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The Death Penalty: Its Limitations, Costs, and Proper Application

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Categories: Justice, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 24, 2012
Recommend this page.
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With regard to my recent advocacy of keeping the death-penalty option on the table when considering punishments for George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin, I was asked to clarify my views on the death penalty, about which I had previously expressed ambivalence in my video “Life Extension, Crime, and Criminal Justice”.

I am indeed wary of most applications of the death penalty, where the commission of the act of killing by the individual being sentenced is in doubt. But I can see legitimate uses for it in cases where the identity of that individual is clear, and the crime was particularly egregious. (Serial killings, rape-murders, killings of children where the murderer is known would qualify, for instance, as would executions of brutal dictators whose human-rights abuses are extensively documented.)

There is a cost aspect to the death penalty, in that it actually costs a lot more to execute a person today than it would to maintain that person in prison for life. Thus, it should be reserved for only the most egregious crimes.

In George Zimmerman’s case, I think a clear message needs to be sent that vigilante killing of unarmed, peaceful individuals who have given no provocation is completely unacceptable and needs to be dealt with harshly. Setting that example could be worth the cost – but ultimately, this is for the court to decide. I do think this case warrants at least considering the option.

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Mr. Stolyarov Quoted in Article on Austin Surveillance Cameras

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 23, 2012
Recommend this page.
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I am pleased to have been cited at length in the article “Austin Installs Outdoor Surveillance Cameras” by Kenneth Artz in Heartlander Magazine.

I commented for the article with regard to the negative implications of security cameras on civil liberties and the rights of innocent persons.

If transparency and easier detection of crime and collection of evidence are desired, then the filming should be done by private citizens using their own mobile devices – not by police through centrally controlled and monitored security cameras. But private filming – especially of police activities – oddly enough happens to elicit considerable resistance from many police departments.

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The Travesty of Trayvon Martin’s Murder – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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A young man has been murdered with absolutely no provocation – and, unless his killer is brought to justice, the same could happen to any one of us.

17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by self-styled “neighborhood watchman” (in truth, vigilante) George Zimmerman for no offense other than walking back to his home and “looking suspicious”. Mr. Stolyarov comments on this atrocity and considers it an outrage that George Zimmerman has not yet been arrested, charged, or removed from civilized society.

Resources:
– “Shooting of Trayvon Martin” – Wikipedia
– “Trayvon Martin case: No-confidence vote for Sanford police chief” – by Tina Susman – Los Angeles Times
Change.org Petition to Prosecute the Killer of Trayvon Martin

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Ronny Edry’s Heroic Outreach to Ordinary Iranians

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 20, 2012
Recommend this page.
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CNN has published an excellent article (“Peace-minded Israeli reaches out to everyday Iranians via Facebook“) on an Israeli graphic designer whose individual efforts may gather sufficient momentum to turn public opinion against an Israeli strike on Iran. This is an excellent example of individual hyper-empowerment, through technology, being able to overcome the machinations of cynical national politicians.

Ronny Edry may be able to prevent a bloodbath by getting enough people to recognize the obvious: that the Iranian population is fundamentally like the rest of us, and that these mostly decent people should not be made to suffer for the transgressions of their leaders.

Let technology and human decency overcome the callous, manipulative, life-sacrificing “world leaders” – like Netanyahu – who are ready to drag us all into a mass slaughter!

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Restoration of Free Study Guide on Public-Choice Economics

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 17, 2012
Recommend this page.
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I am pleased to announce that The Rational Argumentator’s Free Study Guide on Public-Choice Economics has been restored. It is available from the index page of TRA’s Free Tools for Rational Education. After languishing for years on the unreliable and now non-existent site of BlogDog.com, this study guide shall now be permanently hosted on TRA’s own domain. There are 20 individual sections, each of which is still hosted on my Yahoo! Contributor Network (former Associated Content) pages. I cannot readily edit these pages, so they still link back to the old (now defunct) study-guide index. However, the current index at least offers a way to navigate to each section.

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The Real War — and Why Inter-Human Wars Are a Distraction – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Philosophy, Politics, Transhumanism

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 15, 2012
Recommend this page.
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Other than the unjust killing of innocents, there is a further reason to oppose wars among human beings: they distract us from the real war that we should all be fighting, against the real enemy that threatens us all.Mr. Stolyarov explains the urgent war on ruin that we should all be fighting.This video is based on Mr. Stolyarov’s essay “The Real War — and Why Inter-Human Wars Are a Distraction“.

Support these video-creation efforts by donating at The Rational Argumentator: http://rationalargumentator.com/index.html

References:

– “A Complete Denunciation of War” – Video series by G. Stolyarov II
Part 1
Part 2

– “Refuting Ayn Rand on War” – Video by G. Stolyarov II
– “Progress: Creation and Maintenance” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Spanish flu” – Wikipedia

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Is There a Moral Difference Between Innocent Deaths Caused by Military and Police?

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Categories: Philosophy, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 15, 2012
Recommend this page.
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It is an odd bit of cognitive dissonance among most people today that killings of innocent people by police are (rightly) treated as moral outrages, while killings of innocent civilians by militaries are often rationalized as “collateral damage” – unfortunate, perhaps, but such is war, and the greater cause of the war is said to justify them. Ayn Rand, for instance, made the argument that all of the civilian deaths in a war are the moral fault of the aggressor regime.

One need not look to the battlefield to see clear instances of unjustified initiation of force. There exist numerous acts of criminal aggression within a country’s borders, with regard to which the kind of arguments that are used to justify war would be readily seen as faulty. There is still a lot of murder in every country. Suppose there is a murderer on the loose. Would it be justified for a country’s domestic police force to send a missile into or plant a bomb in a large and inhabited apartment building, simply because the murderer is believed to be hiding there? Would the answer change if this murderer were a serial killer who has already had a string of victims and/or plans to kill more?

I think virtually everyone would agree that inflicting civilian casualties to eliminate this murderer would not be appropriate and would not be worth the moral cost. Virtually nobody would make the argument that it is the murderer, not the police force, who would be morally responsible for any civilian deaths – and therefore it would be acceptable for the police to act to bring about civilian deaths, and to plan for some civilian deaths in advance, and to simply describe these deaths as regrettable “collateral damage”. Virtually everybody in that situation would agree that the police who permit innocent civilians to die in the capture or destruction of the murderer would themselves bear the blame for the clearly preventable deaths of those civilians.

So why is the situation any different just because the word “war” is used to describe a particular instance of aggression – and just because the people involved are not all from the same country and may be acting outside the borders of their country? Aggression is aggression, and the leaders of an invading dictatorships are criminals just like serial killers, except on a larger scale. My view is that the same moral principles should apply to the proper response to all of them. The proper moral response is to neutralize the threat, but to leave the innocent people out of it entirely. No innocent death should ever be dismissed as mere “collateral damage” – and no plan should be pursued if it is known or expected to result in innocent deaths.

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A New Era for The Rational Argumentator

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Categories: Announcements, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 12, 2012
Recommend this page.

 

Readers of The Rational Argumentator:

I write today to announce major changes to this publication – which are intended to enable it to flourish as never before, but which must thereby take it in a significantly different direction from its previous course.

For 9.5 years and 315 issues, The Rational Argumentator has evolved and expanded, regularly bringing a wealth of informative, thought-provoking, genuinely intellectual content that championed the principles of Reason, Rights, and Progress and worked for the arrival of a New Renaissance – and, in more recent years, an era that would transcend even that, along with our sufferings and current limitations. This work is far from complete, and it shall continue in earnest.

But the world has changed since August 31, 2002, when The Rational Argumentator inaugurated its first manifesto and issue (and yes, the issue link indeed points to an archive of TRA’s first page). While politically and economically, some of the change has been disturbing to say the least, the technological improvement has been astonishing. Nowhere has this been clearer than on the Internet.

TRA was not the first Internet publication, nor the first to espouse libertarian, classical liberal, Objectivist, or transhumanist thought. But it was certainly in a vanguard, back when the Internet was still young and fragmented. I remember what it was like in the first half of the last decade – when, to perform any serious research on a subject, one needed to dig through hours of content of marginal relevance at best, outright spam at worst – delivered by a suboptimal search engine – in order to uncover the gems of knowledge and insight. This was before the flowering of Wikipedia, before the market dominance of Google, before social networking, YouTube, or mobile devices. Back then, there were mostly just a few freedom-oriented think tanks and a few small-scale independent publishing enterprises – including the now defunct but still respected Quackgrass Press and HarryRoolaart.com.

When I founded The Rational Argumentator, I sought to emulate the few treasured sources of autonomous, rational, intellectual content I could find, while building something new upon the foundation available to me in the world of that time. Friends of reason and liberty on the Internet back then really did need an early-21st-century parallel to Diderot’s Encyclopédie – a compendium of resources in one convenient location, on which they could rely for quality discourse and genuine enlightenment. TRA has certainly grown in both its abundance of content and its readership, gathering close to 1.4 million visits during its ninth year and around 5 million visits for its entire existence to date.

But as TRA grew, the Internet grew with it, opening up in surprising ways that, eventually, led to a different model of publication now being preferable. TRA, while innovative in the ideas it published and the manner in which it approached its readers – without dumbing anything down or attempting to curry favors from established interests and ideologies – was modeled after a traditional publication, with the majority of the content packaged into issues that helped readers categorize the content chronologically for subsequent easy discovery. All of the systematization was performed manually, with great effort spent on even developing the unique page templates of each of the first 45 issues. Beginning in 2005 and especially since 2007, the issue and article formats were significantly standardized, but considerable manual effort was still devoted to compiling the index pages and updating references throughout the site when a new issue was posted. Up until this month, TRA remained a static website, where every link and every functionality was hard-coded into each individual page. While previous page templates could be used to jump-start new ones, this method implied that any changes to the appearance of TRA’s pages would generally apply only on a forward-going basis – or, on occasion, when an older page was updated.

In the meantime, accessing quality content online has become significantly easier. With the mostly high-quality search results from Google, basic information from Wikipedia, and the ability to readily share material through social networks, every individual can, in effect, create a custom repository of knowledge. Content aggregation in one central location is no longer a function of websites, but rather one of individuals. In order to contribute to and flourish in this kind of Internet, TRA will need to refine its structure and redirect its emphasis within a world where the objectives intended by its earlier structure have, in essence, been fulfilled.

Therefore, I am pleased to announce the following series of changes – the greatest and most transformative that this publication has undergone to date:

1. Conversion to a WordPress architecture. WordPress permits more convenient publication within a template that can be updated globally for the entire website, allowing all pages published in March 2012 or later to instantly receive updates whenever a new feature is added to the sidebar.  Furthermore, WordPress performs wonderful feats of  organization by category and content tag – such that one can locate content in a myriad ways instead of just a few.

2. Shift from an issue format to a free flow of publication. More radically, TRA’s issue structure is no longer necessary, since WordPress offers so many different and relevant ways to sort content by subject matter, contributor, and even specific keywords. Content will be easily discoverable from the front page (http://rationalargumentator.com/index/) and from the category-specific and monthly archives on the sidebar. New content will simply appear on the front page, with the most recent content at the top.

3. Advent of an RSS feed. Readers who wish to be regularly and automatically updated whenever new content is published do not need to wait for an e-mail from me. They can subscribe to TRA’s RSS feed and become aware of any newly posted work. The RSS feed can also be embedded on other pages and conveniently shared with others.

4. Greater ease of sharing content. Each subsequent post will come will embedded functionalities for sharing the content on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

5. Ability for public comment. Visitors to each post will have the ability to comment directly below the work. This openness to discussion on TRA’s own pages is unprecedented in the history of this publication, due to the previous technical difficulty in facilitating public comments using mostly pure HTML code. The intent is for the first several comments by a visitor to be moderated – not out of any desire to limit the discussion, but rather to keep out the spambots. Once a visitor has demonstrated his or her humanity through several approved comments, he or she will be able to post without restrictions.

6. Focus on original content. In the past, TRA has assembled works from hundreds of contributors. In the earliest stages, it was indeed hard work to locate individual works and to secure their authors’ permission to reprint it – without which the work might have disappeared from the Internet altogether within a few years. Now, the role of a human being as a compiler of extant Internet content is no longer needed. Most content can be readily shared via social networking tools and customizable feeds. For me to spread the work of others, formal reprints are seldom the most effective method anymore. Rather, a link and a discussion of my own will do just as well or better in giving the work more exposure. Most of the new content on TRA will be original creations either by me or by other contributors who have not been published elsewhere before. This does not mean that I will no longer reprint any content that already appears on the Internet. However, it does mean a shift in emphasis away from distribution of extant works by others and toward the development of a unique array of content for TRA.

7. Incorporation of shorter posts. Along with longer articles and essays, I will be more inclined from now on to share brief thoughts more frequently within a blog-post structure. My earlier experiment in this approach, The Progress of Liberty blog, failed because of the whims of the host, the ill-named and ill-fated BlogDog.com. Now that I own the website and the infrastructure, this will not happen again.

In TRA’s Ninth Anniversary Manifesto, I called on my readers to offer me technical suggestions for improving the site. Little did I know what dramatic changes would be forthcoming or possible with a modicum of thought about the purpose TRA ought to serve within a more mature, more open, and more expansive Internet. I would like especially to thank my wife, Wendy, for suggesting the WordPress approach as a way of easing the manual effort of publication. That suggestion motivated still further thoughts on my part about how to maximize the potential influence and effect of TRA while maintaining adherence to the principles by which it has always been guided.

The coming months and years shall surely see additional improvements in both the content and form of this publication. I encourage you to visit regularly, because what comes next will be worth it.

Sincerely,

Gennady Stolyarov II,

Founder and Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator

G. Stolyarov II is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov also publishes his articles on the Yahoo! Contributor Network to assist the spread of rational ideas. He holds the highest Clout Level (10) possible on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and is one of its Page View Millionaires, with over 2 million views. 

Mr. Stolyarov holds the professional insurance designations of Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Associate in Reinsurance (ARe), Associate in Regulation and Compliance (ARC), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), and Accredited Insurance Examiner (AIE).

Mr. Stolyarov has written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a non-fiction treatise, A Rational Cosmology, and a play, Implied Consent. You can watch his YouTube Videos. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

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The Real War – and Why Inter-Human Wars are a Distraction – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Philosophy, Politics, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Real War – and Why Inter-Human Wars Are a Distraction

G. Stolyarov II
March 12, 2012
Recommend this page.
***

As a libertarian and individualist, I am thoroughly opposed to the inherently unjust killing of any innocent person. Yet war – organized, armed conflict within a nation or between nations – unavoidably causes the suffering, maiming, and deaths of innocents. I have argued in my videos “A Complete Denunciation of War” (here and here) and “Refuting Ayn Rand on War” that whatever the ostensible abstract aims any war might have, the end result is always the concrete suffering of those who deserve it least: the innocent victims for whom the injustices that brought about the war (such as an oppressive dictatorship) are compounded by the destruction and carnage inflicted by the war itself. The human and economic tolls of war are alone enough to fully justify a complete opposition.

But there is a further reason to oppose wars among human beings: they distract us from the real war that we should all be fighting, against the real enemy that threatens us all. By killing and injuring one another, by destroying the property and infrastructure on which our fellow humans rely, we only clear the way for our mutual enemy to destroy every one of us.

It is difficult to find a single name by which to refer to this mutual enemy, for it consists of many elements with distinct modes of operation. Yet the result of each of these modes is the same: our destruction. While the enemy is difficult to name, it is not difficult to identify in our daily lives.

War among humans is just one of the ways in which the real enemy manifests itself. The cousins of war – murder, theft, rape, political oppression, and plain destructive inanity of a million petty sorts – are ongoing even during times of ostensible peace. But the real enemy’s tactics are not so limited as to rely on destruction inflicted by men alone.

Myriad diseases afflict humans – diseases of infection, internal breakdown, senescence, and self-inflicted folly. Natural disasters – earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, blizzards, volcanoes, and tsunamis – inflict colossal damage so often that news of some such calamity occurring somewhere in the world are almost uninterrupted. And then there are the grave existential threats to all humankind: the possibility of a massive asteroid striking the earth and obliterating most higher-order life forms, the possibility of a new ice age imperiling agricultural production and dramatically shrinking the range of habitable land, the possibility of a major epidemic akin to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 killing hundreds of millions of people, or more. And, in the face of the tremendous damage and threats from all of these perils, what do humans do? They turn on each other and amplify the damage over petty geopolitical and ideological quarrels? How bizarre and absurd!

And even in eras where, by a stroke of luck, some humans in some parts of the world enjoy a welcome reprieve from some or even many of these perils, the real enemy manifests itself in more mundane ways. Machines tend to break down; structures tend to break; information tends to be forgotten, lost, or destroyed; food tends to rot and spoil; humans and their animal companions tend to senesce and die – unless something is done about it. In “Progress: Creation and Maintenance” I explained that human creation and creativity are not sufficient for civilization to flourish and advance. We must also preserve and maintain what has been created in the past – or else we shall return to using our unaided minds and bodies against the full range of horrifying perils that surrounded our primeval ancestors.

What is this enemy? While it works in ways that are both sudden and gradual, manifest and insidious, broad and targeted – perhaps the best name for it is ruin. The forces of ruin are the forces of death and decay; they are the many processes by which living organisms and their creations – in their beautiful and immense sophistication – are erased and decomposed, dissolved into the jumble of primitive elements whence they arose. For everything that aspires to be higher and greater, the forces of ruin act to bring it down, to rot in the earth. Everything that is built, grown, and nurtured, the forces of ruin threaten to weaken, diminish, crush, and demolish. Wherever and whoever you are, whatever means are at your disposal, the forces of ruin are targeting you using any vulnerability they can exploit. Will you acquiesce to your annihilation, or will you resist and strive to win back the ground that ruin has conquered and to defend what it has not yet despoiled?

Each human being possesses an intellect that can be harnessed as a weapon of immense power in the war on ruin. Technology and reason are the two products of the intellect which can be deployed as tactics and strategies and win battles against the forces of ruin. Over the long, arduous ascent of man, some of these destructive forces have already been diminished or even eradicated altogether. Smallpox, typhus, and polio are among the minions of ruin that humankind has vanquished. Humans are making gradual but significant inroads against crime, diseases, and even human war itself on many fronts – but the present rate of advancement will not be enough to save us (rather than some remote descendants of ours) from ruin. To save ourselves, we will need to greatly accelerate our rate of technological and moral progress. To do this, we will need to think more creatively than ever before, utilizing all of the hitherto discovered valid technological, economic, political, ethical, and esthetic insights at our disposal and launch a multifaceted bombardment of human ingenuity to eradicate one peril after another. This program cannot be centrally planned or coordinated; it requires the independent, highly motivated action of millions – and hopefully billions! – of autonomous human intellects, each willing to wage a guerilla war against the forces that have held all of us and our ancestors as their slaves and pawns since time immemorial.

To embrace the challenge, in all of its urgency, enough of us need to be free to do so – unbound by the constraints imposed by other men who think they know better and who would wish to keep us in line to serve their momentary interests, rather than the paramount interests of our own perpetuation. Those who wish to impose their vision of the good life through regimentation upon the rest of us overlook the vital fact that, with human independence and creativity thus shackled, entire societies have become sitting ducks – waiting for the forces of ruin to sweep away static, inflexible, primitively “engineered” communities of men. Only the liberty of each of us to act and innovate can lead to a sufficient variety and intensity of ideas and approaches as to keep ruin at bay.

Ruin is deadly serious, but it receives precious little human attention. It is the proverbial elephant in the room (except, unlike an elephant, far more vicious and deadly) which most people have been culturally taught to ignore, so as to maintain comfort and a more immediate focus – so as not to let massive threats interfere with their everyday pursuits. During most of human history, this enemy was so powerful that humans had no real chance against it, and their religions, philosophies, and social norms evolved to teach them that they might as well not try. They might, like the Stoics, decide to accept their inevitable destruction with grace and equanimity – or they might, like the Christians, convince themselves that their destruction would not be ultimate and that they would persevere in another form. In practice, these invented consolations served to capitulate our ancestors to the enemy. We can forgive our ancestors for devising these coping mechanisms in the absence of any real hope. But we cannot forgive ourselves if we, in our more advanced technological and intellectual condition, abandon the fight only because our inherited norms suggest it to be useless to begin with, or even undesirable to pursue.

There are many perils that each of us can choose to confront, and many tactics that we can begin to actualize. One size does not fit all, and the struggle against ruin should be waged by each individual unleashing his or her strengths in the area where he or she thinks them to have the greatest impact. But a good beginning would be to stop undermining and destroying one another. The pettiness and absurdity of human wars in both their causes and in their methods (as if men with guns on a field somewhere, or explosives dropped from the sky onto a city would ever solve any serious problem in a meaningful way!) would be laughable if it were not so tragic in its toll. The same goes for the intellectual, economic, and political straitjackets that humans in virtually every society create for themselves – artificially restraining meaningful exploration of ways to conquer ruin instead of just succumbing to it in a structured fashion, with a privileged few at the top maintaining the illusion of control. An anthill, after all, is powerless before the magnifying glass and the rays of the sun – no matter how much absolute power the ant queen perceives herself to have over her minions. We must be more than ants to win this war. We must all be individuals and recognize each of our individual lives as sacrosanct. We must direct all of our anger and hatred not toward other men – but toward the menace of ruin. The more of us do this now, the greater our likelihood of winning not just some remote bright future for our descendants – but our very lives from the ravages of senescence, disease, and calamity. I can imagine no greater victory or more glorious objective. The spoils of any inter-human war are supremely uninspiring and meritless by comparison.

G. Stolyarov II is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov also publishes his articles on Associated Content to assist the spread of rational ideas. He holds the highest Clout Level (10) possible on Associated Content and is one of Associated Content’s Page View Millionaires

Mr. Stolyarov holds the professional insurance designations of Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Associate in Reinsurance (ARe), Associate in Regulation and Compliance (ARC), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), and Accredited Insurance Examiner (AIE).

Mr. Stolyarov has written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a non-fiction treatise, A Rational Cosmology, and a play, Implied Consent. You can watch his YouTube Videos. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

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What the World Needs Now – Article by Bradley Doucet

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Categories: Culture, Philosophy, Self-Improvement, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What the World Needs Now

Bradley Doucet
March 11, 2012
***


So you’ve decided that you want to make the world a better place. And admittedly, despite humanity’s unprecedented gains in wealth, knowledge, wellbeing, and liberty over the past two hundred years, poverty persists in many parts of the world, ignorance and superstition fill countless books and broadcasts, needless suffering abounds, and everywhere men and women are still in chains. You want to feed the hungry, school the benighted, treat the sick, and free the servile. Noble goals all, to be sure, but what to do first? Where to focus your efforts? What does the world need now?

Perhaps a return to a gold currency standard in order to curb governments’ power to print money and fuel speculative booms and busts is the ticket. Or maybe you should do what you can to push for free trade, particularly in agriculture, and greater labour mobility across international and intra-national borders. Maybe ending wars and refocusing military resources and personnel on defence instead of offence is what is needed—and while we’re on the subject of war, ending the disastrous war on drugs, too. Perhaps fighting for lower taxes and simpler tax codes should be your priority, or fighting to simplify and reduce business regulations. Or again, you might think ending one-size-fits-all education and letting a thousand flowers bloom would bring about the most good, or maybe opening health care to greater competition and innovation.

Which of these goals should you devote your energy to accomplishing? Which would best promote the cause of liberty and hence lead to greater wealth, knowledge, and wellbeing for all? We could argue about it for days and not come to a definitive answer, but fortunately, we don’t need to agree. Indeed, as the above quotation suggests, to ask what the world needs is in fact to ask the wrong question. The world needs a lot of things, and any of the goals listed above is worth pursuing. But what the world needs most of all is more people who have come alive.

Love, Sweet Love

But hang on a second. Isn’t it selfish to spend your precious time and energy on what fills you with passion and makes you feel most alive? And isn’t selfishness one of the root causes of things like poverty, ignorance, suffering, and servility? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all gave more thought to the needs of our fellows—if, in other words, we were all a little less selfish? And isn’t it therefore wrong, even perverse, to call on people to be more selfish and claim that this is what the world needs?

The short answer to the first question is yes, it is selfish to concern yourself with what makes you come alive. But this is a case in which the short answer will not do. The problem is the persistent conflation of two distinct notions: petty, short-sighted, and ultimately self-destructive selfishness on the one hand; and expansive, rational, enlightened self-interest on the other. The man who rips off his clients, steals from his neighbours, cheats on his wife, indulges every stray impulse, and betrays his own deepest values is not doing a very good job of serving his own true interests. But the man who is honest in business and friendship, who weighs the future consequences of his actions and is true to his values will be more successful in the long run, which is to say that he will have a better, happier life. Happiness, in other words, is dependent on such virtues as honesty, rationality, and integrity.

There is another important distinction that helps to clarify the issue: the difference between duty and virtue. Whatever you may have learned from government schools or religious teachings, you have no duty to save the world, no duty even to make it a better place. This is no great loss, however, for the cold, grey hand of duty is a comparatively poor motivator in most cases. It breeds resentment and sucks the vitality out of existence. Happiness, in contrast, is a shining prize that feeds the spirit, a prize to be won daily and over the course of a lifetime through the exercise of virtue. And the kicker is that virtuous, happy, passionate people are precisely what the world needs.

Do What You Love, Freedom Will Follow

Even if you agree that you have a right to pursue your own happiness in a peaceful manner, you may still think the world would be better off if you sacrificed some of your happiness in order to work toward some other goal. Far be it from me to discourage you from pursuing a worthwhile goal if you want to pursue it. My purpose is rather to discourage you from pursuing a goal you don’t really want to pursue, a goal that will not make you happy.

If you sacrifice your happiness, even to further a goal that you value, you will squander your precious energy. Your unwelcome tasks will weigh on you, and you will feel depleted at the end of the day, and wake from sleep unrefreshed and unenthusiastic.

If, instead, you do what you love, you will have energy aplenty. You will tend to embrace your tasks, and you will feel good even when tired, and wake eager to greet the next challenge. Even if you spend your days in a manner that does not directly further the cause of liberty, as long as you do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, you contribute to making the world a better place through the positive sum game of voluntary exchange. You also set an example of the good life—a peaceful, productive, and happy life—that, if everyone simply emulated, would be sufficient to bring about a golden age overflowing with greater wealth, knowledge, wellbeing, and liberty for everyone.

There is one more indirect salutary effect that people who have come alive have on the world. In addition to benefiting others through voluntary exchange and through the productive and peaceful example they set, people who have come alive are not themselves easily ruled. They value their own freedom to follow their bliss, and will tend to guard it jealously, and so guard the freedom of others as well.

By all means, if you can directly further the cause of liberty in a way that makes you happy, I encourage you to do so. But don’t consign yourself to a life of misery because of some antiquated notion of duty to others. Instead, do what makes you come alive, and you will thereby contribute much to making the world a better place.

Bradley Doucet is Le Quebecois Libré‘s English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.

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