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North Texas Objectivist Society (NTOS) Message Board › What are the requirements for a "civilized" society?

What are the requirements for a "civilized" society?

Old T.
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 1,205
Ayn Rand discussed somewhere that "civilized" society requires two things (paraphrasing):
(i) no man has the right to initiate the use of physical force against others; and
(ii) the use of retaliatory force should be delegated to the government to place it under the control of objective laws.

In an argument some weeks ago (where I was not present), Dean G. argued for a somewhat different view, which seriously concerned me when I later heard about it. Dan C. and I have had a meeting to discuss this matter with Dean in person, and he has followed up with me by saying he would prefer to discuss it in writing, suggesting this forum.

This topic is not limited to the requirements for a private society, such as NTOS or "Galt's Gulch," but rather, to the minimum requirements for having a civilized society in a geographical territory, such as Canada or the United States of America.

Any member is welcome to participate.

A challenge for us in having this discussion is that as the Organizer of NTOS and moderator here, it will be difficult for me to appear fair. I have worked to improve my discussion skills over the years and I will do my best. After some discussion, however, it still falls to me as Organizer to make a judgment, one way or the other.

I don't want to misrepresent Dean's views, so I suggest he advance his position directly and we continue from there. For the same reason, I ask that Dean not present my views, but allow me to do so directly here.

Old Toad
Kathleen L.
user 14663198
Dallas, TX
Post #: 18
Didn’t Ayn Rand refer to her characters John Galt and Howard Roark as her vision of the ‘ideal man’ and not necessarily as a standard of comparison? The ideal man would hold sacred the physical as well as the mental space of another daring not to demoralize reason. The ideal man does not need laws to conduct himself reasonably.
Envy, duplicity, avarice, murder, terrorization, demoralization or humiliation are not the apparatuses or motivations of an honest appraisal from an ideal man – they never even enter his mind as an approach to a thinking process. Yet, almost every single opinion or evaluation by the average man is corrupted by some prior knowledge, experience, personal like or dislike and or character flaw. Envy, betrayal, covetousness, murder, intimidation or demoralization are the tools an oppressor and it is the navigator of the oppressor that is a survivalist.
Objective laws that Ayn Rand refers to – are they designed for every man’s means of survival or are they objective in the sense that they are free of prejudice? For example: there exist a law that prohibits sleeping under the bridge. This law appears to be non-biased where a wealthy man would receive the same punishment or retaliatory response as the poor man. But in fact it is a biased law. The poor man who may be homeless would be more likely to be sleeping under the bridge than a wealthy man – so in fact – the law is biased against the poor man. How did Ayn Rand perceive objective laws to be formed and what was her vision of a mechanism of law enforcement? Does objective laws include fairness in regard to varied existing circumstances or are they unyielding disavowing the realities of the world? Are those laws designed to encourage man or to separate them from one another? What are the differences between the laws we have in place now and what Ayn Rand envisioned as objective laws?
Idealism or a philosophy based on an ideal character and or situation becomes conflicted in the same manner as religions become conflicted with their idols. At some point do we not have to separate her fiction – the demonstrative ideal character – between the philosophies? Or are we trying to idolize or intellectualize an ideal as opposed to define an objective?
Was Ayn Rand not encroaching or at least tip toeing to the edge of the same dilemma towards utopia – a civilization of our own making as opposed to the credentials of nature?
In conclusion; I see a conflict between the ‘ideal man’ and or Ayn Rand’s version of civilization and the objectivist beyond that the ideal man is an objectivist because Ayn Rand’s version of civilization requires not only the ‘ideal man’ who is a fictional character but also the responsive populace and while such men are desirable the reality is impracticable as a general rule. Retaliatory responses only from a government enforcement arm is an 'idealistic' proposal. In many ways I am surprised at Ayn Rand's thought on this issue when she was so well versed in the realities of the war. All be it she focused on the threat of Communism and less on Nazism because that was her personal experience. In a perfect world we would never raise our voices much less our hand at one another. In our world - it is best to prevent/stop the progression of an intrusion/injustice as soon as possible and that means to act yourself. Ayn Rand's remedy of government action is only after the fact; after the damage. True justice means to correct the error - not just punish.
This subject has been the hardest for me to grasp probably because I came to it biased.
Old T.
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 1,206
Perhaps this passage by Ayn Rand gets to the root of your questions.

Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Appendix: The Nature of Government
If a society provided no organized protection against force, it would compel every citizen to go about armed, to turn his home into a fortress, to shoot any strangers approaching his door—or to join a protective gang of citizens who would fight other gangs, formed for the same purpose, and thus bring about the degeneration of that society into the chaos of gang-rule, i.e., rule by brute force, into the perpetual tribal warfare of prehistorical savages.
The use of physical force—even its retaliatory use—cannot be left at the discretion of individual citizens. Peaceful coexistence is impossible if a man has to live under the constant threat of force to be unleashed against him by any of his neighbors at any moment. Whether his neighbors' intentions are good or bad, whether their judgment is rational or irrational, whether they are motivated by a sense of justice or by ignorance or by prejudice or by malice—the use of force against one man cannot be left to the arbitrary decision of another.
Visualize, for example, what would happen if a man missed his wallet, concluded that he had been robbed, broke into every house in the neighborhood to search it, and shot the first man who gave him a dirty look, taking the look to be a proof of guilt.
The retaliatory use of force requires objective rules of evidence to establish that a crime has been committed and to prove who committed it, as well as objective rules to define punishments and enforcement procedures. Men who attempt to prosecute crimes, without such rules, are a lynch mob. If a society left the retaliatory use of force in the hands of individual citizens, it would degenerate into mob rule, lynch law and an endless series of bloody private feuds or vendettas.
If physical force is to be barred from social relationships, men need an institution charged with the task of protecting their rights under an objective code of rules.
This is the task of a government—of a proper government—its basic task, its only moral justification and the reason why men do need a government.
A former member
Post #: 11
>(i) no man has the right to initiate the use of physical force against others; and
>(ii) the use of retaliatory force should be delegated to the government to place it under the control of objective laws.

The optimal society that I'd like to live in would have a government that would claim the former & later, and attempt to enforce the later. Not just physical force, but all forms of initiation of force which includes fraud and capturing/copying private information. And the purpose of the later would be to create "justice" in situations where initiation of force occurs. That is not what I am debating.

What is "justice":

The execution of creating justice includes performing the following four actions on the transgressor:
- Compensation/Restitution: transferring resources (or services) from him to the victim, in order to make the victim whole
- Incapacitation: reducing a set of future actions available to him, decreasing his ability to initiate force again
- Retribution: confiscating his resources and/or causing damage to him or his property, with the sole purpose of deterrence
- Surveillance: denying him the right to privacy, watching to assure future crimes are not performed

Optimal justice includes:
- Net no cost to anyone other than force initiator
- Fully restores victim's losses
- Transgressor is deterred (dis-incentivized from repeating the action in the future)
- Transgressor's losses are minimal

Discussion on creating justice in practical reality:

Commonly cases of force initiation do have net costs to others than the transgressor. Costs associated with collecting evidence, judging the evidence, and executing justice are not necessarily entirely the transgressor's responsibility, and if they are, he may not be able to afford them.

Compensation/Restitution are not always possible, sometimes the transgressor doesn't have the resources to forfeit and never will (He is too poor and disabled). Sometimes the victim's losses cannot be restored with resources (death of loved one, nude photo leak). There is the option of termed enslavement... currently primarily applied to divorced husbands. Generally a longer period of incapacitation would then be appropriate over exile and harsh retribution. With modern GPS and other modern surveillance technology, termed loss of privacy is also an option.

There are all sorts of forms of incapacitation including: restraining orders, jail, and the ultimate: permanent death.

Deterrence is difficult to achieve optimally. The transgressor's threshold is known only to himself. The judge could apply more incapacitation or retribution than necessary if he misjudges the force initiator's motivations. I'd debate that government should not perform retribution for the purpose of deterrence.

Our reality has a state that continually changes through time. Yet at any given time, reality only is its current state. Individual entities within reality are only able to observe and think about a small portion of reality. Induction (the scientific method), and deduction (boolean logic) are the only valid methods of "objective" thought.

Given that different individuals observed different portions of reality, they may come to different conclusions on what likely happened, or even be inconclusive about what happened in the past. This is true even when the individuals are objective, and even though reality only has one past/history.

Hence, we can never expect optimal justice in all cases. Judges and jury can lack sufficient evidence to satisfy reasonable doubt that a suspect is guilty. Furthermore, there is always the possibility of deceit: claimants, suspects, witnesses, investigators, judges, jury members. Evidence can be manipulated. People can be bribed or threatened. Government can have policies for purposes other than to create justice: to enrich and empower its members (drug war, licensing, vehicle inspection/registration, compulsive insurance).

My debate:

Now with all of the above established as fact... (please let me know if you have any disagreements/comments) I propose that even though individuals in a society prefer that their society upholds "i" and "ii"... that (here is the debate):

1. There can be cases where an individual are able to know and create justice (via retaliatory force)
2. An individual may find it net worthwhile to retaliate, including considering that there is risk for escalation of violence and/or that the government may find conclusive evidence of his "retaliation" and consider his action an initiation of force, and convict him.

This especially becomes true as the quality of the "justice" system decreases.

Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that in such cases were individuals do chose to retaliate, that all such cases will result in more optimal justice. In fact, I am not suggesting any portion/ratio what-so-ever. I am only debating that it is possible for one to find it net worthwhile.

Old T.
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 1,207

A premise of your debate is that the government "system" cannot be "perfect" (oops, you actually said "optimal" justice). True. The purpose of government is to provide "objective" control, not perfect control. "Objective," in this context, means a system that reduces--not "perfectly" eliminates-- the problems of personal biases, etc.

Focusing on your "debate" (in the bottom section of your post):

First, I note you use the word that individuals "prefer" (i) and (ii), not that these are "principles." Briefly, did you mean any difference by this, and if so, what exactly?

Second, your position appears to renounce (ii), whenever you or any individual personally sees retaliating as being "net worthwhile." Please explain why this is not the fallacy of “special pleading” to the principle of delegating the use of retaliatory force to the government for objective control.

Old Toad

(Edited: Sorry, Dean, you actually said "optimal," but my response is still the same.)
A former member
Post #: 12

To have a "principle" means to have a rule that an entity obeys.
To "prefer" means that an entity would rather reality was in one state over another. Given opportunity cost justifies, they would take action to change or keep reality in the preferred state.

I identify that there is a difference between what individuals want government to do and what they want their own selves to do. So a person can want government to uphold/enforce (i) and (ii) while at the same time may personally decide in a particular case that it is not personally in one's own interest to obey the rules (i) or (ii) (lifeboat scenario for example).

Repeating it, a person may hold that government should act in accordance to (i) and (ii), but not hold that individuals should act in accordance to (i) and (ii) in absolutely all potential circumstances (including lifeboat).

I said:
> ... individuals in a society prefer that their society upholds "i" and "ii"

Individuals are in most cases not entirety in control of a "government". Hence an individual can not make a government have principals (i) and (ii), instead they can only prefer that a government has such principals.

You said:
> Please explain why this is not the fallacy of “special pleading”...

Or in layman terms, "Please give an example."

A 55 year old man's wife & children are murdered. The murderer tells him "I killed your family", and proceeds to show the victim a video recording of the murder. Police investigate, find no evidence of who the murderer was. The man claims that so-and-so did it. They go to court. The man claims that so-ans-so told him he did it and showed him the video of it. The judge and/or jury decide the victim's testimony do not meet the standard of evidence beyond reasonable doubt.

The victim's family was everything to him. Being 55 and other details of his circumstance, he has no chance of stating a new family and once again having children of his own. His life had one purpose: to work towards the success of his family. That purpose has been completely obliterated. He now has to find new purpose to his life, or die in depressed passivity.

What is your advice to this victim?
A former member
Post #: 13
Oh yea... and in the 55yo victim example (gosh I hope you are not 55yo Todd) I was assuming that the government in fact was operating in accordance with creating optimal justice. The information simply wasn't there in order for them to make a conviction.

The other way I can argue that a person should not personally obey (ii) is when the government was incompetent and/or corrupt in his case. This happens today most agreeably due to the drug war, where people working in the illegal drug industry are not able to go to the law for help. But there can be other circumstances where government can be incompetent or corrupt in other ways... which may lead a person to "take law into their own hands".

So "those oppressed in the drug war" would be an example that fulfills your example request for your claimed "fallacy of special pleading" with (ii).
Old T.
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 1,208
OK, we are using essentially the same definitions for the words “prefer” and “principle.”

Of course, a principle only holds in the relevant context. We don’t normally live in a state of emergency, so that’s not the context we (or at least I) am concerned with. A government may not be able to immediately reach a particular emergency. But it can provide objective control of the use of retaliatory force after it arrives on the scene.

The 55-year-old man story is an example of breaking principle (ii), and that is what I (and a civilized society) would advise him against doing. In a civilized society, no one ever has a unilateral right break the principle in taking that personal revenge. That would grant the same principle to the family of the person he takes revenge upon. No matter how emotionally “appealing,” to do so would drop the context of the value of civilized society as such and be a preference to start chaos. There is no rational justification for chaos over civilized government. (“Civilized” does not mean “perfect,” either.)

Regarding the drug laws, it is agreed that they are an improper use of government force. But in a society that is characterized as “civilized,” it does not change principle (ii). Even if drug laws are improper, fighting or gang warfare over drug deals gone bad cannot be characterized as civilized. We still have the freedom of speech to address improper uses of government force, and that is how we should deal with those matters in a civilized society.

Ultimately, my concern is a policy of “preference” regarding principle (ii) is not only one of emergencies, emotionalism for revenge, or drug deals gone bad. A policy of “preference” is a claim to a right to subjectively reject principle (ii) in any situation.

The requirements for a civil society are not a matter of personal (or even majority) preference, but of principle. If each person in a society is free to “prefer” not to abide by principle (ii), that idea is properly classified as anarchy.

We seem pretty far apart on these ideas. What do you think?


(Edit: Moved a sentence and deleted a few words for better grammar.)
Kathleen L.
user 14663198
Dallas, TX
Post #: 19
'Death by Government' by R. J. Rummel reminds us just how we can rely on the objective government for justice and mercy. I understand the 'first strike' and how we want to avoid the mob mentality. At the same time I think we have to realistic and understand the nature and capacity of man. Jury's today are not objective or trustworthy. They all come with their own prejudices and character flaws. If you have ever seen a jury being picked the first ones rejected are the ones with IQ's or real experience. Many cases are complex and require a sophisticated juror with the ability to understand a variety of specialized fields such as accounting, anti-trust laws, pathology etcetera. Lawyers like jurors that can not ascertain through the complexities of a case so that the juror resort to their emotions; and that is why they take drama in law school. I certainly wouldn't advocate mob rule either. But I would advocate the right to bear arms to defend oneself from a hostile government. Normally if you were right the first place you would want to be in is a court room. Principle? Take Planned Parenthood for an example. First we were told that the aborted fetus was not a human - it was flesh. Then we legalized it. Then it became legal for late term abortions then partial birth abortions were legalized. Now we find out Planned Parenthood has been selling these aborted baby parts to StemExpress who in turn distributes them to other buyers. Now it makes sense. Late term abortions probably bring about a higher price tag since they are more developed human body parts. So what happened to the principle of murder? Killing a baby in the birth canal is murder. The euphemism is called abortion but the principle is murder. It is murder for profit. Don't we have laws - principled laws and objective laws against murder? Basically what we have done as a country and individuals is abdicated principle for euphemism in order to legalize the unprincipled. It is selective murder - it is murder against the unwanted. If a child is wanted and the child is killed in the mothers womb - the perpetrator is charged with the murder of the unborn child. So we have a fetus that if it is wanted by the parents it has value - if the fetus is unwanted by the parents it has no value - and if the parts of the unwanted child can be sold then it has value. This is mob mentality - it is selective prejudice and the principle of life has been abandoned. Is this civilized? If you grow this selective principle then we end up with Dr. Mengale with government protection. A principle has to be pure in order for it to be civilized. It has to have the same value and application doesn't it? If a government can be selective then how can it be objective?
Old T.
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 1,209
Hi Kathleen,

In the context of our discussion, there are two different senses of the word “objective,” which are sometimes confused. See, for example, the first two senses of “objective” as defined in The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition, 2015:


a. Existing independent of or external to the mind; actual or real: objective reality.
b. Based on observable phenomena; empirical: objective facts.

2. Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices: an objective critic. See Synonyms at fair.

Similarly, the word “subjective” can be used in two senses that are the opposite of those for the word “objective,” respectively.

In every situation, a person should strive to seek the “objective” truth regarding facts of reality. However, every person is fallible, even despite honest efforts. For example, some may mistakenly hold bad principles. Some may be emotionally biased. And some are intentionally evil.

Even without being philosophically “subjectivist” regarding the relationship between a person’s mind and reality, in the first sense, another person’s views may be presumed to be “subjective,” in the second sense, until proven otherwise.

Proven to whom?

For a lone castaway stranded on an island, it’s a matter only of proving to oneself. Proving to someone else doesn’t even come up.

In a political context, however, what if one person cannot persuade another that his view is “objectively” correct? How should disagreements be resolved when two or more people make conflicting “subjective” claims about the “objective” facts? Logically, at least one is necessarily “objectively” wrong, sometimes both are.

Are people going to seek to resolve their major disagreements by: (a) using force as each person “subjectively” sees fit, or (b) delegating the use of retaliatory force to the government for “objective” control?

In this case, “objective” control regards the use of institutions and procedures to manage personal biases and reach a judgment that strives to be objective. A proper government is formed to have reasonable checks and balances against “subjective” influences.

However, a government is not and cannot ever be expected to be “perfect,” “optimal,” “pure,” “ideal,” “omniscient,” etc. In whose judgment?

It is still likely that at least one of the individuals involved (and others observing) will “subjectively” disagree with the “objective” government decision. If any person disagrees with the government on any particular matter, however, there should be mechanisms, such as free speech and political action, to persuade it--not force it--to change.

The purpose of government is not to achieve “perfection” in controlling the use of retaliatory force in every last person’s opinion. Among multitudes of people, that would be a demand for the impossible.

A government’s proper purpose is to achieve civilized society.

Does this help?


[Grammar edit]
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