Question: How can abortion rights be more effectively defended? Although the biblical case against abortion is weak, the religious right has gained much traction against abortion rights in the last decade or two. The "personhood" movement is growing every year, and incremental restrictions on abortion have mushroomed. Even more alarming, the demographics seem to be against abortion rights: young people are increasingly opposed to abortion. What can be done to more effectively defend abortion rights? Can any lessons be drawn from the success of the campaign for gay marriage?
Question: Is running prisons a legitimate function of government or should they be privatized? Private prisons are a billion dollar industry here in the United States, but should they be left to private companies or should the government handle them instead?
Question: Should voters attempt to "buy time" for liberty by voting for Republican candidates? Often, supporters of free-market capitalism are told that they need to "buy time" in order to advocate for liberty – meaning: they should vote for Republicans to stave off disaster and allow time to persuade the public of the nature and value of freedom. Does the debacle with the rollout of ObamaCare contradict this claim? ObamaCare has suffered from widespread attacks, not just from the right wing, but also from many mainstream media outlets and average citizens. These backlashes have forced the administration to issue substantive revisions of the law, and its political backers appear to be running scared. In this case, a statist policy has gone into effect, the public has felt its harmful effects, and that public has turned against the statist policy and its supporting politicians. After this, I am more optimistic about Americans, as well as less inclined to support Republicans at the federal level. Given the utter failure of free market advocates to turn back the regulatory state, might the public need to learn more lessons like that of ObamaCare, just as much as they need to be educated about abstract philosophy? Does support for Republicans in the federal government, who will at best maintain the mixed economy – where the positives caused by freedom can cloud the negatives caused by controls – actually result in a perpetual solidification of the status quo? If so – and combined with some of the GOP's irrational theocratic tendencies – should people actively (or passively) support keeping the Republican Party as the minority party in the near future by refusing to vote for or support its candidates?
Question: Does freedom of speech apply to government officials? In August 2013, Rolling Stone caused a furor by putting accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover. In response, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino wrote to the publisher of Rolling Stone, telling him that doing so "rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment" – treatment the magazine should have given to the survivors. Other government officials were similarly critical of Rolling Stone. My first reaction was that these government officials had no place saying anything about a publication. But then I wondered, doesn't the First Amendment still apply to them? In other words, do government officials have freedom of speech?
Question: What justifies punishing people for committing crimes? In your 2006 graduate paper, "The Scope Problem in Punishment," you criticize utilitarian theories of punishment that aim for deterrence of future crimes on the grounds that they don't punish all and only those who are guilty. Yet why is that a problem? Moreover, why should a criminal be punished if doing so won't have any future benefits, such as deterring future crimes? Doesn't self-interest require that actions have some future benefit – and if so, shouldn't all punishment have some positive future effect like deterrence?
Question: How should European colonizers be judged for their treatment of Native Americans? Some people, especially conservatives, give blanket praise to Columbus and European colonizers, notwithstanding their conquest and displacement of native populations. Those Native Americans are sometimes denigrated as ignorant, brutal, and/or lacking any concept of property – and hence, as unworthy of the protection of rights. Many others consider the Native Americans either noble savages or at least the rightful owners of the land. They condemn European colonization as unethical conquest or even genocide. Are either of those approaches correct? What counts as a fair judgment of European colonizers in their behavior toward Native Americans? How should European colonizers have treated native persons?
Question: What are the similarities and differences between Objectivism and secular humanism? Objectivism and secular humanism are two secular worldviews. What are their basic points? Are they hopelessly at odds? Or do they share some or even many attributes?
Question: Would the government of a free society employ scientists? In a fully free society, would there be any scientists employed full-time by the government for police, legislative, or judicial services? If not, how would judges obtain the necessary scientific knowledge to make proper rulings in the court cases that would replace today's environmental and other regulations? Might scientists be hired by the government of a free society for the military or other purposes?
Question: Should free-market reforms be gradual or instantaneous? Many advocates of free markets concede that reforms toward capitalism should be gradual. For example, Yaron Brook said recently about abolishing Social Security, "There is no way to eliminate it tomorrow. There is no way to eliminate it... cold turkey." But why not? What's wrong with the "cold turkey" approach? Is the concern simply that the only way to get people to accept reforms is to make them slowly? Or would it be somehow unjust to cut off people's entitlements suddenly, given that they've come to depend on them?
Question: Is an egalitarian society a better society? In his 2009 book "The Spirit Level," Richard Wilkinson argues that income inequality has a broad range of negative effects on society. According to the summary on Wikipedia, "It claims that for each of eleven different health and social problems: physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies, and child well-being, outcomes are significantly worse in more unequal rich countries." Are these egalitarian arguments wrong? If so, what's the best approach to refuting them?
Question: Is philosophy deduced from axioms? Often, I hear people claim that philosophy – particularly Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism – is deduced from axioms. Is that right? Personally, I don't see how that can be: How can anything be deduced from "existence exists"? But in that case, what's the purpose of the axioms?
Question: Do corporations have free speech rights? Many leftists (including left-libertarians) are vehemently opposed to the "Citizens United" Supreme Court decision, which recognized that corporations have the right to speak in elections. Do corporations have rights? What would it mean for corporations not to have rights? Should corporations be considered "persons" under the law?
Summary: Many states require licenses to practice certain professions – from medicine to styling hair. What are the practical effects of such licensing requirements? Do they protect the public from quacks, as their defenders claim? Or do they violate a person's right to earn a living, discourage entrepreneurs, promote poverty? How have the courts ruled on cases challenging licensing requirements?
Question: How should I educate myself so that I can cast informed votes in elections? I'm 25, and I've never voted in any local, state, or national election. I have good reason for that, I think: I've never been able to educate myself sufficiently on the candidates to be certain of who to vote for. Also, as a marketing student with a passion for advertising and public relations, I don't think I could vote until I'd seen the inside of a campaign team as a member of it, so that I have a personal understanding of how much the candidate presented is real or idealized. I know that that is unrealistic, because I wouldn't know which candidate to work for. Instead of that, what steps could I take to inform myself, without consuming too much time, so that I could vote in the next presidential election?
Summary: What is rhetoric? Why does it matter? How can the basic concepts of rhetoric help us write more effectively, understand advertising better, or speak more persuasively?
Summary: As the cause of gay marriage gains ever-more traction, many have wondered whether marriage really matters. Attorney Tom Varik argues that it does. In this interview, he discussed the legal status and importance of gay marriage, including the recent Supreme Court cases, as well as the history and limits of spousal privilege.
Summary: Is "big government" the fundamental problem of American politics? Historian Eric Daniels will explain why this common formulation is misleading, wrong, and even dangerous to liberty.
Question: How should I respond to friends who fanatically hate President Obama? As a free-market advocate, I'm distressed about President Obama's policies. However, I'm increasingly worried about some of my friends in the free-market movement exhibiting an alarming level of hatred for President Obama. I have seen my friends latch on to every "juicy"-sounding accusation against the President, which they spread all over Facebook, such as spurious claims that the administration violently threatened Bob Woodward, or that the President conspires to grant himself a third term. I think a reasonable discourse on Obama's faults is necessary, but the conspiracy theories and outright hatred cloud people's judgments. I want to ask my pro-free-market, Obama-hating friends that they not bring up their dubious accusations in conversation, but I don't know how to do that without offending them. Is there a solution to this dilemma?
Question: Is a "social contract" the proper basis for government? The idea of a "social contract" is often used to justify all kinds of government interventions for the so-called "greater good." What does it mean to say that society is founded on a social contract? What are the practical implications of that approach to politics? Was John Locke a proponent of this view?
Summary: Financial markets are often vilified – and misunderstood. How do financial markets work? What impact do they have on the economy? Are they dangerous – or beneficial? What is the government's current versus proper role in financial markets?
Question: What's wrong with the "marginal humans" argument against uniquely human rights? Ayn Rand, following Aristotle, defined man as the rational animal – meaning that man's essential quality is that he possesses the faculty of reason, while other animals do not. Such is the basis for rights, in her view. Opponents of animal rights often appeal to this gap between humans and other animals to justify raising animals to be killed and eaten. They claim that animals can't have rights because they're not rational. Advocates of animal rights, however, often attempt to refute this claim via the "marginal humans" argument. They observe that human infants lack the faculty of reason, and hence, we should not use rationality as the moral criterion for rights. What is wrong with this argument? Do opponents of animal rights conflate potential with actual rationality, in that the infant seems potentially but not actually capable of reason?
Question: How should the feminist movement be judged? Do today's feminist causes have any merit? Or is the feminist movement merely seeking special favors for women at the expense of men – perhaps even via violations of the rights of men? If the movement is mixed, how should it be judged, overall? Should better feminists eschew the movement due to its flaws – or attempt to change it from within? Can advocates of reason, egoism, and capitalism ally themselves with selected feminist causes without promoting the worse elements thereof?
Question: Should we stop caring about the sex lives of politicians? In response to the affair and resignation of David Petraeus, many argued that such sex scandals are the absurd consequence of American puritanism. These people claim that sex is easily compartmentalized in a person's life, such that sexual fidelity has no bearing on a person's intelligence, character, or suitability for public office. Is that right?
Question: Does a doctor violate a woman's rights by refusing to perform an abortion? Many people on the left claim that a doctor who refuses to perform an abortion – or a pharmacist who refuses to dispense Plan B – is thereby violating the rights of the woman. Those doctors and pharmacists, however, claim that they're exercising their own freedom of religion. Who is right?
Question: Are Objectivism and libertarianism allies in the struggle for liberty? Libertarians have long claimed that Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism (or just its politics) is a form of libertarianism, but Objectivists rejected that. More recently, however, notable Objectivist John Allison assumed the presidency of the thoroughly libertarian Cato Institute with the support of the Ayn Rand Institute, and he claimed that "all objectivists are libertarians, but not all libertarians are objectivists." Is that true? What is the essence of libertarianism? When, if ever, should Objectivists ally or collaborate with libertarians?
Question: Should marital infidelity be illegal? Many states, including Colorado, have laws against marital infidelity on the books. These laws are rarely if ever enforced. Politicians often attempt to repeal them, but those attempts are often unsuccessful. Many people think that the government ought to "take a moral stand" even if the law isn't enforced. Does that view have any merit? Should these laws be repealed? Why or why not?
Question: Can abortion rights be justified based on Judith Thomson's "violinist" argument? Even if we accept that an embryo is a person with a right to life, can't abortion rights be justified on the basis of Judith Thomson's famous "violinist" thought experiment – meaning, on the grounds that one person does not have the right to use another person for life support?
Question: Does individualism imply social isolation and atomism? Many critics of Ayn Rand argue that her individualism is hostile to love, concern, and respect for other people. They claim that her "atomistic individualism" doesn't permit, let alone support, groups or community. Are these criticisms true? What is the right view of human society and sociability?
Summary: Can a political party based on principles of individual rights win elections? Perhaps so – and Paul McKeever has a strategy for doing so with the Freedom Party of Ontario.
Question: Do people have a right to emergency medical care? EMTALA (a.k.a. the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act) is a federal law that requires emergency rooms to stabilize any patient with an emergency medical condition, regardless of the patient's ability to pay. Is that proper? Is that the same as a right to medical care?
Question: Is killing a baby born after an abortion a form of murder? Kermit Gosnell is currently on trial for murder, due to accusations that he killed infants who were delivered in abortions at his clinic. If the facts are as reported, should he be convicted of murder? What should be done when a baby is born alive during an abortion? What are the likely cultural and political implications of this trial?
Question: Are high taxes comparable to slavery? On Facebook, some friends suggest that America is becoming more like Nazi Germany. Others share images comparing Americans workers to slaves picking cotton in the antebellum south due to our ever-higher taxes. I think these comparisons go way too far: Americans are still some of the freest people the world has ever known. No doubt, our freedom is being chipped away, but are we really like slaves?
Question: Is it wrong to be indifferent to the rights-violations of people who advocate rights-violations? Some celebrities actively promote the violation of rights by lending their support to political groups. For example, former American Idol contestant Krista Branch has actively campaigned against gay marriage on behalf of Focus on the Family. However, in a recent interview, Branch complained that people were pirating her songs. I know that Branch's intellectual property rights should be respected, and I would never pirate her music. Yet I can't feel any sympathy for her, given that she advocates violating other people's rights. I'm of the opinion that people who advocate for the use of force against others should not be spared from the consequences of the kind of culture that creates. Is that wrong? Am I being malevolent? Should I defend her rights, even though she advocates violating my rights?
Summary: As the libertarian movement has become more mainstream in recent decades, its justification for liberty has changed. How so – and is that change for the better? Is the libertarian movement today capable of offering a vigorous and compelling defense of liberty?
Question: Can people with divergent political views enjoy a good romantic relationship? Some of my liberal friends won't date conservatives, and some of my conservative friends are horrified at the thought of dating a liberal. Is that reasonable? Since I'm in favor of free markets, should I only date other advocates of free markets? Can people with very different political views enjoy a good romantic relationship?
Question: Is "gay marriage" a valid form of marriage? Many people oppose gay marriage on the grounds that marriage is essentially religious, that procreation is central to marriage, or "traditional marriage" should be respected. Should gay unions be considered a valid form of marriage, legally or socially? Might civil unions be an acceptable alternative?
Question: Is it moral to buy products from Chinese companies? Recently I discovered several online companies based in China that sell clothing of reasonable quality for very low prices. I've made a few purchases, and I am happy with the items received. But I wonder: is it moral to purchase goods made in a communist country? Granted China has changed a lot in the past two decades, but the communists still rule in a totalitarian fashion. Am I supporting that kind of regime by sending my money there, or am I supporting the entrepreneurial class which might exist in China?
Question: How might social conservatives be convinced to support gay marriage? Rob Portman, a Republican Senator from Ohio, recently decided to openly support gay marriage after his son came out to him and his wife. What can be done to help other conservatives see gay marriage in a new light – as a matter of liberty and individual identity?
Summary: Is China the next capitalist paradise? Or is it a dangerous military threat? Perhaps it's neither.
Summary: Could an amendment to the US Contitution provide an effective check on government power? Stephen Bailey, a Republican congressional candidate in 2010, has a proposal for a constitutional amendment that deserves consideration.
Summary: What does the right to self-defense mean – not just in theory but in practice too? What does that require of a person?
Question: If a person isn't doing anything wrong, should he care to protect his privacy? Defenders of intrusive government programs (and other forms of meddling) often assume that only guilty people would object to granting others access to their private information. What, after all, does an honest and decent person have to hide? Or these people assume that everyone is guilty, and that's what justifies monitoring everyone. What's wrong with these arguments? Should an honest and innocent person object to government inquiries into his private life?
Question: Is the welfare state a good reason to restrict immigration? Conservatives – and even some Objectivists – claim that immigrants are flocking to the United States for our welfare benefits. They claim that immigration must be restricted until the welfare state is curtailed. Doesn't this view amount to punishing would-be immigrants for our own welfare state?
Question: When would creating a political party advance the cause of liberty? At the moment, creating a new political party might not make sense in the United States because the Republicans and Democrats dominate the elections and the media. But when would be the right time to do so, if ever? In other countries, even tiny parties are discussed in the news, and they can win a few seats. Under those circumstances, does it make sense to create a political party advocating for individual rights? If so, what would be a good name for such a party?
Question: Are semi-automatic handguns more dangerous than revolvers? In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, many of my friends claimed that semi-automatic firearms should be banned. They think that people should only be permitted to own revolvers. What are the differences between these two kinds of handguns? Do those differences matter to public policy debates about gun rights and gun control?
Summary: The government heavily regulates food and drinks commonly regarded as dangerous or unhealthy. What motivates such regulations? Why are they so widespread? How can they be fought?
Question: Should government employees be permitted to unionize? In your 16 December 2012 discussion of "right to work" laws, you said that business owners should have the right to refuse to hire union members (or to fire them). How would that work for government employees? In a free society, could legislators (or departments) forbid government workers from being union members? Could they require union membership?
Question: Is it wrong to have children in an increasingly irrational and statist culture? People should think about the long-range effects of their actions, and act based on principles. So if a person thinks that our culture is in decline – and perhaps even slipping into dictatorship – is it wrong for that person to have children? Is such an assessment accurate? Along similar lines, were people wrong to have children in the Soviet Union and other dictatorships?
Summary: Many people support restrictions on spending in elections, particularly by corporations, in the name of "transparency" and "accountability." Institute for Justice attorney Paul Sherman takes a very different view. He argues persuasively that any restrictions on campaign spending are violations of freedom of speech. He has successfully argued that view in courts across the country.
Question: How is American culture better today better than people think? I've heard lots of depressing claims about the abysmal state of American culture lately, particularly since Obama won the election. You've disputed that, arguing that America is better in its fundamentals that many people think. What are some of those overlooked but positive American values? How can they be leveraged for cultural and political change?
Summary: What is the paleo diet? How can it help you improve your health and look better? Why does it work?
Question: What should we think of the results of the 2012 election? Many free-market advocates are despairing over the election results, particularly the re-election of President Obama. They claim that America has sunk to a new low in re-electing an openly socialistic and egalitarian hater of America. Do you think that such despair is warranted? Also, how can intellectuals, activists, and others effectively promote individual rights over the next four years?
Question: Is it moral to choose to live in a socialist country? A person might move to England to study at a conservatory or move to China for a job. Would it be moral to do that – meaning, to move to a socialist country and make use their government institutions? Would there be some kind of obligation to "pay back" what the person gains from that country's taxpayers, such as by donating to organizations that promote capitalism in that country? Or would it be immoral altogether, such that a person should pursue whatever opportunities he can in America (or where he is)?
Question: In a free society, would people be obliged to support or obey the government? Ayn Rand defined government as "an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area." She said that a government has – and must have – "a monopoly on the legal use of physical force." Given that, must a person support the government – morally or financially – in order for his rights to be protected? Would a person have to swear loyalty, pay taxes, vote in elections, or serve in the military? What would be the status of an anarchist – meaning someone who regards all government as illegitimate – in such a society?
Question: What's wrong with anarcho-capitalism? Libertarian anarchists – such as Murray Rothbard, Roy Childs, and Stefan Molyneux – claim that anarcho-capitalism is the only political system compatible with the "non-aggression principle." Is that right? Must any government initiate force by excluding competing defense agencies, as anarchists claim? Should governments be abolished in favor of private markets in force?
Summary: Many people believe that voting is a crucial civic duty, and people often argue vociferously about who to vote for, particularly for US President. Are such arguments a waste of breath? Does your vote actually matter?
Question: Is it proper for state or local government to enact laws that a federal government should not? A proper government is one that fulfills and is limited to the role of protecting citizens from initiations of force by other individuals or other nations. However, in a free and proper society, is it proper for local and state governments to enact laws that go beyond the proper functions of a federal government? For example, in a properly-governed United States, could states enact certain laws that regulate behavior beyond what the federal government could enact, perhaps based on the religious or other values held by most people in that community – on the assumption that any person who disagreed could leave the area?
Question: Given the terrible state of the economy and culture, is it wrong to pursue your own personal values? Shouldn't we all be working full time at counteracting the terrible ideas that run rampant in our culture? Is time taken away from "the good fight" in pursuit of other activities merely a useless distraction, counterproductive, and possibly immoral – as some people claim? Or is the pursuit of your own values a moral way to enjoy one's life in spite of the grim state of the culture, politics, and the economy?
Question: Do "blue laws" violate rights? Many communities have "blue laws" – such as prohibitions on selling liquor, or even cars or other goods, on Sundays. Are these laws violations of the separation of church and state?
Question: Do smoking bans violate rights? Cities are banning smoking in private businesses like bars and even smoke shops. Are these bans immoral – meaning, do they violate rights? Does second-hand smoke violate the rights of non-smoking patrons or employees? What should be the policy for government-owned property like parks, court houses, sidewalks, etc?
Summary: Many people on the political right regard America as steadily decaying since the founding era. Yet in fact, America has improved in many ways – not just in technology, but also in its culture, economy, and laws.
Summary: Questions on any and all topics were welcome!
Question: Is it moral or practical to vote for third-party candidates? The Founders created a two-party political system. With features like geographic representation, first-past-the-post voting for Congress, and the Electoral College for voting for President, the Founders clearly wanted parties consisting of large umbrella groups of wide geographic and ideological interests. As a result, the United States has always had two and only two dominant political parties. Corrupt election laws, passed by these parties, now guarantee that except in rare instances (such as Jesse Ventura, of all people) only members of these two parties can be elected to office. Given these facts, what is the purpose of voting for third party candidates? Unlike the two major umbrella parties, all third parties are composed of ideological kooks of many persuasions. Isn't a vote for a third party candidate thus immoral (for supporting kookdom) and impractical (since they can't win)? Wouldn't it be better to try to improve the two existing parties, or not vote at all?
Question: Why do so many cultural commentaries condemn the evil rather than praise the good? The virtue of justice, properly understood, means that praising good is more important than condemning evil. As Leonard Peikoff says in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand: "The conventional view is that justice consists primarily in punishing the wicked. This view stems from the idea that evil is metaphysically powerful, while virtue is merely 'impractical idealism.' In the Objectivist philosophy, however, vice is the attribute to be scorned as impractical. For [Objectivists], therefore, the order of priority is reversed. Justice consists first not in condemning, but in admiring – and then in expressing one's admiration explicitly and in fighting for those one admires..." (pg 284). Despite that, the majority of cultural commentaries, including those written by Objectivists, focus on exposing and condemning evil, rather than praising the good. Why is that? Is it a mistake?
Question: Should a person contribute to animal welfare organizations? Animal shelters find good homes for abandoned and abused pets. They also offer assistance to pet owners during emergencies, such as the recent wildfires in Colorado. That work seems laudable to me – and something that a rational person might support and even contribute to. Yet such groups often advocate wrong views (such as veganism) and support rights-violations (such as animal welfare laws). So are such groups worthy of support or not?
Question: Is capitalism altruistic? Some people attempt to defend capitalism and free markets on altruistic grounds. Under capitalism, they say, a successful businesses must serve the needs of its customers. Hence, capitalism promotes altruism. Is that true? Is it an effective way to defend capitalism?
Summary: With ObamaCare confirmed by the Supreme Court, what can a person do to preserve his health under America's increasingly socialized system of medical care?
Question: How important are a political candidate's views on abortion? Why should we be worried about a political candidate's bad views on abortion if their views on other issues like economics are generally good? After all, as US President, Mitt Romney couldn't outlaw abortion even if he wanted to. But a good or bad President could have a tremendous good or bad effect on our economic liberties. Conversely, President Obama wants to keep abortion legal but that positive pales in significance to his terrible negative views on economics. Shouldn't a candidate's views on economics be more important at present than their views on abortion?
Question: What's wrong with multiculturalism? Many people think that "multiculturalism" just means being tolerant of people with different cultural practices than your own. Is that right? What is multiculturalism? What are some examples of it? What's wrong with it, if anything?
Question: Shouldn't freedom be "free"? I often hear the bromide "freedom isn't free," or some variation of it, such as, "there's a price for freedom." But isn't freedom actually free? A person acts by right in pursuing his own life and happiness, and criminals do not have any right to coerce or threaten others. If freedom is the political expression of rights in a social or political context, it follows that there should be no "cost" to exercising one's rights. It isn't a sacrifice to not violate others rights, since respect for them is a selfish virtue, nor would it be a sacrifice to voluntarily fund a proper government that protects one's rights, since the benefit outweighs the cost. Am I correct in thinking freedom, properly understood and protected, is indeed free, or not? If I am, what do people mean when they say, "freedom isn't free," and what's the proper response?
Question: It is wrong to inflict second-hand smoke on other people? Although smoking is detrimental to a person's health, whether or not someone smokes is (or should be) a matter of his personal choice. However, what is the proper moral and legal status of "second-hand smoke"? If second-hand smoke contributes to the development of respiratory diseases or if others simply find it noxious, shouldn't people refrain from smoking in public or smoking around people who haven't consented to it? In a free society, would and should most workplaces ban smoking? Could second-hand smoke be considered a tort, such that the state should forbid smoking around people who object to it?
Question: Should children be protected by child labor laws? Currently, federal and state governments restricts "child labor" in various ways. The US Department of Labor "restricts the hours that youth under 16 years of age can work and lists hazardous occupations too dangerous for young workers to perform." The goal is to "protect the educational opportunities of youth and prohibit their employment in jobs that are detrimental to their health and safety." Is this a proper function of government? Does it violate the rights of parents, children, and/or employers? If so, what's the harm done?
Question: Should I keep up with current affairs? As we know, most reporting is pretty bad. In print, and especially on the rolling 24-hour news channels. It's myopic, biased, and lacking in any principled coverage. The reporters are just clueless, and are like children pointing at all the pretty, crazy colors. But there must be some value in reading the paper, right? Or is it only for people in certain intellectual occupations, whose work involves commentary on the world today? I've not followed current affairs for the last few years myself, and I'm happy for it, but do just worry that I'm missing something.
Question: How can I effectively counter Marxist economic arguments? My family and friends often advocate Marxist economic ideas – for example, that wealth should be redistributed according to need, that corporations and corporate profits are evil, and that rich people have too much money. How can I best respond to these arguments?
Question: Is the United States a Christian nation? People often claim that the United States is "a Christian nation." What do people mean by that? Why does it matter? Is it true or not?
Question: What should we do if the Supreme Court upholds ObamaCare? The Supreme Court of the United States will be determining the constitutionality of ObamaCare in a matter of weeks. While it is likely that at least part of it will be struck down, the court might uphold some or all of it. If that happens, what should liberty-loving Americans do? Would we have any recourse? Would it be time to break out the pitchforks and torches?
Question: Should the government institute a national id card? Periodically, politicians speak of instituting a national identification card in order to protect identify and track potential terrorists, prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants, stop welfare fraud, and more. Would such a national id card violate rights – or be unwise for other reasons? Are state-level identification cards sufficient? Are they proper?
Question: Is it wrong to "out" a hypocritical anti-gay public figure who is secretly gay? Some conservative politicians have taken strongly anti-gay positions, but are secretly gay themselves. If one learns of this, is it wrong for gay activists to publicly "out" them? What if they don't engage in public hypocrisy, but are just quietly "in the closet"? Should activists respect their privacy in that case?
Question: Is it rational to value good weather over good politics when choosing a place to live? I currently live in a state with fairly good politics, with respect to taxes, gun rights, and so on. However, I have friends who live in California who say that the weather there is so good, that it's worth it to them even if the taxes are high, the gun laws are terrible, and the overall political climate is abysmal. Is it rational to value something like good weather over good politics in choosing a place to live?
Question: What other countries besides America have a relatively healthy sense of life? Suppose America takes a bad turn politically and I need to relocate to another country. What other countries still have a relatively healthy "sense of life" and decent culture – in that they respect reason, accomplishment, and productiveness – even if their politics are left-leaning? Over the past few months, I've heard various people discuss Canada, New Zealand, Costa Rica, China, and India as possible places to relocate to. What do you think of the cultures of those countries?
Question: Should SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) be supported or opposed? SOPA was recently introduced to the US House of Representatives, then shelved temporarily, and many people are urging businesses and their representatives to oppose it. Would the bill promote prosperity and creativity by protecting copyright? Or does it justify internet censorship and cripple free access of information through online media?
Summary: On December 15th, 2011, Ari Armstrong, Paul Hsieh, and I testified at the Secretary of State's hearing on the proposed changes to Colorado's campaign finance rules. This podcast includes all our testimony.
Question: Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the culture? What do you think will happen to the culture in the next 20 to 50 years? Are you optimistic or pessimistic – and why? What do you think the value and certainty of such predictions based on philosophy are?
Question: Should I support Gary Johnson for US President? What's the proper evaluation of his principles and record on the budget and the debt, health care, foreign policy, immigration, the drug war, abortion, and gay marriage? Does Johnson deserve the vote of advocates of individual rights in the primary or the general election? Also, should supporters of Gary Johnson vote for him on a Libertarian Party ticket?
Question: Should I support Ron Paul for US President? What's the proper evaluation of his principles and record on the budget and the debt, health care, foreign policy, immigration, the drug war, abortion, and gay marriage? Does Paul deserve the vote of advocates of individual rights in the primary or the general election?
Question: Should I support Newt Gingrinch for US President? What's the proper evaluation of his principles and record on the budget and the debt, health care, foreign policy, immigration, the drug war, abortion, and gay marriage? Does Gingrinch deserve the vote of advocates of individual rights in the primary or the general election?
Question: Should I support Mitt Romney for US President? What's the proper evaluation of his principles and record on the budget and the debt, health care, foreign policy, immigration, the drug war, abortion, and gay marriage? Does Romney deserve the vote of advocates of individual rights in the primary or the general election?
Question: What's your view of the upcoming 2012 election? By what standards do you judge the presidential candidates?
Question: What's wrong with the principle of sustainability? In the discussion of "sustainable agriculture" in your October 9th webcast, you didn't explain the problem with the basic principle of the "sustainability movement," namely "that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Doesn't that just mean respecting rights? If not, what does it mean and why is it wrong?
Question: When is it morally right or wrong to support political compromises? The marijuana legalization initiative for the 2012 Colorado ballot also specifies open-ended taxation that circumvents the protections of TABOR (the Taxpayer Bill of Rights). It specifies that the first $40 million raised goes to government schools. Both of these taxation items are compromises added to get voters to accept the marijuana legalization. Is it ethical to support more taxation to get more freedom from drug laws? Is it okay to circulate petitions to get this on the ballot so the voters can decide? More generally, when if ever should a person support political compromises that uphold some rights but violate others?
Question: Why do religious fanatics seek to impose their beliefs on others? Most religious fanatics aren't content to practice their religion for themselves: they seek to impose it on others by law. Why is that? Why is that wrong? What can be done to combat it?
Question: Should it be legal for civilians to own fully automatic weapons? At present, civilians can only own full-auto firearms by special permission of the US Treasury. In a free society, would such weapons be banned or regulated, such that only members of the police and military could access them? As a law-abiding civilian, am I somehow violating someone else's rights by owning an M-16 fully automatic rifle – as opposed to the virtually identical (and currently legal) semi-automatic AR-15 rifle?
Question: What should it mean for a person to be a citizen of country? Suppose that America were a free country, with open borders. What would be the difference between a long-term resident and a citizen? How would that affect a person's relationship to the government? How would a person (including someone born in the US) become a citizen? Could a person be a citizen of two countries?
Question: How are evasion, rationalization, and context-dropping similar and different? When thinking over a problem I notice that these terms can often be applied simultaneously. So what do they mean – and how are they similar and different?
Question: All the candidates are nearly perfectly horrid, just in different ways. Why should I even bother to vote?
Question: Should prisons be run by the state or private companies? After reading this Huffington Post article, I wonder whether prisons should be run by private companies or the state. I tend to think private is almost always better than anything state-run, but the current system of private prisons seems to be corrupt at best. More generally, what would a prison system look like in a free society?
Question: Which bathroom should a pre-operative transgendered person use? The brutal attack at McDonald's on a transgendered person in April 2011 was apparently started because that person used the ladies restroom, which was already occupied by a 14 year old. Was the transgendered person wrong to use that restroom?
Question: What is the proper purpose of bankruptcy laws? When should a person renegotiate his debt with lenders, if ever? Should a person be able to wipe his debt clean by going into bankruptcy? In your 10 July 2011 webcast discussion of strategic default on mortgages, you suggested that a person shouldn't be able to do that, but shouldn't lenders be responsible for who they lend money to?
Question: Is it moral to marry someone just to obtain a green card? Given the difficulties of immigrating to the United States, is it immoral to circumvent those bad laws by marrying someone solely to obtain a green card? Would it matter if the person were a good friend?
Question: Should the state be involved in marriage contracts? Many people say that gay marriage shouldn't be a political issue, because the state shouldn't be involved in defining marriage at all. Is that right? Why or why not?
Question: When is a person (or group) justified in taking up arms against the government? In other words, how despotic must a government be for violent revolution to be morally justified? Before that point, is a person just engaged in "terrorism"?
Question: Is it wrong to "vote with your wallet"? A liberal friend of mine recently said that he won't vote for political candidates based on his own economic interests – for example, that Candidate A promises to raise taxes on his income bracket, while Candidate B promises to cut taxes for that bracket. He votes based on his agreement with the total political program, not its effects on his paycheck. What's right or wrong with his approach?
Question: Is "sustainable agriculture" a legitimate concept? Many advocates of a paleo diet also advocate "sustainable agriculture," including Robb Wolf and Mat Lelonde. Is sustainable agriculture a valid concept? What does (or should) it entail? Should consumers be concerned that their food producers practice "sustainable agriculture"?
Question: Should the "Do Not Call" Registry exist? The National Do Not Call Registry was established in 2003, and it's run by the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. Is this legitimate? Does a person have a right not to be called by solicitors and other unwanted persons? Given that there was no real attempt to come up with a private, market-based solution for the issue of unwanted solicitations, was this a legitimate case of "market failure"? Should advocates of free markets put themselves on the "Do Not Call" list and/or report violators thereof? Why shouldn't a person just hang up?
Question: Is it moral to torture criminals and/or terrorists? We supposedly were able to track down Osama Bin Laden with information obtained by torturing captured Al Qaeda prisoners. Is it moral to torture criminals, terrorists or other evildoers to gain useful information to fight crime or help win a war? If so, should there be any limits on when and how torture should be used by the government?
Question: Should every person engage in some kind of political or cultural activism? Given the current abysmal state of the culture, might a moral person choose to live his own life based on rational principles, without advocating those principles? Is it moral to overlook the ever-increasing rights-violations by our government, rather than speaking out? Is it enough to offer moral support and/or financial support to other activists?
Question: Is it immoral to work for a company that uses government to eliminate or hamper the competition? For example, if a company has brought antitrust lawsuits against its competitors, should you refuse to work for them?
Question: Can lobbying be a proper career choice? Lobbying involves asking for various kind of favors from the government. Is that a profession that someone who values free markets should avoid like the plague?
Question: Should circumcision be banned? Residents of San Francisco were supposed to vote on a ballot measure that would have banned circumcision, except in cases of medical necessity. (It was struck from the ballot by a judge due to conflicts with state law.) Since circumcision is an millennia-old religious rite for Jews and regarded as essential to their covenant with God, would a ban on circumcision violate the principle of freedom of religion?
Question: Is it proper to join non-mandatory professional groups? Many professional organizations provide great benefits to their members, such as educational opportunities, professional conferences, networking, journal subscriptions, insurance, and product discounts. However, many also engage in lobbying of government officials on issues both related to the profession's direct interests and on issues only loosely associated (i.e. funding for political candidates). While some of this lobbying can be viewed as professional self-defense in an immorally regulated industry, where does one draw the line? Is there a point where joining professional associations is providing sanction to activities you believe are wrong?
Question: Should I terminate friendships with people who steal music and other intellectual property from the internet? I don't know a single person who doesn't steal something off the internet. I used to do this myself, but stopped when I realized it was wrong and why. Normally, I would cut off contact with anyone who violates rights, because that's worse than just holding wrong ideas, but the activity is so prevalent now that doing so would end my social life. Even now, my clear moral position strains my friendships. So what should I do?
Question: Should public figures be held to higher moral standards? Public figures – like actors, politicians, and athletes – are often lambasted in the media for committing commonplace wrongs like dishonesty and hypocrisy. Is that fair? If Michelle Obama is an outspoken opponent of childhood obesity and lists the things my children and I shouldn't eat, is she a hypocrite for publicly indulging in junk food? Should I not value Tiger Woods as a professional golfer with exceptional talent because he screwed around on his wife?
Question: Is it moral to "defraud" a public library? There is an out-of-print book that I can't get for less than $100, a price I am not willing to pay. My library has a copy but they won't offer it for sale. Is it wrong to tell the library it is "lost" and just pay the fees, assuming they are reasonable? Does it matter that the library is an illegitimate government program that I'm taxed to support?
Question: Why should a free country have open borders? In your July 24th webcast, you agreed with the questioner that the current laws restricting immigration are wrong. Why? Shouldn't Americans be able to restrict immigration, if they so choose? What, if any, limits should be set on immigration?
Question: Is it wrong to not keep up with current news and politics? Every time I open a newspaper's website I feel overwhelmed by all the crap going on in the world and disheartened by the bad politics. It feels like a soul-draining activity and a waste of time. I feel better not reading the news, but I also feel a tad guilty for not being aware of the pending laws and current events that affect me. So should I try to keep up with the news more or not?
Question: Is it immoral to reverse-engineer a product? Is it wrong to take apart a product, improve it, and then sell this new product to others (or use it for yourself)? Is this considered theft or just productive work?
Question: Why would an ordinary person wish to carry a gun? In your July 3rd webcast, you mentioned that you have a concealed carry permit. Why? Even if a person should be allowed to carry a firearm, shouldn't we rely on the experts – namely the police – to protect us from criminals?
Question: Is it immoral to hire illegal immigrants? While laws restricting immigration seem terribly irrational – both in terms of intent and effects – they are still technically the law. Illegal immigrants often make themselves available for day-to-day work, and hiring them for a day has an almost zero chance of legal punishment for myself for having hired them. Is it moral to disobey an irrational law if I'm unlikely to be punished for it?
Summary: In preparation for the release of the final Harry Potter movie, I interviewed
Question: What are the personal benefits of being a blood donor (or organ donor)? Is it worth doing under today's laws, where donors cannot get paid? Should people be able to trade blood and organs in a free market?
Question: Should people give up their guns when they have kids? Many people think that having guns in the house with kids is terribly risky, if not child endangerment. They say that the kids might get to the guns, even if locked away, and injure or even kill themselves in an accidental discharge. Is that right? If parents choose to keep their guns in the house, what should they do to minimize the risk of injury?
Question: What do you think of political bipartisanship? Is it a good think or just an idealogical vacuum?
Question: What is the best way to handle "proud" looters? What is the safest and most effective way to deal with the people who ignorantly brag about the fact that they are free-loaders on others, including using government programs and "public" funds?
Question: Should it be legal in a free society to buy votes? It doesn't seem that the practice would violate anyone's rights, so shouldn't it be legal for a person who wants to hold office to pay willing voters to cast their vote for him?
Question: What rights do severely mentally disabled people have? If someone is mentally disabled to the extent that he or she will never be able to be rational and/or live independently, does that person have rights? Who should be financially responsible for the care of such people?
Question: Doesn't greater wealth entail greater responsibility? If you have amassed a great fortune, don't you also have to shoulder a greater responsibility to society and your fellow man than others? After all, success in business doesn't occur in a vacuum: it always depends on the community to some extent. People like Michael Bloomberg or George Lucas know that they would not be where they are today without some pretty significant assistance from others. So shouldn't they assume more responsibility for their fellow man than others?
Question: Why are subpoenas justified but not compulsory juries? In your 15 May 2011 webcast, you contrasted your position on jury duty with that of Dr. Peikoff's, saying that compulsory jury duty constituted the initiation of force. My understanding is that Ayn Rand's position was that subpoenas and the jury selection process are entirely consistent with justice, as Peikoff mentions in this podcast. Juries are selected using subpoenas. How would you reconcile being for subpoenas but against compulsory jury duty? And, does this also mean that you disagree with Ayn Rand's view of justice?
Question: How can I be optimistic when society seems doomed? I am beginning to see the United States as the oak tree at the beginning of Atlas Shrugged, an empty shell whose heart rotted away long ago. Ayn Rand writes often of the failure of our age, of seeing corruption rewarded and honesty becoming self-sacrifice, and of seeing these as evidence of our society being doomed. Given the recent, and increased, interest in Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand, I should be hopeful for the future. But is it too little, too late? I have small children, and I never thought it would become generally accepted that America's best days are behind us. How do I cope with the destruction going on today? How can I be optimistic for my children's future? As an Objectivist it seems as though I must be missing the obvious answer.
Question: Are compulsory juries moral? Is it necessary and/or proper to compel citizens to serve on a jury? If not, what is the best way to ensure the right to a trial by a jury of your peers, rather than trial by government agents? Should a free society have professional volunteer juries like the military?
Summary: On May 8, 2011, I gave a short speech at Liberty Toastmasters on my experience with hypothyroidism – and why I don't want the "cookie cutter medicine" being pushed on us by ObamaCare and other government meddling in medicine. Shortly thereafter, I made some revisions, recorded a longer version, then posted that to YouTube.
Summary: On May 3rd, 2011, I testified in a hearing before Colorado's Secretary of State about the burdens of Colorado's campaign finance regulations. This podcast contains the full audio from my testimony, plus my answers to questions from the panel.
Question: Where is the best place in the country for an Objectivist to live? The Free State Project in New Hampshire is proving to be a success for libertarians; especially in the town of Keene. I wonder if there might be some potential for a critical mass of Objectivists along similar lines. Is this even worthwhile?
Question: How should a person deal with ideological conflicts with a spouse? In particular, if a person discovers and embraces Objectivism while already in a serious relationship (perhaps marriage) with a non-Objectivist, what's the best way to deal with conflicts that arise due to divergent principles?
Question: Are regulations necessarily different from laws? Regulations do not violate the presumption of innocence – they are jurisprudential signals. A law against murder does not violate the presumption of innocence; rather, it is a signal that denotes a consequence that will be levied upon the violator of the law. This is the same standard that regulations follow. A law is a "regulation" on behavior in the way that legislative regulations are, in fact, "regulations" on business behavior. Is this a correct assessment of laws and regulations?
Question: Is it morally obligatory to engage in activism? I want to fight for a better, more rational culture. But I know that I'm not a good writer or speaker. If I instead give my money to those who are, isn't that a good division of labor? Is it obligatory that I myself attempt to engage in such activism or can I pay others who are better at it (and would like to earn money doing so)?
Question: How can a conservative Christian also be a supporter of capitalism? Isn't the Christian philosophy diametrically opposed to the basic principles of egoism and reason necessary to fully support laissez-faire capitalism?
Question: Why do Objectivists single out the Libertarian Party as particularly bad? I understand the objections to the Libertarian Party, but how are the Republican and Democratic Parties any better? Also, how do you propose we affect change in our society? Should people work to change the Republican party from within? Or focus solely on intellectual activism?
Summary: This is the teaser for Eric Daniels' webcast on the foundations of free speech. (That webcast is no longer available for sale.)
Question: Why is capitalism so misunderstood? I've noticed a huge backlash against capitalism in the media and on the internet for a while. Why? Why are people so resentful towards capitalism when it gave them all the prosperity?
Question: Are Objectivists obliged to work to change the culture? Do you think that it is morally necessary (most of the time, in most cases) for an Objectivist to do something to enact cultural change?
Question: Can an Objectivist believe in God? Can a person be a theist and an Objectivist? Or is that too fundamental a conflict? If so, why?
Question: Are all cultures equal? How can you prohibit or restrict anyone's cultural norms or say they're better or worse than our culture? Is there an objective barometer by which this can be achieved?
Summary: What does a principled political candidate say and do? Stephen Bailey – the Republican candidate for US House of Representatives for Colorado's Second District in 2010 – gives us a good example in this discussion of his principles and prospects.