Reason as the Leading Motive

Debate: Is America Obligated to Provide Foreign Aid

Posted by Jerry on January 17, 2006

So I attended last night’s debate at the University of Chicago between Dr. Yaron Brook from the Ayn Rand Institute and Dr. Dan Slater, assistant professor at the Uni. Of Chicago.

So let me first begin by saying, both debaters were HOT! 🙂 Dr. Slater is a surprisingly young, attractive, man with the most perfect set of white teeth I’ve ever seen. And then, Dr. Yaron Brook – despite him being older than Dr. Slater, was certainly a very attractive man himself! And coupled with his incredibly sharp intellect, a deep sexy voice, and a strangely funny accent made all the more so irresistible. 🙂

Anyway, getting down to the important matters. The topic of last nights debate was “America should NOT be obligated to provide foreign aid”. Of course, Dr. Yaron Brook was the proposition and Dr. Slater presented the opposition side.

Due to a strange debate format, after the main speakers presented their sides, the debate floor was opened briefly to audience members who could present up to 3 minutes for or against each position. It was during this period that I witnessed a sadly disappointing and very embarrassing display of “pro-Objectivists” individuals who zealously took the stage to present their argument (if you can call it that). While the opposition speakers could be dismissed easily as being subjectivists, holding internally inconsistent positions, appealing to random whims and emotions, the pro-Objectivists were far worse, in that they spouted obediently memorized “Objectivist” phrases like “human dignity”, generated floating ideals that they clearly had no rational understanding of why they held them, and presented dogmatic, half-baked arguments that did nothing but harm Dr. Brook’s presentation.

After that debacle of audience participation, Dr. Brook got up to the podium and seemed daunted by the task of not only having to respond to the opposition but also undo the damage done by the “Objectivist” audience speakers.

I loved Dr. Brook’s clear and precise tone. There was no doubt that he had an incredible depth of understanding the issues being discussed. I was simply amazed at the breadth and expansiveness of Dr. Brook’s knowledge in global economic and political history.

Throughout the debate, Dr. Dan Slater undertook great pains to remind the audience that his expertise was not in philosophy or even economics. He desperately wanted to place the debate on “practical” grounds and discuss “practical” solutions.

I thought to myself, if Dr. Yaron Brook, who is a professor of Finance and has his expertise in economics, can still coherently, comprehensively, and persuasively give a strong philosophic foundation for holding his eco-political positions, then why can I not expect or demand the same from Dr. Slater? It is strange how Dr. Slater’s academic training has disposed his intellectual capabilities into such a narrow scope that his thinking skills are stunted in the areas he believes are not directly related to his chosen field. One must wonder how such isolated bits of knowledge and narrow expertise can ever be held validly and be accepted as enough criterion to be labeled an “intellectual”.

Anyway, the debate got really exciting and tense as Dr. Brook spelled out exactly all the practical implications of an objectively ethical and moral foreign policy. I thought the best moment in the debate came when a student asked Dr. Brook if he would demand his $5 back that was taken by the government to cure the whooping cough of a little child in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Brook responded, in his typically consistent fashion, “Yes. I would”. His argument in effect was that how could anyone point a gun to his head and extort his money without his permission, regardless of the reason? He asked, what if he needed that $5 for his own son who had whooping cough? Today you demand $5, what would stop you from demanding $10 tomorrow? Why not demand half of the paycheck to cure the malaria of dying children in Africa? Where does it stop? Who stops it?

Dr. Slater responded to this “slippery slope” argument by claiming that it is among his most hated arguments in a debate. Dr. Slater wanted to argue that in the real, practical world, there isn’t any “slippery slope”, that this concept is an invention of thinkers for argumentation and reflect nothing in reality. Dr. Yaron Brooks came back with a robust explication of real and concrete examples of where the “slippery slope” was clearly in effect.

Another criticism Dr. Slater leveled against Dr. Brook was that he was being “utopian”, “idealistic”, “impractical”. Sadly, I felt that Dr. Brook never directly and explicitly responded to those charges, even though I must point out that the bulk of his arguments were concrete examples from a sound knowledge of geo-political history, littered with dates, statistics, and events, and concrete scenarios of eco-political consequences of ideologies. However, because Dr. Brook prefaced these concrete examples with a philosophical foundation, I think the audience and Dr. Slater were able to cunningly dismiss him as being “philosophical” and not “real”. I wished that Dr. Brook had stated explicitly that the practical certainly flows from the philosophical, and that a dichotomy between the two is false and dishonest.

During the Q&A session, I decided that someone ought to challenge Dr. Slater’s insistence on practicality. I spoke up to point out the fact that despite Dr. Slater’s own admission that the current practicalities are inefficient, corrupt, and somewhat immoral, what makes him have so much faith in the status quo as an evil that is necessary nonetheless. I asked him, how did he decide what is practical from what is not practical as a solution? If he eschewed principles as too abstract for this discussion, I demanded to know on what authority was he basing his ‘practical’ approach? And who got to decide what is practical for everyone else? I alluded to the fact that his so-called non-philosophical stance was in fact certainly settled upon randomly held abstract principles. His responses were incoherent and generally dismissive, as if that were something remote from the topic at discussion, and he did not want to get into that.

Another important realization I came upon during this debate was that there was a clear discord of accepted terminologies in the audience. I realized that Objectivism has a radically unique, and I believe accurate, understanding of certain terms that non-Objectivists are oblivious to. And so, at this debate forum with considerably more non-Objectivists, Dr. Brook may have lost his audience to naïve confusions about terms like ‘value-systems’, ‘rational’, and ‘self-interest’. Many of the opposition arguments ran with their misunderstood terminologies to attack the proposition’s arguments. I think they equaled ‘rational’ with ‘rationalization’, ‘self-interest’ with ‘hedonism’, and ‘value-system’ with subjective ‘whim-worship’. Of course, this is no fault of Dr. Brook. In the allotted time and strange debate format that he had to work with, Dr. Brook could not solidly explicate the meanings of his terms and concepts at the outset of the debate.

In the end, it didn’t seem too clear which side won the debate. In my opinion, Dr. Brook’s argument was seriously undermined by the young, over-zealous, pro-Objectivist individuals who could not coherently present their case. Yet, regardless of who “won” the debate, I thought it was an exciting and incredibly stimulating event. I was surprised by the large crowd it drew (and I was especially pleased to notice many young and attractive men in the audience) 🙂



12 Responses to “Debate: Is America Obligated to Provide Foreign Aid”

  1. Semperviva said

    What do you think of the pictures? also, i am goig to DC this weekend!! WOOHOOO and hopefully sleeping over with my cousin who lives in an apartment on constitution! 😀 either that or my other cousin’s who goes to catholic U… either way it will be fun

  2. Ergosum, excellent summary. Yes, that was Marsha you were speaking with. Well, next time I will recognize you. I think I will point other people to this summary, as a matter of fact.

  3. Anonymous said

    “I must point out that the bulk of his arguments were concrete examples from a sound knowledge of geo-political history, littered with dates, statistics, and events, and concrete scenarios of eco-political consequences of ideologies. However, because Dr. Brook prefaced these concrete examples with a philosophical foundation, I think the audience and Dr. Slater were able to cunningly dismiss him as being “philosophical” and not “real”.”

    i have no reccolection of the specificity you attribute to mr. brook’s argument.

  4. Ergo Sum said

    Well, Anonymous, I sympathize with you on your lack of good memory.

  5. innommable said

    Oh this sounds so cool. I’ve read a bit about Yaron Brook because I use to get the newsletters from the ARI website.

  6. Thanks for a very interesting and (certainly as far as I can tell, based on only secondhand accounts) fair summary of the event, Ergosum. As an Objectivist who has hosted on-campus events before and been involved with the philosophy for some time, I can certainly sympathize with your frustration at both the dismissals of Objectivists and the sabotage perpetrated by “pro-Objectivists” mouthing slogans rather than helping to move a debate or discussion forward.

    I thought your remark about Brook’s (and Objectivism’s) accurate understanding of certain terms was very interesting–the usual take I hear is, “everyone thinks this is what self-interest, rational, etc. mean, so that must *be* what they mean.” At any rate, if you’re interested in more discussion about Objectivism, I invite you to set up an account on http://www.solopassion.com, a website that I edit. We’re always delighted to meet intelligent and respectful ideological opponents and sparring partners such as yourself.

    Best regards,
    Andrew Bissell

  7. Well, I badly misread John’s summary. I thought the “Truman Democrat” he was referring to was you, hahaha! At any rate, thanks again for the summary, and please do stop by SOLO sometime.

  8. Ergo Sum said

    Thanks for the invitation to register on your site. I did briefly peruse through some of the materials on there, and honestly I must say it’s a mess.

    I appreciate your compliments and your intentions, but I’d prefer not to partake in the kinds of discussions happening on Solopassion.

    You’re certainly welcome to visit my blog and post your opinions here.

  9. No debate. The answer is no. No obligation to provide foreign aid.

    Is is (would it be) good foreign policy? Yes.

    Now I’ll go back and read your post, in addition to the comments thereto. Or somesuch.

  10. Aethlos said

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