By Bradley Harrington
“If men have grasped some glimmer of respect for individual rights in their private dealings with one another, that glimmer vanishes when they turn to public issues – and what leaps into the political arena is a caveman who can’t conceive of any reason why the tribe may not bash in the skull of any individual if it so desires.” – Ayn Rand, “Collectivized Ethics,” 1963 –
Concrete events often serve as mirrors of abstract ideas, and it would be difficult to find a better example than last Monday’s Cheyenne City Council meeting regarding the issue of sanitation tax increases.
Now, I understand that a topic as mundane as trash tax hikes might not, at first blush, strike anyone as philosophically illustrative. But the associations are there if we just etch them out a bit.
In supporting the proposed sanitation tax-hike resolution, for instance – which passed shortly afterwards – Councilman Dr. Mark Rinne made the following comments:
“Two weeks ago I was called a ‘liar and a thief,’ and it was said that we, and I by extension, had misled the public and misused funds.” (“City Council Meeting Video,” www.cheyennecity.org, Jun. 8.)
Clearly, Dr. Rinne feels his integrity has been impugned by the accusations that I and others have leveled at him and other city officials.
Yet I don’t believe that I nor anyone else brought Dr. Rinne’s personal honesty into question at all. Speaking for myself, I happen to have had a number of conversations with Dr. Rinne over the years, and even interviewed him at one point on his life and views for a column back in 2012.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Dr. Rinne would never employ tools of deliberate misdirection or theft personally. But, having said that, why does Dr. Rinne want to assert that anyone has made that claim? We have discussed his political positions, nothing else. And, as a public political figure, his positions are certainly open to discussion, are they not?
On a deeper level, however, I understand that politics is an extension of morality into the social arena. That, ideologically, ethics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the standards by which individuals govern their choices and actions personally, whereas politics is the branch dealing with the standards by which a culture or nation governs its choices and actions socially.
Consequently, one would expect a man’s political convictions to be related to – indeed, an offshoot of – his fundamental views of morality.
A man who sees individuals as a means to the ends of others would be expected to advocate a political structure based on the sacrifice and subjugation of others to the needs of the “tribe.” A man who views human beings as ends unto themselves, conversely, would promote a social order based on individual liberty and property rights.
Few people are that consistent, however, and that appears to be the issue here. For, if Dr. Rinne doesn’t perceive the link between ethics and politics, he has no business assuming that critiques of his political positions are reflective of his personal ethics.
Conversely, if he does recognize that connection, then the question remains: Why would a man who believes people have rights in their relations with one another privately, be the first to stand up and “bash in the skulls” of those same individuals on a social plane? Where standards of civilization just disappear and all that’s left is what people can be forced to do for the “tribe”?
And if you don’t believe that these kinds of contradictions can exist in the same person, observe the manner in which Dr. Rinne chooses to justify the political skull-bashing of coercive sanitation tax hikes on those who do not deserve them:
“The majority of the people who live in my ward… think that recreation services, parks, gardens and whatever, are an important part of what a city needs to provide… So, there are needs the city has… and these [sanitation rates] are the only means we have to raise funds.”
So: Politically, “majority rule” and “need” justify the compulsive takings these unnecessary sanitation tax hikes represent. The “tribe” is all.
Yet I can’t help but wonder: Would Dr. Rinne ever advocate that a man in “need” is ethically permitted to plunder the pockets of his neighbors to supply that need? Or that a “majority” gang on a street corner is justified in sticking up a lone man walking down the street, simply because there’s more of them than there is of him?
“Might” does not make “right,” personally or politically. At least not in the original American theory of government, where the power of the “tribe” over individuals was severely limited. And anyone who thinks otherwise, is in serious “need” of having their premises checked.
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.