With a new baby and the chaos of the holidays, it’s been a few months since I posted anything, so to avoid a cramp, allow me to ease back into this thing with a quick missive. Thanks for reading.
Here we go again. Taking Rahm Emanuel’s advice to never let a good crisis go to waste, liberals are spinning on their eyebrows and are engaged in a full-on assault against firearms, their owners, and the Second Amendment, itself. It doesn’t take a Constitutional historian or a gifted grammarian to understand the meaning and intent of the Second Amendment. Despite the fact that we have scads of external sources from the authors of the Bill of Rights on this very issue, we don’t have to go nearly that far in discerning their intent — it’s right there in the amendment, itself, if you understand the English language.
Another progressive in my circle of acquaintances trotted out the militia argument, again, this week, and while I handily dispensed with his warped understanding of how our founders defined “militia” and “well-regulated” using the words of the founders, themselves, it occurred to me that answering this argument is really a waste of time. The fact is, the “well-regulated militia” clause is inconsequential to the “keep and bear arms” clause and actually places no requirements upon it.
His argument was that, according to the Second Amendment, the use of arms should be restricted to those in a well regulated militia, but the actual text of the amendment and its structure do not bear this premise out. Let’s examine that text:
"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
Looking purely at sentence structure, leaving all politics aside, the “well regulated militia” clause places no requirements upon the rest of the amendment. In other words, there is no reason to interpret the amendment in such a way that the major premise (the “keep and bear arms” clause) is predicated upon the “well regulated militia” clause, requiring the gun owner to be a part of an organized militia in order to exercise the enumerated right.
The easiest way to see this point is to maintain the sentence structure but replace the subjects and objects with other terms and see how the sentence would be interpreted in other circumstances:
"A full stomach, being necessary to the physical satiety of a free man, the right of the people to belly up to the buffet at Golden Corral shall not be infringed."
The question must be asked, “what if I don’t want a full stomach?” What if I simply want to drop $12 on a few yeast rolls from the bakery bar? What if I just want to meet my dad there for a cup of coffee? According to the gun-grabbers’ interpretation, I have no right to patronize “The Trough” (as my wife and I call it), unless I’m there to stuff myself. Is this a reasonable interpretation?
"A well funded savings account, being necessary to the financial security of a free man, the right of the people to labor and save money shall not be infringed."
Again, does this sentence suggest that in order for me to retain the right to work and save money, I must be doing it for the sole purpose of funding my retirement account? Of course not. What if I want to eliminate accumulated debt? What if I want to buy a home? What if, God forbid, I wanted to purchase a Colt AR-15 carbine with a flat-top upper receiver, collapsible stock, Picatinny tactical rails, and an Aimpoint M68 Close Combat Optic?
I wonder how liberals would interpret the following amendment, if it existed:
"Having no more than two children in the home, being necessary to the positive mental state of a woman, the right of a woman to seek out and obtain an abortion shall not be infringed."
If we interpreted this sentence the way that liberals interpret the Second Amendment, only women who already had two children living at home would be entitled to have an abortion. Do we honestly believe that liberals would allow such an interpretation?
It is clear from the structure of the Second Amendment that the founders, in the “well regulated militia” clause were listing, perhaps, one of the most important reasons as to why the right of the people to keep and bear arms should not be infringed. It strains credulity, however, to assert that the founders believed this to be the only qualifying reason for the people to keep and bear arms.
Thomas Jefferson, in November of 1787, said that the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. I find it difficult to believe that he imagined a tyrant’s blood being shed by anything other than a firearm in the hands of a patriot.
by Jeremy N. Choate
Dan Cathy, son of Truett Cathy and CEO of Chick-Fil-A, created a firestorm of controversy, recently, by announcing that he believes marriage to be defined as the union between one man and one woman. Predictably, the oh-so tolerant left has fixed its cannons on Chick-Fil-A and is currently engaged in a boycott against “hateful chicken.” While I do not begrudge the individual American citizen the God-given right to vote with his wallet, I am extremely disturbed by the blatant First Amendment violations that are potentially at hand with mayors of large American cities threatening to use the power of government to interfere in the business plans of a company because of the personal views of its chief executive. I hope that Constitutional principles will prevail, but in these days of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, my faith in judicial review is admittedly shaken.
One cannot turn on the television or peruse the internet, now, without being absolutely inundated with the language of marriage equality rights. Either the theories concerning the media echo chamber are correct, or someone is publishing daily talking points, since everyone on the left appears to be using this particular language. In fact, it was reported that the Democratic National Committee will announce marriage equality rights as an official plank of the Democratic Party platform at its convention in September. However, before declaring something as a foundational piece of one’s political dogma, it would help to ask if such a thing even exists.
Brace yourselves for a shock. Homosexuals enjoy the exact same rights as every other American group. This seems a controversial statement on its face considering that homosexual marriage is not yet legally recognized by the majority of states in the union. To those driven more by passionate emotional appeals than by reason and logic, this statement seems patently, even offensively, incorrect, but this statement is logically airtight based on the definition of what constitutes a right and based on the absurdities that arise when we carry the negation of that statement to its logical conclusion.
When I say that homosexuals enjoy the exact same rights as every other American group, I am actively denouncing the manifestly incorrect allegation that there is a ban on homosexual marriage. The truth is, if two homosexual people wish to engage in casual sex with one another, they have the same right to do so as any heterosexual couple; if two homosexual people wish to enter into a long-term, cohabitative relationship, they enjoy the same right to do so as two heterosexual people; moreover, if two homosexual people wish to be married, they have the same right as two heterosexual people to find a minister to consecrate their union and live happily ever after. The only so-called right of which homosexuals are denied is the legal recognition of that union by the state, but the shocking truth is, such a thing can never be construed as a right.
This argument does have, perhaps, an unexpected consequence - it nullifies the belief that heterosexuals enjoy a right that homosexuals do not. By the definition of a right, heterosexuals do not have a right to have their marriages recognized, either. While most states have chosen to recognize the union between one man and one woman as the only legal definition of marriage, that recognition is not a right to which heterosexuals are naturally entitled. If the state of Georgia chose to end the legal recognition of all marital unions, which is the position of many libertarians, my marriage to my wife would be unaffected, and none of my rights would be stripped from me in their decision. If that’s true for the scenario where legal recognition is suddenly ended, it is certainly true for the scenario where legal recognition is never given.
Next, there is a profound paradox that arises by achieving legal recognition of homosexual marriage by asserting marriage equality rights. In doing so, homosexuals become part of the privileged group whose sexual unions are legally recognized by the state. At that point, it becomes hypocritical and intellectually dishonest to deny the same right to all other alternative unions that may assert their right to be recognized, as well. After all, what would be the limiting principle that would justify the denial of recognition for a brother and sister, a man and two women, two men and one woman, two men and two women, etc., etc., etc.? What would the argument be to prevent them from having their unions recognized, as well?
Regardless of one’s position on the issue of marriage, states choose to recognize certain familial configurations in order to promote the health of society within that state. The debate rages on as to whether families with homosexual parents produce children who are as healthy and well-adjusted as those from traditional, heterosexual couples, and future study will undoubtedly bear this question out. Until that happens, the majority of states have determined that highest probability of producing healthy, productive citizens occurs in a family where one man and one woman are the head. Those who support homosexual marriage are absolutely welcome to persuade them otherwise, but appealing to the nonexistent notion of marriage equality rights is ignorant at best and deceitfully manipulative at worst.
Author’s Note: I recognize that this is a controversial and emotional issue, but it can be discussed rationally and without vitriol. I welcome a healthy discussion, but I will not tolerate personal attacks. The comments section is moderated by me, and those commenters who resort to ad hominem attacks instead of addressing the arguments, themselves, will be summarily blacklisted. Consider yourself duly notified. Thank you.
by Jeremy N. Choate
In his 1962 book, To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth, author and Marine Colonel John Dean “Jeff” Cooper coined the term “hoplophobia” to describe a condition “characterized by an irrational aversion to weapons.” While this is not a recognized medical definition, one cannot deny that such a condition exists as a continuum within the minds of many people, especially those on the political left. With all the tumult over the alleged ubiquity of “assault rifles”, high-capacity magazines, and armor piercing cop-killer rounds, the irrational aversion to weapons by the left is once again on full display – or at least that’s how it would appear.
Though I greatly admire Colonel Cooper’s contribution to the dialogue and have often been tempted to hurl the term at opponents of the Second Amendment, myself, I have discovered that the term actually applies to far fewer people than I first imagined. While there are certainly people who have an irrational fear of weapons, I have found that the vast majority of Second Amendment opponents have less fear of the weapon, itself, and more fear of the person wielding it.
This seems counterintuitive when one considers that most arguments over the Second Amendment consist of the anti-gunner vastly ignoring the killer himself and calling for the banning of some or all types of firearms. The pro-gunner rightly responds, employing the phrase, “Guns don’t kill people; people do.” However, if you pay close attention to the anti-gunner’s argument, you’ll discover that it’s rare for them to actually call for the elimination of weapons, altogether. Instead, you often find them merely wanting to restrict or eliminate access to them by their fellow citizens while enthusiastically heralding a world where only authorized agents of the state are allowed to carry.
In light of this observation, I would like to coin a new term: hoplosynanthropophobia – fear of one’s armed neighbor (fellow man). While I have no illusions that my term will ever make the cut at Funk and Wagnall’s, I think it accurately describes the phenomenon that we have witnessed in recent days.
The source of this hoplosynanthropophobia is certainly open to speculation, but one cannot help but wonder, especially when perusing the social media rantings of those closer to the far side of the issue, if a type of elitism lies at its root. Take for example, a tweet from conservative author and contributing editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, David Frum:
For those unfamiliar with the Thurber novel, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, or the Danny Kaye film of the same title, Walter Mitty is a hapless and ineffectual man who often gets lost in fantastic daydreams of personal glory while remaining a cowering buffoon in reality. While Frum claims to be a supporter of the Second Amendment, is this truly how he views his fellow conservatives? Are those of us who are in favor of more privately owned weapons simply daydreamers – impotent little people who are caught up in our own pathetic heroic fantasies? In truth, this characterization is fairly mild compared to some of the epithets that have been slung at those who desire only to preserve their ability to defend themselves, their families, and those around them – even defending the people who despise and ridicule them for it.
One doesn’t have to go very far to see gun owners and Second Amendment proponents referred to as hicks, rednecks, knuckle-draggers, and Neanderthals or to see the size of their wedding tackle being called into question. I can see no other foundation for such smug self-righteousness and condescension apart from blind fear and prejudice.
Bill Moyers, in his anti-gun missive on Monday, said:
“We are after all a country which began with the forced subjugation into slavery of millions of Africans and the reliance on arms against Native Americans for its Westward expansion. In truth, more settlers traveling the Oregon Trail died from accidental, self-inflicted gunshots wounds than Indian attacks - we were not only bloodthirsty but also inept.”
Take note, budding journalists – that’s the way you win hearts and minds. Insult your audience by irresponsibly associating them with the sins and blunders of the distant past. In his morally-superior judgment of our apparent gun fetish, he has revealed his apprehension of his fellow American to be that of Joseph Conrad’s Mr. Kurtz and Homer Simpson, all rolled into one.
On a side note, I’m not certain where Mr. Moyers obtained his historical data since author and historian John D. Unruh, in his book, The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and Trans-Mississippi West, 1840–1860, lists accidental shootings as a very minor contributor (2% - 5%, generously) to the overall death toll, far below the top two causes – disease and Indian attack. Either Mr. Moyers is being intentionally dishonest, or he is playing fast and loose with the facts.
Besides, he is aware that the events of the Oregon Trail happened almost 200 years ago, isn’t he? We’ve come a long way since 1843 – we’ve got automobiles, fancy flying machines, and I’m wagering that he wrote his mendacious screed on one of those new-fangled computers. Considering that we have an estimated 270 million privately-owned firearms in the United States, if gun owners were nearly as “bloodthirsty” and “inept” as Mr. Moyers would have us believe, the laws of probability assure us that we would have a 21st century holocaust on our hands and an awful lot of guys nicknamed, “Stumpy.”
It is difficult for the proponent of the individual right to keep and bear arms to understand how any person would wish to outsource their own personal safety to another human being and surrender their right to defend themselves. Law enforcement officers are sheepdogs, standing in defiance of the wolves, but they cannot be everywhere at all times, nor would we want them to be. However, when you delve into the mind of the hoplosynanthropophobe, you encounter two very powerful emotions – denial and crippling fear.
While they fire off impassioned epistles about predators using fearsome-looking weapons to destroy the lives of scores of innocent people, they live in abject denial that such a thing could ever happen to them. When their fellow citizens speak of arming themselves in anticipation of such an event, it challenges the false sense of security that their denial has provided, and they lash out in fear. They then fall back on the unjustified gun-toter stereotypes they’ve constructed and gleefully use them to validate their fear.
The most fundamental right that all human beings have is the right to protect themselves and their loved ones from those who would seek to destroy them. Conversely, human beings also have the right to waive that privilege, for whatever reason, if they so choose. However, what we cannot do is force another human being to surrender his right to self-defense simply because we are uncomfortable with the possibility that a dangerous weapon might be in our midst.
For you hoplosynanthropophobes out there, be a sheep, if you like, but don’t expect the sheepdogs of society to put on a wool coat and join you. You can label gun-owners as Walter Mittys, rednecks, or Neanderthals until your self-importance meter is pegged out, but as civil trial attorney and author Kurt Schlicter advised one of Frum’s Twitter minions, make sure you wait to do it until after they’ve saved your life.
by Jeremy N. Choate
In response to Today’s Tweet.
Before I begin, let me respectfully submit that I believe you to be an extremely talented performer, and I still find myself stopping to watch episodes of “Seinfeld”, regardless of whatever else may be on television at the time. While I admire your passion on this subject, I believe you are misguided in a few areas, and I hope this letter will address some of those ideas.
Now, I started to write a lengthy and detailed response to your tweet, but as I wrote, I was dogged by the constant thought that very little of what I was writing (or what you wrote, frankly), gets to the heart of this issue.
I won’t bother getting into a detailed rebuttal of your thoughts concerning the intent of the Founding Fathers with respect to the Second Amendment, since smarter men than both of us have exhausted this topic. Let me say only that your “militia-only” interpretation is roundly rejected by most Constitutional scholars, and it doesn’t require a law degree to recognize the speciousness of your argument. Simply put, there are scores of quotes from the Founding Fathers concerning the necessity of individual ownership of arms, completely separate from their function in a well-regulated militia. Furthermore, and most importantly, if the Second Amendment is reserved only to government-approved militia groups, then it is the ONLY right listed in the Bill of Rights that is not an individual right. For that reason alone, it is incredibly dangerous to cast doubt on the individual nature of ANY of the rights listed in the Bill of Rights - even the dreaded Second Amendment.
I found it interesting that you chose to single out “assault rifles” to receive the brunt of your wrath. I have no particular affinity for assault rifles and have no interest in defending assault rifles against their, in my opinion, undeserved infamy. As a firearms expert and former Reconnaissance Marine, I can assure you that I am more deadly with my Glock 32 and its ten-round capacity than the average citizen is with the fearful AR-15 and a 30-round magazine - especially under the circumstances and at the ranges that the Aurora shooter encountered. As such, even if those who feel as you do are successful at banning the possession of so-called assault rifles, my ability to defend myself will not be hindered in any way, whatsoever.
As an engaged citizen, I’m sure you are aware that thirteen innocent people were killed during the Columbine massacre - one more than in Aurora. Were you also aware that almost three times as many innocent people were killed at Virginia Tech as in Aurora? Did you further know that none of the killers involved in those massacres used assault rifles? Harris and Klebold destroyed 13 lives (not including their own) using two 9mm handguns and two 12-gauge shotguns. Seung-Hui Cho callously murdered 32 people using only a .22 caliber Walther P22 and a 9mm Glock 19.
Why do I bring this up? It’s not to exonerate assault rifles; it’s to illustrate the fact that your tweet is a misdirected reaction to an event about which you should rightfully be enraged. The issue is not about the type of weapon James E. Holmes used to end the lives of so many innocent people, and a focus on such an irrelevant issue distracts us from real solutions to the problem. Obviously, the common thread between Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Aurora is NOT the type of weapons the predators used. The common thread was the viciousness of the predators and the helplessness of their prey. In each case, the victims were found in situations where the lawful possession of firearms was prohibited, and these law-abiding victims were the only ones observing the rule.
It is natural, at a time like this, to bemoan the existence of firearms, but we may just as well bemoan the existence of Great White Sharks, mosquitoes, and personal injury lawyers. In all the aforementioned cases, all those things exist and will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. It is folly for us to believe that more laws and gun bans will somehow cause all weapons to disappear from our society. Even if we could accomplish the Herculean (and tyrannical) task of confiscating ALL firearms from all 300 million of us, are we naive enough to believe that the possibility of gun violence will be eliminated? I’m sure that you are intelligent enough to deduce the ways in which firearms will find their way back into the hands of those with the highest proclivity for criminal violence. Besides, if a predator has no respect for laws that forbid the cold-blooded murder of another human being, what makes you so confident that he will respect yet another law against the possession of certain types of firearms?
Mr. Alexander, there are wolves among us. Pulling the teeth of the sheepdogs will do nothing to protect the sheep. Statistics show that we live in a very violent society, but the violence we see has nothing to do with the implements used to achieve that violence. Until we can transform our society into one that has more respect for human life and human dignity, the best we can do is allow the sheepdogs among us to stand in defiance of the wolves. We’ll never be able to do that if every time a wolf steals a sheep, we de-fang the dog.
by Jeremy N. Choate
Like most of you, I’ve been consuming most any news that I can find concerning the horrible tragedy that befell movie-goers on Thursday night in Colorado. Imagine my surprise that out of all the Aurora Theater shooting survivors they could have interviewed, CNN sought out 25-year old Jamie Rohrs and his fiancee’ Patricia Legaretta.
For the ever-increasing millions and millions of you who never, ever watch CNN, a simple Google search will reveal to you that Jamie Rohrs is the “brave” young man who, when the shooting started and he became separated from his then-girlfriend, Patricia, their four-month old son, and their four-year old daughter, he left the theater, drove to the mall across the street, and spent the rest of the crisis frantically calling Patricia’s cellphone. Once they were reunited at the hospital, he suddenly felt the urge to propose to Patricia, knowing now that she must be the one, after her brave efforts in rescuing their children through the hail of teargas and gunfire. She happily accepted his proposal. Well good. At least we can now rest assured that a horrible tragedy will never befall young Jamie as long as Patricia is around.
Please reassure me that this is not the generation that is succeeding us. When the Virginia Tech massacre occurred, I was lambasted roundly by the more “open-minded” among us for my vehement denunciation of the 18-22 year old “men” who were leaping out of classroom windows, leaving the young women inside at the mercy of the lunatic, Seung-Hui Cho. While these able-bodied young men were scrambling for safety, the hero who stayed behind and shielded them from the gunman was 76-year old engineering professor and Holocaust survivor, Liviu Librescu, who died protecting those in his charge.
I imagine that the parents of the young men who made it out of that Virginia Tech classroom were just thankful that their sons were not counted among the dozens of other young men and women that were ruthlessly gunned down by Cho. I wonder, though, if the joy and relief that any of them felt was tempered by a sense of shame when they discovered that the young men they raised thought only of their own safety while so many of their weaker classmates were being callously murdered. I wonder if any of them asked their sons why they didn’t do more protect their peers. My guess is, that thought never crossed their minds.
In a speech to the midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy in 1997, Dr. William J. Bennett said:
Honor never grows old, and honor rejoices the heart of age. It does so because honor is, finally, about defending those noble and worthy things that deserve defending, even if it comes at a high cost. In our time, that may mean social disapproval, public scorn, hardship, persecution, or as always,even death itself. The question remains: What is worth defending? What is worth dying for? What is worth living for?
Are we raising young men, today, who have no concept of honor? Are we rearing a generation who believes that self-preservation is the noblest of virtues and that death is the greatest evil that we face? If so, then we should all fear for the future of our society.
In his paper entitled, On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs, Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman explains that there are three types of human creatures in the world. The vast majority of human creatures are sheep — gentle, productive souls who only harm each other, unintentionally. Some human creatures among us are wolves — violent predators who prey on the sheep, knowing that they are defenseless to resist. Finally, there are sheepdogs. Noble men and women who stand in defiance of the wolves and protect the flock, even in the face of their own death.
There are few among us who would covet the title of “sheep”. The vast majority of us would like to believe that we are sheepdogs who would aggressively protect ourselves and those around us. The sad reality, however, is that the vast majority of us are sheep, and when the wolf comes, we will act as Jamie Rohrs and the young men at Virginia Tech did.
As LTC Grossman explained, the literal sheep, wolf, and sheepdog are powerless to change what they are. God created a sheep to be a sheep, and he’ll never be any other type of animal, but as humans, we have the ability to choose which type of figurative creature we will be. We are not destined to live our lives as sheep if we so choose. What enables us to become a sheepdog or even a wolf?
When the Virginia Tech massacre occurred, and I was criticizing the young men who abandoned their peers, I was met with howls of, “you cannot judge these young men, because you wouldn’t know what you’d do unless you were in such a position, yourself!” Without realizing it, those who leveled this charge against me, were sealing their destiny as eternal sheep. The only thing that is required to make the transformation from sheep to sheepdog is the will to do so and the daily decision to be one, when the wolf comes.
As Reconnaissance Marines, we lived with the daily realization that we might be placed in situations where we would be required to defend ourselves and our fellow Marines. All of us volunteered for such an assignment, so all of us had made the decision to be sheepdogs. To reinforce this decision, we trained constantly to survive in potentially life-threatening situations, even going so far as to visualize hostile encounters and rehearse, in our minds, what we would do in such a circumstance.
The reason the Marine Corps trained us this way is because it is human nature, in crisis situations, to fall back on the training, mindset, and character that you developed in the times of non-crisis. If your mindset, with regard to crisis, is “you don’t know what you’d do unless you were presented with that situation”, that’s exactly how you will respond. You will have no idea how to react, because you will have built no productive mindset to fall back to. You will have developed a “wait and see” mindset, and when you are paralyzed by fear, you will either run from danger or curl up in a fetal position and wait for someone else to rescue you — or to kill you.
If, however, you decide that you will be a sheepdog — that you will comport yourself with courage and honor in the time of trial — chances are much greater that you will follow through when the time of testing arrives. Rehearse crisis situations in your mind. When you hear about the events in Aurora, ask yourself how you would’ve responded, and see yourself taking action. Train yourself, physically, as well. Stay physically fit in anticipation of the wolf’s arrival. If you are in a state that permits you to carry a concealed weapon, apply tomorrow, purchase a weapon, and train yourself in its use. Take a self-defense class.
Most importantly, come to terms with the fact that sheepdogs sometimes die, but that it is far more honorable to die as a sheepdog in battle with a wolf than it is to die as a defenseless sheep, only to be eaten and forgotten.
Some may ridicule and deride you for making this decision. However, they are living in denial, and you will be the one they hide behind when the wolf comes — and he will.
by Jeremy N. Choate
When I was in engineering school, one of my favorite professors, the late Dr. Clayton Paul, had a clever phrase that he used on a seemingly daily basis — he often spoke of a notion he called “Conservation of Joy.” It was his own concise expression of the common sense law of the universe that says “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Every good thing comes at a price, because, like it or not, we live in a finite universe with finite resources.
A old friend of mine with whom I haven’t spoken in over 20 years rang me up, today. As is often the case with friends, we picked back up in conversation as if there was no gulf of time since the last time we spoke. In fact, the resumption of our friendship was so immediate that within literally five minutes, we were discussing politics. The direction of our conversation should actually come as no surprise to me, since he was calling to discuss the answer I gave to a Facebook question he posed concerning Obamacare. It was a very pleasant exchange, but because I was still at work, it was all too brief. I hope, in this blog post, to expound on a recurring theme in my discussion with him — this theme of Conservation of Joy.
My friend is a good, ol’ boy. He is every bit as pragmatic as I am ideological, and that makes for an interesting exchange of ideas. He admits that, on a purely practical level and as he understands it, he sees little wrong with the idea of Obamacare (or, ultimately, a single-payer healthcare system) as long as it solves the problems it aims to address. He simply wishes to see improvements made to our current system of healthcare delivery and is much less concerned with the ideological issues that such an arrangement might present. There is certainly something admirable in such a no-nonsense, solutions-oriented mindset, and he and I share many common concerns. However, the question that kept arising during our conversation was, “At what cost?” It was the interrogative form of Dr. Paul’s law.
In my current re-reading of Hayek’s, The Road to Serfdom, I’m reminded that neither conservatives nor progressives are ignorant of or apathetic toward the societal issues we face — our differences lie in the methods by which we propose to address these issues. Conservatives and libertarians believe that the solutions lie in personal liberty and the free market, while progressives believe that more government intervention is the answer. It seems to me that conservatives and libertarians are keenly aware, even vigilantly aware, of the question, “at what cost?”, while progressives are blissfully and willfully ignorant of such a crass and pedestrian concern. It is a critically important question and is one we employ in our personal and professional lives on a daily basis; we ignore this consideration at our own peril.
While I am a Constitutional originalist who believes that the powers of the federal government are few and specifically enumerated, I recognize that am becoming a very frustrated minority. I and my fellow originalists are persuaded that many, many things that the federal government does or seeks to do are misguided, purely on the basis that they are not enumerated in the Constitution. Unfortunately, thanks to a lessened emphasis on critical thinking and civics in public education, very few of our fellow citizens (or officials in our government) are similarly persuaded. While I will continue to carry the banner of Constitutional originalism, I am forced to appeal to other more practical means of inducement in order to change the minds of those on the fence. One of those means is reinforcing the notion of Conservation of Joy and constantly asking the question, “at what cost?”
In our lives, there are innumerable goods that we could pursue — good health, good food, a good education, a better car, a bigger house, a closer relationship with our spouse, a higher income, etc., etc. In America, we still have the freedom to vigorously pursue and attain any of these things and more, and the American dream isn’t any one of these singular items; it is the freedom and opportunity that we have to engage in the pursuit of any or all of them, knowing that even with a focused and zealous chase, there are no guarantees, and that all of them come at a price.
The progressive is intent on creating a society where as many positive outcomes for as many people are guaranteed as possible. While Platonists through the ages have striven to establish this utopian ideal, their efforts have always been thwarted by Paul’s Law. The greater the joy, the greater the price. Utopians foolishly believe that, simply by force of will, we can achieve greater joys without paying a greater price.
Quite often, when we consider pursuing a good, we decide that the price is too high, and we choose to postpone or abandon our pursuit, altogether. This price doesn’t always express itself in the form of money but in time, effort, and sacrifice. While I would love to have my MBA, at the present time, the financial cost and time commitment are prohibitive, and I have postponed my dream, for the time being.
If we cannot escape Paul’s law in our individual lives, what makes us so naive as to think that we are less bound to it in our collective lives (society)? We live in the most prosperous nation in the world; because of this distinction and due to our can-do attitude, many Americans suffer under the delusion that we, as a society, can do absolutely anything that we can imagine. This is a pipe-dream, and a sense of hard, cold reality is needed now more than ever.
Think about this question: if you could be guaranteed a long, healthy and vibrant life, would you accept it? Only a fool would refuse such an offer. What if the guarantee came at the cost of your eyesight? Suddenly, the choice is not so clear. What if someone approached you on the street and offered you $100 million, would you accept it? Chances are, because you are unconsciously aware of Paul’s Law, you’d be wary of the offer and would demand to know “the catch.” What if the price was both your legs?
Many of the societal issues that we are facing evoke similar conundra. If you had the power to, with the stroke of a pen, extend health care to every single American citizen, would you do it? Unless you are some sort of misanthrope, the answer is obviously yes. However, knowing that Paul’s Law is inescapable, what if you were relatively certain that such a decision would decrease economic freedom, place an excessive tax burden on the producers of the nation, dramatically lessen the quality of care, drastically increase wait times, and lead to care rationing, would you still do it? What sort of price are you willing to pay?
What if you had the power to force health insurers to cover people with preexisting conditions, would you? Knowing that, in the real world, joy is conserved, you recognize that there will be a price to pay. What if the price was higher insurance premiums due to adverse selection, a loss of fairness to the industry, and most disturbingly, the loss of freedom that results from the federal government forcing a private enterprise to take actions that have a direct and negative effect on their profitability at best and their survivability at worst. After all, if the government can dictate how health insurers will conduct their business, what is the limiting principle that would prevent them from dictating how you conduct yours? Is that a price you’d be willing to pay?
What if, in your desire to reduce or eliminate the number of gun deaths, you had the power to outlaw all firearms with a single decree? Would you? Paul’s Law will apply, and the cost would inevitably be a higher number of violent encounters with predators who choose to ignore the law and a robust black market for weapons. Does that change your mind?
Sadly, the Constitution has become not merely an afterthought to the modern progressive but also a nuisance and an obstacle to be overcome in their utopian pursuits. No longer can we rely on our Congressmen and Senators to protect us by voting against unconstitutional proposals. No longer can we rely on our Presidents to protect us by vetoing them. No longer can we rely on our judicial branch to protect us by striking them down. We can certainly choose to become angry and complacent and surrender our nation to the shallow thinkers on the left, but as Dr. Paul always reminded us, joy will be conserved. We can be comfortable and choose to keep our mouths shut, but the question that should always haunt us is:
"At what cost?"
by Jeremy N. Choate
This essay is a bit of departure from my usually reasonable and logical approach to important issues. That’s not to say that the essay isn’t well-reasoned and is bereft of logical argumentation, but I freely admit that it’s polemical, in nature. Sometimes you’re just pissed, and you need to vent. Here’s my vent…
Lately, I must admit that my hostility towards your political ilk has ramped up, pretty dramatically. No, it’s not because we, at this point in my life, have a half-black president in the White House, and I’m some closet racist who is becoming increasingly frustrated at the prospects of the White Man’s power slipping through my fingers. I know that you’ve accused our side of such nonsense, and the thought keeps you warm at night, but I can assure you that it is a comfortable fiction of which you should probably divest yourself.
Now before I waste too much of your time, let’s establish who I’m talking to. If you believe that we live in an evil, imperialist nation from its founding, and you believe that it should be “fundamentally transformed”, lend me your ears. If you believe that the free market is the source of the vast majority of society’s ills and wish to have more government intervention into it, I’m talking to you. If you believe that health care is a basic human right and that government should provide it to everyone, you’re the guy I’m screaming at. If you think minorities cannot possibly survive in this inherently racist country without handouts and government mandated diversity quotas, you’re my guy. If you believe that rich people are that way because they’ve exploited their workers and acquired wealth on the backs of the poor, keep reading. Pretty much, if you trust government more than your fellow American, this post is for you.
First of all, let me say that we probably agree on more things than you think. Even between Tea Party Patriots and Occupy Wall-Streeters, I’ve observed a common hatred of the insidious alliance between big business and big government. As Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) so correctly noted, government should never be in the business of picking winners and losers in corporate America, and no person, organization, union, or corporation should have their own key to the back door of our government.
Second, contrary to popular belief, conservatives really are concerned with the plight of the poor in this nation. You accuse us of being uncompassionate, hateful, racist, and greedy, but studies have shown that when it comes to charitable giving, conservatives are at least (if not more, depending on the study you read) as generous as liberals in caring for the poor. The difference between us is not in our attitude towards the problem — it’s our attitude towards the solution. We believe that the government does practically nothing well (since without competition or a profit motive there is no incentive to do well) and has made the plight of the poor far worse than it would have ever been had government never gotten involved. For a stark example of this, look no farther than the condition of the black family in America since the “War on Poverty” began. You believe that more government is the answer, and that if we only throw more money at the problem, the problem will go away. We believe, as Reagan so aptly stated,
Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.
Third, as people who might actually have to avail ourselves of a doctor’s services at some point in our lives, we are just as concerned with the condition of America’s healthcare system as you are. While we believe that America has the world’s most capable physicians, has the world’s most innovative pharmaceutical industry, and is on the cutting edge of medical technology, we also understand that the delivery system is far from perfect. However, unlike you, we see a grave danger in turning the administration of that delivery system over to the same entity that is responsible for giving us the United States Postal Service. There are private sector solutions that should certainly be explored before we kill the system, altogether, by giving it to the government to run.
Now that we’ve touched on a couple of points of common ground, allow me to explain my aggressiveness towards your efforts to implement your progressive agenda. First, let’s talk about the word “progressive”, since you now seem to prefer that word to “liberal”. In order to label something as progressive or regressive, one must have some idea as to what constitutes progress. What is the ideal towards which you are striving? An idea is considered progressive if it moves us closer to the ideal and regressive if it moves us further away. So, what is your ideal society?
Though I can’t begin to discern the thoughts of every liberal who may read this, nor can I assume that every liberal has the same notion of an ideal society, in my arguments with liberals over the years, I couldn’t help but notice the influence that FDR’s Second Bill of Rights has had in shaping the beliefs of the modern liberal with regards to domestic policy. The rights that FDR cited are:
At this point, you’re probably screaming, “Right on!!”, and who can blame you? What sane person in the world doesn’t want everyone to be gainfully employed, adequately fed, smartly clothed, appropriately sheltered, and properly educated? These are the goals of every moral society on the planet, however we cannot ignore the fundamental question of, “At what cost?”
I’m not sure whether FDR was a shallow thinker or simply a shrewd, Machiavellian politician, but the fact that he framed each of these ideals as a human right should be troubling to every freedom-loving person in America. After all, what does it mean for something to be a human right? Doesn’t it mean that it’s something to which you are entitled simply by virtue of your being human? Let’s think about some of the basic rights that the real Bill of Rights delineates: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to petition the government, freedom to bear arms, freedom from illegal search and seizure, etc.
If you’re moderately intelligent and intellectually honest, you’ll quickly see what separates the rights laid out in the real Bill of Rights from those laid out in FDR’s misguided list — none of the rights listed above require the time, treasure, or talents of another human being. Your right to speak requires nothing from anyone else. Your right to practice your religion requires nothing from any of your fellow citizens. Your right to bear arms means that you are allowed to possess weapons to defend yourself and your family, but it makes no demand that a weapon be provided to you by anyone. A true human right is one that you possess, even if you’re the only person on the entire planet — and it is unconditional.
FDR’s list is no “Bill of Rights”. It’s a list of demands. If I have a right to a job, doesn’t that mean that one must be provided to me? If I have a right to adequate food, clothing, and recreation, doesn’t that mean that I am entitled to those things, and someone should provide them to me? If I have an inherent right to a decent home, once again, doesn’t that mean it should be provided to me, regardless of my ability to afford one or build one for myself?
You might protest that FDR only meant that we have the right to pursue those things, but that’s not what he said, and why would he? If we live in a free society, our right to pursue those things is self-evident, is it not? Besides, if he only believed in our right to pursue those things, he would not have felt the need to implement the New Deal.
You may be getting anxious, now, wondering what FDR’s Second Bill of Rights has to do with my antipathy towards your political philosophy. It’s quite simple — your political beliefs are a threat to liberty — not just for me, but for my three boys and their children as well. I care much less about the America that I’m living in at this very moment than I do about the one that I’m leaving Nathaniel, Charlie, and Jackson.
How does your political bent threaten my and my sons personal liberty, you ask? In your irrational attempt to classify things such as clothing, shelter, health care, employment, and income as basic human rights, you are placing a demand upon my time, my treasure, and my talents. If you believe that you have a right to health care, and you are successful in persuading enough shallow thinkers to think as you do, then it will place a demand upon me to provide it to you. If you believe that you have a right to a job, and more than half of America agrees with you, as a business owner, I am obligated to provide one to you, even if it means making my business less profitable.
The fact is, you can rail against my conservatism all you wish. You can make fun of my Tea Party gatherings, and you can ridicule patriots in tri-corner hats until you wet yourself from mirth, but one thing is for certain: my political philosophy will NEVER be a threat to your freedom. If you feel a burning responsibility to the poor, conservatism will never prevent you from working 80 hours per week and donating all of your income to charity. If you feel a strong sense of pity for a family who cannot afford health insurance, my political philosophy will never prevent you from purchasing health insurance for this family or raising money to do so, if you cannot afford it, personally. If you are moved with compassion for a family who is homeless, a conservative will never use the police power of government to prevent you from taking that family in to your own home or mobilizing your community to build one for them.
However, you cannot say the same for liberalism. If I choose not to give to the poor for whatever reason, you won’t simply try to persuade me on the merits of the idea — you will seek to use the government as an instrument of plunder to force me to give to the poor. If we are walking down the street together and we spot a homeless person, using this logic, you would not simply be content with giving him $20 from your own pocket — you would hold a gun to my head and force me to give him $20, as well.
Everything that modern liberalism accomplishes is accomplished at the barrel of a government rifle. You do not trust in the generosity of the American people to provide, through private charity, things such as clothing, food, shelter, and health care, so you empower the government to take from them and spend the money on wasteful, inefficient, and inadequate government entitlement programs. You do not trust in the personal responsibility of the average American to wield firearms in defense of themselves and their families, so you seek to empower the government to criminalize the use and possession of firearms by private citizens. Everytime you empower the government, you lose more of your personal liberty — it’s an axiomatic truth.
What angers me the most about you is the eagerness with which you allow the incremental enslavement to occur. You are the cliched and proverbial frog in the pot who has actually convinced himself that he’s discovered a big, silver jacuzzi. Somehow, you’re naive enough to believe that one more degree of heat won’t really matter that much.
I have the utmost respect for a slave who is continuously seeking a path to freedom. What I cannot stomach is a free man who is continuous seeking a path to servitude by willingly trading his freedom for the false sense of security that government will provide.
I am reminded of Samuel Adams’ impassioned speech where he stated:
“If ye love wealth (or security) better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, — go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!”
Servitude can exist in a free society, but freedom cannot exist in a slave nation. In a free country, you have the liberty to join with others of your political ilk and realize whatever collectivist ideals you can dream up. You can start your own little commune where the sign at the front gate says, “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need”, and everyone can work for the mutual benefit of everyone else. In my society, you have the freedom to do that.
In your society, I don’t have the same freedom. If your collectivism offends me, I am not free to start my own free society within its borders. In order for collectivism to work, everyone must be on board, even those who oppose it — why do you think there was a Berlin Wall?
In conclusion, just know that the harder you push to enact your agenda, the more hostile I will become — the harder I will fight you. It’s nothing personal, necessarily. If you want to become a slave to an all-powerful central government, be my guest. But if you are planning to take me and my family down with you, as we say down here in the South, I will stomp a mud-hole in your chest and walk it dry.
by Jeremy N. Choate
Perhaps many of you have heard the term, “Tax Freedom Day”. Likely, most of you who have heard of it understand that it’s the day of the year when you’ve earned enough money to pay your share of the combined federal, state, and local tax bill. Granted, this is a normalized figure that is spread equally among all working Americans, but we already know from our “progressive” tax structure, that day comes later for some than others. Nevertheless, it is a decent gauge of how much of our hard-earned income is paid towards government spending.
In 2012, that day fell on April 17th. In other words, if all of our income was confiscated on the front-end, you would spend the first 107 days of 2012 working exclusively for the government, and you wouldn’t begin working for yourself or your family until the morning of April 18th. It’s a sobering thought, but it’s a sad reality.
I was having a debate with a co-worker about Obamacare on the day that Chief Justice John Roberts surprised us all by rewriting the individual mandate as a tax that Congress is well within its rights to impose. The young idealist with whom I was arguing saw no problem with confiscating some Americans’ income in order to subsidize the health care costs of other Americans. This is an argument that I’ve had with more than a few people with regard to a number of different entitlements. Unfortunately, there are quite a number of Americans who share the belief that not only do they have a claim to the fruits of another’s labors but that other Americans have a claim to theirs, to some extent, as well. The nonchalance with which he asserted this belief made me wonder what lies at the root of such a willful desire for enslavement. Then something occurred to me — it’s only money.
It’s a phrase that my wife uses to cope with any unforeseen and unfortunate financial circumstance that we may face, and such an attitude has proven helpful more times than once. However, this attitude is a killer when it comes to taxation. It all began with the Revenue Act of 1942 when FDR instituted a 5% “Victory Tax” that employers withheld from every worker’s paycheck above an exemption of $624. In 1943, the government made all taxes subject to withholding, and our fate was sealed. Since that day, taxes became an out-of-sight, out-of-mind affair, and you’d be hard-pressed to find many Americans who could tell you exactly how much they paid in income taxes in the previous year. One could imagine how apathy, with respect to taxation, would quickly evaporate if every single American was forced to sit down and write a check on April 15th for the amount of taxes they owed. Bureaucrats would think long and hard before raising taxes if such transparency in taxation existed.
This brings me to the point of my post. Thanks to the surreptitious manner in which taxes are taken from our paychecks, we don’t really notice how much of our hard-earned money is being paid to our bloated and inefficient bureaucracy. Even if we did, there are still some who would say, “It’s only money”. For those (like the young idealist with whom I was arguing), I would pose the question — “what if it wasn’t money the government was after, but your labor?”
It’s a fair question. After all, the money that we earn is merely a representation of our labors — hours that we spend at jobs that we may or may not enjoy, doing work that we may relish or despise. Money is a representation of time and effort that could’ve been spent in leisure or in quality time with our families. Money represents a very real part of our lives that we will never recover.
What if, instead of asking for our money, the government demanded that we, in addition to working Monday through Friday to support ourselves and our families, use our weekends to pick up trash along the highway? After all, there are about 104 weekend days per year, and we currently spend 107 days working for the government, every year, anyway. We could wear our orange jumpsuits every Saturday and Sunday, and pick up those three additional days on federal holidays, when we’re not at our regular jobs.
But, let’s make it a bit more specific to the idea of universal healthcare. Imagine that a person in your town, either through their own lifestyle choices or through no fault of their own, contracted lung cancer. Further imagine that instead of the government confiscating your income to pay for this person’s treatment, they ordered you to report to their house to mow their lawn every Saturday? I would imagine that most of the good people reading this blog have no problem with helping out someone in need, but I would also bet that the same number of people would be rightfully incensed at the government ordering them to do so.
For the really committed leftists out there who wouldn’t think to bristle at such tyranny, let me present it a different way. The defense budget of the United States occupies about 20% of federal spending. Imagine that instead of asking you to chip in for defense over the course of your entire life through your income taxes, the government demanded 20% of your actual life in defense of the nation. With an average life expectancy of 78 years, that would amount to an enlistment of 15 years, 7 months, and 6 days.
I hope that you will think about this blog entry the next time you hear a government bureaucrat bring up the subject of a tax increase. I also hope you’ll remember it the next time you’re debating a bleeding heart liberal who refers to those hours of your life that the government has confiscated — hours that you will never get back — as “only money.”
by Jeremy N. Choate
If you’re a news junkie like me, chances are you’ve heard of the passage of Amendment 1 in North Carolina this past Tuesday in which the state had explicitly chosen to only legally recognize the domestic union between one man and one woman. Contrary to the hysteria from the left, North Carolina has neither criminalized homosexuality nor forbade homosexuals from seeking out a minister of their choice and officially consecrating their unions. They simply stated that the only type of domestic union that will be legally recognized as “marriage” in the state of North Carolina is that between one man and one woman.
Politics aside, this has reignited the debate over all things related to sexual orientation. Yesterday, I was listening to the Neal Boortz Show while waiting in the drive-thru lane of my favorite Chick-Fil-A (endorsement deals for this blog are welcome), and this was a hot topic of discussion on the program. For those who don’t know, Neal is not only a hardcore libertarian, but he is also a militant advocate for same-sex marriage and believes that homosexuality is as natural as motherhood and magnolias and that homosexuals are “born that way.”
Callers would assert that homosexuality is a choice, and Neal, wielding his favorite rhetorical hammer with regards to this issue, crushes them by asking, “Oh really? When did you choose to become a heterosexual?” The callers would then be rendered helpless by the question, and Neal would sit back with smug satisfaction, believing that in only one question he had single-handedly proven the theory that homosexuality is an innate characteristic.
While Neal can be credited, in large measure, with helping me to become a critical thinker, on this particular issue (and the issue of abortion) he is utterly incapable of thoroughly reasoning through it. In this particular case, he is committing the logical fallacy of False Dilemma, where only two alternatives are considered when there may, in fact, be at least a third option. That third option is the basis of this blog entry.
It is my contention that both the argument of “born that way” and the argument of “it’s a choice” are woefully incorrect and short-sighted. Human sexuality is far too complex of an subject to be reduced to either free-will or mere biology.
Neal says that since there was never a moment when he chose heterosexuality, it therefore follows that he was born a heterosexual. In response to that, I would ask Neal to tell us the moment when he chose to speak English. Since he likely cannot pinpoint a precise moment that he made such a decision, would it be safe for me to assume that he was born speaking English? Of course not! That would be absurd.
The fact is none of us were born speaking English, Italian, Portuguese, Swahili, or any other language. We were born as creatures with the intellectual potential to become language speakers when we reach the developmental stage at which we are mentally capable. Due to the multitude of environmental pressures surrounding us, we come to speak a particular language. Evidence strongly suggests that sexuality is no different.
We are born with the biological potential to become sexual creatures when we reach the developmental stage at which we are biologically capable (puberty). Due to the multitude of environmental pressures surrounding us, we come to be sexually attracted to certain characteristics in other people. The environmental pressures that we encounter come from family, friends, teachers, media, role models, and even our own psychological issues. However, we are not born with these sexual attractions, as we are not capable of sexual attraction until we reach puberty.
Those who say that they knew they were gay when they were five or six years old are either misinterpreting their childhood feelings, misapprehending their feelings, or were the subject of some type of abuse. Children who have not reached the onset of puberty are incapable of sexual attraction without some type of psychological pathology.
Even within our own gender preferences, we find this principle to be true. Think about your own sexual preferences and how they’ve likely evolved over the years (decades, in my case). Chances are slim that all the characteristics to which you were attracted in your early years have persisted to this day. Look at society’s attractions, in general. In the fifties and sixties, curvy women were deemed to be the most sexually attractive; in the eighties and nineties, a shift had occurred in which very thin women were viewed as the ideal; today, the pendulum has apparently swung back in the opposite direction, and curves are sexy, once again.
The fact is, if the right environmental pressures were applied at the right time and for sufficient duration, any one of us could become sexually attracted to a Doberman Pinscher or a Davenport sofa. This is how fetishes and unhealthy attractions, such as zoophilia and pedophila arise. It is not only absurd, but it is disgusting to assert that anyone can be born with a sexual attraction to sheep or preschoolers.
Let’s assume for a moment, however, that Neal is right. If it’s true that biology, alone, determines our sexual preferences, then who are we to judge those who are attracted to children, animals, or inanimate objects? After all, the pedophile and the zoophile are no more responsible for the content of their DNA than any one of us.
Some may object that pedophilia and bestiality cannot be compared to homosexuality since the former attractions involve children and animals who cannot consent to sexual activity, but bear in mind that we’re talking neither about the sexual act nor the subject of the attraction — we’re talking about the attraction, itself. Biology cares nothing for law or ethics. If sexual attraction is in our genes, why do we view these attractions as unhealthy and abnormal but not homosexuality?
The fact is (and this will anger the tender-hearted and tender-minded among you), homosexuality is a natural aberration. It is a deviation from healthy, natural sexual attraction just as much as pedophilia and zoophilia. In decades past, it was labeled as a psychological pathology and was only declassified as such under pressure from the forces of political correctness.
This does not give us justification for persecuting homosexuals or judging them as bad people, as the vast majority of them (except Dan Savage) are most assuredly wonderful human beings. However, just because we have been able to successfully separate those who practice homosexuality from their behavior and love them in spite of it doesn’t give us license to sweep the truth about the behavior under the rug.
By Jeremy N. Choate
In my last blog, I discussed the existence of objective morality and came to the conclusion, using a practical exercise, that it is impossible for human beings to weave nonexistent concepts out of thin air. All comparisons that we make about anything are based on standards of comparison that already exist in our consciousness or in nature. We cannot conceive of standards that do not currently exist.
For example, if I say that one object is darker in color than another, I am measuring both objects against a perfect standard of brightness. The object that is further away from this perfect standard of brightness is the darker of the two. However, in order to make this comparison, we must have some notion of brightness.
With physical comparisons, the relationships between objects seem fairly obvious, and one could see how these comparisons could be easily made. Looking at a semi-truck and a Mini Cooper, the most obvious relationship we observe is size. We notice that the semi-truck is significantly bigger than the Mini Cooper, but what does it mean to be “bigger”? Well, of course, we mean that the semi-truck occupies more physical space than the Mini Cooper. If we say that the semi-truck is heavier, then we mean that the truck possesses more mass than the car and that the gravitational attraction between the truck and the Earth is greater than that between the car and the Earth.
The most apparent reason that these comparisons can be so easily made is that size, mass, and weight are well-known and measured phenomenon in our physical universe. Space, matter, and gravity exist in the physical universe, and so relationships can be drawn between objects based on these existing concepts. If there were no such thing as gravity, then we could make no comparison between the weight of the truck and the weight of the car. The very notion of weight would be incomprehensible to us, and even though it might be possible for us to make up a word called “weight”, it would be impossible for us to define it in the context of this nonexistent phenomenon.
If this is true of physical phenomena, how much more true is it for metaphysical concepts such as goodness or truth or love? There is no equation that mathematically describes goodness. There is no laboratory device that can measure truth. If that’s the case, then how is it possible for us to judge one statement as more true than another or one act as more good than another? We’ve already discovered that no comparison can be made without a perfect standard against which to compare. Where does this standard originate, and how can relationships be measured according to it?
Is it possible that ancient ethicists were able to look at two separate acts and manufacture a relationship between them that we know as good or bad — right or wrong? I contend that they could not. Even if they came up with a word for “good”, how would they be able to define it so that two acts can be compared against it. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis pondered the question of what it means to be “good” and thoroughly exhausted the possibilities.
We might look at a rock and say that the rock is “bad”, because it is the wrong shape or size for building a wall, or we might say that a tree is bad because it doesn’t give us as much shade as we’d like. In other words, we can judge good or bad based on an object’s convenience to us, but can this same definition be applied to human behavior?
We all would agree that there is a real difference between losing a seat on a train to someone who legitimately got there first and losing it to someone who took it from you when your back was turned.
Both situations are equally inconvenient to us, but we blame the second man and not the first. Clearly, good and bad, with respect to human behavior, cannot be defined as that which is convenient to us.
Can we say that human behavior is good or bad based on its usefulness to us? Lewis uses the example of a traitor to disqualify this definition. In war, a traitor from the enemy side may be very useful to me, but I will still consider him to be a slimy, little quisling because of his behavior. Who can call his behavior “good”, even when it is useful to them?
Can we then define human behavior as good or bad by virtue of whether it benefits us, personally? Lewis provides several examples to refute this idea. It benefits me personally to cheat on my taxes. It benefits me personally to lie when my reputation is at stake. Obviously, good and bad cannot be defined based on personal benefit.
He asks whether human behavior can be defined as good or bad by virtue of whether it is good for society, but this definition is actually a meaningless tautology. What is society? Society simply means “other people”. One of the definitions of unselfishness is “doing things that benefit other people above myself”.
So, to say that I ought to be unselfish because it is good for society is no different than saying, “you should do things that benefit other people because it benefits other people.” This is really a moot point which does nothing to answer the question of why I should be unselfish.
There must be some other standard by which we judge human behavior as good or bad besides its convenience, usefulness, personal benefit, or its benefit to society. Theists rightly recognize this standard as the knowledge of God’s nature that He placed in us. It’s so much a part of our nature that we never consciously realize that when we make a comparison between two behaviors, we are really determining how far removed from God’s nature is each behavior. The one that is closest to God’s nature is the winner.
I have heard many atheists invoke the words of Jesus when discussing this topic. They say that the standard for good and bad lies in the Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but there are innumerable instances where this rule fails as the ultimate standard of right and wrong.
If a man kills an armed intruder to protect his wife and children, we would not call this an immoral act despite the fact that he did not treat the intruder as he, himself, would like to be treated. No sane person wants to be killed by anyone. Yet, we praise this man’s actions because he placed his own life in danger to save the lives of others.
The conclusion to all of this is that it is impossible for human beings to adequately judge any behavior as good or bad without consciously or unconsciously invoking the nature of God as the standard by which to compare. All other criteria fall pathetically short. Furthermore, it would be utterly impossible for human beings to adequately define right and wrong without those concepts already existing.