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A Freedom Dialogue


Exchange on Critique of Self-Sovereign Individual Project Writings - Section 8


The following email (and incorporated attachment) is a continuation of the written critical exchange arranged with libertarian writer George H. Smith in the summer of 2003 as a paid critique service for the purpose of obtaining some logical analysis of the philosophical basis of the Self-Sovereign Individual Project by a knowledgeable libertarian thinker. (See Link Note)
Paul's inline comments follow George's intact email and incorporated WORD attachment critique of the early September 2003 version of the Declaration of Individual Independence, annotated version. Current DOII_annotated.
Paul's email to George 10 days following his receipt of the last of George's criticisms ends this dialogue.


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Part Six (rights)
Date: Wed, 3 Sep 2003 16:37:00 -0500
From: George H. Smith
To: Paul Antonik Wakfer


Paul,

In looking over your annotations, I noticed that I didn't
get to an area where I have the strongest disagreements,
namely, your discussion of rights. I therefore took the
time to write some fairly detailed comments about this,
which are enclosed.

George


23) Note that it is only now after all the groundwork concerning the common essential characteristics of humans and their interactions (which from now on I will simply call the "nature of man") has been laid down, that the enumeration of any human meta-needs (historically called "rights") can logically be set forth. This makes it very clear that meta-needs are logically secondary concepts derived from the nature of man, reality, and human interactions with each other. Thus, the fundamental "rights" of TDOI are here seen as entirely derivative from the nature of man. "Rights" are simply the compossible requirements of each adult human with respect to his relationship to each other adult, which he needs in order to maximize his lifetime happiness.

This is not the meaning of a "right." A right is an enforceable moral claim.

The "compossible requirements" you present are descriptions of purported facts about human nature. Even assuming all of them are true, they do not, in and of themselves, entail any normative judgments about what one ought to do, especially in regard to other people.

It should be noted that I have not even used the term "right" within the DOII (except where I refer to government violations).

You often refer to "self-sovereignty," which is a rights-claim. "Sovereignty" means the right of moral jurisdiction over something; in the case of self-sovereignty, it means the right of moral jurisdiction (i.e., the right of use and disposal) over one's body, labor, and the fruits of one's labor (external property).

You might wish to claim that this isn't what you mean by "self-sovereignty." You might say that you are using the term in a purely descriptive sense, to describe a fact (or set of facts) about human nature, e.g., that the individual is ultimately responsible for his own happiness.

But if this is what you mean, if you intend "self-sovereignty" to be a purely descriptive term, then it makes little sense to speak of "violations" of self-sovereignty. One cannot "violate" a fact of reality; one can only violate a moral principle.

The same reasoning applies to your use of the term "self-ownership." This is a moral principle, not simply a description of facts. To claim "ownership" of something, whether it be one's self or anything else, is to claim a right of use and disposal. It is to say that others may not justly interfere with one's use of that which one owns (so long as one doesn't violate the equal rights of others).

Hence, even if you don't use the term "right" very often, it is implicit throughout your fundamental terminology.

This is because I think that there is an additional and more fundamental problem with the whole notion of "rights" which makes it an obfuscating and unfruitful idea. The concept of "rights" essentially reverses cause and effect - the actions of the individual and the actions of others. If I wish to maximize my potential for lifetime happiness in a social context, it is that behavior towards others by me which will best ensure that they will aid me to achieve my own individual purposes, that I need to ascertain and to act in accord with, not their behavior towards me, over which I have no direct control at all! It does me little good to declare "I have rights!", because that act (really of asking others to give me a kind of "entitlement") does little to convince others that it is in their best interest to not violate me.

Here you seem to reject the notion of entitlement. Yet in your DOII you specifically state that such a social contract requires, at the least, that each executor accepts the entitlement of each other executor to self-ownership. I therefore don't understand how you reconcile your repudiation of entitlements in the annotations with your call for an acceptance of entitlements in the DOII.

Your gloss on rights confuses two levels of analysis. Your ability to control the behavior of others is a practical matter, one that has nothing directly to do with the theoretical justification of rights. Suppose you fail to convince a thug that he should not beat you up and take your money. Your failure in this regard has no bearing on the issue of whether his violence towards you was just or unjust.

It is an admirable endeavor (one that has been attempted many times) to argue that a free society, one based on voluntary interaction, ultimately serves the best interests of all concerned. But, even if this is true, you still need a theory of rights, for the following reasons.

(1) In many cases it would be impossible even to distinguish between voluntary and coercive interaction without a theory of rights. Suppose I observe someone walking out of your house with a television set. Has this person done anything wrong? It is impossible to tell, unless we know a number of things, such as: Who owns the television? -- i.e., who has a right to it? If you are the owner, did you give your permission (your consent) for the person (a) to be in your house, and (if you did) (b) to take your television. Etc., etc.

(2) As I understand your proposed Social Contract, it contains a provision for the signatories to provide restitution (or "restoration") to those they have wronged. You speak of initiating physical or fraudulent actions which harm the property of any other executor. Although you may not use the term "rights" here, such provisions are rights-laden throughout. Terms like "fraudulent" and "property" are normative in character and make no sense without referring, at some point in one's analysis, to the concept of a "right."

(Btw, it is potentially disastrous to stipulate that the "violated executor" shall determine the extent of the violation, and therefore set the amount of restitution. In cases of disagreement, these matters should be determined by an impartial arbiter. But this is another issue.)

(3) The very idea of a contract (as opposed to an agreement) would disintegrate unless we can specify the respective property rights of the contracting parties. To appeal to some kind of "meta-needs" won't do the trick. Rights are not needs. You may wish to argue that rights must ultimately be grounded in the fundamental requirements of human nature and social interaction, but a justification is not the same as that which is justified. The fact that I may "need" something carries no normative force whatsoever, regardless of how fundamental this "need" may be. There must be a logical bridge between the factual Is of a need and the normative claim that this need Ought to be respected by others. This is why a justification of rights is so crucially important to any defense of a free society.

Let us return to the possibility that you might wish to use "self-sovereignty" in a purely descriptive sense, e.g., to indicate the fact that individuals are ultimately responsible for their own decisions and happiness. (Even here I would point out that the term "responsible" is fraught with normative overtones; it usually means morally responsible, in which case it cannot be used in a purely descriptive formulation of self-sovereignty.)

Very well -- suppose a gun-brandishing thief approaches you and says, "Your money or your life." Now, according to a mode of analysis that is very popular among anti-libertarian philosophers, this thief has not literally "forced" you to do anything; e.g., he has not wrestled you to the ground and forcibly taken your wallet. What he has done (according to this line of argument) is to present you with two alternatives from which you may choose: You can surrender your money, or you can take your chances with the thief.

Thus, you still have a choice -- and if we strictly interpret the descriptive sense of self-ownership, according to which you are ultimately responsible for your own choices, then you are responsible if you choose to surrender your money.

Suppose you refuse to surrender your money and get shot as a result. Even here the undesirable consequence would result from your choice. The thief gave you fair warning, after all.

If this analysis sounds sophistical (and I agree that it does), this is because it omits all references to moral considerations, specifically, it takes no account or your rights vis--vis the thief.

The point here pertains to what I said above about your use of the word "violation." On a purely descriptive level, the gun-brandishing thief has not "violated" anything. He has simply presented you with a set of alternatives, after which you make a choice. There is no "violation" here, if we omit all references to rights, because what has been "violated" is your right to your own money and your right not to have force initiated against you. Hence, as soon as you talk about any "violation" of self-sovereignty or self-ownership, you have necessarily introduced the juridical concept of "a right."

(This is seen quite clearly if one imagines someone being attacked by a tiger, shouting out "I have a right to life!" in an attempt to stop the tiger's attack! Instead what the person has is a need to figure out how to prevent tigers from attacking him.)

There is a huge difference between dealing with tigers and dealing with rational agents. As a practical matter, many people do adjust their actions according to their conceptions of right and wrong, and many people would be reluctant to do something which they viewed as violating the rights of another person. Such motivational considerations are not relevant to tigers. (Btw, you won't get very far by appealing to the tiger's self-interest either -- and he certainly won't be interested in any "examples" you set -- so your hypothetical works as much against your position as it does against a proponent of rights.)

Instead, I need to set an example by unilaterally declaring that it is my most sincere "desire" that others not be harmed and my sincerest intention not be the effective cause of any harm to them, and furthermore, that if I should ever be such an effective cause of harm then I will be "fully responsible" for complete restitution to those who I have harmed, to the best of my ability as determined by them.

This is all well and good (except for the part about restitution being determined by the aggrieved party), but many people in this world couldn't care less about the example you set. So will a rights-claim stop them? No, probably not -- but the basic function of a theory of rights is to ascertain who acted justly and unjustly in a given situation. The issue of restitution will not even arise, unless it is first determined that an injustice has occurred -- and this is something that can only be judged by a standard of a rights.

You speak of those you may have "harmed." All attempts to substitute a "harm principle" for a "rights principle" (see especially J.S. Mill's in On Liberty, which presents an extensive case for precisely this) have proved absolutely disastrous for libertarian theory. Rights can be clearly and objectively defined; 'harms" (which include a wide range of psychological reactions) cannot.

Of course, you will probably claim that you have specified the relevant "harms." But so what? There are many kinds of harm other than those you specify, and if "harms" per se are actionable (i.e., a proper cause for restitution), then you must be able to draw a bright line between "harms" that are actionable versus those that are not. In other words, you must argue that people don't have a right to inflict certain kinds of "harm." Either that, or you must concede that every kind of "harm" (e.g., "You hurt my feelings"; "Your language offended me") deserves restitution.

It would be even better if I could state: "I will never harm you", but this would quickly be seen as a blatant lie, because not only is there always the possibility that such harm will occur accidentally, but there are even situations (generally termed "lifeboat" situations) where that statement would be directly and clearly contrary to the sustaining of my life, without which no promotion of my happiness is even possible.

You could avoid all this confusion by stating instead that you will never intentionally violate the rights of another person. This appears to be what you mean in any case, and it would be far better if you avoided the ambiguous word "harm," which is highly subjective.

In such "lifeboat" situations, I probably will violate another person in order to save my own life and such violation is even a correct action for me so long as I am also prepared to accept the potential restitutional result.

Again, how is it possible to "violate" a person?. You obviously mean this in a moral sense, in which case you need a theory of rights to ascertain what does, and does not, constitute a "violation."

Thus, I do all that I can honestly do, by declaring my earnest desire and intention not to harm, and to restitute to the best of my ability as determined by the one harmed, if I ever should harm someone. Therefore, I have not phrased the DOII in terms of "rights", nor is this idea found in the Natural Social Contract [in progress].

This is a very serious mistake, for reasons I have indicated.

Although it may grate on most pro-liberty advocates, instead of "rights", what humans really have, are social or meta "needs"! But these are not any kind of "claim" on anyone else, so long as they are kept to those which are fully compossible (can be consistently, mutually sustained). The social needs of people are exactly and only those which allow them to best perform to provide benefits for themselves. Because they are compossible, the free exchange of goods and services between people, given these social needs, cannot detract from the same needs for others.

It doesn't "grate" on me if you don't care to use a rights theory, so long as can devise a satisfactory substitute for your defense of freedom. But you have not done this. What you have done instead is to employ a theory of rights (self-sovereignty, self-ownership, violations, etc.) while repudiating nothing more than the label of "rights."


[Although Paul never sent the response comments below to George Smith (since George never replied to the others, what was the point?), as with the previous responses, George's original is indented in blue while Paul's comments are in black.]

23) Note that it is only now after all the groundwork concerning the common essential characteristics of humans and their interactions (which from now on I will simply call the "nature of man") has been laid down, that the enumeration of any human meta-needs (historically called "rights") can logically be set forth. This makes it very clear that meta-needs are logically secondary concepts derived from the nature of man, reality, and human interactions with each other. Thus, the fundamental "rights" of TDOI are here seen as entirely derivative from the nature of man. "Rights" are simply the compossible requirements of each adult human with respect to his relationship to each other adult, which he needs in order to maximize his lifetime happiness.

This is not the meaning of a "right." A right is an enforceable moral claim.

However, it is the only part of the meaning of "right" which is real (in the sense that it may be derived from reality). Moreover it is only the Lockean version of "right" (and of others based on the Lockean tradition) that defines it as an "enforceable moral claim" and I specifically reject that definition and any such claims. Besides, the basis of the "enforceable moral claim" idea is that such "rights" are necessary and sufficient in order for humans to mutually and concurrently maximize their happiness. Otherwise, what basis distinguishes proper from improper rights? My thesis on "rights" is that they do not form such necessary and sufficient conditions and that they are basically a false notion.

The "compossible requirements" you present are descriptions of purported facts about human nature. Even assuming all of them are true, they do not, in and of themselves, entail any normative judgments about what one ought to do, especially in regard to other people.

Sure they do! As requirements, they require certain actions and inactions of individual humans towards others for their consistency in enabling the maximization of each individual's lifetime happiness. In this particular case "is" does imply "ought", just as surely as the data of reality imply the laws of physics.

It should be noted that I have not even used the term "right" within the Declaration of Individual Independence (DOII) (except where I refer to government violations).

You often refer to "self-sovereignty," which is a rights-claim. "Sovereignty" means the right of moral jurisdiction over something; in the case of self-sovereignty, it means the right of moral jurisdiction (i.e., the right of use and disposal) over one's body, labor, and the fruits of one's labor (external property).

Not in my meaning, it doesn't. In my system "self-sovereignty" means both the fact of major direct possession and control of one's own mind/body and the need for the entitlement to govern one's self in a compossible manner with respect to others. As I state in the Natural Social Contract, self-sovereignty is the social aspect of being a "self-master". The whole purpose of my rejection of "rights" is that I see no basis in reality for any such moral imperatives except as needs for individuals to compossibly maximize their lifetime happiness. So these needs should be recognized as such instead of trying to foist them onto people as some kind of Platonic moral imperatives or claims.

You might wish to claim that this isn't what you mean by "self-sovereignty." You might say that you are using the term in a purely descriptive sense, to describe a fact (or set of facts) about human nature, e.g., that the individual is ultimately responsible for his own happiness.

Yes, but it means much more than that, as I have described above.

But if this is what you mean, if you intend "self-sovereignty" to be a purely descriptive term, then it makes little sense to speak of "violations" of self-sovereignty. One cannot "violate" a fact of reality; one can only violate a moral principle.

One can violate (break, infringe, act not in accord with) the needs of human nature just as one can act not in accord with any of the truths of physical reality.

The same reasoning applies to your use of the term "self-ownership." This is a moral principle, not simply a description of facts. To claim "ownership" of something, whether it be one's self or anything else, is to claim a right of use and disposal. It is to say that others may not justly interfere with one's use of that which one owns (so long as one doesn't violate the equal rights of others).

You are just not understanding my viewpoint yet. I don't claim that I have any "right" to self-ownership. This is a groundless claim for anyone to make! All that I or anyone else can say about self-ownership is:
1) It is a fact of reality that I possess myself and have the bulk of the control over the use and disposition of myself.
2) I want to deal only with people who will entitle me to all control over myself as long as I do not attempt to exercise any control over them.
In the Natural Social Contract, I reject the term "self-owner" (because it implies that humans can be owned) and use the term "self-master" in its place. The term "master" is also closer in meaning to my viewpoint described above. Furthermore, I only use the term "self-ownership" once in the DOII, and in annotation 39) I specifically reject any "right" to it as follows:

"As the Declarer, it is my human nature in reality which causes me to be a self-sovereign individual, not any so-called "right". I have no "claim" or "right" to self-ownership. I simply have it, by nature, whatever anyone else thinks or does! All that I am asking is that others understand and accept this fact of reality. I am also asking that others understand and accept that I will best produce for our mutual benefit if they also acknowledge my ownership, use, and control of the products of my body and my mind."

That is what the Natural Social Contract is all about. It precisely defines the understanding of the minimal set of compossible meta-needs, and enables the executioner to certify acceptance of them.

Hence, even if you don't use the term "right" very often, it is implicit throughout your fundamental terminology.

I think that I have now explained why this is incorrect. It is only you who is embedded in the "rights" tradition who is reading it into all my terminology. I maintain that there is nothing in my terminology which necessarily implies the existence of "rights".

This is because I think that there is an additional and more fundamental problem with the whole notion of "rights" which makes it an obfuscating and unfruitful idea. The concept of "rights" essentially reverses cause and effect - the actions of the individual and the actions of others. If I wish to maximize my potential for lifetime happiness in a social context, it is that behavior towards others by me which will best ensure that they will aid me to achieve my own individual purposes, that I need to ascertain and to act in accord with, not their behavior towards me, over which I have no direct control at all! It does me little good to declare "I have rights!", because that act (really of asking others to give me a kind of "entitlement") does little to convince others that it is in their best interest to not violate me.

I note that you had no response to the arguments within the first sentences of the above paragraph. All that you could do was to "stab" at the use of the word "entitlement" in the last sentence which was not the major part of the argument but was merely illustrative.

Here you seem to reject the notion of entitlement. Yet in your DOII you specifically state that such a social contract requires, at the least, that each executor accepts the entitlement of each other executor to self-ownership. I therefore don't understand how you reconcile your repudiation of entitlements in the annotations with your call for an acceptance of entitlements in the DOII.

Fair enough, I can understand your confusion. However, the difference is actually quite straight forward. By invoking "rights" one is demanding entitlements as a moral claim without bothering to give the full reasons. It is like saying to a child: "Don't ask why, just do as I tell you because I say so!" Rights are an authoritative, commanding, imperative approach. Whereas entitlements by contract are an explained, reasoned and negotiated approach to cooperative social interaction. I have changed the text in the above to make this clearer. It now reads:
"It does me little good to declare "I have rights!", because that act of demanding some concessions from others does little to convince them that it is in their best interest to not violate me."

Your gloss on rights confuses two levels of analysis. Your ability to control the behavior of others is a practical matter, one that has nothing directly to do with the theoretical justification of rights. Suppose you fail to convince a thug that he should not beat you up and take your money. Your failure in this regard has no bearing on the issue of whether his violence towards you was just or unjust.

First, I don't need any "theoretical justification of rights" (because I replace that with a theoretical derivation of meta-needs) and I reject that there is any such "justification" or that rights exist at all. Things either exist or they don't. There is no need to "justify" the existence of any existent. There is only a need to find sufficient evidence for its existence. Second, my inability to control the behavior of others does definitely relate to the optimal methods of interacting with them, which is exactly what I have set out to derive. Third, I agree with your last two sentences, but the example is irrelevant to anything which I have said here or in the Natural Social Contract. Furthermore, "justice" is another moral concept which really has no place directly within my system which is ultimately based in practical reality. For more understanding of this see DOII annotation 30 and search for the word "justice" within the annotated Natural Social Contract).

It is an admirable endeavor (one that has been attempted many times) to argue that a free society, one based on voluntary interaction, ultimately serves the best interests of all concerned. But, even if this is true, you still need a theory of rights, for the following reasons.

Yes, I know that others have attempted it (most notably Ayn Rand), but no one has had the same insights which I have had and developed them to full completion as I have. The reason that mine works is that it is not based on social interactions which are spontaneously voluntary. Once the Natural Social Contract is voluntarily executed, then any action with respect to other executors is no longer under the same conditions of freedom as before the execution took place (ie. it is not as voluntary in the sense that there are more costs associated with the action). By signing it, one has given up a very minimal portion of one's freedoms (the freedom not to culpably violate others without being responsible for restitution). However, this is only as it should be. One cannot have one's cake and eat it too!

(1) In many cases it would be impossible even to distinguish between voluntary and coercive interaction without a theory of rights. Suppose I observe someone walking out of your house with a television set. Has this person done anything wrong? It is impossible to tell, unless we know a number of things, such as: Who owns the television? -- i.e., who has a right to it? If you are the owner, did you give your permission (your consent) for the person (a) to be in your house, and (if you did) (b) to take your television. Etc., etc.

All these sorts of actions are addressed in great detail in the Natural Social Contract. In it I do indeed fully distinguish all such situations in very general terms without recourse to any theory of rights. Please read it and ask questions to see if anything remains unanswered there.

(2) As I understand your proposed Social Contract, it contains a provision for the signatories to provide restitution (or "restoration") to those they have wronged. You speak of initiating physical or fraudulent actions which harm the property of any other executor. Although you may not use the term "rights" here, such provisions are rights-laden throughout. Terms like "fraudulent" and "property" are normative in character and make no sense without referring, at some point in one's analysis, to the concept of a "right."

Again please see the Natural Social Contract to understand just how I accomplish what you maintain is impossible.

(Btw, it is potentially disastrous to stipulate that the "violated executor" shall determine the extent of the violation, and therefore set the amount of restitution. In cases of disagreement, these matters should be determined by an impartial arbiter. But this is another issue.)

Since the victim is the only one who can evaluate what is the harm done to him, he must be the one to set the amount of restitution. Anything else would be unfair to him (or to the violator if it is set higher than the actual value of the harm done to the victim). No impartial arbiter, no matter how wise, can know what is the true value of the harm to the victim. This is clearly explained in the annotations to the Natural Social Contract. It is also explained there how the natural order of the society of Freemen under the Natural Social Contract will act to minimize victim abuses of their entitlement to set the restitution. Furthermore, as a practical matter I can think of no better deterrent to violation than that every potential violator know that the harm of the violation and the amount to be restituted by him will be set by his victim.

(3) The very idea of a contract (as opposed to an agreement) would disintegrate unless we can specify the respective property rights of the contracting parties.

I don't make such a major distinction between a contract and an agreement. Both relate to certain agreed responsibilities of the parties involved. The word "contract" is generally used when an agreement is written and more formalized, but otherwise there is no real distinction. However, if you are meaning to imply that an essential characteristic of a contract is that it is "enforceable" (not that this is any different with an agreement, IMO), then my Natural Social Contract has that character in a recursive manner - ie. it is self-enforcing. In that sense the NSC might be referred to as the "mother" contract. But that is why its requirements are called meta-needs.

To appeal to some kind of "meta-needs" won't do the trick. Rights are not needs. You may wish to argue that rights must ultimately be grounded in the fundamental requirements of human nature and social interaction, but a justification is not the same as that which is justified.

This is a straw man argument because I am not trying to justify "rights". I do not need or want them in my system. Perhaps I should have been stronger in rejecting them than merely to say that the concept of "rights" was "obfuscating and unfruitful". Perhaps I should have said that the concept is invalid and positively harmful. However, it is hard to say that on the one hand and to acknowledge on the other hand that "rights" have served a useful purpose in the history of man's evolving liberty. In addition, I am trying to "gently" introduce the reader to a new and radical way of thinking.

The fact that I may "need" something carries no normative force whatsoever, regardless of how fundamental this "need" may be.

If a "need" is so fundamental in a social context that all others are impossible without its satisfaction and if the "need" is enshrined in a contract with other individuals as an "entitlement" from them, then such a need does have a normative or rule prescribing character. This is precisely what is accomplished by the Natural Social Contract.

There must be a logical bridge between the factual Is of a need and the normative claim that this need Ought to be respected by others. This is why a justification of rights is so crucially important to any defense of a free society.

As I stated before, the context of human social interaction organized to compossibly maximize the lifetime happiness of all by means of executing a social contract, is the "logical bridge" between "is" and "ought". And once again, since rights do not exist in reality, no justification of them is possible.
Your argument for "rights" appears to take the tautological form: "one needs rights for any social system because one cannot do without having rights". Please read my Natural Social Contract to see a comprehensive system without the concept of "rights" as moral claims (or any interpersonal moral claims for that matter.

Let us return to the possibility that you might wish to use "self-sovereignty" in a purely descriptive sense, e.g., to indicate the fact that individuals are ultimately responsible for their own decisions and happiness. (Even here I would point out that the term "responsible" is fraught with normative overtones; it usually means morally responsible, in which case it cannot be used in a purely descriptive formulation of self-sovereignty.)

Once again I stress that I am describing the facts of human nature and the structural rules that they imply. This is exactly similar to the manner in which the rules that matter obeys follow from the facts of reality. The "ought" of my system is no different than the "ought" of a beam not having too much load placed on it or it will break. So an individual must obey certain rules of behavior or his lifetime happiness will not be maximized. As for "responsibility", with respect to the individual himself I am merely describing the fact of reality: that one is ultimately solely responsible for oneself. I always use the word "responsible" with its definition of: "accountable, as for something within one's power; chargeable with being the source or occasion of something; able to discharge obligations or pay debts". With respect to one's actions that affect others, the Natural Social Contract does enforce a voluntarily accepted normative character of responsibility upon its executors. However, that responsibility is merely an extension of one's ultimate responsibility for one's own happiness.

Very well -- suppose a gun-brandishing thief approaches you and says, "Your money or your life." Now, according to a mode of analysis that is very popular among anti-libertarian philosophers, this thief has not literally "forced" you to do anything; e.g., he has not wrestled you to the ground and forcibly taken your wallet. What he has done (according to this line of argument) is to present you with two alternatives from which you may choose: You can surrender your money, or you can take your chances with the thief.

I fully accept this interpretation. However, technically you are describing an act of "extortion", not "theft". The extortionist has simply altered your evaluation of your possible actions (freedom), which alteration will necessarily lead to a different decision evaluation than what would have been the situation before the actions of the extortionist took place.

Thus, you still have a choice -- and if we strictly interpret the descriptive sense of self-ownership, according to which you are ultimately responsible for your own choices, then you are responsible if you choose to surrender your money.

Depending on whose property the action took place, you are still fully responsible in the following ways:
1) you have made a mistake by allowing the action of the extortion to occur (either by not sufficiently making yourself and your property impregnable or by placing too much trust in the obligation of another person for that protection when you are on his property.
2) you will take the necessary steps to obtain full restitution from either the extortionist or from anyone who is contractually responsible for your protection on his property.
In either case, you are fully responsible for the loss of your money and the possibility that it will not be returned. Again, I must ask: "who else is there to be responsible in any practical meaningful fashion?" It makes no more sense to say the extortionist is responsible for your restitution (unless he has signed the Natural Social Contract), than to say that I am responsible for your welfare. If he had agreed to such responsibility ahead of time, then it is highly unlikely that he would have acted as he did (an exception is lifeboat situations). As with anyone, all that the extortionist is responsible for, is the effects of his own actions on himself. If there is no other contractually responsible agent, then only if you (or your agent) act to make the extortionist restitute you will those effects result in restitution to you. Thus, only your action (or that or your agent) to make the extortionist restitute you can actually make him responsible for that restitution. Of course, if you are well trained in self-defense (or have such a defense agent handy), then you could also have threatened or used force to stop the extortionist's action, and then he would also have been responsible for that result (and you also, of course).

Suppose you refuse to surrender your money and get shot as a result. Even here the undesirable consequence would result from your choice. The thief gave you fair warning, after all.

This would always be a foolish action, unless you had good reason to think that you would never be able to recover the money, the amount of money was crucial to your lifetime happiness, and/or you were quite certain of being able to overcome the extortionist without getting shot. Thus, unless you think that any wound is unlikely to be of great loss relative to the money and/or perhaps that getting shot will make the extortionist leave, getting shot should always be the result of a mistaken evaluation. This is because, except in the latter case, once you are shot the extortionist will generally still take the money anyway. But yes, getting shot is still a result of your choice under the reduced conditions of freedom that the act of the extortionist has caused. The only difference between this event and that of any other decision not involving another human (say being accosted by a wild animal) is that with another human there is always the possibility to get restitution from him. That is precisely the advantage of dealing with humans.

If this analysis sounds sophistical (and I agree that it does), this is because it omits all references to moral considerations, specifically, it takes no account or your rights vis--vis the thief.

I don't think it is sophistical at all. I think it is correct, but does not go far enough to completion as I have now done. Recall that Ayn Rand's definition of a "moral" act for an individual is any act which is in his rational self-interest. This a purely descriptive definition of "moral". It is only normative if one also accepts as axiomatic that an individual ought to always do what is in his own rational self-interest. However, that implication only makes sense if the life-purpose of the individual is to be happy. This is precisely the basis of my system which basis I consider to be completely consistent with Rand's. Her mistake was in making unwarranted derivations (particularly rights and minimal government) from her basic premises.

The point here pertains to what I said above about your use of the word "violation." On a purely descriptive level, the gun-brandishing thief has not "violated" anything.

In the sense of breaking the practical rules of human interaction he has "violated". When he is forced to fully restitute for his actions, he will see that those actions were not in accord with what is necessary to maximize his lifetime happiness. That is the sense in which he has violated reality itself! In addition, his action may have violated the contractual rules of behavior for the use of the property on which his action took place. That is why such examples must always be placed in the context of private property.

He has simply presented you with a set of alternatives, after which you make a choice. There is no "violation" here, if we omit all references to rights, because what has been "violated" is your right to your own money and your right not to have force initiated against you. Hence, as soon as you talk about any "violation" of self-sovereignty or self-ownership, you have necessarily introduced the juridical concept of "a right."

As my system demonstrates, this view is false. No Platonic concept of a right is necessary in order to understand why breaking the optimal rules of human interaction or the contractual rules regarding the use of someone's property will lead to undesired consequences for the breaker. Again this is not different in kind than understanding why taking the wrong path in the wild can lead to harm befalling one, or planting crops on dry soil does not create a good harvest.

(This is seen quite clearly if one imagines someone being attacked by a tiger, shouting out "I have a right to life!" in an attempt to stop the tiger's attack! Instead what the person has is a need to figure out how to prevent tigers from attacking him.)

There is a huge difference between dealing with tigers and dealing with rational agents.

Once again consider a thought experiment where there exists on Earth all stages of evolution between inanimate matter and humans. Then please tell me exactly where this "huge difference" would come into effect? I maintain that this thought experiment proves that such a difference is not so huge at all. Moreover, even among humans there exist all levels of rationality. Furthermore, when you are dealing with a thief or other violator of the necessary rules of human interaction, I submit that you not dealing with a rational agent at all!

As a practical matter, many people do adjust their actions according to their conceptions of right and wrong, and many people would be reluctant to do something which they viewed as violating the rights of another person. Such motivational considerations are not relevant to tigers.

No. Even tigers can learn to avoid bothering humans so they don't get shot. And as moral considerations, these actions (which you view as related to rights) have exactly the same basic purpose as avoiding getting shot, robbed or eaten by tigers - the best chance to maximize one's lifetime happiness (again think of Rand's definition of "moral").

(Btw, you won't get very far by appealing to the tiger's self-interest either -- and he certainly won't be interested in any "examples" you set -- so your hypothetical works as much against your position as it does against a proponent of rights.)

Not really, since I was not going to suggest appealing to the tiger's self interest any more than I would suggest appealing to that of an extortionist at the moment of his action against me (although if communication is possible, the extortionist may still have sufficient rational capacity for such an appeal to work). I only used the scenario of the tiger as an example of the vacuousness of the rights concept. As I have stated before, the major difference between the tiger and the incorrigible extortionist is that it is more possible to get restitution from the extortionist.

Instead, I need to set an example by unilaterally declaring that it is my most sincere "desire" that others not be harmed and my sincerest intention not be the effective cause of any harm to them, and furthermore, that if I should ever be such an effective cause of harm then I will be "fully responsible" for complete restitution to those who I have harmed, to the best of my ability as determined by them.

This is all well and good (except for the part about restitution being determined by the aggrieved party), but many people in this world couldn't care less about the example you set.

The setting of an example is not short-range (to stop anyone directly), but is long-range (to ultimately convince many people to join with me in accepting the same approach to optimal human interaction). How to deal with those who don't sign the Natural Social Contract and with unintentional harm caused by those who do is detailed in the NSC. At this point I need to remind you that the whole purpose of the Self-Sovereign Individual Project is not to institute a system which will work in the here and now for the entire strata of human society, but instead to gather together and educate a number of individuals who will become the core of a growing and evolving free society. I have no interest in trying to fix the present system which I am convinced is not repairable in any stable fashion.

So will a rights-claim stop them? No, probably not -- but the basic function of a theory of rights is to ascertain who acted justly and unjustly in a given situation. The issue of restitution will not even arise, unless it is first determined that an injustice has occurred -- and this is something that can only be judged by a standard of a rights.

No. The only real effects of any action (the only things which exist in reality) are the harm and benefit (reduced and increased happiness levels) to the involved parties which results from the action. In the Natural Social Contract, whether the reduction in harm was intentional or not also plays a significant role with respect to violation of the NSC itself (search for "intent" and see section E. Any notion of "justice" is secondary to these considerations (if not completely arbitrary, vacuous and non-existent). There is no standard for harm/benefit in the sense that the same event will cause the same harm/benefit to different people. Restitution only has relevance to the harm which results from the event which effected it, no matter what the intention of the one who was the effective cause of that event. Basically, I reject any notion of an existent called "justice" for the exact same reasons that I reject rights as existing.

You speak of those you may have "harmed." All attempts to substitute a "harm principle" for a "rights principle" (see especially J.S. Mill's in On Liberty, which presents an extensive case for precisely this) have proved absolutely disastrous for libertarian theory.

JS Mill was a thorough going collectivist and justifier of oppression against all but so-called "civilized" societies of humans. His notion of harm was totally inconsistent with methodological individualism. Here is a quote to show this:

"Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism."

My definition of harm bears no similarity to that of JS Mill. Just because such attempts have failed before does not mean that they cannot succeed when constituted very differently as I have done. Again, see my Natural Social Contract, which does define "culpable harm" quite objectively as being strictly physical and not psychological.

Rights can be clearly and objectively defined; 'harms" (which include a wide range of psychological reactions) cannot.

I don't agree that "rights" can be "clearly and objectively defined" any more than "harms" can. They also have ultimately failed to convince anyone but the relatively small number of libertarian intellectuals.

Of course, you will probably claim that you have specified the relevant "harms." But so what? There are many kinds of harm other than those you specify, and if "harms" per se are actionable (i.e., a proper cause for restitution), then you must be able to draw a bright line between "harms" that are actionable versus those that are not. In other words, you must argue that people don't have a right to inflict certain kinds of "harm." Either that, or you must concede that every kind of "harm" (e.g., "You hurt my feelings"; "Your language offended me") deserves restitution.

Again it is clear that I should not have consulted you until the NSC was complete, wherein a general definition is given for culpable (actionable) harm and all other restitutable violations. In the NSC, I clearly distinguish between the kinds of harms which are culpable and those which are not and yes, the culpable harms do not include any forms of psychological harm, since the last effective agent for these is the harmed person himself. But no, I do not argue this by invoking any such concept as a "right".

It would be even better if I could state: "I will never harm you", but this would quickly be seen as a blatant lie, because not only is there always the possibility that such harm will occur accidentally, but there are even situations (generally termed "lifeboat" situations) where that statement would be directly and clearly contrary to the sustaining of my life, without which no promotion of my happiness is even possible.

You could avoid all this confusion by stating instead that you will never intentionally violate the rights of another person. This appears to be what you mean in any case, and it would be far better if you avoided the ambiguous word "harm," which is highly subjective.

No. If I am starving in a wasteland and must violate someone's food cache property to save my life, I will intentionally do so. This is one of the "lifeboat" situations which "rights" theory cannot consistently handle and my system can. In my system, I do use the food cache to save my life, but I am fully responsible for any effects that such use causes (which might even include the owner's death). Of course, I would hope to be not so unlucky as to cause a major harm and that the owner will be satisfied with the simple replacement of the cache. Again, see my NSC where I have defined culpable harm in a fully unambiguous fashion.

In such "lifeboat" situations, I probably will violate another person in order to save my own life and such violation is even a correct action for me so long as I am also prepared to accept the potential restitutional result.

Again, how is it possible to "violate" a person?. You obviously mean this in a moral sense, in which case you need a theory of rights to ascertain what does, and does not, constitute a "violation."

No. See the NSC for a full definition of "violate". "Violate" is only (but usually) an immoral action in that it is not (normally) in one's rational best interest to do it. Ie. what one does in a "lifeboat" situation is to "break" the rules of acceptable human behavior in order to save one's life because no happiness at all is possible without life. That does constitute a violation and, as with all violations, it has to be restituted.

Thus, I do all that I can honestly do, by declaring my earnest desire and intention not to harm, and to restitute to the best of my ability as determined by the one harmed, if I ever should harm someone. Therefore, I have not phrased the DOII in terms of "rights", nor is this idea found in the Natural Social Contract [in progress].

This is a very serious mistake, for reasons I have indicated.

It is the basis of my whole system. After reading the NSC, please describe to me why it is still a "serious mistake". As far as I can see from their dismal failure in the modern world, concepts of rights and justice are an already demonstrated "serious mistake". My alternative system with the same basis and achieving many of the same cherished results should, at least, be given study, critical thought and a chance to prove itself.

Although it may grate on most pro-liberty advocates, instead of "rights", what humans really have, are social or meta "needs"! But these are not any kind of "claim" on anyone else, so long as they are kept to those which are fully compossible (can be consistently, mutually sustained). The social needs of people are exactly and only those which allow them to best perform to provide benefits for themselves. Because they are compossible, the free exchange of goods and services between people, given these social needs, cannot detract from the same needs for others.

It doesn't "grate" on me if you don't care to use a rights theory, so long as can devise a satisfactory substitute for your defense of freedom. But you have not done this. What you have done instead is to employ a theory of rights (self-sovereignty, self-ownership, violations, etc.) while repudiating nothing more than the label of "rights."

Only in your mind have I done this, not in the necessary meanings of the words I have used. I have devised "a satisfactory substitute" for the defense of liberty (not freedom) and the aggrandizement of freedom. However, this is within the Natural Social Contract which unfortunately you had not read (and still have not as far as I know, even though I have informed you that it is now online - see below). Still, after reviewing my usage of some of these words which you maintain are essentially normative in character, I have replaced some of them with other phrasings which clearly have no normative connotations, and I have explained others more carefully to make it clear that I do not mean the word to convey any of its normative character.


The following email is the final one sent by Paul to libertarian writer George H Smith as part of a written critical exchange arranged with him in the summer of 2003 as a paid critique service for the purpose of obtaining some logical analysis of the philosophical basis of the Self-Sovereign Individual Project by a knowledgeable libertarian thinker. No response was received to this email which preceded the inline comments made to George's critiques in sections: 5, 6, 7, and 8. As stated in the email from Paul below, notification of these comments is being made to George with the uploading of these files.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Parts 3,4,5,6
Date: Sat, 13 Sep 2003 19:43:24 -0400
From: Paul Wakfer
To: George H. Smith

George,

I did not reply sooner because I was working to complete and upload my
first draft of the Natural Social Contract (NSC). It is a highly complex
contract which is itself over 80k in length and the annotated version
with explanations is over 250k. If you are interested, you can find it
via: http://selfsip.org/solutions

I want to thank you for your recent input. This was much more useful to
me than your previous input. I now am content that I have received
sufficient value for my money spent. This is especially true because I
realized that without the completed NSC you were under a large handicap
in trying to understand what I was getting at. Even so, I had hoped that
you would try harder to think outside the box a bit, rather than to
cling to the ideas that you have received from the past. OTOH, I should
have known that since I am an unknown, anything radically different that
I said would be almost automatically rejected. As is well known in
science, paradigm shifting results require a much higher level of proof
than do results which merely add to or tweak the existing body of
knowledge and are completely consistent with it. Of course this is the
very reason why I had wanted a *dialogue* with you - something which I
never did get (and cannot do in spoken form). I knew that I would need
to explain many things more fully, but until you gave me some feedback I
could not know exactly which things nor which exact parts were a
problem, nor exactly what was the nature of the problem. That is why a
dialogue is so essential. One can narrow down or circle into the essence
of the difference very quickly. Alas, this never happened. Perhaps it
may still some time in the future.

I was well aware of most of the criticisms that you wrote. I know quite
well how many others have thought, and how many still think, and how
radically I differ. However, looking at the current mess of the world of
humans and its inability to make practical use of the system which
natural rights philosophy has provided; looking at the centuries old
bickering and general philosophical non-acceptance of historical freedom
philosophy ideas; examining those ideas and seeing that they are rife
with inconsistencies and conflicting "rights"; being convinced of Rand's
dictum that there are no conflict's between the interests of rational
men; and knowing that the essence of the human species is its rational
faculty, over 20 years ago I began to realize that the very foundational
ideas of a natural rights based philosophy are false and that the quest
for a society with optimal freedom and liberty (and yes I do make a
major distinction between the two) must be based on something much more
fundamental. Actually, Rand already had the essentially correct basis.
As you yourself have pointed out, she simply did not carry it through
consistently to a correct solution in the political realm. However, your
and other's analysis of Rand's errors in this regard have completely
missed the fact that the essential reason her political system was not
correct was that it was inconsistent with her foundations of the proper
basis and purpose of human action. It was thinking that a system of
natural rights was the logical conclusion of her individualist human
rational selfishness ethics, which was incorrect. My system is basically
an attempt to found even more strongly and fully, her ethics of rational
serf-interest and to correct and complete its implications for human
social relationships.

However, although your criticisms did not tell me anything new, and they
therefore did not dissuade me from being steadfast in my knowledge that
my system is far more valid for humans and for reality than previous
ones, your criticism were highly valuable to show me just where I will
be rebuked by many freedom philosophers who are set in their knowledge
as received from the historical writings in that area. It is in these
areas that I will need to write major amplifying essays to make more
persuasive and complete arguments for my ideas.

In addition, you did also point out a few bad word usages, poorly
explained areas, etc. which I have altered as a consequence. And I thank
you for that.

Since you appear to have little interest in any response to your
critical analysis of my ideas, I will not bother to send you replies to
these parts as I did the first two.

Since I have purchased this analysis from you, I will be placing it in
its entirety without editing, and my replies to it in the Freedom
Dialogues section of the SelfSIP website. This will not happen until
some time in October. When they are uploaded, I will let you know and
you will be welcome to make any additional comments that you wish to
also appear in the same section.

--Paul Wakfer

MoreLife for the rational - http://morelife.org
Reality based tools for more life in quantity and quality
The Self-Sovereign Individual Project - http://selfsip.org
Rational freedom by self-sovereignty & social contracting



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