Letters

|

ARMED RESISTANCE

It is exasperating to think that libertarians need to fortify themselves by premeditating violence against government employees. I am referring to Morgan Norval's article and Robert Miller's letter in the October REASON.

The notion of armed resistance or insurrection is more futile than wise. Few persons today would have the motive or courage necessary to raise arms against the government. Those of them that raised arms would find themselves outnumbered thousands-to-one, at the mercy of a very efficient and ruthless police system. At best, insurrectionists might produce a momentary period of social chaos before they would be exterminated or imprisoned.

Apart from the futility of armed resistance, there is the stronger criticism that the path of insurrection would lead to the loss of innocent lives. This is almost inevitable, granted Norval's class concept of who our "enemies" are. It is far too easy to single out a class of persons (government employees) as those wholly responsible for the plight of society—and against whom no reprisal is too great. If complicity is calculated on an all-or-nothing basis, how am I supposed to have any confidence in the moral discretion of self-styled libertarian insurrectionists? If Miller can look forward to snuffing out a bumbling IRS clerk, how can that be viewed as a sane approach to social freedom?

By no means am I denying the importance of firearms as weapons of defense. But, by the same token, I cannot go along with the hysteria connected with possible gun control; there are more ways than that to defend oneself, if the need arises. We cannot afford to waste time with violence fantasies. They offer no way out, as history has shown. Better to spend our energies in demonstrating the efficacy of open and autonomous human relationships, instead of submitting to the futility of violent revenge.

It is 200 years too late for violence to liberate us. Today, there is less freedom and (paradoxically) more wealth than at the time of the Revolution—a condition that the population does not question or criticize. If freedom is to prevail in such an environment, it will only be through the appeal to spiritual values—not through the bloodbath and destruction of righteous revenge.

Mike Dunn
Seattle, WA

FIGHTING INFLATION

The Libertarian Party's "position paper" on inflation blames the Federal Reserve for inflation. That is like blaming intercourse for syphilis, when it's merely the transmitter. The Party's position is doubly ineffective. It blames an entity that is Dullsville to most voters, and it completely misses the real culprit, the political target, the Congressman who votes for inflation. Their strategy is totally lacking while mine is the one that could help them eliminate most of the Congressmen currently in office.

Inflation is caused by printing excess money. But that cannot be done except to finance federal deficits, which can be imposed only by your Congressman, individually, voting with the majority.

If, every time a Congressman voted to spend more, or cut income taxes, the Party published a small local ad stating that "On Sept.____ , Congressman_______ voted for INFLATION, AGAIN by voting for_______, send $1 to P.O. Box____ for details," within a few weeks, the Party would have thousands of inquiries, (including disguised ones from the Congressman,) and within weeks, he would suddenly proclaim himself pure, voting only for a balanced budget. Then would be the time to send a list of his previous votes to all inquirers, to prevent his changed spots from fooling anyone. The average voter needs somebody to hate. It might as well be the incumbent Congressman.

In the next primaries, if he hadn't already "retired," he would be replaced by his own party in the primaries, or wiped out by the opposition in the finals. It is very nice to dream about a Libertarian Congress, but do we want to win power, or cut others'? If the latter, we don't care who replaces the resident bandit, as long as it is done, and we'll get our share eventually.

The inflation of 1974 of 12% destroyed half a trillion dollars of the buying power of our nation's capital of something over four billion. The inflation of 1977, based on a sixty billion dollar 1975 deficit, will be 25 percent or higher. Where today the Treasury has been grabbing 65 percent of the money in the market at high interest rates, in 1977-8, it will take 80 percent, at much higher interest rates. Construction will disappear, even though buyers have cash, with the flood Congress puts out.

Today's brutal inflation came from your Congressman's vote for an income tax cut in December 1969. Nixon fought it because IT WOULD BE INFLATIONARY, but 98 percent, all but ten Congressmen voted for it, so 98 percent of Congress, knowingly, voted for our destruction through inflation. Which makes them immensely vulnerable to an informed attack by a splinter party, once it straightens out its economic facts.

Thomas S. Booz
Plantation, FL

ROLLERBALL RE-REVIEWED

Never have I read a movie review that I felt was further from the mark than James F. Carey's review of Rollerball [September]. It seems to me that Carey reviewed the film makers' intents and not their finished product. For the film Rollerball is nothing less than an Anthem-like paean to the triumph of the individual ego.

Make no mistake about it, Jonathan E.—the film's protagonist, played superbly by James Caan—is a hero of truly Randian proportions. In a projected future of grey hued "WEs", he stands practically alone as a blood spattered "I". In a "corporate" society of faceless executive decision making and complex but nebulous interdependencies, Jonathan is capable of acting alone as Judge, Jury and Executioner for the retaliatory use of force on an opponent who has maimed one of his teammates.

Throughout the film, Jonathan never requests the sanction of any other person for any of his decisions. HE decides, HE acts and HE triumphs. His triumphs are supreme gut-stirring experiences, at least as powerful emotionally as the rediscovery of the word "EGO" in the aforementioned Anthem.

Reviewer Carey is right in that the game is played within a flimsy anti-capitalist setting, but this is mere dross—easily discarded. Despite what the film makers attempted, Rollerball is the story of the supreme triumph of an individual. An individual who triumphs over his peers, his superiors and the whole fabric of his existence.

This movie is not to be missed.

Joseph L. Gentili
Brooklyn, NY

AN EXPLANATION

I am, of course, very pleased by Marty Zupan's favorable review of my book "Eco-Hysterics and the Technophobes" [November], and her comment "If you can get your hands on Beckmann's book, it is the most refreshing." The reason why the book is out of print is that rather than prepare a new edition of the book in this constantly and rapidly changing field, I decided to publish a monthly newsletter, which is now in its third year. It is Access to Energy, Box 2298, Boulder, CO 80302, $6/year. If you "can't get your hands on the book," there is more, and on more topical subjects, in the newsletter.

Petr Beckmann
Boulder, CO

ATHEISM COMMENTS

My thanks to REASON for publishing the two reviews of my book, Atheism: The Case Against God [November]. David Bryant's review, however, contained several errors which I would like to correct.

First, Dr. Bryant says repeatedly that my defense of atheism "rests on a multitude of standard libertarian principles" and that I offer "a staunchly libertarian critique of Christianity." Evidently Dr. Bryant is unaware that libertarianism is a political theory and has nothing directly to say on the issue of theism versus atheism, or on any epistemological issue, for that matter. I have never tied atheism to libertarianism; Dr. Bryant's juxtaposition of these two distinct spheres is his error, not mine.

Second, Dr. Bryant seems disturbed by my definition of atheism, in the basic sense, as "the absence of theistic belief," rather than as the outright denial of theism. Because this runs counter to "ordinary parlance" and to some (though, Dr. Bryant neglects to mention, not all) dictionary definitions, my definition is tagged as a "redefinition"—more specifically, as a "persuasive definition." Dr. Bryant is apparently of the opinion that my definition of atheism is somehow novel or peculiar to me.

It is a sad fact that many philosophers who discuss atheism are abysmally ignorant of its history. With due respect to "ordinary parlance," prominent atheists have defended for many years the view that an atheist is primarily a person who lacks theistic belief. Baron D'Holbach, the famous atheist and materialist, took this approach when he argued (as I did) that "All children are atheists—they have no idea of God." (Le Bons Sens, 1772.) Charles Bradlaugh, perhaps the most important crusader for atheism of the 19th century, adopted a similar stance: noting that "no position is more continuously and more persistently misrepresented" than atheism, he stated, "Atheism is without God. It does not assert no God." (The Freethinker's Text-Book, 1876.) Bradlaugh was followed in this regard by other prominent atheists, including Annie Besant during her pre-theosophical days.

Moving forward in time, Joseph McCabe, author of hundreds of books and articles pertaining to atheism, defines atheism as "the absence of theistic belief." (A Rationalist Encyclopedia, 1950.) The same idea was put forcefully by Chapman Cohen, third president of the National Secular Society of Britain and one of the most prolific writers on atheism of this century: "If one believes in a god, then one is a Theist. If one does not believe in a god, then one is an A-theist—he is without that belief. The distinction between atheism and theism is entirely, exclusively, that of whether one has or has not a belief in God." (Primitive Survivals in Modern Thought, 1935.)

Lest it be thought that only atheists view atheism in this manner, one of the ablest of theistic defenders, Robert Flint, wrote as follows: "The word atheist is a thoroughly honest, unambiguous term. It means one who does not believe in God, and it means neither more nor less." (Agnosticism, 1903)

Of course, historical precedents alone cannot resolve the problem of a correct definition, especially when we are dealing with a word that has been used in a variety of ways. There are crucial epistemological considerations we must take into account, some of which I discussed in my book, such as the burden of proof. But the foregoing sources will hopefully underline the importance of looking to atheists for what they have said, rather than to uninformed commentators hostile to atheism, who never tire of telling us what atheists should have said. If ever there has been an instance of "persuasive redefinition," this is it.

George H. Smith
Hollywood, CA

MACHAN ON CHOICE

I would like to clear up some problems John Nelson spots in my book The Pseudo-Science of B.F. Skinner [November].

Nelson thinks I identify human nature with the freedom of the will: " [I]n all strictness, what Machan would seem to mean by 'humanity' is the capacity to choose to think or not to think—in other words, freedom." He derives this understanding from my alleged identification of "the capacity of human beings to regulate their consciousness" and "focus[ing] one's consciousness."

I do not identify the capacity to regulate with focusing one's consciousness, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. The former pertains to a basic option we have to initiate or not to initiate our consciousness, the latter to the act (or the initiation of the act) of regulating consciousness. Because of the misunderstanding, Nelson finds fault with my distinction between being a human being (possessing the capacity) and being a good human being (sustaining the focus).

But even when Nelson accepts the qualification—as indeed my book would indicate that we must—he raises a two part objection. First he counters that "unless I first had the thought of thinking I could not have willed to think" and "unless I am already thinking how do I rationally decide to initiate a process of thought"? Let me just indicate the correct reply to this objection—it is well answered, I believe, in Nathaniel Branden's The Psychology of Self-Esteem.

Essentially the answer is that the choice to begin to think is a primary, genuine choice, a first cause, not, as Nelson seems to view it, a kind of selection between alternatives of which one must be aware, something computers perform, too. One's own thinking activity does not stand outside a person to be selected or rejected by him—it does not exist unless one initiates it. If, as I argue, conceptual thought implies the existence of the freedom to choose, it is the possibility of this sort of choice that is implied, not the sort we would perhaps more appropriately call "selection."

As his second objection Nelson believes he has given a realistic case of human conduct which is irrational yet not immoral. He is thus alleging a lack of comprehensiveness in the theory I support. He says:

…Take the case of a person at the bottom of a dungeon. He knows that any sound he makes can be heard by no one and can only result in a painful throat. Having initiated this process of thought he nonetheless screams and continues screaming. In this he is being much more irrational than a person who reasons that he can acquire wealth and other things which he desires by murdering his father. Thus, according to Machan's looser theory, we must conclude that the poor wretch screaming at the bottom of a dungeon is not only immoral but he is much more immoral than the cold-blooded parricide! But this is absurd!

With no disrespect intended, I believe Nelson is unfair—he could have tried to see how my view would handle this sort of case. To help him, and those impressed by the example, I will simply point out that the example is utterly unrealistic—how on earth would this person know that the sounds he makes can be heard by no one? Believing and acting on that supposition would be the irrational thing—given that he could lose his life remaining silent but might attract attention screaming (even with the minor inconvenience of an impending sore throat as a consideration before him). Or, alternatively, screaming does at times relieve emotional stress, so even in hopeless distress it can make life mentally more tolerable than repressing the agony in silence. When, by good common sense and perhaps even philosophical understanding, one acknowledges the value of one's life, a bit of "last resort" screaming is surely one of the rational things to be done in such a situation.

I hope the above indicates at least the way to answer Nelson's objections to the positive theory I defend in my book.

Tibor R. Machan
Palo Alto, CA

Prof. Nelson replies: It would appear that Tibor Machan and I both agree that if choice involves the consideration of alternatives then there cannot be a choice to begin to think. Machan, however, wants to maintain that one chooses to begin to think. He says "The choice to begin to think is a primary, genuine choice, a first cause, not, as Nelson seems to view it, a kind of selection between alternatives." Quite rightly he points out, in this connection, that "one's own thinking activity does not stand outside a person to be selected or rejected by him—it does not exist unless one initiates it." But all the last point argues for is what has already been granted in the first sentence of this paragraph. It does not argue for the claim that there is a choice to begin to think which is a primary, genuine choice, a first cause—a choice that does not involve alternatives.

The trouble with the latter is: Why should we call this a choice? What would be the difference, for example, between my simply beginning to think about eating lunch when I had not been thinking of anything at all antecedently and, in Machan's purported sense of "choice" which involves the consideration of no alternatives, my choosing to begin to think about eating lunch? What is described by the last expression that is not described by the first and shorter one? I fail to see that anything is. But then a host of philosophical principles—Occam's razor, Wittgenstein's principle of the uselessly spinning wheel, Leibnitz's principle of identity—would seem to all combine to dictate that, in such cases, we say that we begin to think and not that we choose to begin to think.

Once thinking, of course, we can choose not to think or to continue to think—having weighed the alternatives of thinking or not thinking. Perhaps (I suggest with diffidence) here should be located the starting point of choice, not in the initiation of thought itself.

INVOLUNTARY TREATMENT

November 1975 "Trends" praises the recent Supreme Court decision declaring that a person cannot be confined against his will without treatment. "Trends" declares that "the decision's impact may be significant."

From a practical viewpoint, let me say that I have not heard of a single, solitary inmate whose release has been brought about by this decision. Furthermore, of all the complaints I've heard about mental hospitals—and I hear them every week—I've never heard an ex-patient complain about not being treated. One and all, they fear and resent the treatments themselves. To think that a decision encouraging the treatment of mental patients will help them is like thinking that a decision to "treat" Jews in a concentration camp will help them. The "treatment" is precisely the thing that everyone wishes to avoid once he is put against his will into a mental hospital.

Thomas Szasz gets to the heart of the matter when he points out that the Court in its first decision in regard to the rights of mental patients in fact put its imprimature upon the classification of certain individuals as involuntary patients. By stiffening the criteria for this classification, the court did more to legitimize involuntary treatment than to discredit it. At the present time, 90 percent or more of state mental hospital patients are already being "treated" with mind-stifling and body cramping drugs called tranquilizers. If psychiatrists need to justify incarcerating the others, they only need to give them drugs as well—or electroshock, or psychosurgery, or group therapy, or occupational therapy—or any of the barbarous and absurd "therapies" perpetrated upon patients. A rational mental patient will be afraid to appeal for his release on the grounds that he is not being treated, for he will know that the psychiatrists will immediately begin treating him!

Since its inception, psychiatry has justified its abuse of patients on the grounds that it is treating them. The Supreme Court has now made this the law of the land.

Peter Breggin
Bethesda, MD

Mr. Poole replies: Opinion is obviously divided about the ultimate effects of O'Connor v. Donaldson. Civil liberties lawyer Bruce J. Ennis, who argued the case and is on record in favor of total abolition of involuntary confinement, considers the case a clearcut victory for the rights of mental patients. Because mental hospital resources are limited, many authorities expect the decision to result in large-scale release of nondangerous inmates. It should also be noted that the decision left undecided the crucial issue of the right to refuse treatment, which is being pursued by Ennis and his colleagues in the Mental Health Law Project.

Advertisement