SKINNER VS. MACHAN
I have read Tibor R. Machan's criticism of B.F. Skinner in the January 1975 issue of REASON, and find that both of them seem to have ignored an important psychological premise in their arguments.
It seems to me that when human conduct is faced with an external challenge demanding a decision of position, it does not have all that much freedom of choice as implied by Mr. Machan and ignored by Skinner. Why? Because each individual by then is mentally locked into a position on the subject and responds accordingly.
It is common knowledge that we are born with a complement of brain cells (computer-like tapes) on which practically nothing has been recorded. Also that from the event of birth forward, we are constantly recording on those cells (1) experiences received from our environment through our sensory equipment and (2) the experiences and preferences of others which we receive as education from our parents, siblings, teachers, religion etc.; what one might call indoctrination.
As children we accept all indoctrination as true and factual because it is received from persons we regard as authorities and are thus thought to be infallible.
But as we mature we become a bit choosy, we try to bring into consonance all the miscellaneous information which is cluttering our brain cells. We alter, change, discard, correlate, and ultimately arrive at a posture for each category of information which we feel is correct or "true" because it satisfies our philosophy of life and of the universe.
The result is a complement of values strictly personal, strictly our own. This is naturally an ongoing process, and the more we reinforce any given value by new information which we accept for it, the stronger it becomes, and the more dominant and decisive our potential to respond in a predestined manner when the value is challenged.
Decision making is automatic when the question asked and the results desired are in consonance with a person's values. Under such circumstances choice becomes acquiescence to pre-determined response potential.
But when the problem posed and an individual's values are in conflict, an attitude of hostility results, and freedom of choice becomes a propensity for one to pursue the attitude based upon his preconceived and chosen values.
All of which makes me conclude that one is far more a free agent at the point of integration of accepted materials into his value system than he is at the point of making a choice when the subject of the decision he must make is in conflict with his accepted and integrated values.
Millard R. Kreinheder
Sun City, AZ
Dr. Machan replies: Some of what Mr. Kreinheder says could be correct without any change implied for my criticism of Skinner. I won't attempt here to explain how that might be. The point worth disputing is Mr. Kreinheder's view on the development of ideas in children. First, he offers no argument for his claim. Second, experience on even a common sense level goes against it: hardly anyone picks up everything offered to him (ideas, claims, theories, explanations, values, information, etc.) in childhood; some of what is picked up gets discarded soon; the "authorities" are not actually taken as such even when their claim to that position is sound; different authorities tend to offer different perspectives, sometimes contradictory information.
I agree that we tend to determine ourselves during our maturing years. But since we could change, with effort, our freedom—which means our capacity for initiating our mental function of, e.g., conceptual inquiry—stays with us. Changing need not be easy to be possible. But we are not set on some irreversible tracks somewhere in adolescence. The idea is philosophically absurd—and no science has ever overturned a sound philosophical point! —T.R.M.
RIGHTS WITHOUT JUSTICE
I congratulate Richard Warshak for his cogent review of Walter Kaufmann's Without Guilt and Justice [March), and second his recommendation of this book to those who pursue a challenging perspective on life. There is a clarification, however, that should be made regarding Kaufmann's "utilitarian" approach.
It is true that Kaufmann concentrates on questions of how the concept of justice is used in society: what do we intend when we speak of it, how can it be sought, and how is it manifested, if at all? In other words, Kaufmann explores the social function of the concept—and concludes that, in many cases, the concept of justice (reward for virtue, punishment for vice) is often superfluous (and sometimes pernicious) as a framework for responding to social problems.
This emphasis on the functionality of concepts ought not to be confused with utilitarianism, which embodies the over-reaching moral principle of majority supremacy. Although utilitarians may argue on grounds of social functionality, their considerations are prejudiced by their ethical position—analogous to the Marxists, who argue economics through the prejudice of the labor theory of value. Considerations of how concepts function in society are no more inherently utilitarian than considerations of how the market functions in society.
Indeed, Kaufmann's point is akin to a well-known maxim of economic theory: it is both meaningless and pointless to ponder the value of a fair price, when one can only realistically contend with actual market prices. So also, talk of "justice" is futile, when one can only contend with one's actual fortunes in life.
Kaufmann does not discuss rights, but his treatment of "justice" indicates a perspective that could enable libertarians to formulate rights theory without recourse to the idea of justice.
In sympathy with Warshak's reluctance to abandon the "just" heroes of one's youth, I might add that one should never have to feel loss upon achieving a wiser perspective than that of one's heroes. Kaufmann, in rejecting guilt and justice, shows us that human responsibility must stand on the recognition that autonomy of action must entail autonomy of one's ethical perspective! This is an insight I urge all libertarians to investigate.
Mr. Warshak replies: Kaufmann certainly does a thorough job of exposing the numerous difficulties with popular notions of retributive and distributive justice. In terms of the way society uses "justice," one could not quarrel with the conclusion that the concept leaves much to be desired. However, because a concept is misused by many, or has been poorly defined in the past, is not sufficient reason for dispensing with the concept entirely.
As I point out in my review, it is the concept of desert, which underlies justice, that Kaufmann is attacking. Throwing out the concept of justice makes meaningless any idea of that which a person deserves or is entitled to. And although it is true that "society" misuses this idea, I personally find it helpful in defining my responsibilities toward others and my expectations of them. I would like to see ethical and legal philosophers respond to the challenge presented by this difficult concept by clarifying what is meant by justice.—R.W.
Some comments concerning Susan Love Brown's well-formulated article "The Rape of the Black Mind" [January]:
One area upon which Ms. Brown does not touch in tracing the development of the collectivist attitude among blacks is the early history of the eugenics movement. Eugenics began with the work of the important scientific innovator Sir Francis Galton during the 1870's and 1880's, and by the early years of the present century had gained a large and respected following. During these early years, eugenicism was much involved with the notion of genetic inferiority among darker skinned peoples and considerable "scientific" effort was expended in supporting this position. Among those dedicated to the ideal of racial inferiority were many of the prominent collectivist scientists and social reformers of the day. The idea of racially and ethnically linked genetic inferiority lost respectability rather abruptly in the early 1930's as a result of its enthusiastic adoption by the German National Socialists. However, during its years of prominence it served as justification and inspiration for much of the Jim Crow legislation which remained in force into the 1950's and 1960's. The importance of our being aware of this phase of the eugenics movement is that one of the ways in which the collectivists have gained black support in recent years is by presenting themselves as the traditional supporters of the ideal of human equality. There are, of course, other historical examples of collectivist support of racism and ethnocentricism. This one, however, has received relatively little attention, especially considering its importance.
The thrust of Ms. Brown's article is almost wholly psychological, something which, unfortunately, is not too common in individualist writing. With a few notable exceptions, the orientation of libertarians and conservatives alike tends to be ethical or economic. It is important to point out that coercive collectivism is immoral and economically inefficient. How, ever, that it also is emotionally and developmentally disastrous to the persons subjected to it seems, to me, to be a much more serious charge.
Susan Love Brown has added another dimension to libertarianism with her treatment of black oppression and collectivism. But her analysis hints at a basic problem of libertarians—a failure to appreciate fully the causes and benefits of collective associations.
She says: "It matters not one iota to the mental well-being of the individual…whether he has shared with others the experience which has torn his mind asunder.…" But it does matter: simply the knowledge that others have suffered the same injustices and been prevented from enjoying the same rights is an enormous benefit to the individual. It enables him to put his persecution in context; he has objective evidence that he is not insane, his persecutors are. It would be wrong to use the experiences of others as the sole source of feedback—but as one source, it is comforting in its consistency with internal logic. That comfort can make the difference between cynical withdrawal and self-confident openness.
No individual must, or I believe can, survive in a cultural vacuum. The individual mind can do many things—but it is not self-directing. No philosophy is born full-grown from the mind of one human being without consideration of the entire context—especially the cultural climate—of the individual.
It is not just the increase in standard of living and varieties of vocations which result from a social collective and a division of labor. There is the issue of why some cultures developed one way, and others, in opposite directions.
Contributing factors include geography, meteorology, and history. For example, the number of countries having both discrete north and south regions in which the pattern of industrialization and intellectual development followed that geographical boundary is striking. Among those countries are France, Italy, the USA, India, and the Vietnams.
As far as history is concerned, cultural atmospheres and traditions are conservative, self-perpetuating phenomena—necessarily and beneficially so. It is a beneficial situation because those cultures which have self-defeating traditions fail to survive as time goes on. In the long run, the traditions which survive are those which enhance survival.
The danger inherent in that circumstance is one which could only have become apparent when traditions became separated from the contexts which bred them. Industrialization and emigration have been the greatest destroyers of that relation, but recently communication and even archeology have been causing similar upsets of cultural integrity.
But the facts remain: Aristotle could not have formulated his rules of logic or ethics in another cultural milieu; Copernicus could not have reasoned and substantiated his way to another cosmology a millennium earlier; the Industrial Revolution could not have started in Australia; Les Miserables could not have been written by anyone other than Hugo and still be Les Miserables. A is A. The past contains the seeds of the future. The social, political, geographical, and historical climate nourishes the seeds; there is no spontaneous generation, either of life or of philosophy.
Individuals do not have to rely solely on their own minds to survive. Language and the printing press made that impossibility unnecessary.
I do owe a debt to Galileo, to Michelangelo, to Pasteur, and to the other thousands of scientists, inventors, artists, and industrialists whose works I enjoy today. To be sure, in most cases they would have done the same things even if I was not to enjoy their works. But their work has made my enjoyment possible.
The debt I owe to the individuals of the past is the acknowledgment of their achievements as being theirs. I fully expect "the future" to accord me the same honor; I certainly intend to be worthy of that honor. In the long run we are not all dead. A culture is an individual's means to immortality, if he uses it.
Daniel M. Karlan
Highland Park, NJ
I was interested to see the results of the New York governor's race ["Frontlines," February]. However, they were reported in an unduly optimistic light, it seems to me. Notable is the fact that the Free Libertarian Party (FLP) spent $65,000 for its 10,503 votes. Yet it was outpolled by the Courage (American) Party, which spent less than one tenth of that amount. Also, the FLP's goal of 50,000 votes to gain a permanent line on the ballot was not achieved. This failure, I submit, was due in part, at least, to the fact that it blew a chance to support, in the Senate race, a man with political experience, impeccable libertarian credentials, and a thorough understanding of the economic picture—Mr. Percy L. Greaves, Jr. The Libertarian Party can ill afford such mistakes if it seriously hopes to exert any influence on the course of politics.
UNITED WE STAND
A disturbing trend has become obvious in recent issues of REASON, a trend symptomatic of the libertarian movement at large. The letters section of this magazine has become the forum for increasingly acrid denunciations of some libertarian viewpoints by adherents of other viewpoints. Ayn Rand has become a favorite target for many. Murray Rothbard's ideological purity has been questioned. The low point was reached with the astonishing attack upon Milton Friedman in the March issue.
The diversity of opinion within the broad libertarian perspective has always been one of its prime attractants. A tolerance for differences within that perspective was an integral factor in the movement's vitality. What has happened to that tolerance?
The proponents of autarchism, Objectivism, classical liberalism, and libertarianism have a long road to travel together before their philosophical differences cause them to diverge. Those differences cannot be ignored, but they have no immediacy until we have done the many things at the outset which all libertarians acknowledge as necessary. We must not indulge in sectarianism. To do so will ultimately result in a proliferation of libertarian factions, each too small to have any impact by itself, all having lost the opportunity to achieve success had they worked together.
Leo M. Alves
Your article "Collecting Coins for Fun and Profit" by Robert B. Crim in the January issue, I thought was a pretty fair view and enjoyed it very much.
Bruce M. Abrash, President
Numismatic Funding Corp.
Heartiest congratulations on your interviews with Friedman and Hayek in the December 1974 and February 1975 issues of REASON. These were highly informative and totally fascinating. The interviews give an insight not only into the economic views of these men, but into the trend of their recent thoughts on other political and social issues, some of which have never appeared before in print. Particularly fruitful for libertarian readers are the aspects of their thought which differ from libertarianism, as an aid to cross-fertilization of ideas rather than simply a re-absorption and reinforcement of libertarian ideas. The questions asked by the interviewers were apparently well thought out in advance, and acted as excellent catalysts for evoking the most interesting responses. I hope REASON will run more interviews of this nature.
Los Angeles, CA
I was greatly pleased to read the letters in REASON [March] that you printed in response to "Uncle Miltie" Friedman's interview that appeared in the December issue.
I see that many others have recognized that "Uncle Miltie" is no more a libertarian than Richard Nixon. If there were a way to "drum" someone out of the libertarian movement, we should invent it and apply it in his case.
I admire your courage in printing his confused statements so as to expose this charlatan. Keep up the good works.
David Michael Myers
James Carey's review of Young Frankenstein ["Movies," March] has straightened me out. Although I have some experience as a comedy writer and, perhaps, should have known better, I confess that, when I saw Young Frankenstein, I made the mistake of being very amused by it (even to the point of laughing quite hysterically during one scene). However, Mr. Carey has informed us that Young Frankenstein "is not very funny," and so I now realize that my reaction to it was inappropriate. Therefore, the next time I desire to be greatly amused, I will not go to see Young Frankenstein again (as I had previously intended). Instead, I will re-read Mr. Carey's hilarious review of it.
I must respond to Alan Scott Kaufman's letter [March], if only to say why it is not worthy of response: I cannot imagine anyone who is more than superficially familiar with libertarianism and the Libertarian Party thinking or writing in this manner. It would be tedious to point out all the errors of fact and of interpretation presented in that letter. The issue is broader than one man's views anyway; it keeps cropping up, and it seems to be difficult for many to deal with. That issue is: what to do about Ayn Rand's attitude towards the libertarian movement. It is, after all, embarrassingly uncomfortable to have one's mentor frowning at one's political activities, and denouncing them at every turn. The manner in which the students and disciples of Rand deal with her disapproval serves as a good measure of how well they have learned the lessons she has to teach.
I suspect Mr. Kaufman regards himself as an Objectivist; his letter presents ample evidence that he is instead one of those slavishly unthinking idolators of Rand who, having read Atlas Shrugged, concludes that no further thought is necessary, because Rand has all the answers. May I remind him, and others like him, of some of the primary tenets of Objectivist epistemology: one's conclusions and judgments must be guided solely by the evidence of reality; any new information must be integrated into one's previous knowledge before use can be made of it; and one must be constantly prepared to revise one's estimates and conclusions based on new data. These principles, applied, mean that one must be careful in making the kind of sweeping charges indulged in by Mr. Kaufman. That some libertarians are publicity-seekers and "swingers" does not constitute proof that libertarians in general are frivolous; that some libertarians are anarcho-capitalists does not constitute proof that any one of them is irresponsible; that one libertarian may have revised history incorrectly does not constitute proof that libertarians are ignorant or vicious.
The same principles apply, of course, to Rand: that she has in the past been both brilliant and mistaken (at different times) does not indicate that all her work is either one or the other. It has simply been what it has been—often brilliant, sometimes mistaken.
Mr. Kaufman closes by insisting that the libertarian movement has disowned Ayn Rand. I would like to close by suggesting that such an action would be impossible—libertarians and the libertarian movement simply do not possess that sort of unanimity of opinion.
I was interested to read Ms. Nathan's position on amnesty for draft evaders, etc. ["Letters," December] not because this position is new to me, but because it is the same position which I have been hearing for years from by arch-conservative friends in YAF. With all respect to Ms. Nathan's other political and philosophical positions, which may be libertarian, this one is not.
Libertarianism asserts that individuals come before the law. If the law has any purpose at all, it is to protect the rights of the individual (see, for example, the Declaration of Independence). Therefore, logically, the law must take a back seat to individual rights where the two are in conflict.
In fact that the selective service law is on the books is no more reason to obey it than the fact that Article 58 of the Soviet law is on the books is any reason for a Soviet prison camp inmate not to escape from the GULag archipelago.
Last, but not least, I have a personal interest in Ms. Nathan's answer to a question which has gone unanswered every time I put it to others who hold positions similar to Ms. Nathan's: What is her stand on the question of amnesty for gold bullion owners?
Charles R. Curley
Los Angeles, CA
Richard Evers states ["Letters," February) that Ursula K. LeGuin's novel. The Dispossessed, portrays a "functioning libertarian society (of the anarchist communal type)." Although Ms. LeGuin's novel is of interest to libertarians Evers is being generous with the use of the term "libertarian," if not also with the term "functioning."
The question of whether communal anarchism can ever be libertarian is outside the scope of this letter. However, the society depicted in The Dispossessed fails to meet libertarian standards on several major points. Perhaps the most fundamental departure is the refusal of the "government" of the supposedly anarchist colony to permit free immigration and emigration on its planet, a policy characteristic of the most totalitarian societies. It should be noted that this is not a proprietary community formed by voluntary contract, but that the present population has been born into this Utopia.
Shevek, the hero of the novel, leaves the Utopian colony at the risk of his life, because its intellectual bureaucracy is suppressing his theories. Far from being a contented Utopian, Shevek is disillusioned by a society which thwarts his academic developments and whose economy is run by a "Production and Distribution Council" which has the power to send him and his "wife" to opposite ends of the planet for several years while its already abhorrently inefficient economy is in a temporary "recession."
The value of this novel for libertarians, contrary to Ever's assertions, is in showing that liberty consists of more than nominally eliminating government.
Baton Rouge, LA
HOW DO WE LIMIT GOVERNMENT?
Tibor Machan and Leonard Read [April] are guilty of intellectual dishonesty. They like every other "limited government advocate" that I have read, go around advocating a "principled government—a government limited to where it should be limited…but (and it's a big but), they never, never tell us exactly how they propose to limit a government that does not want to be limited. This is not a question to be taken lightly, for it is the very heart of a "limited government" system that could work.
The patent office used to require inventors to submit working models of their inventions before a patent would be issued. Perhaps, such a request is in order for those who have "invented" limited government. Let us see a "working model" so that we can really believe the claims laid to this "perpetual motion machine."
David Michael Myers
Dr. Machan replies: There is no way to limit a government that does not want to be limited regardless of cost. Since this is true of anyone capable of wielding power, defense agents, guards, little old grandmothers, etc., it poses no more of a problem than would any other system. It might be worth noting that I refrain from using the term "limited government" because the concept "government," properly defined, already imposes the limitations on what must be meant by this term. To talk of limited marriages, limited dancing, etc. The law of identity would appear to impose limits on anything that exists and could exist. Government that is what government must be is no more limited than anything else in this position.
As to my intellectual honesty, I doubt that it is a topic for a two paragraph tirade. Mr. Myers ought to limit his own scope according to his powers.—T.R.M.