Monday, December 31, 2007

How to say NO?

How do we say No? Why is it so hard to say for many of us? Is there a way of saying no that respects our interests while respecting those of others? Many of us feel uncomfortable telling people no so we take several ways of doing it. Probably the most common way is to avoid saying no by giving in, thus making us feel bad about doing so and begrudging the person who put us into that spot. As one who tests as an Amiable in Social Styles I know it’s hard for me.

On the other hand we all know people who have no trouble saying no and seem to relish in it with the sensitivity of brass knuckles. (Fortunately, this group seems to be a minority.)

Are these the only ways of handling saying no? No! (There, I said it!) William Ury, who has written a number of books on getting to yes [Getting Past No and Getting to Yes] and directs the Global Negotiation Project at Harvard University, tackles the flip side in The Power Of A Positive No.

His book lays out a three-step process consisting of 9 sub-steps. In essence his three steps are yes-no-yes. By that I mean:

  1. Prepare by expressing your interests,
  2. Deliver your no
  3. Follow through by offering a yes that stays true to your interests while acknowledging theirs.

Throughout the book Ury also offers tips on how to word your no. “I won’t be serving on the committee. Thank you for thinking of me.” “I’m saying No now. Thank you.” As for offering an alternative yes, Ury suggests making a proposal that gives the other person a chance to say no to you. The idea behind this is “As Churchill realized, showing respect comes not from weakness and insecurity, but rather from strength and confidence. Respect for the other flows directly from respect for self. You give respect to others not so much because of who they are but because of who you are. Respect is an expression of your self and your values.”

This last step – offering a counter-proposal - might seem to be controversial to many objectivists but to me it ultimately makes sense especially for on-going relationships. This proposal might be as simple as saying, “Thanks for the offer to work on this project but my plate is full. Maybe next time?”

There is much more to The Power Of A Positive No than I can cover here. Truth be told, I don’t have the 9 complete steps memorized. Maybe if I took a course on the subject all 9 steps would stick. But I can attest to the effectiveness of packaging my no’s in the yes (to my interests)/no (declining to agree)/yes? (offering an alternative) has worked for me. Plus, Ury’s approach is based on maintaining your objectivity, which appeals to me. By doing so you can clearly express your interests while respecting the other party. Being a proponent of passionate objectivity, Ury’s approach to saying no gets a big yes.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Review of David Kelley's Unrugged Individualism

Unrugged Individualism by David Kelley

Review orginally published in June 1996 “Full Context”

I remember attending a Leonard Peikoff speech at Ford Hall Forum some years ago and I overheard one person saying to the other: “Isn’t this hall filled with benevolence?” I was dumbfounded by that statement, especially since it came from someone who vehemently condemned anyone who read the then just published The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden. If I were asked to search for a word to describe the prevalent atmosphere in the hall "benevolent" would certainly not have been one of my choices. It is unfortunate that many of the advocates of Objectivism -- a philosophy whose founder described as life affirming and who proclaimed the importance of seeking values -- have not exhibited much benevolence towards the “outside” world nor, sadly, even to each other. In fact over the years I have seen friendships severed with breathtaking swiftness over disagreements that would not have ended “normal” friendships. One would think if there was any benevolence in Objectivism it would be exhibited at least amongst its advocates.

I believe a constellation of factors come into play here: moral perfectionism (as it is defined), cultural pessimism and the tendency to seek the one and only right approach to life. But, even if these factors were eliminated one issue would still bedevil us. The benevolence Rand depicted in her novels appears primarily between her heroes and heroines who occupy in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead a world purposely designed to show the extremes of individualism and collectivism, of egoism and altruism worked out in conflict. The issue of benevolence as it applies to our day-to-day dealings with people receives little attention in the Objectivist corpus.

The real world, however, is a bit more complicated. Many people espouse ideas contrary to Objectivism. If we take them at face value we have cause to be both hostile to people and cynical about the future. However, if you look at how people actually live the picture is less stark and less bleak (although still challenging). Many people strive to live what they think is a good life, a life consisting of a rewarding and interesting job, a caring and supportive home life and stimulating recreation and social life. It would seem appropriate then that a reasonable and benevolent approach to dealing with these people and to promulgating our philosophy is to support these life supporting and enhancing activities while using the appropriate opportunities to show where their conscious convictions contradict their commitments.

Unfortunately, benevolence of this sort has not received much attention among Objectivists, until recently. David Kelley has shot the opening volley in his much anticipated monograph Unrugged Individualism. It seems that this book has struck a nerve considering how much pre-publication attention it received, and deservedly so. Kelley makes the first concerted effort to show how benevolence can be grounded in an ethics of self-interest. Kelley has said the first word but not the last. For the handful of you who might not have read Kelley’s book yet, I’ll summarize it here. For those of you who have read the book, I offer some additional thoughts.

Kelley starts by challenging the long-standing connection between benevolence and altruism. Contemporary moral philosophy upholds the virtue of benevolence as altruistic because it typifies “other-regarding” virtue. That is, we show our regard for others by being benevolent, by putting their interests ahead of ours. Therefore, if altruism is true, then benevolence is a major virtue. Kelley counters with: “Insofar as benevolence means commitment to behaving peacefully toward others, respecting their rights and giving them what is due, it is an issue of justice, which is a selfish virtue, not an act of altruism.”

This depiction of benevolence is not Kelley’s full rendition, as we’ll see. He goes on to expand his concept. To establish whether or not benevolence is a major or minor virtue, Kelley moves on to discuss how to analyze virtues.

As we all know, Rand defined value as that which we act to gain and/or keep; virtues are the acts by which we gain and/or keep values. Kelley suggests we should look to what values a virtue aims to tell us if it is a legitimate virtue and, secondly, whether it is a major or minor virtue.

The values at which benevolence aims are visibility, communication and economic exchange. By visibility Kelley refers to two forms: sharing a value that is part of my identity such as an interest in music with another person and affirming my identity by interacting with another person. Visibility lets us see a part of ourselves realized in the world. (By the way, I would add under economic exchange the benefit of synergy from working in teams. Much of modern business involves working in and through teams.) Underlying these values are the values of wealth, knowledge and self-affirmation, which in turn point to the cardinal values of productive purpose, reason and self-esteem. While working benevolently with others does not substitute for these cardinal values, the nature of living successfully in a modern civilization means we have to work with others in varying degrees. For this reason, Kelley ranks benevolence as next to the most important virtues of productivity, rationality and pride. “Values derivable from others ... are at the penultimate level. They are next to cardinal in importance.” (This is a position similar to the one I took in my article, “Noninstrumental Virtues.”) Kelley makes a key point here, one worth highlighting. “In order to obtain the benefits of living with others in society, we cannot function solely as judges, we must also function as entrepreneurs.” Benevolence then inclines us to explore relationships which could flourish into profitable ones. This approach also suggests we should act and not just sit passively around judging others.

Kelley then considers the facts upon which benevolence is based. These are fundamental facts we need to recognize as a part of being objective. We need to recognize people’s humanity, which includes observing or celebrating certain universal events which point to universal values: marriage, death, birth, etc. We also respect the independence of others, and their right to live as an end in themselves, just as we claim the right for ourselves. We also recognize each person’s individuality, the discovery of which requires us to be sensitive. And finally, we need to recognize the harmony of interests. “When I treat others benevolently, I convey to them that I do not see them as threats or as prey.”

Thus, integrating all of the above, Kelley arrives at the following definition: “Benevolence is a commitment to achieving the values derivable from life with other people in society, by treating them as potential trading partners, recognizing their humanity, independence, and individuality, and the harmony between their interests and ours.”

Kelley argues that benevolence is inextricably tied to productiveness, in which we ask ourselves “What if? versus the “It is” statement of rationality. Benevolence inclines us to look for opportunities to trade with others. Kelley also touches on civility, sensitivity and generosity, specific expressions of benevolence. He claims giving aid in an emergency, for instance, is self-interested “because of the value to ourselves of a society in which such aid is available when we need it for ourselves and those we care for.” In fact, Kelley goes so far to say such assistance, while not being something a person in need can demand as a right, is something we are obliged to offer (non-sacrificially, of course). He uses the (in)famous case of Kitty Genovese in which the people who could have helped her simply by calling the police (anonymously) but instead did nothing. These people did something wrong according to Kelly (I agree). Of course we can get into stickier cases where someone might expose themselves to significant risk to save another person’s life such as diving into a river to save someone from drowning or hurling themselves at a person standing in the path of an oncoming truck. In those cases too, the rescuer estimates they have a reasonable chance of succeeding. You don’t hear such rescuers on the 11:00 news saying “Yeah, I saved his life and I’m surprised I didn’t end up as road kill.”

Kelley’s point is important: such assistance, whether it is an emergency or just more normal acts of generosity, means “one’s life is improved in a world with better, happier, more fully realized people in it.” Creating values motivates us.

Objectivism’s value focus makes it a unique philosophy, not just in emphasizing obtaining and consuming values but in creating them. This is an aspect that even Objectivists tend to forget. The tendency is towards consuming values versus creating them. But I would add at least two other actions we can take towards values which can affect how we look at benevolence. Before exploring these and other issues, let me say we should be thankful to David Kelley for his invaluable contribution. His book should be required reading for all those interested in expanding Objectivism. It could be the equivalent of the shot heard around the Objectivist world. Unrugged Individualism isn’t the last word that should be said on the subject but it is an invaluable first word. If the message sticks perhaps it’ll help us more effectively show others the benefits of Objectivism. We need to show Objectivism as a key to consistent happiness.

I’d like to take this opportunity to offer a few additional thoughts of my own. As I mentioned above, we can act in at least two other ways regarding values: honoring and expressing them. We honor values by acting true to them, as examples of a vision of how we think humans should live and should live together. By honoring our values and principles, such as objectivity, living rationally, living sociably, etc., we commemorate their importance, we put our values where our mouth is. It is awfully easy to espouse how much we value the world, reason, and our life but these are just empty words unless we act on these values.

In so doing, we also express the importance of these values. Like a lighthouse which casts it light into the darkness as a beacon, our actions can speak louder than words. This is true especially in dealing with people who can’t return the favor and could never be potential trading partners. Examples would be people with severe handicaps (who might even be a family member). I’m also referring to people with whom we have only a passing encounter. For instance, when I travel for business in the U.S. or internationally, I deal with numerous people from cab drivers to people on the street. I treat all of them the same, as causal acquaintances. In being civil, considerate, even friendly we implicitly recognize and express the equivalent of this thought: “Isn’t it great to be alive? Isn’t life great when we treat each others as ends? Is this the way life should be?”

As I said before, many if not most of the people I encounter implicitly (or explicitly) strive to create and enjoy values, despite whatever their espoused moral beliefs. Hell, even priests golf!

Let me close with a list of brief additional points.

1. Benevolence as selected by human evolution. Although we don’t hear too much about evolution in Objectivist thought it is a fact we are the product of thousands if not millions of year of evolution. Darwin’s work has been expanded recently with the focus on how our behavior has been shaped by our evolutionary heritage. (Two fascinating books on the subject are Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal and Ellen Dissanake’s Homo Aestheticus.)

As Wright says: “Friendship, affection, trust -- these are things that, long before people signed contracts, long before they wrote down laws, held human societies together. Even today, these forces are one reason human societies vastly surpass ant colonies in size and complexity even though the degree of kinship among cooperatively interacting people is usually near zero.” Later, quoting an anthropologist: “an individual who maximizes his friendships and minimizes his antagonisms will have an evolutionary advantage, and selection should favor those characteristics that promote the optimization of personal relationships.” And as Ellen Dissanake writes: “because humans are absolutely dependent on their long-term survival on living in a viable social group, we can speak of individual human behaviors that contribute to group cohesion and survival as being selectively beneficial to individuals.”

In other words, we are metaphysically independent and we are socially interdependent. Among our basic needs as humans are autonomy and visibility, two potentially conflicting needs. The key then depends on looking at relationships not as “me versus you” but as “me and you”. A civil, benevolent, considerate relationship works to our mutual benefit as well as helping to sustain the glue holding our civilization together.

2. Benevolence as well-wishing. From the above discussion I would then add a component to Kelley’s definition: benevolence as well-wishing (which is the Latin meaning of the word) for the sake of the other person. The degree of well-wishing varies depending on how close we are to the other person. The degree of closeness will vary by the degree to which we share values. It is not altruistic to wish another person well, to take interest in them for their sake because they are important to us. Well-wishing is a no cost or low cost activity consisting of our psychic investment in another person. We are saying: “As one end-in-itself to another I hope you do well.”

Well-wishing or benevolence consists in encouraging people we see struggling to get ahead because it’s in their best interest. Whether or not their actions ever directly or indirectly benefit us we still honor the principle of rational self-interest and having a productive purpose in life as being life-supporting and civilizing principles.

For those with whom we have a close relationship, their ends will differ from ours. We wish them well for their own sake. This is not altruism. Unfortunately, regard for others is equated with altruism. Altruism dictates that we sacrifice our interests and values to others, that we have no right to live our lives as we want. Having and expressing regard for others means we can even do something for another person to help them with no expectation of payback. This appears to violate the Objectivist premise of all actions having to benefit us. Kelley modifies this somewhat by saying we should help others only “when their good is a means to his own, or an ingredient in it (a constitutive means), as in a close personal relationship.” I hold that such assistance even to strangers, as long as it isn’t self-sacrificial, can be justified if it involves honoring or expressing values that are important to us (such as contributing to make the world more like we think it should and can be). I keep returning to raising children as a prime example of a decision that has major, life-changing impact. Ultimately, raising children often requires putting the interests of the child ahead of ours. We do it because we they are important to us, not because we secretly hope our offspring will one day wipe the drool from our elderly faces and feed us when we can’t. We do it (or should) because we are have chosen to create another life and have accepted the responsibilities that go with it. Some of these responsibilities requires us to, say, defer vacations and other purchases in order to save for their college. In so doing we give our children a guiding hand until they can live on their own, just as we ran along side their bike with a steadying hand until they can balance the bike themselves.

3. Benevolence as an expression of optimism. Many objectivists talk about the benevolent universe premise (on which Kelley has some interesting comments) yet, culturally, they are profound pessimists primarily due to the prevalent belief that all people are scum and civilization is inexorably hurtling toward barbarism. Whether or not we accept the benevolent universe premise, we would could still choose to adopt a generally benevolent attitude. (Probably one of the most significant testaments to a hopeful future is the decision to have children.)

As I have said before, many of the people I deal with consciously or subconsciously live to enjoy values. They might adhere to ideas contrary to their day-to-day operating premises but they still live to find happiness. This alone should give us some cause for optimism and grounds for benevolence. Strategically, our ideas will find better acceptance if we approach people assuming they are interested in being happier and we work to influence their beliefs than if we bombard them with sarcasm and cynicism.

4. Benevolence as self-payment. The concept of acting so that we benefit creates the mistaken impression we need to see some payback whether it’s in terms of tangible values, returned love, or undefined, unpredictable benefits in the future.

I hold that in self-realization, in obtaining, creating, expressing, and honoring values we don’t always need to expect payment in kind from others. The satisfaction of these activities can be its own payment. Please note: I am not saying virtue is its own reward but the creation of values can be. The reward is the emotion of fulfillment which we experience when we exercise our vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope. Benevolence entails facing the world optimistically without expecting to be paid. Sometimes others pay us; sometimes we pay ourselves.

5. Benevolence as treating others as ends. It is an irony of life that you don’t obtain happiness by pursuing it. You find happiness when you achieve values. Likewise, you don’t necessarily get payment from others if you face them with the thought of “I’ll do this for you so that I get something in return.” People tend to withdraw or become reserved, even in strictly business relationships, if they sense you look at them as a cash register to be opened by hitting the right buttons. I have seen this in action in business even though it is acknowledged the basis of business relationships is “I’ll deal with you because you can give me what I want.” Even in business much time and money is spent cultivating friendships, obviously in the interests of establishing a long-term financial relationship. But I believe this also reveals the basic human need to connect with others.

6. Benevolence as an expression of thankfulness. If you think about it, it’s a miracle we’re here and we have progressed so far from our humble beginnings. I’m referring to us being here as a human race, as individuals, and even to the creation of life itself. I’m not advocating divine creation of life nor for a malevolent universe which could wipe us out at any moment. But, looking at it from a broader perspective, it is utterly amazing to think of how a complex organism like us developed, the incredibly fortuitous combination of conditions that allowed the Earth to develop and support life, the complex, painstaking process of evolution and then our individual growth from a fertilized egg.

Much of the talk about life as the ultimate value and as the standard of value tends to be in abstract, dry terms. It is worth stopping to ponder exactly what that means. To do so is to respond with awe and wonder at the magnificence of life in general, humans as a species and us an individuals. Then add in the fruits of living in our civilization. It brings a new meaning to Rand’s term “man worship.”

What does this have to do with benevolence? The perspective I have just described engenders a sense of community with others and with other living things. It entails keeping this perspective in mind as thankfulness to be here and to share our lives with others. This can also translate into generosity, the desire to share or give values. I’m not advocating giving away value promiscuously but it means a lessened focus on quid pro quo.

It does not mean we should tolerate those with narrow vision, who are irrational or who treat others as mere objects. Justice dictates we give them their due and let them know their actions will have consequences. If what I have said is true, that many if not most people live to pursue values, then our standard operating attitude should be more positively than neutrally. It does mean however to greet fellow humans -- until proven otherwise -- as potential friends or at least as fellow travelers in our journey into the future.

Allow me to offer a somewhat different description of benevolence which does not have the rigor of Kelley’s and which does not necessarily contradict his. This description tries to capture the essence of my approach. Benevolence is well-wishing directed to other people viewed as ends, as an evolutionary outcome of social interactions and as an expression of thankfulness for being able to obtain, create, honor and express values we have and for just being alive.

Review of David Kelley's A Life of One's Own

A Life of One's Own
Individual Rights and the Welfare State By David Kelley

(Originally published in Ernie Ross's The Objective American)

The welfare state is a major part of our culture and plays a central part in our ongoing political debate. While liberals look for ways to expand the scope of the welfare state and conservatives strive to stymie this growth, neither side challenges the right for people to receive welfare. David Kelley, executive director of the Institute for Objectivist Studies, on the other hand, does question whether people have the right to be taken care of in his book, A Life of One's Own.

Before answering this question, Kelley explains how the welfare state was born and grew into the present day sacred cow. The welfare state and the concept of rights that support it are fairly new inventions. The first notion of welfare rights arose during the 1880's in the Otto von Bismarck regime of Germany who initiated the idea of "social insurance." Oddly enough, Bismarck created this idea as an attempt to out maneuver socialist reformers. Once the idea sprouted, it established roots and grew with the backing of anti-Enlightenment forces which fought the individualism spawned by the Enlightenment.

Kelley uncovers a cluster of ideas that played a role in this development. Among the factors are the belief in economic determinism and the appropriateness of coercion backed by the moral impetus of altruism, the belief that we have no right to exist for our own sake. Kelley points out how the personal terms "the poor" and "the unemployed" eventually changed to the impersonal terms of "poverty" and "unemployment." Citing Gertrude Himmelfarb, "The emphasis thus shifted from the personal characteristics of the poor to the impersonal causes of poverty." As Kelley states: "The link between determinism and the expanded concept of coercion is thus clear. If human beings lack the inner resources to form their own values and convictions, if they are vulnerable to all the social influences acting upon them, then every such influence is in effect a compulsion, and there is no difference in kind between the literal use of force and the `forces' that were said to keep people from acting responsibly."

The core rationale for welfare rights is the belief that "without the enjoyment of certain goods, it is argued, individuals cannot achieve the ends that freedom is for." Kelley bases his counter-argument on our right to life. Living requires our ability to act which in turn depends on our freedom to choose. "Freedom is the condition in which we can act independently, and the essence of independence is the power to act on the basis of our own deliberate judgment." Welfare rights contradict our right to life because it prevents us from fully choosing how to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

In addition to the moral questions, Kelley also addresses the practical implications of welfare policy and shows how it often leads to unintended consequences. For instance, offering aid to mothers with dependent children has attracted a cadre of women who purposely get pregnant in order to increase their relief check. Medicare and Medicaid were formed to help the elderly afford health care but the government-imposed price controls shifted the costs to other patients.

Kelley presents the various collectivist arguments in favor of welfare rights fairly and with a minimum of polemics. Kelley's writing displays his normal lucid style, although his civility towards his opponents and lack of polemics leads to a rather dispassionate tone (perhaps intentionally). Kelley, as usual, makes a number of nice distinctions yet falls prey to several false alternatives that, in the long run, hurt his case.

According to Kelley, the case for welfare rights fails because there is "no universal and nonarbitrary standard for distinguishing need from luxury." He also asks, "where do the weak get the right to be carried by the strong?" Thus, when welfare advocates cry that government support is not enough, Kelley points out that "enough" is a normative term which implies a standard, a standard he believes does not exist.

The alternatives Kelley offers is need versus luxury and the weak pitted against the strong. In other words, he accepts the key choices prevalent in the current welfare debate. He loses an opportunity to redefine the basic argument over welfare rights. His denial of a universal standard by which to judge such issues is odd given Kelley's adherence to a key premise of the Objectivist ethics: Man's life as the standard of value which in turn rests on the fundamental choice we all face, existence or non-existence.

Instead of choosing between need and luxury, we ultimately confront the choice of survival or death. Instead of the weak living of the strong, we can use a different concept - metaphysical independence. Normal adult are born with the minimum necessary equipment needed to survive on their own. We eat for ourselves, breathe for ourselves and (hopefully) think for ourselves. We therefore have the ability to create the values we need to live. Unfortunately some people have such severe limitations that they cannot support themselves. This includes mental retardation, physical handicaps, and incapacitating injury. Implicit in Kelley's argument is the conclusion that people will die if they do not receive voluntary aid. Yet these people had no responsibility for their fate, just as we had nothing to do with being born normal.

The concept of metaphysical independence can lead to a different conclusion. Rights protect those who are born with metaphysical independence to choose and act in their quest to live. For those who absolutely cannot survive on their own, rights strive to ensure they have the bare minimum to live. One could argue that supporting those few people who do not have metaphysical independence does not threaten those who do have it. At the very least, one could argue for government policing the treatment of these people by their voluntary supporters. Metaphysical independence can provide a nonarbitrary and universal standard for limited welfare rights: does the person possess the ability to live on their own and, if not, are they responsible for not having this ability.

Thus, because Kelley accepts the false alternatives discussed above, he does not address head-on those who are truly unable to support themselves. Instead Kelley shifts to the easy to dismiss cases such as the welfare queens who demand help yet have the ability to support themselves.

Despite these concerns, A Life of One's Own deserves to be read widely. It represents the Objectivist/libertarian case in a reasonable manner and in a style accessible to everyone.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Thinking about rights

Here is a basic issue that libertarians and Objectivists gloss over or ignore completely: if someone is unable to support their own life due to severe handicaps, do they die unless someone voluntarily intervenes? Or, do they deserve some kind of protection? Tara Smith comes the closest to recognizing this issue in her Moral Rights and Political Freedom in footnote 1 of Chapter 1, What Rights Are, where she says: “I am leaving aside questions concerning the rights of exceptional groups of people such as the mentally retarded, insane, senile and children.” These groups are not addressed elsewhere in her otherwise fine book. I’m not aware of this issue being addressed elsewhere in the Objectivist literature.

Our right to life depends on our ability to choose and to act on our choices. Having these abilities presumes we were born with the basic equipment necessary in order to live on our own. I recall a lecture course Leonard Peikoff gave years ago in which he made a point about humans having metaphysical independence. Metaphysical independence means that we are born with the equipment we need to live on our own. Just as no one can eat or breath for us, nor should any one else think for us. Unfortunately, this concept has not seen much if any use in all of the discussions of rights because I think it leads to some interesting implications.

The Objectivist literture is silent on one key point related to metaphysical independence. We play no role in whether we were born with the proper equipment or not. Therefore, the Objectivist and libertarian position amounts to saying, "Those who were born with the necessary equipment will be have their rights protected. Those who do not have this capability are on your own." Yet being on their own is precisely what they cannot do through no fault of their own!

We talk about how life is the foundation and source of values. Yet, we say essentially, "If you are born without the ability to act you will not live unless someone chooses to help you." While we are responsible for how we employ our abilities we ultimately had nothing to do with the hand we were dealt when we were born. For those who are unfortunate, their existence should not be based on the whims of those around them who were more fortunate.

Thus I see two roles for government. One role is to protect the metaphysical independence of those who possess it. The second role is for government to ensure a minimum level of existence for those who do not have the minimum necessary conditions for metaphysical independence. It’s the least we can do out of benevolence and out of recognition for what we have. The kind of support I envision does not threaten the metaphysical independence of those who have it.

I am not talking about supporting anybody who happens to have the challenges. (Who doesn't have challenges?) Unfortunately, liberals have expanded the concept of handicap to apply to anyone with a hangnail. Using the concept of independence we end up dealing with a limited number of cases: severe birth defects, mental retardation, mental illness (such as those homeless who used to live in mental hospitals) and incapacitating injury. While one could argue that voluntary charities should take care of this limited number, the government would still play a role in policing this support for minimum physical levels and humane treatment.

Objectivists and libertarians are understandably leery of accepting even this minimal level of assistance for fear that it undercuts their moral opposition to welfare. I am concerned that we lose credibility if it is perceived that we prefer to sacrifice people at the expense of principles. I know that is not the intent but that is how it comes across. But, more important, is the Objectivist position on this subject right? I think a case can be made for modifying the Objectivist approach to rights.