Jun 292010

I hadn’t intended to make any public comment about the NYC mosque issue, primarily because I’ve been busy working on a couple more health care articles, as well as helping edit another friend’s article.

But given the recent outbreak of often-heated arguments between Objectivists in the blogosphere and in social media (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) over this issue, I decided to take a break from my other work and speak my mind now — before OCON 2010, when many of us will be seeing each other in person.

1) For the record, I agree with Diana’s position as articulated in her blog posts of June 16 and June 28 and the position taken by Steve Simpson in his guest post of June 24. I also agree with these comments posted by Tony Donadio and Ray Niles (aka “Galileo Blogs”).

(As a corollary, this means that I although I have tremendous respect for Dr. Peikoff as a philosopher and although I agree with much of what he said in his recent podcast on this topic, I must respectfully disagree with his conclusions about the proper actions the government should take towards the proposed NYC mosque in the current context.)

2) This isn’t the first time that Objectivists who agree on basic principles disagree sharply on how to properly apply those principles to specific concrete situations. Nor will it be the last time.

This particular dispute happens to be especially heated precisely because it concerns an issue of vital importance to all of us — namely the future (and quite possibly the very survival) of our great country.

3) I want to highlight the fact that the reason that many Objectivists who otherwise agree on many important issues are finding themselves at loggerheads on this particular issue is because it is a lose-lose question.

Objectivists generally agree that Americans are being threatened by Islamic Totalitarian ideologues who seek to destroy the US. And we agree that the proper response would be for our government to identify that threat and wage a proper war with the goal of defeating and destroying the enemy.

That’s the proper function of government — to protect our individual rights from aggressors abroad and from criminals at home. One of Ayn Rand’s many brilliant philosophical insights was that human survival in a social context requires a limited government which protects individual rights, specifically by placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control.

Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of government right now. Instead, we live under a government that refuses to properly identify the enemy, refuses to wage a proper war of self-defense, and refuses to protect our individual rights.

Given that unfortunate fact, we are left with no good life-promoting options — only bad death-promoting choices.

On one side are those who argue that allowing the NYC mosque to be built would further weaken the few remaining restraints stopping the bad guys from killing us — and the result would be our destruction.

On the other hand are those who argue that stopping the building of the mosque by allowing the government to exercise force in a grossly non-objective fashion would further weaken the few remaining restraints keeping us from descending into tyranny — and the result would be our destruction.

Both sides raise important concerns, particularly about the dangers of adopting the course endorsed by their opponents. That’s precisely what happens when the only good option (of waging a proper war against our enemies) has been taken off the table. Once that happens, all we are left with are bad options.

In essence, when Good Option A has been taken off the table, and we are left only with Bad Options B and C, supporters of Option B can justifiably claim that “Option C will lead to our destruction” and supporters of Option C justifiably claim that “Option B will lead to our destruction”.

Because long-range human survival requires a government that protects our rights through objectively controlled retaliatory force, the corollary is that absence of such a government will lead to our deaths and destruction. The only question is what form that death will that take — from enemies abroad or from a tyranny at home. And that’s why too much of this debate is over a lose-lose question.

4) I believe there can be legitimate disagreements as to which of those two bad options would be more immediately disastrous.

Similarly, I believe there can be legitimate debates over a variety of related issues such as whether we have enough information to know that the NYC mosque constitutes an objectively-proven threat to our lives, and how imminent that threat is. Those arguments are already occurring in other venues, so I won’t rehash the details here.

My personal judgment, based on my best understanding of the facts and relevant principles, is that the long-range threat to American freedoms and American lives would be significantly greater if the government further violated basic principles of objective law and chose to destroy the mosque.

I’m not ignorant or unmindful of the concerns of the other side. But in the current context, I judge that the danger of rapidly accelerating tyranny would outweigh the real (but not quite as imminent) danger of death and destruction from the bad guys.

I also recognize that if some of the specifics were different (for instance, if the Iranian government were using the mosque to hide a nuclear weapon which would detonate in NYC in a few days), then I would take the opposite position and instead urge the immediate destruction of the mosque, while hoping to best deal with the problems of expansion of tyranny later.

These are the sorts of issues that make for good dramas like the television show 24 (and which I hope stay purely in the world of Hollywood fiction.)

Likewise, I would endorse shutting down the mosque via appropriate due process if it were shown to be used to recruit terrorists or plot terrorist acts. Or if we established with reasonable certainty that the funding of the mosque was coming from states that sponsor terrorism (not Qatar).

5) I’m not an expert on foreign policy or Islam. Most of my recent intellectual activism has been in other arenas, such as health care and free speech. So I’m open to reasoned criticisms that I’m wrong on some important relevant facts.

Likewise, I’m not a philosopher or an expert on Objectivism. Hence, I’m open to reasoned criticisms that I’m misunderstanding or misapplying the relevant principles of Objectivism to this particular concrete issue.

To quote from Galt’s speech, “When I disagree with a rational man, I let reality be our final arbiter; if I am right, he will learn; if I am wrong, I will; one of us will win, but both will profit.”

Hence, I’m willing to be held fully accountable for my views by other rational men — and judged accordingly.

In turn, my own self-interest demands that I judge those on both sides of the debate considering the full context of their words and actions, not just now but over the entirety of time I’ve known them.

I know, like, and respect people on both sides of this dispute. And I regard many of the people on the other side of this debate as fundamentally good people, even though I may think that their position on this issue is deeply wrong (and correspondingly harmful to my interests). But they’ve earned the right to be treated with respect. And I hope that they will afford me whatever corresponding degree of respect that I may have earned in their eyes.

6) Finally, I don’t plan on engaging in much more (if any) public discussion on this particular issue — I have too much other pressing work that takes higher priority for me.

But given that I will see many of you soon at OCON 2010 and that I will also run into many of you in various online venues, I wanted to state my views as clearly and unambiguously as possible now in order to minimize any possible future misunderstandings.

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