The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Why I Fight for the Rights of Others

I am not a woman, but I support the rights of women.

I am not trans but I support the rights of trans individuals.

I am not an immigrant but fight for the rights of immigrants.

I don’t drink but have written in favor of more freedom for others to imbibe.

I have never used “illegal” drugs but have fought against the war on drugs as destructive to the rights of millions of people.

Now and then I get to fight for rights that directly impact my life, but not as often as you’d think.

Even the right to marry, I fear, came too late for me. Yet I fought for it.

So, why do I spend so much time fighting for the rights of others? In a nutshell, it is because I am to selfish to do otherwise.

First, I directly benefit from the freedom of others to engage in activities which I myself am not able to do. For instance, I can’t make a computer but I benefit when others do. I don’t grow crops but benefit when others do. The rights and welfare of others directly makes me better off.

My rights are more secure when the rights of others are protected. I’m enough of an Objectivist to think human rights are not contradictory, there is a harmony of the rights of all. Rights aren’t a pie, any more than prosperity is. Respect for the rights of others make all our rights more secure, the increased prosperity of others makes us all better off. The zero-sum mentality that infects the oaf in the Oval Office is a pernicious lie.

I also think what Rand called selfishness is a good thing, it is’t what most people mean when they use the term, and it is almost never meant the way people think Rand meant it. She talked about altruism in the proper, philosophical sense, which most people don’t understand — apparently even some very bright people.

I have twice listened to a discussion with Deirdre McCloskey, for whom I have a great deal of respect, and twice I’ve turned it off when she says the same silly thing about the “Ayn Rand problem” which she then defines by using a gross, distortion of what Randv actually said. I know Ms McCloseky is a very smart lady but I can’t help but think she hasn’t really read Rand, or she wouldn’t mangle her ethics as badly as she does.

Selfishness, properly understood, does not mean trampling on others or taking no concern in the well-being of those around you. Rand explicitly said so, and even said things like “this is not what I mean” and then goes on to say don’t assume she is saying, X, Y or Z. Then her critics turn around and accuse her of saying X, Y and Z.

It is frustrating. It is also one reason I suspect that critics of any thinker are the worse source of accurate information. You’d never actually understand what socialism is, or why it’s really a bad idea, if you listened to the stupidity of conservatives calling everything they don’t like “socialism.”

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.