This came in from St. Andrews, Scotland:
Dear Right Wing Reactionary,
I hope that someday you, or your family, will have the oppurtunity to live in poverty without healthcare, social security or welfare. Then, possibly, you could experience the utter dispare and degredation of having to scrape a grabage can for scraps of food. But…oh… that’s right, everybody in that position must be lazy or just lacking the good old American pick yourself up by the bootstraps philosophy. The thing that really gets me about you cold-blooded [SNIP] is that you don’t feel the least bit inclined to help those who really need it. You seem to think that poor people want to be on welfare and that if you get rid of the program everyone will simply find work and we will live in a utopian society. Sorry [SNIP]… not that easy. Furthermore, as far as I am concerned you have the most to gain from an orderly, crime free society. What does some bum care if a bunch of armed robbers break into a bank or your house and steal your money? He doesn’t… he won’t loose anything. You, however, have alot to loose. Therefore you should be obligated to contribute to preserve the society which allows you to prosper. Finaly, my experience living in a pseudo-socialist society (Britian) has shown me first hand how socialist priciples can be applied to better society. In Britian wealth is distributed more evenly and hence we have less violent crime, less drug addicts and less poverty. America should follow suit… your reply is greatly appreciated.
Here’s my reply:
Your message is little but the fallacy of argumentum ad hominem coupled with attempts to castigate me in the name of a moral code I do not accept. Where’s the point in that?
You hope I will experience poverty, despair and degradation–presumably because you think such a condition would change my mind. How about this, then:
Her family lived in dreary squalor, crowded into a small apartment in a building her father had once owned. Constant employment was a luxury available only to a few; her mother taught in the city schools when she could; her father worked at whatever he could find. When there was no work, they starved. One evening, after a dinner consisting of a handful of dried peas, Ayn felt her legs sagging under her, and she sank to the floor, too weakened by hunger to stand; she remained there until the weakness passed.
Ayn Rand went on to become the most famous and consistent exponent of the idea that one man’s need is not a claim on another man’s life.
No circumstances, whatever their nature, can impress a conclusion upon the mind. No amount of poverty will automatically generate an explanation of its cause or remedy. I might as well wish for you to be rich, happy and successful so that you would repudiate your mistaken ideas. But a rational mind accepts ideas based on facts and evidence, not on external pressures.
Your manner of argument suggests that you have no rational case for your position that a need is an entitlement. It makes me wonder if your view originates instead in anxiety: “What if I wind up on the street some day?” At times I have felt that anxiety too–but I am not so presumptuous as to demand that society organize itself to soothe my neurotic feelings.
Your claim that I view those in need as either lazy or lacking in self-reliance is without ground. Indeed, sometimes people are in desperate straits through no fault of their own–but that does not make their plight the fault of someone else. “I did nothing to deserve this!” a needy person might say. “Neither did I,” responds the taxpayer. Suffering an accident does not wash away one’s responsibility for doing something about one’s own situation.
You claim I don’t care about the needy. Whether I care or not, is irrelevant. I have a right not to care. You have no right to force me to care.
You say I think that eliminating welfare would cause the poor all to find work and live happily ever after. I hold no such view. Those who cannot support themselves must rely on the voluntary generosity of others, or face their fate.
You are correct that it would be to my advantage to live in such a society–but that says nothing about the validity of my views. I am willing to contribute to a government that limits itself to the protection of individual rights through police, the courts, and the military; it is not to my interest–or to the interest of any rational, self-reliant person–to support a government that does anything else.
You assert that a bum would have no interest in obeying the law in such a society. Based on what definition of “interest”? Tell the poverty-stricken Iraqis they have no interest in doing anything about the looting in their streets. Everyone knows that the protection of property is the only hope these people have if they wish to prosper.
What does a bum care if the creators of wealth are not left free to function? If Edison had not been allowed to invent the phonograph–which led to the bum’s Walkman? If no one had invented trains to bring food to the cities, or refrigeration and preservatives so that it would keep? If there were no power looms to make textiles cheap enough so that discarded clothing could be found on the street? If no one had discovered cures for countless diseases?
But the bum you describe cares for none of this. He wants to be allowed to live off the productivity of others while destroying its source. He wants effects without causes. And that is his fault, and he deserves to face the consequences and to be punished if he breaks the law.
You describe Britain as a society in which wealth is “distributed more evenly.” I reject the idea that this is a legitimate goal for any society, or that wealth is rightly subject to “distribution.” Wealth is not an anonymous social product. It is brought into existence by individuals who deserve to keep and use what they have created, even if someone else might not have produced as much.
Feel free to go on living in your British utopia. I know a fact that you can only fear: that the success of your program depends on the willingness of those you seek to exploit. When they see through your con, when they understand that you have nothing of value to offer them, your ideas are through. We Americans will continue to drain off your most productive and talented, those who refuse to be your sacrificial victims. Their departure will place an ever-larger burden on the ones who remain, on whom the pressure to leave will be that much greater. What will you do when only the needy are left, in full equality, with no one left on whom to prey? Will you then stamp your foot in impotence and blame reality for refusing to bow to your arbitrary wishes?