Sunday, October 28, 2007

Utilitarianism, Objectivism, and Disability


It's interesting to find feedback from intelligent people in the comments section. I admit to viewing most political and social matters through the perspective of a person with a disability, but I do attempt to maintain a measure of dispassion, primarily because of the philosophy found in the Serenity Prayer.

In response to my last post, Carter said, "Meanwhile, don't knock the state. Getting decent bills passed is our only hope of changing the world for the better -- free-market capitalism sure won't do it."

I believe in capitalism. I also believe our modern industrial society must possess far more power than envisioned by the Founding Fathers. But the state can be the enemy of freedom.

As relevant to the James Watts controversy, which sparked my first post, the objectivist-utilitarians given free rein will organize a society where end-of-life issues will use the Dutch model as a framework. There voluntary euthanasia has morphed into instances of involuntary euthanasia.

This brings up Carter's second point. He writes "I'm puzzled by your use of utilitarian as a dirty word; perhaps you can explain that to me. For me, the word brings to mind Jeremy Bentham's philosophy, in which the word meant at first promoting the greatest good of the greatest number. Bentham changed that to the greatest happiness principle ... I don't think, however, that it's usually taken to justify personal selfishness."

I think every rational person attempts to apply a utilitarian outlook to common problems, but I also think that utilitarianism becomes morally-negative when applied by the state in certain social matters. The Dutch and euthanasia, for example -- a utilitarian might argue that it is a step toward the "greatest good for the greatest number" to eliminate the aged infirm and people with disabilities so severe as to make self-care impossible.

An anonymous commentator was upset over my labeling objectivism as a philosophy that would work against acceptable integration of people with disabilities into society. The message said, "Please do not confuse Utilitarianism and Objectivism - and do not attempt to describe Objectivism until you have actually read and understand it, which it appears you have not. Read Atlas Shrugged and more, then try again."

Oh, please. Randian ethics are make-up on the face of evolutionary biology interpreted as social Darwinism. Objectivism and utilitarianism can contribute to the free market and a well-organized capitalist economy, but as a social construct it is bankrupt. Rand writes, "If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject."

But government -- an institution designed to promote the common welfare -- is by nature altruistic. I believe in the freedom of the individual, and I believe the individual can be trusted with it. The relatively minor percentage of people imprisoned are evidence of that.

I do not believe that corporate entities can be allowed the same degree of freedom. Enron, Halliburton, Blackwater, et al are evidence of that. The power of government must outweigh the power of corporate entities.

Objectivism as a philosophy ignores essential elements of that which makes us human, and it seems to me that economists and politicians of a certain generation fancy Ayn Rand like the many of the Hollywood types fancy L. Ron Hubbard.
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