Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Tortoise and the Hare

In the fable of the tortoise and the hare, the hare is overconfident of his superior speed and lazes while the tortoise methodically moves toward his goal. In the end, the consistency of the tortoise proves victorious.

Those who would violate our property rights have taken the approach of the tortoise. They have moved slowly, but methodically to gradually remove our freedoms. On occasion they have tried the hare approach—such as instituting zoning—but this has been repeatedly defeated. While they lick their wounds, zoning advocates continue to press forward with their agenda.

As a small sampling of Houston ordinances that violate property rights:
  • Smoking ordinance
  • Sexually oriented business ordinance
  • Landscaping ordinance
  • Preservation ordinance
  • Sign ordinance

Each of these ordinances is an infringement on the property rights of business owners and property owners. Each imposes restrictions or prescriptions on the property owner, who was not violating the rights of anyone.

This slow encroachment of our property rights illustrates the dichotomy both Houstonians and Americans try to live by. While paying lip service to political freedom (including property rights) they reject the moral basis of freedom.

Freedom is founded on the ethics of rational self-interest—the moral right of each individual to pursue his values without interference from others, so long as he respects their mutual right to do so.

Most Houstonians and Americans embrace rational self-interest implicitly. They seek to make more money, advance in their career, buy a bigger home, send their children to good schools, take nice vacations, etc. These values bring pleasure to them and enhance their enjoyment of life.

At the same time, they worry about others—the poor, the homeless, the uninsured, etc. Someone, they declare, must do something. It seldom occurs to them that the someone could be the poor, the homeless, and the uninsured. It seldom occurs to them that the something is taking responsibility for one’s own life and happiness.

Helping the “less fortunate” has become their measure of self-worth. They regard helping others as the standard of morality. And those who refuse to “voluntarily” help others may properly be forced to do so.

There is nothing wrong with helping others, so long as one has the means to do so and one does so in the support of one’s values. But to help anyone at a cost to oneself and one’s values is a sacrifice, and there is nothing noble in self-sacrifice. Yet self-sacrifice is what our leaders would have us embrace.

Self-sacrifice underlies every attempt to violate the rights of individuals. We are told that we must sacrifice for the “common good” or the “public welfare”. We are told that the collective good supersedes the good of any individual. This idea is wrong, it is immoral, and it must be rejected.

This idea—putting others before oneself—has permeated America since the first colonists arrived. Its influence has ebbed and flowed, but it has remained a constant.

Until self-sacrifice is rejected we will continue to witness the slow erosion of our freedoms. Until rational self-interest is embraced we will have no moral defense against the tortoises who seek to regulate our property and our lives.

© J. Brian Phillips 2008

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