On May 6th, 2013 I interviewed Yaron Brook, Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute on the campus of the University of Toronto. Dr. Brook was in Toronto to speak on the morality of capitalism which is the focus of his latest book Free Market Revolution – How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government. We discussed the success of the Ayn Rand Institute in Canada, the virtues of being selfish, and end with the disastrous, self-sacrificial foreign policies of Israel and how that country is not doing enough to ensure its security.
When the “war on poverty” first began after the Second World War the intentions of those involved were said to have been good. But since all of the data collected since then has quite clearly demonstrated that every single intervention by government to combat poverty has created more poor, more illegitimate children, more ghettos, more unemployment, and more crime, one can only conclude that the efforts of today’s politicians to combat poverty are not based on good intentions. Their welfare schemes and wealth redistribution efforts can only be described as willful, deliberate, methodical, cold-hearted, immoral, and evil. In the face of overwhelming evidence that social welfare programs, minimum wage laws, regulations, licenses, biases in favour of closed union shops, and social housing ghettos have had the exact opposite consequences than those they have purported it is abundantly clear that the politicians have ulterior motives.
As an example let’s look at Regent Park in Toronto, the home to the gang members involved in the recent Eaton Centre murders. This project was built in the 1940s as a government social housing experiment and at 69 acres is the largest of its kind in the country. It involved the demolishing of the center of the neighborhood called Cabbagetown and the erecting of cookie cutter apartment complexes where the poor could pay whatever they were able. It is currently run by Toronto Community Housing and has become an enclave of economic refugees who are corralled together in what has become a ghetto of crime and poverty where the residents have very little hope of ever getting out.
One of the inherent problems of concentrating the poor together is that when everyone you know is poor; your friends, classmates, neighbours, friends of friends there are no role models to emulate to get out of poverty. There is no one to teach them the personal habits necessary to prosper. If all you know is poverty then that is all you can come to expect. The result is despair.
This government-created problem can be solved by allowing the tenants of these apartments to buy their units outright. Home ownership leads to pride of ownership. It allows them to have equity and capital which can then be leveraged to their economic advantage.
It should not go unnoticed that the representative politicians for Regent Park are from the extreme left of the political spectrum. Locally there is Pam McConnell of the NDP, provincially Glen Murray of the McGuinty Liberals, and federally Bob Rae – one time NDP Premier of the province and now the interim leader of the federal Liberals – is the MP for the area. . It should be obvious that they have no intention in doing anything to correct the problem of Regent Park. It can also be easily surmised that these politicians need this society of victims to hold up as motive for their wealth redistribution schemes.
Let’s leave Regent Park and look at the broader picture of growing up in today’s world where many of the adults in positions of responsibility over children have either immoral or amoral ideas about how one should live their lives.
This week we saw the speech of David McCullough, Jr. at the commencement ceremonies of Wellesley High School in Massachusetts go viral and hit the media talk shows. The speech admonished the graduates for being coddled by their parents and too self-centred. Not one pundit had anything bad to say about the speech. Even though, to me the speech is a prime example of what not to say to any child.
These are Mr. McConnell’s closing remarks:
“Exercise free will and creative independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion and those who will follow them, and then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.”
Not one radio pundit could correctly identify that it is this instruction to sacrifice yourself to the service of others which is at the root cause of all of our problems, all of them. Altruism is the belief that your life is not your own and that you should devote it to the service of others. This goes against the very nature of an individual human being who knows with every fiber of that being that his life is his own and that no one else has claim to it.
But the philosophy of altruism is drilled into children today from their parents, teachers, politicians, and from the pulpit. With such positively revolting guidance it is no wonder that youth of today despair.
(Originally broadcast on Just Right #254, June 14, 2012)
One of Christmas’s perennial favourites is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. What apparently makes this a classic is its underlying theme that one’s life, however ordinary influences many others like the ripples in pond.
While this might be a truism it does not in my mind make this a great film. In fact, I would describe “It’s a Wonderful Life” as homage to the dominant philosophy of our time, that of altruism and certainly not a great piece of cinema.
George Bailey is the protagonist. An ambitious young man with dreams of seeing the world, going to college and becoming an industrial engineer or architect. He has planned out his whole life and can hardly wait for the day to leave his “crummy little town” of Bedford Falls.
George’s personal flaw, instilled in him by his father, who by everyone’s account is a poor businessman as the Chief Executive of Bailey Bros. Building and Loan, is both a sense of duty to others in his community and a personal hatred for the successful banker Mr. Potter.
Mr. Potter has a hard nose for business with little empathy for others. It is this lack of altruism that riles the Bailey’s to the point where their hatred of Potter has made for very poor business decisions, giving loans to people the bank declines, which leaves the Building and Loan in a perpetual state of near bankruptcy.
George’s personal dreams are put on hold when his father dies and he ties up fathers’ dealings with the Building and Loan. Potter, a member of the Board makes a motion to dissolve the company but George’s hatred for Potter gets the better of him and he persuades the Board to keep the business. They do so, but with the condition that George stays to run it.
George’s sense of duty to the down-trodden of the community and his personal hatred for Potter convince him to sacrifice (and I mean this in the strictest definition of the term) his life-long dreams and run the Building and Loan. He marries Mary, they have four kids, and throughout the years the embittered man constantly regrets his decision to forsake his personal dreams.
Along comes the great depression and the Company narrowly escapes bankruptcy. Potter tries to give George a way to escape his failing business by offering him a job at $20,000 a year. This would solve many of George’s problems but once again his personal loathing for the banker causes him to refuse the offer with an onslaught of vitriolic, vulgar epithets hurled at his nemesis, Mr. Potter.
His deep-seated rage finally boils over when his absent-minded uncle loses the Companies deposit of $8,000. With Mr. Potter and the Bank Examiner breathing down George’s neck he finally loses it. He ruffs up his uncle, trashes his living room, frightens and yells at his wife and kids, tells off one of his child’s teachers, gets drunk, and drives his car (while drunk) into a tree.
So far I have described the first hour and fifty minutes of this two hour and ten minute movie. Up until this point George Bailey has undoubtedly hated his life. It has been one disappointment after the other. He never wanted to get married and yet he did. He never wanted anything to do with his father’s company and yet he now runs it. He never wanted to live in Bedford Falls but he has never left it. None of his dreams have been fulfilled. It has not been a wonderful life for George Bailey.
If you ask any who have seen the film this first part is often forgotten. The last twenty minutes are what seem to matter to most viewers.
George’s guardian angel, Clarence, saves George from committing suicide in the most insightful way. Knowing of George’s sense of duty to others, Clarence throws himself into the river first, thereby forcing George to save him, and thus himself. So, even George’s desire to kill himself has been sacrificed for the sake of a perfect stranger.
While drying off from his dip in the river George tells Clarence that he wishes he was never born. That’s how wonderful he thinks his life is. Clarence grants his wish and shows George a Bedford Falls where he had never been born. It is a town now called Potterville with nightclubs and gambling halls. His wife, Mary becomes a spinster librarian, his taxi driver lives in Potter’s slums and the Building and Loan is closed down.
George becomes unhinged. He tries to drink away his problem in a bar but gets thrown out. He breaks into the house which was supposed to be his home. He punches a cop and gets shot at. In utter despair he returns to the river where he was going to commit suicide and prays to God to return him to his real life.
His wish is granted and he finds himself surrounded by his friends who bail him out of his financial troubles. The guardian angel leaves him a note saying “No man is a failure who has friends;” A nice sentiment to be sure.
The character of George Bailey is today’s everyman. He believes his highest virtue is not himself but in helping others, while at the same time denigrating and hating the successful among us who do not share his ethic of self-sacrifice.
The end result of his philosophy is a life not worth living, a life of regret, disappointment, frustration, guilt and a mounting hatred for success. At one point in the story George is deliriously overjoyed that he has just given away his life’s saving of $2,000 which was to go towards his honeymoon.
It is fitting, if not timely, that the villain in the story is Mr. Potter the banker, paralleling today’s Occupy Wall Street altruists who call for an end to capitalism, the destruction of the rich and the imprisonment of bankers.
Ayn Rand described the moral code of altruism thus:
“The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.”
This describes the motives of George Baily perfectly.
I’ll paraphrase Rand when I say that;
- George Baily lacks self-esteem – since his first concern in the realm of values is not how to live his life, but how to sacrifice it.
- He lacks respect for others – since he regards mankind as a herd of doomed beggars crying for someone’s help.
- He has a nightmare view of existence – since he believes that men are trapped in a “malevolent universe” where disasters are the constant and primary concern of their lives.
The movie is reminiscent of another Christmas favourite, “Scrooge,” based on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Scrooge is portrayed as a banker, or money lender. The casting of successful, rich, corporate executives as heartless, selfish, unsympathetic villains has become commonplace in popular literature and film. The latest Disney movie, “The Muppets” has as its antagonist, oil magnate Tex Richman. His name says it all.
The real villain in “It’s a Wonderful Life” is not Mr. Potter. It is George Bailey, a man who lives for others, forsaking his own selfish desires, plans, and hopes; a man of duty to the community; a man of altruism and sacrifice. These are the attributes of a man who finds his own life distasteful. So much so that suicide is his only escape.
Allow me to take some license to propose an alternative to Capra’s “It’s a wonderful Life.” Let’s suppose we look at George’s life if had followed his dreams and left to explore the world, go to college and build bridges and airports. What would have happened? Could he have impacted as many lives as he did as the Executive Secretary of Bailey Bros. Building and Loan?
I’m reminded of Frederick Bastiat’s piece written in 1850 called The Broken Window, or “That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen.” Don’t just see what would happen if George Bailey never lived but see what he would have accomplished if he followed his dream.
I suspect he would have influenced more lives in his travels, his adventures, his education and vocation as an architect or industrial engineer than as a lowly officer of a loan company in the dead-end town of Bedford Falls.
But that is not the point. It is not as important how many lives you affect, what is important is how you live your own life, whether or not you follow your own dreams and desires. You have but one life to live. Cultivate friends of course, but not at the expense of fulfilling your own dreams and following your own path.
I don’t know if that would have made for a better movie to have Clarence show us an alternative world where George lived his life with his own self as the standard of his morality, but it certainly would have been a more honest treatment of the evil and morally destructive philosophy of altruism, and a much more uplifting film to view whether at Christmas time or at any time of the year.
By now we are all familiar with the England riots of a few weeks ago. By now we are all familiar with all the reasons given to explain the violence, the poor education system, single parenting, lack of father figures, lack of political leadership, ineffective policing, racial tensions, multiculturalism, football hooliganism, Facebook, twitter, cell phones, violent music lyrics, the poor economy, youth unemployment, lack of religion, lack of values, lack of empathy, or my favorite…hoodies. All of these and many more reasons have one thing in common which, with rare exception, is going unmentioned. What many of these have in common is a philosophy, the philosophy of altruism, the philosophy of selflessness, the philosophy of despair, the philosophy of Emmanuel Kant.
For every human action there must be an underlying philosophy of the person taking the action. The decision to stay in bed or to get out of bed is based on your philosophy. Whether you are able to explicitly articulate your philosophy or not does not negate the fact that you have a philosophy. The vast majority of us are unable to properly define their philosophy or even have the vaguest notion that they even have one.
Whether you are happy in your work or home life or miserable is based on your philosophy. Whether or not you vote or do not vote and who you vote for is based on your philosophy. And whether or not you participate in a riot or stay at home and lock your doors while the world goes to hell in a hand cart is also a consequence of your philosophy.
I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and I can still remember political pundits arguing over the cause of youth crime, in the major American cities of New York, in Detroit, in Los Angeles. Canadian major cities had much less but given time and the deliberate attempt by our socialist governments we can now say we have fully cosmopolitan cities which can rival the world’s greatest cities, at least in crime and rioting.
The philosophy of altruism and of sacrifice is drummed into our heads from the day we are born. Are parents tell us to share our toys with our siblings even though they are our toys and we don’t want to. Our teachers tell us of the evils of capitalism and materialism and of how we should conserve and deprive ourselves or the pleasures of convenience lest we destroy the environment. Our priests and mullahs preach that we must be good Samaritans and give to the poor or we are being immoral and selfish and will go to hell for our greed. Our politicians tell us to cut back, conserve, and pay more in taxes so that starving Somalians can eat or so that your neighbour can have that chemotherapy to remove that tumor on her nose from getting too much sun while she was in Mexico.
Everywhere we turn, from our music our newspapers, schools, churches, television programs and political commercials we are told to give, give and give until we are left a hollow shell so that others can benefit.
And the reciprocal side of this we have the recipients of our forced generosity. We have children growing up knowing full well that they don’t have to work in order to survive. They will be given free subsidized housing, free abortions should they get pregnant, free baby bonuses should they decide to keep the children they bear, free education, free medical care, free food, free welfare payments and when they are ready to retire from such a tough life, free pension and Old Age Security payments.
The incentive to work is driven out of us from two fronts. Should you choose to work you are taxed, regulated and controlled at a rates and extents that makes you wonder why you should get out of bed in the morning. If you don’t have a job you wonder why you should even look for one since the state will provide you with all you need to survive quite comfortably in a style our grandparents would only think is luxury.
What these disincentives to work do for the self-esteem of a person strikes at the root of the violence we have seen perpetrated by mobs of youth around the world. Our nature as humans, as rational beings dictates that in order to survive we must work productively. Left to nature alone we will die. The fruit will not fall off the tree into our open mouths, the trees will not fall and arrange themselves into shelters to keep out the cold on their own, sheep will not sheer themselves and knit sweaters for us to wear. We must conform nature to fit us. We must engage in productive work using the only tool nature provides us, a rational mind. We have to create, build, cultivate, exchange value for value in order to survive. It is what makes us human beings. To take this away from us either by robbing us to provide for the welfare of others or by providing for us at the expense of others destroys who we are. It violates our very nature. It destroys our self-worth.
The person who does not have to lift a finger in order to live can value nothing. With nothing to value there can be nothing to motivate us into action. We become immune to the stimuli around us. The lines between good and evil become blurred and indistinct. Out actions, if we take any, become random and haphazard. We lash out indiscriminately at anybody and anything for no good reason. Or, conversely we turn inward and wallow in a depressing stupor. We turn to drugs to stimulate our starving minds. We turn to suicide to end the meaningless existence.
Only by having needs, and desires do we determine our values and only by having values do we set goals for ourselves and only by having goals do we have the motivation to create and produce and do what is necessary to try and reach our goals and attain that which we value.
The welfare state is robbing us at every turn not only of the fruits of our productive effort but at the motivation to even try to achieve anything. The results of 70 years of creeping welfare-statism has turned us from productive humans into mindless, valueless, animals who either work for the benefit of others or lay about and reap the rewards of the efforts of others.
In Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged she talked about the moral necessity of productive work in Galt’s Speech:
Productiveness is your acceptance of morality, your recognition of the fact that you choose to live – that productive work is the process by which man’s consciousness controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit one’s purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth in the image of one’s values – that all work is creative work if done by a thinking mind, and no work is creative if done by a blank who repeats in uncritical stupor a routine he has learned from others – that your work is yours to choose, and the choice is as wide as your mind, that nothing more is possible to you and nothing less is human – that to cheat your way into a job bigger than your mind can handle is to become a fear- corroded ape on borrowed motions and borrowed time, and to settle down into a job that requires less than your mind’s full capacity is to cut your motor and sentence yourself to another kind of motion: decay – that your work is the process of achieving your values, and to lose your ambition for values is to lose your ambition to live – that your body is a machine but your mind is its driver, and you must drive as far as your mind will take you, with achievement as the goal of your road – that the man who has no purpose is a machine that coasts downhill at the mercy of any boulder to crash in the first chance ditch, that the man who stifles his mind is a stalled machine slowly going to rust, that the man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap, and the man who makes another man his goal is a hitchhiker no driver should ever pick up – that your work is the purpose of your life, and you must speed past any killer who assumes the right to stop you, that any value you might find outside your work, any other loyalty or love can be only travelers you choose to share your journey and must be travelers going on their own power in the same direction.
The cult of the altruist has permeated all walks of life and all social strata. When Bill Gates feels the need to give away his billions (which is his right of course) out of some misplaced sense of guilt many successful people feel, and when Obamas’ stooge, Warren Buffet calls for greater tax rates on the rich, a strictly evil suggestion, then we know that even men of great productive capacity are not immune to Kant’s philosophy of selflessness and despair.
The cure for this philosophy and subsequently for the violence we have seen in England this month and likewise riots throughout the world is to arm ourselves with a philosophy which rejects mysticism and the evil notion that we are our brother’s keeper, which extols the virtues of man as a rational being, which champions the individual over the group and which establishes a moral code for living peacefully and productively. This philosophy is called Objectivism.
Originally aired on Just Right #213, August 18, 2011.