Author Archives: Peter Schwartz

The Ideology of Violence

The incidence of ideologically motivated violence is growing. From campus talks to political rallies, the conveyors of certain viewpoints are being met with physical force. Why? Because of the tacit approval by many of our intellectual leaders. People are being taught that such a response is not only morally acceptable, but morally desirable. That is, they are being taught that the distinction between thought and action needs to be denied.

Consider the pseudo-concept of “microagression.” College students are told that statements which offend members of various groups are equivalent to acts of violence. In this category, as cited by the University of California, are such statements as: “America is the land of opportunity“; “I believe the most qualified person should get the job”; and “Affirmative action is racist.”

Or consider the assertion that “misgendering a transgendered person”—according to a speaker at the University of Maryland—is “an act of violence.” In fact, you can be in violation of New York City law for “repeatedly calling a transgender woman ‘him’ or ‘Mr.’ after she has made clear which pronouns and titles [including ‘ze’ and ‘hir’] she uses.”

Or consider this claim by author Toni Morrison, in accepting the Nobel Prize in literature: “Oppressive speech does more than represent violence. It is violence.”

And if there is no difference between words and action—if communicating certain “wrong” ideas is subject to punishment—there is a corollary: the actual use of force can be exonerated if done in the name of the “right” ideas. So when Berkeley students last February rioted to stop a scheduled speaker from addressing his audience, one professor there proclaimed approvingly: “They attacked property but they attacked it very sparingly, destroying just enough University property to obtain the cancellation order.”

After the Charlottesville episode in August, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights properly condemned the white supremacists for their violence, but refused to also condemn the violence by Antifa (which presumably was using force for the “right” reasons).

When people are exposed to ideas they find objectionable, they are supposedly being “silenced” and their “freedom” curtailed. As one NYU professor maintained, riots that prevent certain views from being heard “should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship.”

What these examples illustrate is that if an argument is as bad as a fist, then a fist can be as good as an argument.

This lethal outlook is rooted in a certain philosophy. The actual distinction between thought and action, with respect to the use of force, arises from man’s nature as a rational being. There is a world out there, which we need to understand. The human, conceptual mind is the tool for doing so. Unlike automatic activities of the body, such as blood circulation or digestion, thinking must be performed volitionally. You judge whether God exists, whether there is a law of causality, whether the earth is flat, whether 2+2=4. The conclusions you reach are reached by choice. You can be convinced to change your mind, but you cannot be compelled to do so.

Someone who disagrees with you, then, can deal with you by either persuasion or coercion, by words or fists. Words obviously pose no danger to you, since you are free to accept or reject them; they cannot make you act against your will. Physical force, however, can.

Only the use of force—or the threat of it—can make you act contrary to your own judgment. Only the use of force bypasses and negates the victim’s mind. Only the use of force violates rights. For a rational being, reason and force are polar opposites.

Today, though, we’re taught that the rational mind is a myth. Our intellectuals tell us that there is no objective reality—no truths to be discovered, only “truths” to be invented. Our ideas, they declare, are the product of our class or race or gender. That is, our views are not volitionally arrived at, but are implanted in us as a result of our membership in some tribe.

To those who accept this deterministic notion, there is no fundamental difference between expressing disagreement by words or by fists. If there is no such thing as self-generated thinking, but only passive, conditioned responses, then there is no difference between aiming an argument at someone’s mind or a gun at his brain. It’s all “compulsion.”

If reason is out, what’s left is brute emotion. Which means that the truth or falsehood of any viewpoint becomes irrelevant. If you say affirmative action is merely another form of racism, it doesn’t matter whether you’re right—all that matters is whether you’re offending someone. And if you are, he is entitled to stop you from engaging in such “aggression.”

“This is valid because I can logically prove it” is replaced by “This is valid because I feel strongly about it.” Or, more precisely, “This is valid because my collective feels strongly about it.” Indeed, logic is regularly dismissed as the oppressive, and biased, tool of “white privilege.”

Rationality is the method of an individual committed to knowing what is true. Emotionalism is the method of a mob seeking to escape the responsibility of judging right and wrong. When reason is disparaged, people will subordinate themselves to some collective and follow its dictates. The individual’s core identity and his basic values will be molded by the group.

This kind of “identity politics” has long been preached by the left, and now the “alt-right” embraces it too. The left, including groups like Antifa, hates the profit-seeking businessman and wants an all-powerful socialist state, ruled by the “proletariat.” The “alt-right” hates immigrants and racial minorities and wants an all-powerful fascist state, ruled by white nationalists. Both hate capitalism, the system based on the primacy of the individual and of individual rights—the system that opposes all forms of collectivism—the system that denounces any initiation of force, for whatever motive, by both private citizens and the government—the only system to which the label “right,” if it is to stand for a viewpoint opposite that of the left, legitimately belongs.

If the evil of force is to be categorically repudiated, the value of reason must be categorically upheld. ♦♦

[This blog was published in HuffPost on 9/15/17–http://bit.ly/2x4Ywe5]

The FDA, Opioids and Altruism

An opioid pill (Opana ER) that successfully relieves pain is being removed from the market by the FDA—not because of any claims of unsafety or inefficacy, but because people have found a way to pulverize the drug and inject it to get “high.” Since such people risk contracting HIV or hepatitis C through the sharing of needles, no one—the FDA declares—should be allowed to take the medication: “We will continue to take regulatory steps when we see situations where an opioid product’s risks outweigh its benefits, not only for its intended patient population but also in regard to its potential for misuse and abuse.”

Obviously, this action is another demonstration that the purpose of the government’s regulatory apparatus is not to keep people from being defrauded, but to prevent them from exercising their own judgment about what is good for them.

More broadly, though, this is a demonstration of the power of the altruist creed. When the desperate sufferer of pain is to be sacrificed to the mindless drug addict—when a productive pharmaceutical manufacturer is to be sacrificed in order to keep people from indulging in self-destructive behavior—when the rational are to be sacrificed for the sake of the irrational—what could possibly underlie such injustice except a code that preaches self-sacrifice as everyone’s moral duty?

As I wrote in IN DEFENSE OF SELFISHNESS:

“If the FDA were worried that people lacked accurate information about a drug, it would simply publicize its own findings and allow patients and their doctors to make an informed judgment about whether to use the medicine. But the doctrine of altruism does not permit this. After all, if people are merely provided with medical information, the demands of the needy are not being fully met. The FDA can describe what a particular drug is and is not supposed to do, it can present the consequences of misuse, it can explain the need to consult a physician—but what if people refuse to listen? What if they ignore the evidence? . . . As long as people are allowed any freedom to make their own choices, there will always be some unmet needs—i.e., the needs of those who do not wish to make rational choices. . . .

“This argument can be made, of course, not just about medications but about everything—which is precisely what the collectivist does. Any product, from mousetraps to mutual funds, can be improperly used, particularly by those who do not care to acquire the requisite knowledge. Nothing, therefore, is exempt from the tentacles of the regulatory state. To protect the ‘needy,’ the government must control everyone’s actions.”

Saudi’s “Legalized Jihad” Is Still Jihad

President Trump has embraced Saudi Arabia, praising it as an ally in the battle against Islamic jihadists. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explains this new relationship: “The president clearly was extending a hand and understanding that only together can we address the threat of terrorism.”

This is a decision, however, that will only advance the jihadists’ cause.

What is the nature, and the evil, of Islamic jihad? The essence is the attempt to establish religious values by force. Rejecting the individual’s right—as recognized by free, secular nations—to practice or not practice religion, jihadism seeks to impose religious precepts upon unwilling targets. It is an effort to create a system under which everyone is ruled by the tenets of Islam. The bombings, the shootings, the beheadings are all attacks against those who do not obey Islamic law. They all rest on the premise that non-believers are not to be tolerated.

But isn’t this the premise espoused by the Saudi state as well? Consider its penal code. Among the “crimes” for which the death penalty is allowed are: blasphemy, apostasy, adultery and homosexuality—all supposedly sins against Allah.

Under Saudi law, prohibited acts of terrorism include: “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

The primary legal document serving as Saudi Arabia’s official “Constitution” is . . . the Koran.

In other words, Allah’s commandments must be forcibly implemented and its violators punished. This is all simply “legalized jihad”—a holy war waged domestically under sanction of law.

And just as the Saudi population must be made to comply with the dictates of Islam, so must the rest of the world. The Saudi government advocates and finances the international spread of its particular version of Islam—Wahhabism—through what a N.Y. Times story describes as a “system of funding for mosques, Islamic centers and Saudi-trained clerics that spans Asia, Africa and Europe.” That article demonstrates, for example, how the nation of Kosovo, which “not long ago was among the most pro-American Muslim societies in the world,” has been transformed, largely because of Saudi efforts, into “a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for Islamic jihadists.” Today Kosovo has the highest per-capita rate in Europe of citizens going abroad to join ISIS.

In its words and its actions, Saudi Arabia nourishes the growing scourge of terrorism. If there is any difference between its policies and those of ISIS, it is merely a matter of degree. Yet our president tells us that the Saudis are enemies of Islamic jihadism and will work with us to eliminate it. And to compound this obscenity, he helps celebrate the opening, in Riyadh, of an institution the Saudis have named the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology.

Whitewashing the Saudis and evading the pernicious nature of their philosophy serve only to facilitate the work of the jihadists.