richardspencerretweetsstefanmolyneux01kk

That tweet contains an excerpt from the ending of Stefan Molyneux’s video “Anti-Milo Yiannopoulos Rioters Burn UC Berkeley | True News,” FDR Podcast 3581. The video purports to be about the riots of misguided people in Berkeley to shut down one of Milo Yiannopoulos’s “speeches.” Molyneux turns on the crocodile tears and talks as if the Berkeley rioters are representative of everyone in the country who disagrees with the racial fanaticism he preaches. The Americans who disagree with Stefan Molyneux’s fanaticism and his calls for State-imposed racial segregation, by means of immigration bans based on IQ and race, number in the hundreds of millions, vastly outnumbering the Berkeley rioters. But Molyneux talks to his audience as if the Berkeley riot is the fundamental essence of the entire rest of the world, the big bad world that rejects his cultish doctrine. For that reason, between crocodile tears, Molyneux almost-whispers,

Maybe the time for arguments is passed. Maybe this battle has moved beyond words. Perhaps my job is over. Perhaps I have failed or the world has failed. Perhaps I am done. For ten years I’ve been saying ‘[That’s] not an argument’ [to anyone who disagrees, even when — especially when — they do give real counterarguments]. Tonight, perhaps, it has been made clear there are no more arguments to be made.

It would be great if, by that, Molyneux meant he was finally folding up this dishonest operation, taking all his propaganda off the Web, and finally making a living off of some work that is actually constructive and psychologically healthy. But Molyneux is not giving up. What, then, does he mean that “there are no more arguments to be made”? Since he is not giving up on trying to push his racial separatism, what is meant by “the time for arguments is passed” and “this battle has moved beyond words”? To what is he referring?

Ayn Rand — the same Ayn Rand whom Stefan Molyneux’s pal, Richard Spencer, despises — gave some insight. The same Leonard Peikoff denounced in Radix Journal explains in The Ominous Parallels, “There are only two fundamental methods by which men can deal with one another: by reason or by force, by intellectual persuasion or by physical coercion, by directing to an opponent’s brain an argument — or a bullet.” Molyneux is floating the idea to his cult audience that his making persuasive appeals (that is, trying to convince people by reason that his racism is correct 😑) is no longer a viable option, and, therefore, if his cult audience is to have its way, it must have some other recourse. But what other recourse is left? Ayn Rand — the one Richard Spencer reviles — notes in “The Comprachicos,” “When men abandon reason, physical force becomes their only means of dealing with one another and of settling disagreements.”

Molyneux is floating the proposition to his cult audience that maybe he should stop with trying to reason other people into, well, his thoroughly irrational racial segregationism. If Molyneux and his audience come to conclude that that is the case, then pushing their own agenda, their own cause, would require that they go through with that one other recourse. Richard Spencer retweeted that monologue because that is the exact direction that he would push the Molyneux cult toward. And should the day come when Richard Spencer and the Molyneux cult decide that “this battle has moved beyond words” and that they will fight with their fists, then, yes, you will be justified in punching them back.

 
 
 

Conclusion
Yes, Richard Spencer is a neo-Nazi. Yes, Milo Yiannopoulos has done his part to normalize Richard Spencer’s bigotry and to demonstrate his own pathological obsession with Nazi iconography. And Stefan Molyneux has made an unambiguous apologia for that bigotry; one cannot pretend that Molyneux is “only joking” about this.

Advertisements

Why ‘Existence Always Existed’ Is Likelier Than ‘Something Created All Existence,’ or: The Conjunction Fallacy in Cosmology

Stuart K. Hayashi

 

Fall-Winter 2009 semester at Hawaii Pacific University

 

 

Two Questions
Question 1: Suppose there is a woman named Linda, and here is what we know about her: She writes a lot of poetry about capitalists exploiting the masses. In her free time, she wears a beret and attends performance art shows. She reads Noam Chomsky books and is trying to be a raw food vegan. Which of the following is likelier?:

  • A. Linda is an executive at a big bank.
  • B. Linda votes for left-wing progressive political candidates, owns a Che Guevara shirt, and works at a big bank as an executive.

According to a psychology experiment by Keith Stanovich and Richard F. West, people who score high on the SAT are more prone to answer B than are people who scored average on the SAT.

Now here’s another question.

Question 2: Which of the following scenarios is likelier?:

  • A. Some entity always existed. If you try to pinpoint some moment in the past when this entity began to exist, you won’t find it; its existence is eternal.
  • B. Some entity always existed. If you try to pinpoint some moment in the past when this entity began to exist, you won’t find it; its existence is eternal. In fact, this entity is beyond sapient; it makes choices. Moreover, this entity created all other entities existing; everything that exists, exists because of this entity. This entity created all of Existence; there was a time when there was absolute nothingness, and, at the same time there was absolute nothingness, this entity already existed. This entity is also responsible for all morality. It is the final arbiter of moral judgments, and it is the final arbiter of all purpose. If you have a purpose in your existence, it was decided by this entity.

In both cases, the likelier answer is A.

 

 

Overcoming the Conjunction Fallacy
Here is the reason. When it comes to the first question, both of your options say that condition X (Linda is a bank executive) is present. The notion that Linda is not a bank executive is not an option. However, option B says that not only is Linda a bank executive, but she is also a political progressive (condition Y). Many people who score high on the SAT notice from the description that Linda fits the stereotype of a political progressive, and therefore they select option B. But in terms of formal logic, A is likelier, because only condition X must be present for A to be true, whereas B requires both conditions X and Y to be true.  The likelihood that X is true is greater than the likelihood that both X and Y are true.   It can be mapped out as follows:

  • If X is true, then A is true.
  • If X and Y are both true, then both A and B are true.

Logically, then,  A is therefore likelier. That option A does not refer at all to Linda’s political progressivism does not stop A from being likelier than B, because B being true presupposes A being true, whereas A being true does not presuppose B being true. When people who score high on the SAT answer that B is likelier, they fall prey to a logical fallacy called the Conjunction Fallacy.

It is for that same reason that in Question 2, answer A is also the likelier option. For either option A or B to be true, some entity always had to exist. Once again, option B cannot be true unless option A is also true, but option B does not have to be true for option A to be true.

 

 

Option A: Existence Always Existed; That’s It
Option A refers to an idea from Aristotle’s heyday that the Totality of Existence does not need to be created by some external source. That is, Existence does not have to be created by God; something always existed and, if you try to pinpoint some time in the past when Existence emerged into existence, you will not find it.

Some people proclaim that the Big Bang disproves option A, as the Big Bang created the universe. That reflects a misunderstanding of the Big Bang. When physicists talk about the Big Bang, they do not mean that there was absolute nothingness and then an explosion happened, from which all Existence emerged. The idea behind the Big Bang is that at one time, “the universe” was in a particular physical state unalike what it is presently. Then “the universe” underwent some change that altered its form; this change is described rather metaphorically as an “expansion.” The use of the term expansion is metaphorical, as it is not exactly the same as the type of “expansion” we normally talk about in our everyday lives; it’s not the same as a sponge expanding or a bread loaf expanding.

The Big Bang Theory therefore does not refute the idea that Existence, in some form, already existed. If there was a great “expansion,” it presupposes that there was already some entity there to “expand.” If we say that the Big Bang created the universe, that statement only makes sense if we make a distinction between “the Totality of Existence” and “the universe as we presently know it,” with “the universe as we presently know it” being a subset subsumed under the greater category of “the Totality of Existence.” If the universe had to “begin,” that universe had to begin within the greater Totality of Existence, which already existed and always existed.

In The Elegant Universe, Cornell University physicist Brian Greene seriously entertains this idea:

…[Maurizio] Gasperini and [Gabriele] Veneziano suggest that there may be a whole prehistory to the universe… In this so-called pre-big-bang scenario, the universe began in a vastly different state than it does in the big bang framework. … because the pre-big bang epoch involves its own inflationary expansion, [Alan] Guth’s solution to the horizon problem is automatically built into the pre-big bang cosmological scenario [New York: Vintage, 2003 trade paperback second edition, p. 362, emphases author’s].

 

 

There Was a Time When Nothing Existed, But At the Same Time Something Existed Before Anything Existed and Then It Made Everything Else That Exists?
Since Thomas Aquinas’s time, many theologians and also lay believers scoff at the notion that some entity (the Totality of Existence) always existed. They call it highly improbable, ridiculous. Rather, they say, there was a time when there was absolute nothingness and then God had to put something there. Hence, God created somethingness, as opposed to the nothingness.  But this is a self-contradiction, because anything that exists counts as an entity. If God always existed, then God counts as an entity, and this means that there was already an entity that always existed. Therefore, in Question 2, both options A and B are premised implicitly on the understanding that some entity always existed and did not need to be created by some external creator.

For option A to be true, we only need to say that some entity always existed. For option B to be true, option A must be true — some entity always existed — and, in addition to that, the entity necessarily possesses some other traits: it is sapient, it makes choices, it created every other entity, and it imbued those other entities with purpose.

There is another manner in which this can be worded:

Question 3:  Which is likelier?

  • A. The Big Bang happened.
  • B. The Big Bang happened, and it was caused by an entity that is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benevolent, and the source of all ethics and the final judge of everything. 

Many people laugh at those of us who say that for Question 2, option A is likelier — those of us who say that some entity always existed, and that we need not presume this entity to possess so many anthropomorphic traits, such as making choices and creating. We are mocked for thinking some entity always existed and then leaving it at that. Those who laugh at us dismiss that scenario as unlikely. But those laughers overlook that they themselves are saying some entity already always existed and did not need to be created, and then their belief requires assigning various other traits to this entity. People who presume that option B is likelier are falling prey to the conjunction fallacy.

Principled Free-Marketers Vs. Fiscal Tightwads: Assumed to Be the Same Because ‘They Want Cuts in Tax Funding’ But They’re Fundamentally Different

Stuart K. Hayashi
 

There are two types of people generally considered to be part of the political Right — especially in the United States — who are thought of as being in the same category. This is due to a superficial similarity. Yet they are fundamentally different in philosophy. This is not a mere difference in degree that many on the Left assume it to be. It is a difference in kind.

The two types are thought to be in the category of: mean-spirited right-winger who wants to cut tax funding to government programs.

Here, there are two wholly different groups of people who are slapped together into this package deal: principled free-marketers versus fiscal tightwads.
 

The Free Market Is Necessarily Ideological — And That’s Good
A genuine free-marketer is a principled ideologist — what normally gets denigrated as an ideologue. In fact, Napoleon Bonaparte coined the term ideologue to disparage free-marketers who opposed him, namely the Enlightenment philosophe Antoine-Louis-Claude Destutt de Tracy. Tracy described his own philosophic approach as ideology, and there was nothing pejorative about it. It meant “the science of ideas.” Napoleon was the first to say that if you had a philosophy based on consistently applicable principles, it meant you were just some fanatic applying dogma deduced from arbitrary premises. The next big historical figure to attach derisive connotations to ideology was Karl Marx, of all people.
 

Principled Free-Marketers
Anyhow, the principled free-marketer has a specific endgame in mind: he wants a government limited only to retaliating to the initiation of the use of physical force, which means that the government’s duties are limited mostly to the police, military, and the courts. There might also be some government functions limited to helping people define private property rights as new technologies are developed. Rather than Herbert Hoover’s approach with the FCC, for instance, a principled free-market government would have helped define private property rights with respect to which party owned which part of the electromagnetic spectrum at which to broadcast. A free-market government would also help define intellectual property rights clearly, such as in the case of the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizing intellectual property in sexually produced plants with Plant Variety Protections. (And no, abolishing intellectual property rights is not the true freedom position, but that’s a topic I have tackled elsewhere.)

The principled free-marketer’s endgame is the sort of constitutional liberal republican Night Watchman State that Auberon Herbert championed. Principled free-marketers care staunchly about this because they comprehend that “taxation is theft” is not mere political rhetoric or hyperbole; it is literally true, and therefore they want to do what it takes to minimize such violent threats. In the end, to achieve this minimization requires a constitutional liberal republican Night Watchman State.

Principled free-marketers understand, though, that there is no way to achieve this overnight. Contrary to what some people might fantasize about, there will be no disaster that allows us to wipe the slate clean and start over with a constitutional liberal republican Night Watchman utopia (the notion that principled free-marketers would rejoice at this prospect is one of Naomi Klein’s many delusions). But though we cannot obtain this dream overnight, we use this end goal as a standard by which we measure our progress. We know that we cannot privatize Social Security in the course of a day, but, because we have a good idea of what perfection looks like, we know that legislation that expands Social Security is bad, whereas legislation is good if it respects the liabilities owed to elderly people who already paid into the system while the legislation simultaneously allowing young workers to opt out and seek private retirement accounts.

Principled free-marketers do make moral judgments but they recognize that, in peacetime, there is no good reason for the law to discriminate against people based on arbitrary distinctions. They understand that if it is wrong to pay tax money to the foreign-born for their health care, then it is no better to pay tax money to the native-born for their health care.

Principled free-marketers very much want to cut government funding for many services that people now believe, mistakenly, can only be provided by the government. For instance, principled free-marketers say that there should not be tax-funded municipal libraries. At this, many people react in horror; their assumption is that if the municipal government does not use tax money to maintain libraries, there will be no public libraries. To this, principled free-marketers point out that public libraries were actually invented by private entrepreneurs like Benjamin Franklin. What happened was that a group of people pooled their money together to purchase many books and store the books in one location. If you paid a periodic fee, you could check out books when you wished.

Principled free-marketers also point out how private entrepreneurs invented firefighting departments, and of how it was not due to the inadequacy of privatization, but of changes in liability laws that misunderstood property rights, that eventually misled officials to conclude that firefighting could be done adequately only by municipal governments. In any case, whereas the straw-man depiction of principled free-marketers is of those trying to leave you in the jungle, bereft of libraries and roads and schools, the principled free-marketers simply point out that any enterprise that can succeed in the absence of threatening violence can succeed in the absence of direct government involvement. Principled free-marketers thus explain that private individuals, peaceably cooperating on their own accord, can provide public goods that are falsely assumed to be the rightful exclusive province of the State.

That is a very different approach to that of the fiscal tightwads with which the principled free-marketers are lumped.
 

Fiscal Tightwads
Whatever lip service fiscal tightwads might give to the rhetoric of principled free-marketers like Ayn Rand and Auberon Herbert, the fiscal tightwads agree with welfare-state leftists, at least on an implicit level, that all assets that exist actually rightfully belong to “Society as a Whole,” and that the objects you believe to be your absolute private property are merely objects you are borrowing from “society.” They therefore hold no qualms about the welfare state in principle. They have other reasons for wanting to reduce tax funding for various government services.

Unlike many of their more radical, more explicitly left-wing counterparts, the fiscal tightwads recognize that there is necessarily a limit to how much wealth the government can spend. The fiscal tightwads, unlike those farther to the political Left, understand that government coffers can run out. Therefore, when the government is heading toward bankruptcy, the fiscal tightwads sound the alarm and say, “Yes, as painful as it is to admit, we have to make cuts.” Mind you that the fiscal tightwads do not acknowledge that this tax spending is wrong in principle — they do not cohere, deep down, that taxation is theft. Instead, they believe that the government has merely gone overboard in spending tax money on the welfare state, and therefore the government should exercise more restraint in the spending — so that there will still be some units of tax money left over to spend in the long-term future. That is, they do not disapprove morally of tax spending on supposedly peaceful enterprises — they merely think that the government should be more conservative in how it disperses the tax money, another reason why the word conservative is associated with cuts in tax spending. They believe that being conservative with tax spending is the way to be a responsible steward of what is the collective heritage rightfully collectively belonging to society.

Moreover, fiscal tightwads are similar to the radical Left in wanting to apply the altruistic ethic, but they have a different interpretation of how this should be applied. Fiscal tightwads believe in the Puritans’ application of altruism.
 

How the Far Left and the Fiscal Tightwads Try to Impose Altruism Differently
Suppose that you are wealthy and I am not; I am needy. The radical Left says that morality requires that the State takes that money from you by force and then gives it to me. Then the radical Left tells you that you, as a rich person, ought to accept that. Your accepting that would be a most unselfish and therefore moral gesture; your acceptance of this policy would help you be honorable by practicing the virtue of self-sacrifice. If you, as a rich person, balk at this, you commit the sin of selfishness.

By contrast, the fiscal tightwads flip this around, accusing the other side of being too selfish. In a more Puritanical sort of tradition, the fiscal tightwads believe that virtue is found in suffering from privation. They believe that if I go through a period of material want and get through it, learning to scrimp by on scraps, that builds character. Therefore, if I ask the State to take money from a rich person like you and give it to me, I am the one being selfish.

Indeed, they say, if the government provides for everyone in poverty so that people are no longer in poverty, that makes them decadent and spoiled and soft and lazy — all these material comforts are manifestations of the selfishness of the persons receiving these benefits. If I receive these amenities from the State, the State is depriving me of the opportunity to practice the virtue of . . . austerity.  This idea is the reason why, when European governments finally began to cut funding for services that never should have received tax funding in the first place, these measures were given the misleading label of austerity — the assumption being that you will necessarily be poor and Spartan simply if you don’t have the State giving you stuff.
 

Why Fiscal Tightwads Are Nonobjective About What Needs Cutting
Thus, we find that one major reason why the fiscal tightwads want to reduce funding for various government programs is that they think “too much money” in general is spent by the State. They also object that the State spends tax money on particular enterprises rather than others. For example, when he was mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani expressed outrage that tax money was spent on such a hideous and offensive and sacrilegious artwork as “Holy Virgin Mary.” However, he had no objection to the idea of tax money being spent on what he deemed genuinely tasteful and inoffensive (maybe even beautiful) art, such as, say, a more Grecian-style depiction of idealized naked human bodies. Fiscal tightwads will often wail that too much tax money is dispersed to highly unionized government schools and not enough to charter schools that have more autonomy from the unions.

Thus, the fiscal tightwads say (1) that “too much tax money is spent” in general and (2) that “too much tax money is spent” on unworthy social services instead of on worthy social services. They do not give a lot of thought to the considerations (A) the very institution of compulsory taxation is at least as morally problematic as any other form of extortion, or (B) that the institution of private property should be recognized as consistent, an absolute, which means that when it comes to anything other than defense against violence, there is no “common good” that justifies pooling everyone’s money together and deeming it public property. Note that because they do not have a well-thought-out principle in mind, they have no objective definition for what constitutes “too much spending.”

They have no objective criterion for saying that, say, federal welfare spending as 14 percent of GDP is too much whereas federal welfare spending as 0.014 percent of GDP is ideal. Nor they do have objective criteria for judging which nonviolent enterprises are deserving of tax funding and which are not. Fiscal tightwads have no qualms about how Dick Cheney’s wife had a job at the National Endowment for the Humanities transferring funds to relatively inoffensive art; they only squawk at sacrilegious material. The idea that everyone should be free to keep her own money or spend it on whatever art she likes — beautiful or ugly, sacrilegious or not — is hardly a consideration; that is more a concern of ideologues in the principled free-marketer camp. It is also the fiscal tightwads who keep saying that immigration should be curbed because immigrants getting taxpayer funding deprives citizens who are native-born — and somehow therefore necessarily more deserving — of that same tax funding. Such people are not objecting to the taxpayer funding on principle, and the New York Times is right to refer to this rather arbitrary distinction as “welfare chauvinism.”

Principled free-marketers and fiscal tightwads both talk about how they want tax expenditures reduced, and therefore the Left assumes they are all the same, and that differences between these people are differences merely in degree. They think of Ayn Rand as simply a more extreme version of Robert Taft. Indeed, almost every famous politician of the twentieth century who has been denounced as a laissez-faireist ideologue was merely a fiscal tightwad who finagled with the left-wing radicals over how national tax spending should be increased only by 7 percent and not 30 percent. Definitely we principled free-marketers consider a spending increase of 7 percent to be less severe than that of 30 percent, but it does not follow that we are actually in fundamental philosophic agreement with the fiscal tightwads. Probably the twentieth-century president who was most consistent in reducing spending was Calvin Coolidge, but he, too, was a fiscal tightwad who simply was more effective at being tight-waddish than all other U.S. Presidents of the twentieth century, especially Ronald Reagan; he was actually a Progressive who voiced mitigated support for the regulatory-entitlement state policies that Theodore Roosevelt championed.

Ever since Ayn Rand became well-known, some people have seemed to overlap in the two categories. Some people call themselves libertarians for natural rights and yet they fall back on saying the State should curb immigration so that tax money will focus on native-born citizens instead of on immigrants. What category a person is in is determined more by his actions than by any vague lip service he gives to natural rights. If someone claims to agree with Ayn Rand and Auberon Herbert but then falls back on “welfare chauvinist” talking points about native-born citizens deserving the tax spending that would otherwise go to grubby immigrants, that person is not being a principled free-marketer in this capacity.

Of special note are the “libertarians”(?) who say that a universal guaranteed [sic] minimum income, paid for through tax money, should “replace [sic] the welfare state.” To say that a guaranteed income “replaces” welfare is disingenuous; a taxpayer-funded guaranteed income is welfare. What these libertarians mean, though, is that they would favor having a guaranteed income instituted if it meant that the other presently existing welfare programs, such as Social Security, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), be repealed.  They proclaim that the advantage of this is that it would result in a net reduction in taxation and government spending.

A net reduction in spending, by itself, would not be objectionable, but principled free-marketers are far from impressed by these libertarians’ (?) concession to the Left’s assumption that everyone’s money is ultimately public property and that every possession in your custody is merely a gift from the social collective.  Those who say that the guaranteed income is somehow fiscally responsible simply because it would waste less money than do other welfare programs, are definitely not principled free-marketers.  That position is, at best, more in line with that of the fiscal tightwads (and even to put such advocates in that classification is to be generous).
 

They All Just Want to Cut Tax Funding? The Difference
Here is the difference. Fiscal tightwads want a cut in taxpayer spending for the following reasons:

  • Taxes are annoying
  • Taxes disincentivize economic productivity, which will result in a net loss in economic productivity for society as a whole
  • Taxpayer funding makes you decadent and lazy and therefore selfish, depriving you of the opportunity to undergo some humbling privation and learn the virtues of unselfish austerity
  • Too much spending will drain the coffers and there will be no tax money left to spend in the long run
  • This tax money is going to something morally debased when it should go to a loftier state-sponsored enterprise

This is the principled free-marketer’s concern:

  • Morality requires that you be free to live peaceably without other people threatening violence to control you. Government spending involves compulsory taxation, and compulsory taxation is a form of extortion and violent control over you, as violence on the part of the State is the recrimination against you if you do not hand over your wealth. Compulsory taxation therefore ought to be driven to the minimum. Period.

Two Interpretations of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum, And a Reply to Each

Stuart K. Hayashi

 

 

In moral debate, participants frequently bring up David Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum. It can be summarized as follows:

Truths or facts cannot be where proper prescriptive rules of human conduct come from. That a truth or fact Is (meaning, is a truth or fact already validated) cannot tell you what you Ought or Ought Not to do . The simpler statement of this is: “You cannot get Ought-to-Do or Ought-Not-to-Do from that which Is .”

 

There are two possible interpretations for this:

 

 

  1. The Contextualist Interpretation: Truths or facts, by themselves and out-of-context, are not sufficient to indicate what you ought or ought not to do. Yet, that an out-of-context datum, by itself, is not sufficient to tell you what you ought or ought not to do, does not properly preclude you from taking facts into consideration of what you ought to do upon already having chosen the proper standard of value.
  2. The Nihilist Interpretation: Truths and facts do not properly tell you what you ought or ought not to do; period. It is indeed possible for you to take pertinent truths and facts into consideration for the purpose of accomplishing some goal, but there is still no objective reason why you ought or ought not to strive for that particular goal. Since truths and facts do not tell you what your goals ought or ought not to be, it follows that truths and facts have zero bearing on what you ought or ought not to do. In sum, truths and facts are ultimately irrelevant in judging, in the grand scheme of everything, whether your past actions were were objectively moral or not.
The first interpretation is partially true, and, even in conceding its partial truthfulness, it must be qualified. Insofar as the first interpretation is true, it is as much indubitably because it gives us some wiggle room whereby we can still get Ought from that which Is. By contrast, the second interpretation is wholly false and nihilistic. More than that, any time someone invokes Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum in an effort to get your to accept the second interpretation and thereby influence your thinking, it is implicitly self-refuting.

 
 

Interpretation 1 Meets Objectivist Metaethics
Again, Interpretation 1 (the Contextualist Interpretation) is correct inasmuch as it gives us room to get Ought from that which Is, provided that it is in the proper context. My standard of value is my life, meaning that my main goal — and thus the source of every subsequent goal — is to live life to the fullest. Note that this must be distinguished from mere physical survival. If I die at 121 years of age and was in consistent misery before then, that was physical survival but it was not living to the fullest. The to the fullest refers to quality of existing being the utmost within that duration, maximizing life not merely in terms of time span but also in terms of comfort and enjoyment.
david-hume-by-allan-ramsay

Portrait of David Hume by Allan Ramsay, 1766.

 

 Truths and facts, by themselves — outside of the context of how they affect my life — are not enough to tell me what I ought or ought not to do. When the fact of gravity, the fact that [momentum] = [mass] x [velocity], and the fact that [final velocity] = [initial velocity] + [ (acceleration) x (time)], are isolated from any context pertaining to living my life to the fullest, such facts remain irrelevant.

 

Once we introduce the context of my goal to live my life to the fullest, though, such facts become pertinent. As my main goal is to live my life to the fullest, it follows that it would be contrary to this main goal for me, as a young man, to die painfully, violently, and quickly, based on some accident or misjudgment. In line with my goal, the facts about gravity and momentum and mass and human physiology do tell me that I ought not to jump out of a skyscraper’s fifth-story window; that would kill me.

Once I have chosen living life to the fullest as my primary goal, I can assess truths and facts to ascertain what my other goals ought or ought not to be, in direct contradiction to the nihilism of the second interpretation of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum. With my primary goal of life maximization in mind, I assess facts to determine what priorities I select as my secondary goals — the secondary goals being intended to serve the first goal.

 

  1. Primary goal: Live life to the fullest, which requires that I not die in the next few weeks.
  2. Truth or fact: I will die if I do not eat anything within the next few weeks.
  3. Conclusion: I ought to eat within the next few weeks. As a corollary to that, my secondary goal is to find suitable food to eat.
Thus, we can form some agreement with Interpretation 1 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum though, as I shall explain in the section directly below, there is one primary Is that is sufficient to validate the subsequent Ought’s. Truths and facts, out of context, remain insufficient to guide me on what I ought or ought not to do. However, when we introduce the primary goal of maximizing life, truths and facts are precisely what we evaluate to instruct us on what we ought or ought not to do.

 

What the Most Important “IS” Is
Yes, Interpretation of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is true, insofar as truths and facts — separated from the context of maximizing your life — are not enough to convey to you what your secondary goals ought to be or ought not to be. In one important respect, though, there is one singular fact or truth — one singular Is — that provides the basis for every Ought-to-Do and Ought-not-to-Do in your life. That truth and fact — that most important Is — is the fact that you live, the fact of your very existence. Once you accept that fact and accordingly opt to push for life to the fullest, at least in practice if not in conscious and explicit philosophizing, you end up considering the truths and the facts — everything that Is, pertinent to you — in ascertaining what you Ought and Ought Not to do in reaching the secondary goals that maintain and improve your life. That one Is — your life — is the foundation for everything you Ought and Ought Not to do. In that respect, even Interpretation 1 is misleading. One grand truth and fact — your existence — ultimately justifies every ethical prescriptive. You are the Is that justifies Ought.Here is another manner in which it can be phrased. Your life is the fact which gives meaning to value; your life is the “Is” that gives meaning to Ought and Ought Not.

 

 

Hence, it is facts and truths — the Is — that properly give rise to Oughtto-Do and Ought-Not-to-Do. On that understanding, Oughtto-Do and Ought-Not-to-Do NECESSARILY come from Is.

 
 

Interpretation 2: The Nihilistic Interpretation

In his arguments, the late Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick implicitly accepts Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum. In direct rebuttal to Objectivism, Nozick proclaims that there is no reason why you ought to choose a full life as your primary goal. And, he adds, if there is no out-of-context Is — no out-of-context truth or out-of-context fact — that commands you to choose a full life as your primary goal, then it follows that is no objective reason, in the grand scheme of everything, why you Ought-to-Do or Ought-Not-to-Do anything.Thus, what can be inferred from Nozick’s argument is that facts and truths can never provide any input in helping you consider what you ought or ought not to do. That is, Nozick’s argument is that it is not merely the case that out-of-context truths and out-of-context facts — separated from the goal of a full life — are unable to provide a guide for ethical prescription. Rather, Nozick goes as far as saying that in any and every context, truths and facts will never have any bearing on what you should or should not do.

This is not to say that Nozick explicitly denies there is any morality, though. Explicitly influenced by Immanuel Kant, Nozick puts forth what he proclaims to be absolute objective moral principles, and then adds that such allegedly absolute objective moral principles did not and cannot come from observation-based reasoning. (That is, though Kant and Nozick would not put it in such explicit terms, this really comes down to their allegedly absolute and objective principles being unsubstantiated and arbitrary.)

My answer to Nozick is the same one that Ronald E. Merrill gave him. I entirely concede that there is nothing I can say or cite to make you choose full living as your primary goal. But unlike Nozick, I do not see this as any sort of dilemma for Objectivism. Anyone who does not want to live fully is free to go somewhere and die. It is for those of us who choose maximal living — at least, choose it in practice if not by conscious explication — that secondary goals become pertinent. And to reach those secondary goals, we must consider the facts and act in accordance with them, and that is where Is becomes a guide for what we Ought and Ought Not to do.

 

Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum Is Truth, So You Ought Not…

Now I want to address the internal contradiction of anyone in an ethical debate, such as Nozick, invoking Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum in order to influence the thinking and debate behavior of his debate interlocutor. Anytime someone in an ethical debate cites Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum to you, there is an implicit imparting to you that there is something you Ought-to-Do or Ought-Not-to-Do in ethical debates, based on the premise that Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is itself a truthful Is.

The reasoning is as follows.

  • Explicit Statement 1: Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is that you cannot properly learn what you Ought or Ought Not to do, based on truths or facts, based on what Is.
  • Explicit Statement 2: Hume’s Is-Ought-Dictum is the truth. Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is a truthful Is.
  • Implicit Conclusion You Are Supposed to Draw From This: Based on the truthful Is that is Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum, you Ought Not to derive any Ought-Not from any truthful Is.

You see the internal contradiction there? Someone tells me that Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is a fact or, at minimum, an objective truth. Based on acceptance of this objective truth — this objective Is — that is Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum, I Ought to stop making these ridiculous attempts to argue that Ought-to does come from Is.

 

“Cannot Do It” Vs. “Ought Not to Try It”

In response to my pointing out this internal contradiction, one nihilistic apologist for Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum (who claims to be an Objectivist!), replied along these lines:

No, no, no, no, no! You Ought to [why should I Ought-to, silly?!! –S.H.] pay heed to the distinction between my saying you are forever unable to do something versus my saying you ought not to try to do it. When I cite Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum, I am not telling you that you Ought or Ought Not to pay heed to it; I am not telling you that you Ought Not to try to get your Ought -Not rules from that which Is. I am merely saying that if you do attempt such an effort, you will always fail, because it is logically impossible.

I do not buy into that rebuttal, because it slyly obfuscates the implicit purpose behind telling anyone that any proposition is impossible to accomplish.

Suppose I know someone named Bob. Bob seriously believes that if he keeps flapping his arms hard enough, there will come day in the years ahead when flapping his arms will enable him to fly. I tell him, “Bob, it is impossible for you to fly, ever, by flapping your arms.” What is the point in my telling Bob this? The implicit message behind telling anyone that a proposition is impossible to accomplish is that that person ought not to act on that proposition — implicitly because Bob trying to do something impossible would be contrary to Bob’s eudaemonic self-interest.

If it is logically impossible for me to acquire Ought-Not-to from that which Is, then — because living a full life is my implicit primary goal — it logically follows I Ought Not to try to acquire an Ought-Not-to from that which Is, does it not? The point in telling someone that he is forever unable to accomplish a specific task is to convey that he ought not to expend any more effort at that specific task. Therefore, the rebuttal from that nihilistic apologist for Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum does not hold up; any citation of Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum in philosophic debate remains implicitly self-contradictory and hypocritical, because it conveys that, in consideration of the allegedly truthful Is that is Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum, I Ought Not to do something.

Ghost Stories Aren’t About a Fear of Death; They Are About the Trauma and Regret of the Living

Stuart K. Hayashi
 

My drawing is supposed to be of Chernabog from Disney’s “Fantasia.” Of course, Chernabog is a demon, not a ghost. ^_^

I recognize that, by definition, everything that exists, exists within the natural universe and operates according to the principles of natural law.  Even that which is man-made is natural in the sense that it functions according to scientific principles and cannot contradict or suspend them.  Anything that exists has natural attributes.  According to that understanding, to say that the “supernatural exists” is a contradiction in terms.  To label something “supernatural” is not to say that it is “extremely natural,” but that it is above and beyond natural — that it is outside of what is natural (i.e., that which exists).  To proclaim that something has an existence beyond, apart from, and outside of Nature is to proclaim that it has an existence beyond, apart from, and outside of existence.

I find it no contradiction that I continue to be fascinated by stories about the paranormal and the occult.  I do not take those stories literally anymore, as I did when I was ten; they now interest me as a sort of psychological phenomenon.  I am interested in the significance and the symbolism of ghost stories.  Here, I will not so much discuss people’s motivations for why they listen to and tell ghost stories, but about why I think certain famous ghost stories remain well-remembered.
 

It’s About More Than “I Just Like to Feel Scared”
Briefly, I think that it is an incomplete explanation to say that people like ghost stories because they like to feel scared.  As horror movie mogul Wes Craven once pointed out in USA Weekend, no one really likes feeling scared as such.  Rather, people expose themselves to scary stories and movies in order to make themselves feel brave.  When they encounter such scary stories, they feel all of the primal sensations of fear and alarm.  But, by the end of the story, they remain safe and alive, while they feel somewhat brave for having “survived” the simulation of terror.

I think that if people listened to ghost stories and watched scary movies solely for the sensation of fear — without any interest in the other emotions involved in the story — then they wouldn’t have much memory about the details of the story.  I surmise that the details of certain ghost stories touch upon emotions other than fear.  When people have strong memories about a certain ghost story, it is not merely because they empathize with the protagonists who encounter the ghosts, but empathize with the ghosts themselves.
 

The Rules of a Certain Ghost-Story Template
There is definitely a lot of variation, and what I am about to say doesn’t perforce apply to every famous urban legend about ghosts.  However, many famous ghost stories follow a certain template.

First, the ghost is territorial; he or she inhabits a certain location; there are geographic parameters the spirit cannot breach.   Some ghosts, such as the one I will describe later in this essay, are capable of traveling long distances.  However, even in the case of these exceptions (as I will detail below), there remain thresholds the apparition will not cross.

Secondly, the ghost has some sort of “unfinished business”; there was something that happened to the ghost when he or she was alive; the ghost feels that this matter remains unresolved.  This aspect of the ghost-story template is integral to my theory.

The third aspect is that insofar as the ghost conveys that he has “unfinished business,” the ghost will betray this information in only the most indirect fashion.  This is seldom purely by the ghost’s own choice; there is always some involuntary (usually unexplained) aspect of the spirit realm that precludes the ghost from very directly expressing to the living what issues of the ghost remain unsettled.  The story usually goes that when some living human encounters a ghost, the ghost communicates by nothing more than cryptic clues that the living investigator has to piece together.  (This is seen in the supposedly based-on-truth movie The Changeling.)

In many respects, a living human trying to investigate the story behind a ghost’s unrest is very similar to a psychologist trying to uncover the reasons behind the mysterious behavior of someone who is mentally ill and in denial about the mental illness.  If you very directly ask a mentally-ill-person-in-denial about the reasons for his or her condition, you will seldom receive a direct, straightforward, earnest answer.  This is especially true if that person is still going through his or her “episode.”  By the same token, if the living human enters the haunted domain and asks the spirit, point blank, what it wants and what needs to be done for the hauntings to stop, the ghost will seldom provide a direct, lucid, coherent answer.  Usually, the ghost cannot give a coherent answer, just as a mentally-ill person will feel that he or she cannot.

The fourth rule is that a ghost that haunts a place engages in some sort of repetitive behavior.  I have heard stories about some horrible mass murder committed on some famous spot.  Supposedly, every anniversary the ghosts of the victims and murderer will reappear and, behaving and reacting as if they are still alive, will re-create the entire massacre before living spectators.  When I give this example, one might say to me, “Aha! The murder results in death; therefore, the ghosts’ re-enactment of events necessarily has to involve their death.”  I dispute that.  For instance, there are some ghost stories (both presented as fiction and as “true”) about some hospitals, schools, or orphanages where patients or children were mistreated.  According to the legends, the mistreated ghosts will re-appear and whimper, and re-enact the mistreatment, even if the mistreatment did not result in their physical deaths.

The repetitive behavior is another trait that haunting spirits have in common with living people who have certain mental illnesses.  As I mentioned before, many people, who have a certain context-dropping image of “life, as it really is,” insist on going through the same self-destructive behavioral patterns over and over again, despite their always getting the same dismal results.  An example would be an insistence on getting into one abusive relationship after another.   The pattern only changes when the living human chooses to commit to changing with it, and sticks to that commitment.  Likewise, a ghost that haunts some place will usually repeat the same pattern until the “unfinished business” is resolved.  Unlike a real-life living person, however, the ghost cannot change the pattern on his own; he necessarily needs a living human being to help him; he needs the living, lucid human to initiate some new action that alters the course of events and gives him peace.

Next, I will give an example of a famous ghost story that I think follows these conventions.  After that I will explain why I think that people find the story scary not primarily on account of it reminding them of death, but primarily because it reminds them about the regrets that living people have about their lives.
 

The Vanishing Hitchhiker
Here is a story that is almost always told as true, and goes at least as far back as the 1970s.  Commonly the storyteller says it happened to a friend of a friendA motorist minds his own business driving along some area that isn’t very familiar to him.  Along the way, he finds a rather benign-looking hitchhiker.  The motorist stops and asks the hitchhiker where he wants to go.  The hitchhiker gives a very specific home address.  The motorist replies, “Hey, that’s on the way to my destination!  Hop in!”  The hitchhiker probably doesn’t ride in the front passenger seat, but in the back, where the motorist cannot see the hitchhiker unless he turns his head.  Along the journey, the two get to talking and form an emotional bond.  After a while, though, they stop talking.

Eventually, during the silence the motorist reaches the home address.  He turns around and says, “We’re at your stop!”  But the hitchhiker is nowhere to be seen.  The motorist looks everywhere and cannot find his companion.  Puzzled, he says to himself, “I deserve an explanation.”  He goes to the residence and rings the doorbell.  Some old person answers it.  The motorist says, “This is going to sound very strange, but I picked up a hitchhiker who asked me to take him to this address.  But now I can’t find him.”  At this point, the motorist sees the hitchhiker in a photograph on the wall and exclaims, “That’s him!”

The resident explains that that hitchhiker is a relative or some family friend, and has been deceased many years.  Sometimes the story goes that the hitchhiker had some falling out with the house’s residents, and they always missed each other.  The hitchhiker died before any reconciliation could take place.  In some versions of the story, the hitchhiker was going to the house to make amends, but on his way he was hit and killed by a drunk driver . . . and he died on the very spot where the motorist picked him up.  In some versions, the resident says that there were many occasions on which other motorists picked up the hitchhiker at that exact same spot and the hitchhiker gave the address, only for the hitchhiker to disappear before arriving at the destination.

At this point, someone who hears the story for the first time (usually a child), gets goosebumps.  I find that a very interesting reaction.  Why would you find that story scary when the ghost’s intentions are completely harmless?  The hitchhiker isn’t trying to kill anyone.  He isn’t trying to possess or enslave anyone.  He just wants to return to a certain location — a place he couldn’t return to while alive.    My first impulse might be to say, “People find the story scary, despite the ghost’s benign intentions, because the story reminds of them of death.”  But now I think differently.  I think that the story is scary because it reminds people of regrets about actions people have taken while alive — the story is scary even when it reminds you of people who still are very much alive, at least physically.
 

My Analysis of the Hitchhiker Story
First I want to point out the areas where I think the hitchhiker tale fits the template I mentioned.  At first it might seem that the hitchhiker is not territorial; he is able to travel by motor car.  But note that he always follows the same path and his mobility remains limited.  Whenever he is picked up by a motorist, he is picked up at the same basic spot.  In some versions, that spot is where he died, and, according to some odd rule, his dying there renders it his default location.  The hapless motorists usually take the same route.  Finally, the hitchhiker always tries to get to the same address, and, presumably, he always disappears from the car at roughly the same area on the road.

Second, that the ghost has some “unfinished business” is very obvious.  He keeps trying to reach a certain residence, and he never succeeds.  Back when he was alive, he wanted to get there to try to resolve some personal matter.  Because he died before that could happen, the matter will forever remain unsettled.

Third, the ghost’s method of communicating his basic problem is indirect.  The ghost could have told the motorist from the beginning, “I’m a ghost and I want to reach this street address because there is someone there whom I never properly said good-bye to before I died.”  But the ghost doesn’t say that; his pain is conveyed to the living person in a very roundabout way.

Fourthly, there is the repetitive behavior.  There are versions of the story where the house resident tells the motorist that many other motorists in the past have picked up the hitchhiker in the same location, only for him to disappear in the same location.   Thus, like many people with Borderline Personality Disorder, the hitchhiker keeps replaying the same pattern of behavior, only to wind up with the same dismal results (or non-results).

I believe the story strikes a chord with people for reasons quite apart from the part about the hitchhiker being dead.  I think lots of people remember that story because they have empathy for the hitchhiker.  They think, “Isn’t it tragic that the hitchhiker died before he could truly settle the matter?  Isn’t it tragic that the hitchhiker will not be able to give his final message to the house resident face-to-face?”  Then they think, “I have lots of unresolved concerns going on right now.  What if I died before my dreams were fulfilled, before I could resolve the troubles in my life?  What if I die with similar unfinished business?”  That’s a very unpleasant thought, and I think that is the real reason that the story’s ending gives people goosebumps.

I think that the tale of the vanishing hitchhiker evokes a fear much greater than the fear of death.  It reminds people about regrets.  It reminds them of how so many living people, today, engage in regretful actions — or regretful inaction — and lots of them are going to die before things can be made right.  That is, those wrongs will never be righted.   A possibility such as that is what is truly frightening. This is the probable root of a common American expression.  When someone continues to be bothered by unpleasant memories, he can say, “I’m being haunted by the ghosts of my past.”
 

Haunted
That metaphor is given a lot of meaning in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.  As he is being literally(?) visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, Ebenezer Scrooge is pressured into facing all of the regrets of his past.  When talking with the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge faces his present insecurities, particularly his loneliness.  Finally, when stalked by the Ghost of Christmas Future, Scrooge contemplates the possibility that he will die before all of his present insecurities are reconciled — that when he dies, it will be in a state as lonely as he has been in the present and the past.  The ghosts are a metaphor for (1) Scrooge’s regrets and (2) Scrooge’s fear that those issues will never be rectified.

I think the principles I have explicated even apply to ghost stories involving ghosts that re-enact their own murder.  When those tales evoke fear, I don’t think the fear mainly comes from the realization that the victims have died, but mainly from the horror of contemplating the fact that real, living people are capable of performing an act as monstrous as murdering other human beings.  That’s why people will find a ghost story scary if dead children in an orphanage, mental hospital, or school reenact physical or psychological abuse they have endured.  Even though the re-enactment doesn’t involve the characters’ death, it evokes fear and revulsion because it reminds us that people can inflict forms of cruelty that don’t even result in anyone dying.  That, too, is regretful.

And as the vanishing hitchhiker story exemplifies, the ghost story doesn’t have to involve human evil in order to be disturbing.  The common thread in these stories is that, back when the ghost was alive, people made highly regretful choices and they were never corrected — nor will they be.  Very few of these stories end with the living eyewitness finding a way to finish the ghost’s unfinished business.

I have been thinking long and hard about this symbolism, because I know someone who spent time in Hawaii with me — and returned to Norway — who has suffered with suicidal tendencies and self-mutilation for years, and could be very happy, but, to my knowledge, has refused to return to psychiatric care.  In one of her more lucid moments, my friend warned me that in social relationships she repeats the same dysfunctional pattern — first it starts well, but she does something to sabotage it later on.  Just as it would be with a ghost, my attempt at conversing about the matter in a straightforward way are frustrated; but, like a ghost, my friend lets out indirect cries for help.  Many people assume my friend is confident and business-savvy.  But, conspicuously, my friend insisted on looking like a ghost, wearing black almost every day and trying to be very pale.  She even went as far as uploading — in the absence of providing any context behind it — pictures onto the Web where she was very realistically photoshopped to look like a dead body, complete with pallid gray skin. Later she finally stopped uploading the corpse pictures but that hasn’t stopped the public morbid gestures entirely — she legally changed her name to match the last name of someone she and another relative have cryptically hinted was a source of abuse.   My worries about the matter have led me to be very openly agitated and jumpy, just as I would be if a supernatural entity were visiting me.  As there is with every ghost story, there are elements of regret:  I regret that my attempts to help my friend are stifled, and that my friend’s inner torment — like any specter’s — goes on and on and on. You can say that I’m very much haunted by this.  And until I find a way to stop worrying about it, this remains a demon yet to be exorcised.