Posts Tagged ethics

Occupy Yourselves: Targeting the Evil, Greedy 100%

The attitudes and actions of the Occupy Wall Street protesters have inspired many others to join the streets in outrage, leaving those of us at home to wonder what the point of it all may be.

And let me assure you: there is indeed a point.

I’ve been struck by the moral arrogance that permeates the crowds — a sort of pretentious, self-absorbed judgmentalism, self-anointed to invade the souls of the rich and expose their moral failings. Such supposed vice, we are told, must be stopped, and it is these brave oracles of materialism and greed who shall stand in its way.

There are, of course, a few problems with this. One is that “ending corporate greed” requires privy knowledge of who is greedy and who is not. We can certainly trust the discernment of the guy smoking pot in the sleeping bag next to the sewer drain, but even if he gets it right, how might we convince Mr. Fat-Cat Richiebottoms to alter his moral outlook?

“Just take his money away,” they’ll say.

Yet if I threw Billy Goodheart’s “Everyone is greedy but me!” sign in the garbage, my hunch is that his ability to produce quality picketing art would only improve. There he’d be, the very next day, with the same attitudes, the same platitudes, and the same distasteful propensity to blame the Man.

Reality alert: You cannot change the world by blaming others, and you cannot change moral behavior by yelling.

With particular precision, David Brooks sums up the issue nicely:

If there is a core theme to the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is that the virtuous 99 percent of society is being cheated by the richest and greediest 1 percent. This is a theme that allows the people in the 99 percent to think very highly of themselves. All their problems are caused by the nefarious elite.

And problems do abound. Yes, there are structural issues with the status quo. Yes, corporatism is out of control (which is not the same as “capitalism,” mind you). Yes, banks and businesses were/are reckless. Yes, people were/are greedy. You woke up on the right planet.

The question is, “What can we do about it?”

In a free society, one thing we can control is our own lives. If we don’t want to be beholden to greedy misers or enslaved to high-interest credit cards, we can say “no.” If we don’t want to be tied to 10 years of student-loan debt that we can’t afford, we can go to a trade school or demonstrate some basic upfront frugality. If we’re looking for our dream job and can’t find it, we can continue to increase our skills and standing, no matter how frustrating the process may be.

If, however, we are trying to “be the change we want to see in the world” by sleeping in a gutter for weeks on end, we should be prepared to receive our prize.

What we need is what John Witherspoon once called a “return to duty” — an introspective moment that leads us to “hearken the rod” rather than disdain it, to return to Read the rest of this entry »

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What Can Christians Learn from Ayn Rand?

Ayn Rand, atheism, Objectivism, Christianity, ethicsOver the last few weeks, Ayn Rand has been a frequent topic on the blog (see parts 1, 2, and 3). Thus, I thought it might be beneficial to wrap things up with what I believe to be the key takeaways for Christians.

“For Christians?” you ask? Yes, for Christians.

Atheist and Objectivist William Schultz has done a great job of providing insight into the basics of Randian ethics and how they fundamentally differ from those of Christianity (see here and here). But rather than get into a deep debate over the merits and demerits of such an ethical framework (and/or it’s assumptions, conclusions, etc.), I figured I’d assess what the Christian might learn simply by examining it, assuming one retains their view of God, Christ, “objective” truth, etc. (I hope you have!)

In other words, what I believe we can learn from Rand would most certainly be rejected by Rand herself. In my own spiritual and intellectual journey, Rand has, most simply, challenged me to reconsider and build upon, though not abandon, specific features of my beliefs, and has, in turn, contributed more depth and dimension to the way I, as a Christian, view the individual and his subsequent relationship to God and man.

So, without further explanation, here’s what I think we can learn:

1. Truth matters. This may seem like a given, but today’s Christians have a tendency to elevate “love” above “truth,” as if one can exist without the other (e.g. Love Wins). Rand’s entire premise is that we must strive to discover the truth (the “objective” kind) and by doing so we will somehow achieve happiness (her highest value). For the Christian, our “objective” truth differs drastically from Rand’s. Ours is, shall we say, “super-objective” in the sense that it is supernatural. In addition, “happiness” — either our own or that of others — is not to be our highest end or “value”; the Glory of God is. In many ways, however, Rand seems more concerned with discovering, defining, promoting, and incorporating truth (itself) than Read the rest of this entry »

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Objectivist Ethics vs. Christian Ethics: Is There Any Common Ground? (Part 2)

Objectivism, Ayn Rand, Christianity, Sermon on the Mount, contrast, ethics, philosophyBy William Schultz, Guest Contributor

Editor’s Note: This the second post by guest contributor, William Schultz, who began by providing a basic introduction to the ethics of Ayn Rand. In this installment, William discusses whether (and where) Christians and Objectivists might find common ground.

At a public forum on the minimum wage, a man talked with two people. Both were vigorously opposed to lowering or abolishing the minimum wage.

One of these individuals was a “social-justice” activist whose concern was that abolishing the minimum wage would lead to the exploitation and suffering of the poor. This concern was, however, only the tip of the activist’s ideological iceberg. His ultimate political purpose, his ultimate political value, was a radical egalitarian society which reined in the power of large corporations and wealthy individuals for the sake of the common good.

The other individual was a Wal-Mart lobbyist whose concern was that abolishing the minimum wage would hurt Wal-Mart by increasing the competition the company faced in the market. This concern was, however, only the tip of this lobbyist’s ideological iceberg. His ultimate political purpose, his ultimate political value, was a corporatist state where Wal-Mart’s profits would be indefinitely secured.

These two had a common interest in supporting minimum wage laws. However, their ultimate political values conflicted. With enough time, their political values would clash.

There’s a similarity between the relationship of the two individuals above and the relationship between Christians and Objectivists. Christians believe that men should be treated as ends not means. They believe that murder, theft, initiation of violence, lying, etc. are evil. On these issues, Christians and Objectivists are in agreement.

However, the ultimate value of a Christian is different from the ultimate value of an Objectivist.

Just what are the ultimate values of a Christan and an Objectivist? What criticisms does Read the rest of this entry »

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The Ethics of Ayn Rand: Guest Post by a Rational Egoist (Part 1)

William Schultz

Guest Contributor, William Schultz

By William Schultz, Guest Contributor

Editor’s Note: I have previously noted the differences between Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism” and Christianity, as well as where I see some overlap. Given the recent prominence of Rand in both the budget talks and the cinema, I thought it timely to provide readers with a general introduction to Randian ethics. To provide such an introduction, I called on William Schultz, an atheist Objectivist and friend of mine. William will follow this post by providing a closer discussion of how Randian ethics (generally) line up against those of Christianity.

I am a rational egoist. In any discussion on morality, the first question I address isn’t “Which moral code should I accept?” Instead, the first question is “Why should I accept any moral code?” Why should I even bother applying “right” and “wrong” to specific actions? Is it all simply a waste of time?

And why shouldn’t I ask this? At first glance, it seems that adopting a moral code is going to place prohibitions on the ways I can act, which might mean all kinds of delightful activities get thrown out the window and the bars of morality are erected in their place. Why would I want that?

Well, I think there are reasons. But first things first.

In order for someone to persuade me that I should accept any moral code, we must first understand what a moral code is. A moral code tells you the types of things you should go after. A moral code is a hierarchy of values. Values are things you act to gain or keep. A hierarchy is a ranking structure. But why should I value some things and not others? And why should I place the things I do value in hierarchical order.

To answer the above questions, we must first recognize a crucial distinction between entities in the universe: the difference between inanimate and animate matter. Inanimate matter has no values. A rock, a rocking chair, the rings of Saturn — these entities don’t have values. These things could care less whether you beat them, break them, or throw them in a box. They can’t “care” at all. They don’t “act” at all. On the other hand, animate organisms face a fundamental Read the rest of this entry »

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Ayn Rand: Closer to Christianity than Marx

Ayn RandThe American Values Network recently lambasted Rep. Paul Ryan for expressing pro-Rand sentiments in several statements and online videos. In a response ad geared toward Ryan’s supporters, AVN criticized Rand’s atheism and ethics, acting as though Christian conservatives would be shocked to learn of her beliefs.

How could we, as admirers of Rand, ever be aware of her rejection of the Judeo-Christian ethos? She’s sooooo subtle.

I doubt any Christian Rand admirers were surprised at the news. Most of us draw value out of Rand in very specific ways, and we are very used to hearing the majority of our conservative brethren rejecting and lambasting her views outright (see Whittaker Chambers). What the ad really did, then, was illuminate the way the Left continues to misunderstand conservatives, particularly when it comes to what value, if any, they see in Rand.

Let us remember: For progressives, Rand is the epitome of what they are not. She boasts an emphasis on individualism that, in its most basic orientation, is opposed to their top-down, mechanical view of human engagement and society. For them, it is (supposedly) all about the “other,” and for Rand, the other only matters insofar as she is beneficial to the self (not a charming alternative, if you ask me). Faulty ethics aside, in mere political application, Rand’s message is in many ways your typical pro-capitalism shtick — rational self-interest does not negate or disregard the other; rather, it allows humans to identify ways through which they can share, exchange, and collaborate in a productive manner.

Where conservatives typically differ with Rand is on her view of the human person — the nature of the individual himself — and the subsequent moral responsibilities we as individuals have toward others. For example, what precisely is our value? Is it intrinsic? What precisely is in our self-interest? Could it actually be selflessness? It is here that we move away from the political jabber — the primary kumbaya nexus of, say, Atlas Shrugged — and toward the more fundamental disagreements over philosophy and theology (still a largely evident feature of Atlas Shrugged, if not too much so).

Yet, I suspect, even on matters of philosophy and theology, conservatives and Christians can actually find more in common with Rand than they might assume (not to mention what they might learn from their differences). As a way of illuminating this, one might consider how Rand stacks up against other atheist or “non-Christian” thinkers. For example, I continue to hear Rand compared to Karl Marx, as though Read the rest of this entry »

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The Morality of Profit: (Mis)defining Generosity in a Win-Lose World

"Give me all your money...or else!"

This week at Common Sense Concept, I discuss Tom Palmer’s new video on the “morality of profit” as a follow-up to my post on whether capitalism is compatible with Christian values.

Palmer uses the charity efforts of Bill and Melinda Gates as a launching pad for discussion, focusing on their professed desire to “give back” to society. The problem with such language, Palmer notes, is that “you can’t give back what you didn’t take.”

The Gateses did not, of course, take anything, as true free exchange would not permit it:

We are not forced to fill company coffers against our will. We are not doomed to buy oranges or apples if the price isn’t right. Instead, we are free to collaborate of our own free will and by our own consent. In such a world, profit is merely a symbol of community value. If we reject profits as immoral, we should be prepared to reject the community that empowers it. The tricky part, as I’ve mentioned before, is that this is most often ourselves. This is what the “morality of profit” all boils down to: whether mutual exchange is indeed mutual.

This tells us something about the morality of profit, but Palmer’s discussion also teaches us something about the nature of generosity — namely, that when we misunderstand the way wealth is created, we also misunderstand the ways in which (or through which) our generosity should be and can be channeled and expressed.

Indeed, understanding this process is crucial for understanding how God calls us to use our wealth:

By diluting our charity to some redistributionist obligation, we dilute the very potential of our charity, both for ourselves and our communities. How are we to maximize our generosity and distribute compassion effectively if we harbor faulty, guilt-ridden sentiments about Read the rest of this entry »

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The Harmony of Individual Interests: Discovering the Common Good

puzzle, community, individual, common goodThis week at Ethika Politika, I examine two distinct approaches to the common good, one of which thinks it can be dictated, and another of which thinks it must be discovered.

Using Michael Tomasky’s now-famous essay as a starting point, I examine the fundamental errors in assuming that the common good can be achieved by enacting pushy policies from the top down.

Here’s an excerpt:

…In Tomasky’s view, the common good is not something we should participate in or collaborate toward; rather, it is a god we should be “demanded” to serve. It is not a goal to pursue, a mystery to unravel, or a fight to win, but a preexisting plan to be enacted – a candyland of utopian perfectionism, ready and waiting to be implemented in full. No longer must we waste our time “cultivating conditions” for a moral society, for such an achievement only requires that a legion of properly informed elites step up to the task — followed, of course, by a nation of noble slaves, anxiously awaiting direction and correction from their masters on top of the hill.

An additional problem with Tomasky’s approach is his false dichotomy between individual and community interests.

The real tension, I argue, is between top-down direction and organic imperative:

For the progressive, being “asked to contribute to a project larger than ourselves” (Tomasky) is akin to being bumped into submission by the bureaucrat’s billy club. In the approach presented here, such demands come primarily through the guidance our personal journeys, community struggles, and, above all, our moral understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Whereas the top-downers believe that truth is already known and thus freedom is unnecessary, the bottom-uppers see a world in which truth must be actively pursued, with freedom being the only thing that will get us there.

I also point to Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises along the way, whose “harmony of all individual interests” provides great support.

To read the full post, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Economics, Ecumenism, and the Church: An Interview with Jordan Ballor

Jordan Ballor, author, Ecumenical Babel, Acton InstituteI recently reviewed Jordan Ballor’s new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, in which Ballor aims to promote (and initiate) a “critical engagement” of the modern-day ecumenical movement.

Ballor’s argument is careful and thorough while also being engaging and precise, and although the book’s primary focus is on the way we approach ecumenism, it also stirs broader questions about the role of economic ideology in the church at large:

  • What is the proper role of ideology in the church’s social witness?
  • Do ecumenical organizations “count” as churches, and if so, how should we understand their place in the broader “playing field”?
  • How do we as Christian individuals — or even as private Christian enterprises — differ from the church in our responsibilities regarding socio-economic ideology and God’s social purposes?

To expand on these questions (and plenty more), Ballor was kind enough to engage in an interview with Remnant Culture. As in his book, Ballor offers a healthy dose of criticism while providing some clear-cut ways to promote a healthier ecumenism going forward.

Q. As you mention in the book, there is not much “transdenominational authority” in Protestant Christianity. How influential has the ecumenical movement been in establishing such authority?

Not nearly as influential as it might have been, especially over the last three decades or so. There’s an instinct in Protestantism to look outside of institutional groups for leadership and authority, and when such groups squander their standing by spending their time talking about prudential issues in imprudent ways, they do a great deal of damage to their own credibility. The lack of influence that ecumenical groups have these days is largely due to these dynamics. This is more the case for the “mainline” ecumenical bodies, such as the World Council of Churches, than it is for some of the “evangelical” ecumenical efforts, such as the Lausanne Movement. But there’s generally a suspicion of such “transdenominational” authority, and in many cases for good reason.

Part of why I wrote Ecumenical Babel was to try to articulate why recovering such Read the rest of this entry »

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Ecumenical Babel: Economic Ideology and the Church

Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness, Jordan BallorWhen we survey today’s global economic environment, there are few observations that all of us can agree on.

Here’s a start:

  • Gigantic transnational corporations are out of control, exploiting their workers and rendering consumers and governments powerless to their manipulative forces.
  • Venerable local cultures, along with their esteemed mom-and-pop shops, are under attack, besieged by an ever-homogenizing monster, eager to suck away their uniqueness and transplant it with Western saliva.
  • Economic globalization — the root of such evils — is fattening the pockets of the rich, emptying the pockets of the poor, and threatening earth’s most vital life support systems in the process.

On the whole, modern-day capitalism and free trade have resulted in rampant greed and moral depravity, leading society to sacrifice its most vulnerable members on an altar of economic neoliberalism.

Oh, and when I say that all of us can agree on this, I mean all of us Christians.

I wish I could say that the above rant was constructed from articles in the Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, or The New Republic. Unfortunately, it was compiled from ideas found in the recent proclamations of three major ecumenical organizations: the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC). (Yes, I did have a bit of fun with them.)

The problem, of course, is that all of us don’t agree — a point not lost on theologian Jordan Ballor, author of the new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

For Ballor, the ecumenical movement has become far too narrow in its ideological underpinnings and far too politicized in its public stances. Although its role should be focused on fostering church unity around a set of grounded beliefs, the movement’s overt participation in Read the rest of this entry »

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Winning to Live: Competition Is About Discovery

horse, racing, competitionEconomist Friedrich von Hayek once referred to competition as a “discovery procedure.” This week at Ethika Politika, I explore what that means for us as moral individuals.

Far too often we confine our thinking about competition to matters of “justice” or “fairness.” Such considerations are certainly relevant and important, but I fear that we tend to fall back on them as a way of avoiding the impending risk and vulnerability within the competitive process.

As I argue, we must be careful not to lose sight of the ultimate purpose or value of competition, which is, above all, discovery.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Competition leads to reaction. It demands, provokes, and prods. It draws out information. When we engage in competitive activity, we are bound to uncover something new. We will not be certain of the end goal, and we will not be certain of the end result, but the information we gain throughout the process will point the way towards true value.

Here’s another:

The good news is that although competition may lead to a frustration of our original intentions, it need not be the frustration of our entire destinies. It may tell us that our role in the larger equilibrium (Hayek prefers the term “order”) has shifted, but it is up to us to find ways to provide value in the shifting frontier. We can certainly remain idle as we watch the world transform, or we can participate and innovate, continuing to develop as individuals and as a society.

Read the full article here.

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