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Controlling the Media

Posted by Jerry on March 21, 2008

Dr. Yaron Brooke has an excellent article–I mean a remarkably clarifying, coherent, logical, and lucid article–on Forbes.com entitled “War on Free Political Speech.

Following Ayn Rand, Dr. Brook exhorts those who assume that in a free society, the rich will mostly be in control of all the media, and that presidential races will be funded by the extremely rich people who will promote their pet candidates through all means available, to “check their premises.”

Here’s just a hint:

“What is the actual effect of wealth on political speech? Is it true that a diversity of political viewpoints would be shut out without campaign finance restrictions? Clearly not, when wealthy Americans include a vast diversity of individuals, and when we are free to watch Fox News or CNN, read the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, listen to Rush Limbaugh or Air America, visit Instapundit or Daily Kos.”

This article reinforces a thought I’ve had in my mind for a long time now: there is simply no one from any philosophical school of thought who understands the entirety of the concept of rights–particularly, the right to free speech–as comprehensively, cogently, and non-contradictorily as an Objectivist does (for example, just read this post about two philosophers arguing over what free speech is). The flipside of this is, unfortunately, there are only so few people in this world who know what rights are and can defend them objectively without being driven towards a fatal contradiction.

Posted in 2008 US Elections, Ayn Rand, Culture, Economics, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Deriving Atheism from Philosophy

Posted by Jerry on March 14, 2008

It is a matter of fact that science can never disprove the existence of God. The tools of science–experimentation, observation, and empiricism–are inherently inadequate for the job. At best, empiricists can only reach approximations of certainty–and can claim, like Richard Dawkins does, that they have a very high degree of certainty that god does not exist.

This, however, does not indicate any weakness in the position of atheism as such; rather, it highlights the fact that science is inferior to philosophy and that philosophy is and should be the foundation of all scientific thought. Once reason and objectivity are evicted from their epistemological base in philosophy, a free floating set of rules like that of pragmatism and relativism or a blinded philosophy like that of the skepticism is spawned: neither of these philosophies can agree on what can be known or indeed whether anything at all can be known.

As Ayn Rand said: “Science was born as a result and consequence of philosophy; it cannot survive without a philosophical (particularly epistemological) base. If philosophy perishes, science will be next to go. It is philosophy that defines and establishes the epistemological criteria to guide human knowledge in general and specific sciences in particular.”

It is philosophy that reveals to man the proper methods of thinking and the laws governing sensible, valid, and rational thought. In other words, it is philosophy that identifies the axioms of knowledge and the non-contradictory nature of existence, and then devises the epistemic rules of thinking (logic) that mimic the nature of existence. 

The lack of absolute certainty in the non-existence of god actually indicates the categorical confusion of metaphysics and nature that scientists like Dawkins commit. Atheism is often reinterpreted as being a naturalistic worldview; and although this is not false, it has resulted in the belief that atheism is actually a position reached at the end of a personal scientific and empiric quest. And often, this is indeed how many people become atheists: they start with their studies in evolutionary science, physics, or astronomy; they begin to ask the right questions and push for honest answers; they examine claims of miracles and seek scientific explanations; and eventually, they reach a point where atheism becomes the only plausible and default position to hold. Quite correctly, they see no empiric evidence to believe in the supernatural.

However, such atheists arrive at their conclusion through very weak and fundamentally unsubstantiated grounds. Indeed, such atheists can never deny that the next scientifically inexplicable event may suddenly turn them into theists or agnostics: in fact, some atheists (misguidedly) consider such “open-mindedness” in the face of an inexplicable even to be a sign of honorable intellectual honesty–the mark of a skeptic who is even proudly skeptical of atheism.

In essence, such atheists hold their belief at the mercy of the next concrete event, discovery, alleged sighting, or claim that would dictate whether or not they remain atheists or turn into agnostics.

The only way to rescue this unhinged concept of atheism from total collapse into subjectivism is to extract it from the domain of science and place it back where it belongs–in philosophy.

The position of atheism is a particularly philosophical position, not a scientific one. This is because atheism belongs to a subset of ideological positions, namely, the ideological position pertaining to metaphysics and spiritual belief. Particularly, atheism is the ideological position that holds as fact that there is no god. The only way to ascertain the validity of this assertion is by applying the laws revealed by philosophy, not by the implementation of any empiric, experimental, or observational method of scientific enquiry. In other words, the only permanent path to atheism is one primarily or fundamentally grounded on rational philosophical enquiry, not a scientific one.

Ayn Rand identified that existence exists and that existence is identity. It is on the basis of these fundamental and irrefutable metaphysical axioms that we know–with absolute certainty–that god does not, and indeed cannot, exist.

Existence is identity; that is, to be is to be something. A thing cannot be and not-be at the same time: this is a law that identifies a fact of existence. The supernatural not only means something outside of our Earth or our galaxy, but literally outside of everything in the Universe, including the Universe itself. Therefore, to be supernatural is literally to be outside existence qua existence, since existence is the totality of all that exists. Therefore, for the supernatural to exist, it must not exist. Therefore, the supernatural does not exist.

Likewise, if god is omniscient, then he must know everything; but then he cannot know what it is like to not know something. Therefore, god is an omniscient being who does not know everything. Therefore, god does not exist.

Likewise, if god is omnipotent, then he should be able to do anything; but god cannot kill himself. Therefore, god is an omnipotent being who cannot do everything. Therefore, god does not exist.

Likewise, if god is infinite, then he must transcend space, time, and measurement; but then he cannot have an identity–or be an entity–because to exist is to be an entity (to be is to be something; like the Universe is itself an entity). Therefore, god is an entity who is not an entity. A is non-A. Therefore, god cannot exist.

Likewise, if god is intelligent, then he must be rational, logical, and sensible. In other words, god would also have to obey the laws of rationality and logic; but then, our use of logic and reason above has demonstrated that were such an entity to exist, he would have to be full of contradictions; since logic does not permit contradictions, and contradictions do not exist, god does not exist.

And so on…

It is only at the end of such personal philosophical enquiry in the context of metaphysics–by employing the tools of logic and reason and holding objectivity as the standard of knowledge–that absolute atheism can be arrived at. And this pure atheism is immune to whatever claims or random events that may give someone a sense of wonderment or of being inexplicable. This kind of atheism knows that there is–and can be–no gods.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments »

Reason Versus Faith

Posted by Jerry on March 13, 2008

The Ayn Rand Institute has recently started uploading videos onto YouTube. Since I have an account on YouTube, I have already subscribed to the ARI video feed. I urge you all to do the same.

The ARI’s most recent posting is a series of Question and Answer videos–a series of 8 Q&A clips–that were recorded at one of their conferences on Reason versus Faith. They are excellent viewing.

Some of the questions from the audience members are quite baffling–like in videoclip 2, a man insists that Objectivism impoverishes the human spirit by emphasizing reason. I’m not sure which philosophy he is indicating when he says “Objectivism”, but his version surely cannot be the one developed by Ayn Rand, because Rand in fact wanted and fought to repossess the concepts and sentiments of exaltation and worship that religion had expropriated for itself.

I am reminded of this beautiful quote–that I have enshrined as my own personal religious credo on my blog–which expresses the high value and esteem Objectivism proffers to the properly spiritual in man:

“You see, I’m an atheist. And I have only one religion; the sublime in human nature. There is nothing to approach the sanctity of the highest man possible, and there is nothing that gives me the same reverent feeling, the feeling when one’s spirit wants to kneel bareheaded… do not call it hero-worship, because it is more than that. It is a kind of strange and improbable white heat, where admiration becomes religion and religion becomes philosophy and philosophy, the whole of one’s life.” – Ayn Rand

Videoclips 3 and 5 are also very interesting for the answers given by Dr. Ghate and Dr. Brooks. Indeed, watch all 8 of the clips, vote your favorites, leave a comment if it so moves you, and subscribe to the ARI video feed.

Posted in Ayn Rand, General Work/Life, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Cabin-Owner’s Ethical Scenario

Posted by Jerry on February 29, 2008

Some blogger–whose claim to fame is that he is an atheist–presented a hypothetical scenario that aspires to be a critique of Objectivist and libertarian ethics (for this post, I’ll overlook his confusion of libertarian ethics with Objectivist ethics). After reading his scenario, I think most Objectivists will find that his critique inadvertently–and aptly–exposes the failure of Socialism and central regulation than pose a challenge to Objectivism.

Here’s the scenario (I’ve deleted the personal references to his interlocutor):

Let’s say I’m lost in the mountains during a snowstorm, without food, heat or warm clothes, and near death from hypothermia and exposure. Let’s say I stumble across a remote cabin, locked, well-supplied with all the provisions I need to stay alive, and the owner isn’t home.

I believe it would be my moral right to break a window and take shelter in the cabin (and yes, I’d absolutely say the same thing if it were my cabin). To Objectivists, however, this would be a violation of the property rights of the cabin’s owner, which is never justified. I can only presume that the Objectivist believes it would be my moral duty to lie down in the snow and freeze to death, even if life and safety are just the thickness of a glass pane away.

At the outset, it should be clear that no amount of wishful thinking will conjure up a bureaucrat and a cadre of police officers at this remote location to enforce the “moral right” of the starving individual to break into the cabin. Forget about a free Objectivist society. Even in a Statist or Socialist society, this marooned and starving individual will not have a bureaucrat miraculously appear by his side with Beef Steak and Diet Coke. For a marooned and starving individual stuck in the middle of a snowstorm, no great amount of government taxation will feed his immediate need!

Indeed, the starving man is stuck in a framework that can only be most efficiently and immediately addressed by the individuals involved in that immediate situation; in other words, he is in a situation that emulates the framework of a free market system, wherein he has to take independent action to address his needs and deal with his particular context of reality in a free and non-coercive manner. There is no police or government around to enforce his violation of another man’s rights or to guide his own actions.

Remember, rights are moral principles that must be protected even by force, if necessary. So, given the logic of the above scenario, every starving bum on the street would have the moral right to break into anyone’s home and steal their food with lethal government force on their side–and the only criteria to justify their stealth and loot is their physical need of hunger. Are you really willing to claim that it should be a *right* to break into someone’s home if you are starving, dying, homeless, and on the verge of collapse?

In a free society, an individual like in the above example will realize that it is his privilege and an undesirable exception borne out of utmost necessity to be able to use someone else’s property without compensation or trade.

Case 1) If the cabin owner is present, he realizes that he faces no threat by the force of a government from such marooned individuals and that helping the starving man is not something forced upon him at the point of a gun. In a free society, genuine charity and benevolence is organically fostered and encouraged, because such a society accepts the premise that men are capable of moral actions, men are capable of autonomous decisions, men are capable of living their own lives effectively, that men are capable of being generous and helping others who are not quite so capable of doing these things, and that men should be left free to pursue and expand their capabilities.

For a marooned and starving individual stuck in the middle of a snowstorm, no great amount of government taxation will feed his immediate need. His immediate need can only be satisfied by the benevolence of the cabin owner in a private and voluntary transaction–not by invocations to a non-existent Socialist bureaucrat or police officer. Should we support an ethical theory that seeks to snuff out the last remnant of benevolence in this context by introducing force even here and demanding that the cabin owner help the man at the point of a gun? Do we wish to extend the consequences of introducing forceful expropriation of property to every hungry, starving, needy bum on the street even in non-remote locations?

Case 2) If the cabin owner is absent or not around, and the individual is starving and his only hope of survival is to get water and food from the cabin in this remote location, then the man still cannot ludicrously hope for government (or divine) intervention in any manner. He must act swiftly on his own to mitigate his survival risks and be cognizant of the nature of his actions:

According to the Objectivist ethics, the man must enter the cabin to take only the items that will most immediately and sufficiently stave off his certain death. All the while, the man must remind himself that he had *no right* to the property of this private cabin owner but has been a privileged recipient of the good and rational sense of this cabin owner (since it requires rationality and smart sense to be productive enough to have a well-stocked cabin even in a very remote location as in this scenario, also it requires that the hypothetical scenario has a government that respects the private property of this cabin owner to let him own his cabin and the food and things in it).

After the crises of survival has been controlled, the man has the moral obligation to inform the owner of the cabin about the incidents that transpired and of his actions and offer to make appropriate payments within a specified amount of time. This is because the starving individual acted out of immediate need, was cognizant that his survival literally depended on the good and rational sense of the productive achievements of this cabin owner who had a well-stocked home, had no immediate means of repayment, and knew that it was not his right but his privilege or good fortune to have found a well-maintained cabin in such remoteness that had the food he had needed. The only rational thing such a man can do is to not abuse his privilege and respect the source of wealth and property that has prevented his certain death.

If the individual is remiss on his obligation to inform and/or compensate the cabin-owner for the use of his property, then the cabin owner is fully justified in initiating a lawsuit against the man for the violation of his property rights.

If the owner is unaware of who the perpetrator is—perhaps because the perpetrator chose to abuse his privilege and escaped sneakily beforehand—the cabin-owner is fully justified in not supporting further parasitic and dishonest exploitation of his scarce wealth and property in this remote location by enforcing whatever security and surveillance measures he finds necessary. This may result in later instances wherein an honest but starving individual may be denied life-saving access to a rational person’s wealth not because the cabin-owner chooses to protect his property, but because the earlier perpetrator of the violation set up a context of force, dishonesty, and parasitism that led to the creation of such an undesirable context.

Extrapolate this to the wider socio-economic context and it should be clear which system fosters more benevolence, charity, and generosity: one where men are free to produce wealth and then freely help each other without force or coercion and where honesty is duly rewarded in a just system; or a system in which men are forced to protect what little they own with zeal and terror in their eyes because at any moment their property may be expropriated by higher powers at the point of a gun for the benefit of parasites by virtue of their need.

As a general rule, life-boat scenarios are not proper grounds to test ethical theories; this is because by their very nature, life-boat scenarios are transient and require unsual actions, whereas ethical theories are meant to be guides on actions over the span of an individual’s life, which means guide to actions that are to become routine, usual, and standard. For more on this, see Moral Dilemmas.

Posted in Culture, Economics, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

The Right to Property

Posted by Jerry on February 28, 2008

There’s an interesting discussion on the free market and individual property rights raging on Daylight Atheism. Tim (from Evanescent) had alerted me to the discussion. The post is a review of Michael Shermer‘s recent book “The Mind of the Market.” Most of the commentors there are mixed-economy cultists and Socialists.

I have posted two comments there so far. I encourage other Objectivists to do the same; I believe that blogs play a pivotal role in the dissemination of ideas at the grassroots level; it is how I explored Objectivism (by discovering Diana Hsieh’s blog very early on, among others), I know of several people who have been introduced to Ayn Rand and have even become Objectivists through reading my blog, and I believe it may be how many people (particularly the young) investigate and learn new ideas these days.

Below is one of the comments I left on Daylight Atheism, on the nature of the right to own property. I tried to make my comment as simply stated as possible so that readers who are utterly unfamiliar with the Objectivist theory of rights can grasp the premises easily:

The right to own property is the right that makes all other rights *practicable*, that is, possible to be practiced in reality.

The above principle is the political parallel of the metaphysical fact that humans are integrated entities of mind and body: there is no dichotomy or dualism between the two.

Since only individuals can think, the thoughts are undeniably and inextricably an individual’s *own*. The practical manifestation or implementation of his thoughts, therefore, are also his own–they are borne out of his actions motivated by his reasoning abilities.

However, while a man can never be denied of his thoughts, man can indeed be denied of the products or manifestation of his thoughts by the use of force or fraud from other individuals. This raises the necessity of establishing a moral principle among men that will objectively protect one man’s ownership (each man’s ownership) to the product of his thoughts, namely, the right to own property. This is the basis of the right to property, in brief.

The right to property is the moral principle that protects man’s ownership to the products of his thoughts (like, the right to own the book I wrote). To deny this right to the product of one’s thought is the political parallel of metaphysical dualism–to divorce man’s body from his mind, to invent a soul (religion), to invent a collective Borg (Socialism/Communism), to condemn man to brute physical existence (dictatorship, Statism), to divorce man’s faculty of reason from its practical uses and applications (Idealism).

To live, man must use his mind in dealing with reality. He must therefore be permitted to act freely on the directions given by his mind, his reasoning faculty, in order to tackle the task of survival. This includes being left free to create, fabricate, invent, or procure by means of free trade property that he believes might help him in achieving his goal. He may end up acting irrationally or erroneously; but he must be free to do this as well. He is however not free to initiate force or act fraudulently, because this undercuts the very basis of the freedom upon which he himself seeks to act.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Economics, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Personal Activism

Posted by Jerry on February 27, 2008

I have played a significant part in introducing my friend L’Innommable to the ideas of Ayn Rand and Objectivism. In fact, I think I have done the same with most (all?) of my close friends, who have now read the major works of Ayn Rand and agree with at least some of her ideas to some extent.

I think it comes with the territory: out of happenstance, if I befriend someone, they are bound to be exposed to my value-system; indeed, I am certain that my values play a role in the kind of people I keep and value as friends.

As a matter of fact, I know that simply running this blog and writing the occasional article on Objectivism here has introduced several people to Ayn Rand and helped them get a more mature grasp of her ideas. I am happy of these consequences–and they are an added perk because they are not wholly intended. I write on my blog simply because I like setting my thoughts into words, and I derive a serene sense of pride from my writings. That my blog has resulted in some positive–and hopefully, challenging–intellectual experiences for some is a delight to learn about.

Anyway, L’Innommable is in the midst of reading Atlas Shrugged and he has written of his impressions of the book so far. I liked what he had to say. Here’s just an excerpt of his post:

“[Atlas Shrugged] reminds me of a symphony… I see hints, suggestions, undertones, and allusions to what is to come; an exposition on the philosophy of Objectivism. The thing is, it starts out as any good symphony would, not giving too much away in the beginning, but enticing the listener to continue listening for his enjoyment and edification, climbing ever higher to a crescendo that seems inevitable.”

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Personal, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Human and Animal Cognition

Posted by Jerry on February 19, 2008

This Harvard University study seems to suggest that scientists are finally catching up to the insights of the Objectivist epistemology.

Professor Marc Hauser recently presented his new theory, which postulates four key elements differentiating human cognition from animal cognition. Notably–as I have stressed in the past as well–Hauser regards human cognition as being not merely higher up on the same scale of cognitive complexity in comparison to that of animals, but as being of a fundamentally different nature in itself–in his words, a “great cognitive gap”:

“Animals share many of the building blocks that comprise human thought, but paradoxically, there is a great cognitive gap between humans and animals,” Hauser says. “By looking at key differences in cognitive abilities, we find the elements of human cognition that are uniquely human.”

The four key differences between human and animal cognition that Hauser identifies neatly aligns with the core elements of Objectivist epistemology. In the following, first is the element that Hauser identifies, which is then followed by the Objectivist concept that is its equivalent:

1. “the ability to combine and recombine different types of information and knowledge in order to gain new understanding”

Integration–a cardinal function of man’s consciousness on all the levels of his cognitive development. First, his brain brings order into his sensory chaos by integrating sense data into percepts; this integration is performed automatically; it requires effort, but no conscious volition. His next step is the integration of percepts into concepts, as he learns to speak. Thereafter, his cognitive development consists in integrating concepts into wider and ever wider concepts, expanding the range of his mind. 

2. “to apply the same “rule” or solution to one problem to a different and new situation”

Principles–an abstraction which subsumes a great number of concretes. It is only by means of principles that one can set one’s long-range goals and evaluate the concrete alternatives of any given moment. You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Concrete problems cannot even be grasped, let alone judged or solved, without reference to abstract principles.

3. “to create and easily understand symbolic representations of computation and sensory input”

Concepts and Words–Concepts and, therefore, language are primarily a tool of cognition—not of communication. The primary purpose of concepts and of language is to provide man with a system of cognitive classification and organization, which enables him to acquire knowledge on an unlimited scale. Concepts represent condensations of knowledge, which make further study and the division of cognitive labor possible.

In order to be used as a single unit, the enormous sum integrated by a concept has to be given the form of a single, specific, perceptual concrete, which will differentiate it from all other concretes and from all other concepts. This is the function performed by language. Language is a code of visual-auditory symbols that serves the psycho-epistemological function of converting concepts into the mental equivalent of concretes. Language is the exclusive domain and tool of concepts. Every word we use (with the exception of proper names) is a symbol that denotes a concept, i.e., that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind.

4. “to detach modes of thought from raw sensory and perceptual input.”

Focus–The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make. When man unfocuses his mind, he may be said to be conscious in a subhuman sense of the word, since he experiences sensations and perceptions.

***

There are, of course, many more insights into human cognition that Ayn Rand identified in her Objectivist epistemology that in my opinion are not exhausted by Hauser four identifications: for example, Ayn Rand’s theory of measurement-ommission and its role in concept-formation.

However, all of the above–and the entire corpus of the Objectivist theory of epistemology–indicates a simple and self-evident fact about human cognition that is denoted by single concept: the conceptual faculty; that is, man’s consciousness is uniquely conceptual in nature.

[I learned of Professor Hauser's study from the Objectivism Online forum. Note: All four hyperlinked Objectivists concepts and their brief descriptions are quoted directly from The Ayn Rand Lexicon.]

Posted in Animal Rights, Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Philosophy, science, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Facets of Ayn Rand

Posted by Jerry on February 18, 2008

The book Facets of Ayn Rand is now available online for free! Published by the Ayn Rand Institute Press, the book is a personal memoir of Mary Ann and Charles Sures, who were both friends of Ayn Rand for more than 20 years.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction by Leonard Peikoff:

Mary Ann and Charles Sures were longtime personal friends of Ayn Rand—Mary Ann for twenty-eight years, Charles for almost twenty. Their recollec­tions in this delight­ful memoir make vivid­ly real the Ayn Rand they knew so well.

[HT: Medworth]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Objectivism, Personal, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Best Objectivists Posts of 2007

Posted by Jerry on February 15, 2008

The Crucible & Column is the host of the 31st edition of the Objectivist Carnival; it features a compendium of the best posts of 2007 by Objectivist bloggers. These are posts that Obloggers have considered to be their personal favorites in the past year, and now they are all accessible from one place. Have fun reading!

Posted in Objectivism, Objectivist Carnival, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Private Ownership of Roads

Posted by Jerry on February 11, 2008

I decided to make this comment into a post after all; that way, relevant comments can proceed under this post.

When we think of privatizing roads, the scenario is so far removed from anything we have witnessed in real life that we respond–almost instinctively–with concern… of uncertainty, anarchy, and unpredictability. Our ability to imagine the operations of a free society is not inhibited our by level of intelligence but by the strictures of thought that we–and the current philosophical system–have placed upon our minds; the concept of the government is so entrenched in our socio-political thinking that life without government produces a mental blank-out.

This is a good test of whether you hold your philosophy as a body of abstract, rationalistic principles or as a properly integrated system that you use in daily living, and which you can readily apply to concrete situations.

The effort required is much like shrugging off theism and stepping into a world without a god, which appears at first to be daunting, anarchic, amoral, uncertain, and even barbaric.

1) We just have to think about analogous situations that most closely resemble the operations of a free market; I submit that in a free society most people will not have to pay for practically any use of the roads. As analogous situations, think of your use of the Internet and the radio. The vast resources of the Internet are available to most of us for free. The Internet operates in such a way that there’s not only an abundance of voluntary content generators but also massive revenue generators: the revenue is generated by amazingly innovative methods that would be simply impossible were the Internet to be a government-regulated operation. The people who invest and wish to make money from the Internet are making their profits (provided they have been sensible in how they went about it), and those who simply wish to derive the benefits of using the Internet are doing it for FREE (like myself. :)) And note that the Internet is a globally free phenomena, at least in all the places where governments have not been foolish enough to interfere.

2) The radio is another similar example. Most of us do not pay for radio, and yet we derive the pleasurable and important benefits of it. Radio frequencies were only recently privatized in India; if our broadcast TV frequencies were also privatized likewise, then–as in America–we would even be enjoying high-quality broadcast programming for free on TV (however, since this is not the case, we have rampant cable thievery instead).

3) Who pays for all this? To a communist or socialist, it seems incomprehensible that such awesome benefits on the radio, television, and the Internet is being offered for free; to that kind of mindset, the limitation is not necessarily a low level of intelligence, but the accepted premise that man should not (indeed, cannot) be free to devise his own ways and means of living, trading, producing, and pursuing happiness.

4) In a society where roads are privatized–like radio air frequencies–I envision most roads to be of superior quality and mostly free for people to use: corporations and businesses that are situated alongside these roads will make it a point to have their access roads in good condition with ample parking space for customers to visit their stores and businesses.

5) Utility (water, electricity, telephone, etc.) and cable corporations will contract with road owners to gain access to establishments situated on their roads; they will pay the road owners a certain amount of money or percent of profits for laying their wires and pipes on top of or under these roads. The road owners, in turn, will ensure that these wires, pipes, cables, etc. are laid in place quickly, efficiently, and esthetically in order to maintain the high value of their property. The utility companies will pay the road owner a fee for access to residents, businesses, and the use of the owner’s property. This can be one of the many revenue models for private roads. (Objectivist blogger Qwertz made this point persuasively and at length in his post; I am indebted to him for this idea.)

6) Roads with all installed utilities and esthetic considerations will have high-property values, which would translate to high property rates for residents and businesses in that neighborhood and the surrounding area; property owners will be able to command higher prices for their property–either in rentals or in a sale. Thus, road ownership will be a big and thriving business, which means, more investors will be interested in ownership of roads and highways. This will invariably lead to increased competition, competitive rates, higher benefits and services on these roads, and a greater value for consumers, business owners, advertisers, restaurants, etc. The cost to the end user of these roads will be either very minimal and competitive or simply nothing at all.

7) I imagine monthly or annual subscription passes for the use of those few roads that are not free (perhaps, major expressways); and these passes could be highly subsidized by advertising, competition, rest-stop areas, or other perks that road owners might want to sell or include on their roads

8.) One of the best benefits of privatized roads (especially for India) would be the non-existence of public protests on the streets, processions, road blockages, and vandalism: corporations, businesses, and road owners would not want their private property to be clogged, their customers to have no access to their businesses, and their brandnames and reputation associated with such hooligans. Therefore, they will ensure and pay for strict security measures to enforce safety and brand value. Perhaps, these private corporations will threaten with the withdrawal of advertising revenue or legal suits if the operators of these roads become lapse in their duties to ensure safety and prevent road protests or blockages.

9) Finally, street hawking will become illegal only if the owner does not permit it or the vendor has violated certain parameters. I do not see why hawking will be extinguished entirely. I believe that some neighborhoods might wish to project a certain kind of charm to their area and thus encourage streetside vendors who are consistent with their neighborhood theme: for example, Chinatown, Little Italy, Indian Village, Little Mexico, Greek Town, etc., could be neighborhood themes that can attract tourism, business, night revellers, and much revenue. Therefore, street vendors could add to the charm and distinctness of such areas, and it could be entirely within the operations of a free society with privately owned roads.

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

In Response to Values

Posted by Jerry on February 6, 2008

I sometimes get the desire to spend money on apparently cheap items only so that the people selling them to me continue to remain in business. Many times, I consciously feel the urge to buy something from a streetside vendor so that I can prolong his sense of hope and trust in the virtue of trade and production—particularly because I realize the sharp necessity of this hope in the face of what surrounds such people in India: abject poverty, beggars, homeless wanderers, alcoholics, marauders, looters, unscrupulous police officers, cheats, robbers, thugs, etc.

The other day, I was eating a vegetable sandwich at a roadside foodstall. In the short time that it took me to eat my sandwich, three different individuals–perhaps thugs, goons, or police officers in plain clothes–came up to the sandwich vendor at separate times: all three of these men didn’t say a word; they just came up to the stall and looked at the vendor knowingly. Then all three of them left with money that the vendor had given them. After the last of them had gone, the vendor just looked down at his table and muttered in Hindi: “Everyone wants money; if they take all my money away, what will I have left?”

I was shocked and disgusted by what had just happened! I knew that the vendor had just been extorted of money for the “privilege” of setting up his stall and running his food business on that street. Typically, such vendors have to pay not just the police officers patrolling the street but every other thug who has laid claim on a stretch of land only by the virtue of force for the privilege of being productive.

After I had finished eating, I paid the money I owed the man for my sandwich, and then gave him an extra 10 Rupees. It is a very small amount of money–both to him and to me; it was not intended for him to use it to survive the night or some such thing. I gave him the extra money to convey a sense of hope–my hope that he chooses to continue his business and be productive, instead of quitting and joining the thugs, or becoming a leech, or giving up on life entirely and stagnating.

I offered my money in response to his struggle to attain values and live life. I was proud of it.

Posted in Culture, General Work/Life, India, Personal, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

Financing the Government in a Free Society

Posted by Jerry on January 29, 2008

The other day, a friend and I were discussing the issue of financing the government in a free society. Needless to say, the topic is of incredible depth; and its particularly complexity is intensified further because one doesn’t have any real-life examples to look at and examine in practice. There has been no completely free society on earth with a purely laissez-faire capitalist system and a government of protection.

But a few points are absolutely clear:

A free society is not an ideal, utopian fantasy. Don’t let people who say that fool you. They are the same ones who insist that Communism is utopian and has never been consistently instituted on this earth. History is testament to the fact that there was nothing utopian about Communism: it was instituted consistently, it was practiced as advocated, and it lead inexorably to the evils, genocides, corruption, and socio-psychological wreakage that was inherent in itself as an ideology.

A free society is the only moral society possible for human beings: therefore, since it is a system derived from the nature of humans and our relationship to reality, a free society is a perfectly practical and realizable vision.

A free society will be radically different in every fundamental way from what we are used to imagining about the structure of society. For example, a free society may have a radically different geographic structure, with the absense of a continuous, uninterrupted geographic boundary–a “nation” might refer to and include private pockets of property that may even lie 1000s of miles apart, independently. The concept of citizenship will be wholly voluntary and assumed by parents for their children until the latter turn of the age of consent. Citizenship will have nothing to do with the accidental location of birth, but with the voluntary consent of assuming responsibilities–including tax and financial responsibilities–with regard to the nation of one’s citizenship, and owning of property within that chosen nation.

Also, police in a free society might function very differently from what we see today; perhaps, they might more likely resemble bodyguards or private security agencies of today. Also, I envision the role of the courts and the judicial system to be the most important in a free society, with only foreign national security policies (among other things) being the domain of the executive branch.

Finally, it stands to reason–and historical precedent has shown–that people do not need to be forced to protect what they value, or pay for the protection of that which they value. Take the case of the military draft: there was the fear that if citizens are not forced to join the military and serve the State, they won’t volunteer for it. This fear is absolutely unfounded, and the United States military is just one evidence of it.

Certainly, nations with oppressive regimes will need to force people into their armies because–without coercion–people wouldn’t risk their lives for a government they despise and a nation they do not value. This simply highlights the need for a government to be cognizant of its role, actions, and boundaries with respect to how it treats the people under its protection.

If young men and women are willing to voluntarily offer their life–their most precious value–in defense of a nation’s right to exist (and therefore, their own personal right to live in liberty), then why would it be inconceivable similarly for a nation’s people to voluntarily offer some money (in proportion to how much they can afford or some other legal arrangement) for the protection of their way of life, their property, their security, their nation, their values?

The end of the military draft and a switch to a volunteer force did not spell doom for the nation’s defenses: in fact, it attracted the best men and women of the highest character, who are motivated to fight on grounds that they accept, believe in, identify with, and wish to protect–not on the basis of compulsion by the State and servitude to an ideology of self-sacrifice.

Likewise, the exchange for money or capital to finance a government of protection on a perfectly voluntary and contractual basis is entirely reasonable and realizable. Indeed, a voluntary system of financing the goverment would additionally serve as one of many efficient checks and balances on the power of the government, because people who disapprove of government activities in any manner (if it is demonstrated that the government has overstepped its bounds) can effectively withold or reduce their finances until their grievances are reddressed contractually, bilaterally, or in the courts. Voluntary financing, thus, would serve not only as working capital for the government but also as an incentive (or disincentive) for a job well done (or badly done). The government and its agencies–like any other private and corporate entity or NGO–would be forced to monitor its own behavior for its own survival. 

This is much like in a volunteer army, soldiers have a right to stop fighting or quit if they believe the war is baseless, immoral, or illegitimate (of course, I’m aware that this is not currently permitted, and I agree that this serious action must be supported by objective evidence and facts proving the illegitimacy of government actions).

This whole issue is very complex and I don’t intend to address or explore all of the issues here. I am myself not very clear on how things might function in a free society, because–as I said–we have nothing in history or in reality to look towards for a demonstration. I have much to read and learn on this topic, which I haven’t done to well enough yet. It’s a very concrete-bound issue, albeit a very important one because it anchors the abstractions of a free capitalist society and makes the principles easier to grasp.

The principles themselves, however, are solid, undeniable, and objective: a free society is the only fully moral society of individuals; since it is fully moral, it is also a fully practical society for individuals to live in and flourish.

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Philosophical Nonsense

Posted by Jerry on January 15, 2008

If you want to look really crazy, you should go up to a doctor and say, “I understand that if I consume poison, I will die; but I don’t understand why I ought not to have poison just because I choose to live.”

Go tell an architect who is constructing a skyscraper, “just because of the fact that constructing a skyscraper requires steel, concrete, and building materials, it does not mean that you ought to use steel, concrete, and building materials to construct your skyscraper.”

Is it really hard to grasp that values are a species of facts? If the architect has identified the fact that constructing a building requires certain specific methods, tools, and materials, then the architect has to (ought to) obtain, acquire, and use those specific methods, tools, and materials to meet his purpose. The identification of the first factual premise necessitates the identification of the second: if you choose to build, you ought to get your tools and materials ready; both statements have the force and quality of stating a fact about how reality functions–in equal magnitude.

The fact that you are a living entity, determines a series of facts pertinent to your survival: the fact that you are, determines what you ought to do–or how reality factually functions in relation to your existence, i.e., matters of facts. For example, your immune system cannot withstand the fatal effects of poisonous venom; therefore, the fact of the matter is, if you consume it, you will die; or, staying alive requires–by force of fact–that you ought not to consume the venom.

The concept of value applies only to living beings–and in greater pertinence, to rational beings–because goal-directed action toward an ultimate end is only possible to living entities. Thus, values (which are a species of facts applicable to living beings) are inextricably linked to living entities and to the specific facts pertinent to their survival.

It is hard to believe that there’s so much nonsense permitted in philosophy. When you begin to understand ethics as a science–as a subject dealing with very fundamental and clearly bounded facts about human existence and all that makes such existence possible–you begin to realize that you cannot permit any of the  philosophical nonsense that is commonly accepted today, such as consciousness invalidates itself as a tool of awareness, the mind is wholly separate and distinct from the body, values are mystical, non-rational, not factual, and non-objective, etc.

The applied and physical sciences are fully dependent on the philosophical framework it chooses to work within. If philosophy itself is so incoherent, chaotic, irrational, and subjective, then how can it possibly provide a coherent, rational, and logical framework for the applied and physical sciences?

If an engineer cannot permit his crew to be subjective about their notions of numbers, measurements, laws of physics, motion, gravity, the existence of steel, the fragility of glass, the identity and nature of physical elements, then how can he be comfortable with a philosophy that preaches that there is no absolute truth, certainty is impossible to human cognitive tools, the noumenal realm is forever beyond our direct perception, the evidence of the senses is illusory, that a bridge ought not require certain methods of construction, etc.?

As Rand said:

“It is not the special sciences that teach man to think; it is philosophy that lays down the epistemological criteria of all special sciences.”

But if such irrationality passes as philosophical thought today, then Wittgenstein was right in insisting that nothing but nonsense can be said about philosophy and vehemently disparaging philosophers as foolish men entangled in a confused web of their own making.

You know that the state of modern philosophy is not healthy when philosopher Quee Nelson has to present her defense of objective reality under the name “naive realism” in her new book The Slightest Philosophy, because, apparently, it is “naive” in philosophical circles to hold that there is an objective reality and that we have direct perception of it.

Aptly enough, therefore, the voice in defense of naive realism in Nelson’s book is that of a young student engaged in a dialog with a more erudite and sophisticate professor. Here’s an excerpt (taken from John Enright’s article on The Atlasphere), where the sophisticate professor wonders whether we really see apples or only patches of the color red; the student replies:

Student: “I wonder why you don’t switch it the other way around, and say that you can only perceive sense data like colors by means of physical objects? Why does the ‘redness’ get the place of pride, instead of the apple? Why don’t you put things the other way around, and say that ‘redness’ is merely derivative, since it is obtained by a secondary process of intellectual abstraction from the apple, which is epistemologically more primary?”

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Lights Out

Posted by Jerry on January 4, 2008

The latest post on Gus Van Horn has so many sharp insights that I wanted to excerpt his entire post on my blog! It’s that good. But I won’t do that, of course, because I want you to go to his site and read it for yourself. His post begins by quoting Objectivist Burgess Laughlin’s “astute connection” of the different forms of totalitarianism. It’s brilliant:

There are many forms of totalitarianism, including: Communism, Socialism, National Socialism, Nationalism, Monarchism, Theocracy, Fascism, and Democracy.

By the latter I mean a dictatorship by the majority. Democracy is totalitarian in a special way, a way that distinguishes it from other forms: Democracy, at least superficially, allows vacuoles of freedom of choice while controlling the broad, context-setting conditions.

I see different species of Democracy. The one we are witnessing mostly now is what I would call Parentalism. All forms of dictatorship call for and require sacrifice of some individuals for the sake of others (the poor, the race, God, the fatherland, the proletariat, and so forth).

A distinguishing characteristic of Parentalist Democracy is that it also appeals to self-interest, in the same manner that a parent would say to a child: “This is for your own good.” We tax you in order to subsidize science that will benefit you in the future.

Countering this Parentalism is very difficult for a variety of reasons. One is that it does superficially appeal to supposed self-interest. After all, every family has to make rules to keep the family functional, doesn’t it? [bold added]

Launching off of this metaphor of paternalism as one form of democracy, Gus analyzes the recent success of the environmentalist campaign in the United States to ban the incandescent light bulb — or, as Paul Hsieh rightly said, “the long-time symbol of reason and thought.”

The modern Dark Ages may well begin in the country that gave the world its first light bulb.

Posted in Culture, Economics, Environmentalism, General Work/Life, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Common Sense of Thomas Reid

Posted by Jerry on January 3, 2008

About the eighteenth century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid, John Enright had this to say in a recent post:

I’ve long been a big fan. I think his criticisms of Hume had real merit. But hardly anyone seems to have read him, so I never get a chance to talk about him with anybody!

Thereafter, in a rather succinct series of rhymes, John hints at the substance of Reid’s philosophy:

“I saw an apple.”
That’s what I said.
Could it have been
A mere patch of red?

It tasted the apple,
I bit through its peel.
Could it be true
That it’s not really real?

I tossed the apple
In the sky.
Doubt its existence?
Please tell me why.

So now I was intrigued and wanted to discover more about the philosophy of Thomas Reid. I doubt that I’ll find any books by or about him in bookstores here; I read up his entry on the SEP and was really impressed with the account of his arguments against Humean and Lockean epistemologies. Reid does a brilliant job of shifting the burden of proof on to the skeptics and the idealists, and in doing so, reveals how incredibly contorted their theories actually are.

Reid was a staunch defender of the common sense method in philosophy; his epistemology can be described as direct realism, i.e., the mind can acquire direct knowledge of the external world via the interaction of the sense organs and external objects, which are the causes of mental acts or events.

Reid’s account of perception caught my interest in particular:

Colors, sounds, tastes and smells are powers to produce certain characteristic sensations in us in normal conditions; to ascribe such a quality to an object is not to perceive any intrinsic qualities of the object, but is, rather, to perceive that the object bears a certain relation to something else: namely, ourselves. So, for instance, say that the skin of the apple in front of me has a certain molecular structure that results in its reflecting light at a certain wavelength which in turn causes in me a certain characteristic visual sensation of red. If I am speaking correctly when I say, “That apple is red”, I am reporting the fact that I conceive of the apple as possessing a particular relational property: I am aware that the apple has the property of being-such-as-to-cause-in-me-sensations-of-red-in-normal-conditions.

The above comes very close to the principle and concept of objectivity in Objectivism:

Objectivity is both a metaphysical and an epistemological concept. It pertains to the relationship of consciousness to existence. Metaphysically, it is the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness. Epistemologically, it is the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic).

Thus, while Kant and others argued that it is impossible to have direct knowledge of the external world precisely because we are conscious of it and since our consciousness has identity, Objectivism turns this challenge on its head: direct knowledge of the external world is possible precisely because our consciousness has an identity and the specific means by which to grasp existence, and that without a consciousness of a specific sort, there can be no concept of objectivity.

Reid illustrates the principle of objectivity with reference to colors by noting that the apple is red objectively precisely because it has in itself the objective properties that cause sensations of redness in the perceiver, who has in himself the properties of responding to such sensations with the awareness of the color red. Objectivity, like all other concepts (including the concept of the absolute) and the rest of human knowledge, is relational.

Posted in Books, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Medical Ethics and Moral Dilemmas

Posted by Jerry on December 19, 2007

A story came up on Yahoo! News today about 49 highly infectious tuberculosis patients in South Africa who escaped from their hospital isolation units where they were being forcibly confined for treatment.

The last paragraph of the story evoked some interesting thoughts on the moral nature of this situation:

Although forced confinement of patients violates most medical ethics, authorities say they have no choice but to put the wider public good above individual rights. Confinement for XDR-TB is at least six months.

I can reasonably assume that the South African authorities are functioning on a utilitarian ethical system in their decision-making: individual rights are dispensable in the name of “public good” as defined by authority. 

Is having an infectious disease grounds for limiting–or even denying–the right to liberty? Is it a crime to live in a society with a highly infectious disease?

I am not entirely confident of the answers I am about to offer and of all their implications. My aim, however, in writing this post is to clarify the moral and legal dilemmas that arise from health-related conflicts of interest. More importantly, I wanted to examine these apparent conflicts from an Objectivist perspective because, largely, the field of medical ethics has been dominated by utilitarian, altruist, and religious moralities–often proposing grotesque solutions that makes one wonder if the situation hasn’t been worsened further.

I believe that the Objectivist theory of rights offers by far the most robust framework of principles against which such moral dilemmas can be analyzed and successfully resolved. Having said that, what follows is my own application of the Objectivist ethics to the situation being discussed; this does not mean that my application is accurate or that this is what Objectivism prescribes.

The Yahoo! news report only states that the individuals have highly infectious tuberculosis. There are several kinds of tuberculosis and it should be clear that to have a highly infectious disease is not necessarily to have a contagious or communicable disease. Tuberculosis of some kinds are highly communicable, but not all of them are.

Individuals with fatal, life-threatening, and communicable diseases pose a real and direct threat to the lives of healthy individuals in their normal surroundings. In this sense, the existence of such a disease in a general environment can be thought of as the existence of force or threat to individual rights in society. To illustrate:

A person who walks on a busy street with a knife in his pocket has not committed any crime and is well within his rights. However, the moment he draws his knife menacingly at another unsuspecting and innocent individual and stands poised to attack, he has created a context of force, introduced a threat to life, and has abandoned the context of freedom that makes rights possible. Therefore, at this moment, even if physical contact between the attacker’s knife and the other individual has not occurred, and even if he has not lunged forward with his knife to attack, the man has committed a punishable crime.

Likewise, an individual with a highly infectious but non-communicable disease existing in a public environment has committed no crime and remains well within his rights: he is like a man walking with a knife in his pocket. However, if the individual is aware that his infectious disease is communicable and life-threatening, then he properly should choose to or be forced to separate from healthy individuals in his environment.

Further, despite his knowledge that his disease is life-threatening and communicable, if the man makes a deliberate, careless, or negligent act of transmitting the life-threatening disease to another unsuspecting or unwilling person, he has introduced the threat to life and relinquished his right to live freely among healthy individuals in a non-threatening environment in society.

Yet, this does not mean that the person with the disease should be imprisoned as a criminal; it certainly does mean, however, that such a person with a life-threatening and communicable disease must be isolated and quarantined. And then, it is up to the victim of this person’s actions whether or not to pursue criminal or civil charges against the infected individual for his negligent or deliberate endangerment.

Going by the above framework, a communicable disease that is not life-threatening does not meet the criteria for isolation from society or legal charges, because there is no actual threat to life, which is necessary to invalidate the existence of rights. Likewise, a highly infectious individual with a non-communicable disease poses no threat to the lives and rights of other individuals and therefore cannot be denied any of his own legitimate legal rights.

Thus, it is not matter of public good versus individual rights but an issue of force (or threat to life) versus rights.

Posted in My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Being The Silly Oncle

Posted by Jerry on December 18, 2007

It used to be that every evening when I got home from work, I would make a few perfunctory gestures toward my parents and head straight to my room–my very personal sanctuary that I designed very carefully to suit my tastes. Usually, I would only emerge for dinner, make minimal conversation only if necessary, and then revert back to my room for the rest of the night. Most of my blogging and reading activities (outside of work) would occur at this time in the privacy of my room and the quietness of my mind.

My mornings out in the rest of the house are usually very brief; a few minutes before I leave for work, I step outside my room, head to the kitchen, grab something to eat quickly, and head out the door.

Things have changed recently, however; my sister and her two little kids have moved to India and are living with us now. My little niece–Anushka–is about four years old and acts like a grandma! My little nephew–Abner–has been on this earth for barely a year now–he’ll turn one in January. :)

They are such delights to be with! Nowadays, I spend much of my time at home outside my room playing with the kids. Anushka is such an intelligent little brat, she’ll chide me sometimes for being “silly” when I play with her! She’ll say things like “Jerry Oncle [that's how she pronounces "uncle"] don’t be silly! That’s very silly!”

Little boy Abner is too young at this time to do anything beyond making incoherent noises and inadvertently erratic limb movements. But he’s aware enough to know when to smile or laugh when he sees a familiar face or hears a friendly voice. He loves it when I carry him horizontally and zoom him around the house–like superman flying through the air.

Sometimes I lift him up to give him a unique vantage point from which to view his surroundings; I think he likes that because he looks on with such intent curiosity as I move him along different positions around the same object. I don’t think his mind is developed enough to realize that he’s watching the same object from different angles and heights; his mind probably perceives it as discrete perceptual instances. But the wonder of it all is rather apparent in the way he looks, as if he is examining the object and being perplexed by the similarities. I wonder if this may help develop his faculty of orientation and space perception early on. Also, it seems that even at this early age, he recognizes mirror images as reflections of the self. He glances at his reflection and then at me and my reflection and seems to smile in understanding.

Abner’s older sibling seems to be already beyond her years. She understands the concept of “space” and “property,” and she respects my space, my things, and my room. Once, I told her in a firm but gentle voice that she is should not enter my room when I’m not at home. She wanted to know why. She wants to know why about everything anyone says. “Why should I not go to your room?” “Because it is not good to go into someone’s room when they are not around.”

I don’t think she really understands all aspects of the responses we give to her “why” questions, but we have made it a policy to never discourage her from asking why. All she wants to hear is a response to her question even if she does not entirely understand what we say; and we never deny her that respect. Also, we never respond to her “why” questions with “because I said so” or “don’t ask why, just listen.” This is a conscious policy that everyone at home follows. However, this often means that we have to be exceptionally creative in fabricating a response that makes some sense–however ridiculous or far-fetched the reasons may be! For example, she’ll ask “Jerry Oncle, why do you close the door?” Hmmm… :)

But not only does she not enter my room when I’m not home, she actively ensures that no else does, too! I have been told several times that my niece had “scolded” my sister and mom for entering my room: “This is Jerry Oncle’s room! Why are you going in Jerry Oncle’s room?”

The other night, my niece and I were sitting on my bed tucked under my cozy comforter, we were reading Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Suess, which a dear friend of mine gave to me just before I left the United States. My niece can’t read anything as yet; she has not started school and has not learned to read words. However, she has a rather extensive vocabulary for her age, and was able to follow–and gleefully enjoy–the Dr. Suess poem.

At first, I wondered how I would explain the concept of “thinking” and “perseverance” in relation to the idea of pursuing a goal and achieving success and going places in life, which the poem is about. Amazingly, she was able to exactly identify the theme of the story by saying “You use your imagination to go places. And you go here, and here, and here, and you use your brain and go here, and here…” using her hands to point to her head and to pictures of roads and buildings on the page!

I was very surprised that she knew the concept of “imagination”; so, I added to her understanding of that concept by introducing the concept of “thinking” or “reasoning.” I said, “Yes, you use your imagination and your brain… you think and think to find new places to go! And then you go to new places, with your imagination and by thinking, with your brain!” And I gestured to her head to indicate where the thinking occurs.

She had enjoyed this reading of Dr. Suess with me so much that the next day, while I was at work, I got a call from my sister saying that my niece was insisting on wanting to read some book “about the brain. Some brain book she wants to read.”

My sister had no knowledge of our activity and so she had no clue what book Anushka was referring to. I told my sister that the book is in my room and that when I get home in the evening, I would take the book out and read the poem again with her. But my sister said that Anushka was insisting on wanting that book now. I told her, tell Anu that she must wait for me to get home in the evening because she will not get that book now. She must not get everything the moment she demands for them.

That evening, when I got home, my little neice happily came up to my room, stood by the door, stuck her head in to look at me lying on my bed, and said: “I miss you Jerry Oncle. Why do you have to go to office?” I’m so often surprised by the things she says, but I try not to make my surprise obvious; I continue as if the conversation were between adults and therefore there’s no expectation of anything less.

When I asked my sister where or how did Anu learn the word “imagination,” she said “from Disney’s world of imagination.” Ah! It made sense, of course! Children can absorb so much knowledge–even implicitly–from attractive artistic and creative works. 

We sat together again that night and read through the poem. That particular poem is an excellent medium of conveying some very crucial developmental ideas to a young child–of the need to perservere on the path to one’s goals, the need to use your mind and imagination to think, the need to make the most of your life’s moments, and so much more.

Sometimes I simply like to observe the two kids and watch how they interact with their environment. I wonder what’s going on in their brains: how does their consciousness develop from the perceptual to the conceptual; how and when do they begin to observe relationships between cause and effects, do they reason about simple processes and try to make simple sense of them?

One day, I decided to pester my little niece because I wanted to investigate the manner in which she learned and structured her concepts. I noticed that she was playing with her Island Princess Barbie. I sat down next to her, picked up the Barbie doll, and asked her:

“Is this is a girl or a doll?”
“It’s Barbie!” She responded immediately.

Okay, so hmmm… I thought. Well, let’s try this once more. I persisted:

“But is Barbie a girl or a doll?”
“It’s Barbie, Jerry Oncle.”
“Yes, But is it a doll?”
“It’s Barbie! You’re being silly, Jerry Oncle.”

Okay. Ya, I was being silly! I mean, hell, why would she care? It’s Barbie!

Anyway, I decided to let that rest and leave her alone to play in peace with her Barbie.

My nephew, now–the little toddler–can’t seem to control his limbs. They fling around all over the place erratically, like a bulldozer gone berserk! And he loves grabbing, touching, or holding on to anything he can get his hands on. It’s almost as if he is learning of his surroundings through his sense of touch. It’s fascinating, but we have to always keep a careful eye on him.

One Sunday evening, after a long and tiring day of shopping and eating out with the kids and family, my nephew fell asleep on my chest during our drive home–his tiny arms spread on either side of my torso (we don’t use a car seat for him). I literally froze myself in the seat so that I barely moved so as to not disturb his sleep. But he was too fast asleep to really care, notice, or be disturbed by any of it.

I thought it was one of the most beautiful experiences to have a toddler sprawled across your chest, fast asleep, with all the trust and not a care in the world.

Having said all of this, I realize that having a child is one of the biggest responsibilities you can undertake–it is the task of bringing a human being into this world, making him capable of functioning in reality, equipping him mentally and physically with the task of efficient and competent survival, imbibing in him the virtues he will require in life, and pointing him toward the rational way to achieving joy, happiness, success, and a productive life.  It is no easy feat, and demands a parent’s long-term and voluntary committment to their choice of parenthood.

Given what I currently forsee in the future for myself and the values that I wish to pursue, having and raising children are not an optional task I wish to undertake. I am content with having the pleasure of watching and being involved in the mental growth of my little niece and nephew.

Posted in General Work/Life, India, Personal, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

Immoral and Illegal

Posted by Jerry on December 6, 2007

The distinction between immorality and illegality is the distinction between that which applies to the private sphere of a man’s mind and that which governs the behavior of men in a social setting. However, because man is an indivisible entity possessing both mind and body, the specific nature of his thoughts can certainly inform the nature of his actions. In other words, a man can have immoral thoughts and act upon them, which would make his actions also immoral; nevertheless, his immoral actions may not necessarily be illegal or criminal acts.  

All that which is immoral is not necessarily also illegal. For example, it is immoral to pleasureably fantasize about plundering your neighbors home, raping their 10-year-old kid, and then hacking them all to death. Insofar as these remain merely fantasies, no crime–no act of force or fraud–has been committed and therefore there is nothing illegal or criminal about the thoughts. Nevertheless, in the privacy of his own mind, this person is an immoral–possibly deranged and psychopathic–individual; and if these thoughts were ever expressed in words to another sane individual, the proper response would be to condemn such fantasies as disgustingly immoral. One cannot respond with a neutral or amoral evaluation.

Morality is a private, individual affair: each man requires (and has) a moral code to guide him in living his life. His life can only be lived by him. His thoughts–about morality or anything else–can only be thought of by himself in his own head. Thinking–the process of cognition–is a private affair. Thoughts, therefore, belong only to an individual. Evaluating the morality of thoughts, therefore, is an evaluation of a private process of cognition.

Virtues, for example, are qualities and actions of an individual in pursuit of his values in reality. The virtue of honesty is a policy set by a man in relation to his mind’s grasp and acknowledgment of reality and facts–it is his commitment to never fake or evade the matters of fact as they objectively exist; only derivately is the virtue of honesty related to man’s interaction with others: a man could very well lie to himself and evade certain facts in the privacy of his own mind. Such a person is not practicing the virtue of honesty–even though he has lied to no one else; and to that extent, this person is immoral and irrational. His immoral thoughts, however, are not criminal or illegal.

Objective law does not punish a man for holding the wrong ideas or for being an untrustworthy character; usually, the punitive consequences of private immorality and irrationality arise from reality’s own exacting nature, from the requirements of survival, and the nature of an entity (for example, a man’s immoral thoughts may create a reciprocal relationship with feelings of self-disgust, repulsion, low self-esteem, psychological insecurity, repression of certain motives and emotions, evasive psychology, unhappy relationships, etc.).

Now, only when man puts his morality into practice or expresses his thoughts in explicit actions, is he stepping out of the private sphere of his mind–and even then, unless man is not surrounded in a social context with other men, the physical manifestation or practice of his immoral thoughts does not amount to a crime, they remain his own immoral actions.

The concept of crime exclusively denotes a certain set of actions in a social context, namely acts of force or fraud against others:

A crime is a violation of the right(s) of other men by force (or fraud). It is only the initiation of physical force against others—i.e., the recourse to violence—that can be classified as a crime in a free society (as distinguished from a civil wrong). Ideas [even immoral ideas], in a free society, are not a crime—and neither can they serve as the justification of a crime. — Ayn Rand

A social context is necessary for human flourishing, because–among other benefits–it provides the framework within which a division of labor society can emerge and thrive. Thus, man has to live in a society with other human beings and derive the benefits of voluntary trade in order to achieve flourishment. The concept of rights are the conditions that allow a man to enter a social context with a guarantee of life and liberty; rights allow man to practice his moral code and pursue his values (and disvalues) in a social context.

Therefore, the concept of rights is a political and social concept and applies exclusively to actions–not thoughts. That which is illegal necessarily requires the violation of rights, i.e., an action that mitigates or suppresses someone else’s rights by the introduction of force or fraud. In contrast, the immoral is not judged primarily against a social context, but against the context of an individual and his relationship to reality.

Therefore, the business of government is not to interfere in the advocacy or suppression of whatever ideas it considers moral or immoral. The purpose of the government–and of law enforcement agencies–is solely to examine individual actions to ascertain whether a crime (force or fraud) has been committed, and act in response to the severity of the crime. When the government punishes a criminal, it is not for his immoral ideology or set of beliefs that the punishment is awarded but specifically for his crime–the act and its severity.

To claim that the government can punish a man for his ideas is to grant the government legitimacy as a moral arbiter. Once this is granted to the government, it is only a matter of a few more rationalistic deductions thereafter to argue that the government should get into the business of ideological advocacy or suppression, i.e., become the thought-police of society, or institute a Communist state (see “Enforcing Moral Values“).

Few would defend the view that the government should reward men who have moral ideas by granting them (say) free property, health care, trips to the Bahamas, etc. Then, on what grounds can the government legitimately punish a man for immoral ideas, or what it may consider to be “thought-crimes”? On what grounds can the government punish people with immoral ideas (like racism or Nazism, which motivate so-called “hate crimes”), monitor the “moral fiber of society,” and censor certain ideas (like pornographic stories)? If it is not sufficient–or even permissible–to convict an individual for homophobia or racism, then why should there be special status granted to actions motivated by such thoughts that are clearly out of the bounds of legal punishment? Why are crimes motivated by homophobia or racism considered particularly heinous “hate crimes” that require special legislation and sentencing?

There is simply no legitimate ground for such government interference in the realm of ideas–be they moral or immoral–unless one subscribes to the notion that the government is a legitimate authority on morality and is the ultimate arbiter in moral affairs; this notion, in turn, has no other foundation other than the basis of collectivism, according to which, morality is not a private individual affair but a collective one and that an individual alone has no use or need for a moral code of principles.

Thus, maintaining clear boundaries between the spheres of the individual and the social, the domain of morality and legality, the concepts of morals and rights, the concepts of thought and action is as crucial as choosing between life and death, slavery and freedom, a dictatorship and a free society.

[Edits: Added a paragraph on the necessity of a social context for rights and human flourishment and an elaboration on hate crime laws.]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

The Incoherence of Rationalistic Rights

Posted by Jerry on November 29, 2007

I’ve been thinking about Christine Korsgaard’s article in defense of animals rights (I have a printed copy, but the link is inactive). Korsgaard employs a radical reinterpretation of Kantian duty ethics to mount her case for animal rights. This is unique because Kant himself was explicitly against granting rights to non-rational beings, i.e., animals.

Korsgaard’s article is lengthy and technical, but her reversal of Kantian ethics in support of a position Kant himself was explicitly against is impressive. Briefly, Korsgaard argues that human rights are derived from our nature as living organisms who seek to pursue things that are good for ourselves; further, she argues that all living organisms that pursue the good for themselves are acting as ends-in-themselves. Humans are different in that not only do we pursue the good, but we pursue it out of choice and reflect upon our choices. We ascribe value to our pursuits of the good and protect it (legislate it) in the form of rights.

Korsgaard argues that this ability to legislate our pursuits and protect it is not a sufficient condition to retain rights exclusively for humans, because we do grant rights to those humans who cannot legislate and protect the good for themselves: for example, little infants and the severely disabled cannot demand or legislate their right to pursue the good, yet we extend the protection of pursuits (i.e., rights) to them. Likewise, women and slaves at one point were not allowed to legislate for themselves and demand protection for their pursuits–yet society extended certain protections (rights) to them.

Therefore, the criteria for having rights–Korsgaard argues–is not our ability to reflect upon our pursuits and protect them by legislation but our ability to pursue the good which is necessary for our survival as living beings. Korsgaard argues that this necessity is a common feature among all living things–whether or not they are consciously aware of their acts in pursuit of the good. She admits that such an argument may result in an absurd reductio whereby the rights of even microbial organisms and plants would need to be recognized. However, she does not consider this a weakness of her argument, rather a matter for us to grapple with, to reexamine the alleged foundations and nature of our concepts of rights.

In my post Veals Are Not Innocent, I responded to philosopher Joel Marks’ defense of animal rights, which is based on utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer’s argument of minimizing suffering in the world; particularly, eliminating the unnecessary suffering of sentient beings.

Korsgaard’s approach is unique because it makes no appeal to the philosophically murky notion of suffering as the standard of morality. However, the problem with her approach is its rationalism–dropping the context of reality.

The problem with rationalism–of the philosophic kind–is that it can be put to argue any position that is deductively derived and logically consistent: for rationalism, reality is hardly a contraint to an argument, only logic is. Afterall, it’s noteworthy that Kant believed his ethical system did not permit the extending of rights to non-rational beings, and yet, it is precisely the Kantian ethical system that is used by Korsgaard in her logical argument for animal rights arising from the nature of living entities as ends-in-themselves. What does this say about the Kantian ethical system or the rationalistic method it employs?

By situating itself solely in the abstract realm of logically deductive analysis, rationalism perpetuates the false dichotomy between deduction and induction, analysis and synthesis; the price it pays for appearing to have mathematical precision is the context of reality.

Objectivism is fundamentally a reality-oriented philosophy: From empiric observation, Objectivism extrapolates its general principles in conformance with the laws of logic. Note that Objectivism is not identical to Empiricism, just as it is not Rationalism. Objectivism does not deduce from a set of first principles nor does it generalize from any number of empiric instances. It does not look at how many times a certain event by an entity has occurred in nature to form a general principle of the event or the entity.

Objectivism integrates empiric observation with logical and deductive principles in non-contradictory fashion to examine the nature and quality of the event-causing entities. The validity of a principle is not in how often it appears in reality but in its fundamental nature and adherence to the laws of logic.

Thus, induction is not merely a matter of extrapolating a principle from a large number of unfalsified observed instances; it is a matter of discovering the nature of causality of the event by ascertaining the identity of the entity (i.e., applying the law of Identity and its corollary the Law of Causality to the context: An entity acts only according to its identity).

In the context of reality, granting rights to animals is an undeniably incoherent position if you discard rationalism: if rights are intended to protect one’s pursuit of necessary values for survival, how does one safeguard the rights of one animal from being violated by another animal? For example, whose rights should one enforce–that of the prey to its life or that of the predator to its food as a means of survival? Reality offers no room for contradictions; therefore, our epistemic policy should also be to permit no contradictions in our formation of concepts, principles, and knowledge.

Likewise, to highlight the weakness of empiricism, just because we observe that human pursuits of the good are routinely and rampantly violated or thwarted by governments, dictators, societies, and other individuals across the world, we cannot legitimately conclude that rights do not exist or that human rights inherently conflict with each other or that rights are artificial constructs relative to cultural norms.

Only Objectivism offers the most robust foundation and defense of human rights–not on rationalistic or empiric grounds–but on objectively valid and universalizable grounds. For Objectivism, rights do not exist in a vacuum; it is not intrinsic to living entities; it does not exist on a platonic realm; it does not apply to a lone man on a deserted island. Rights arise from a specific existential relationship between man–because of his identity–and other men in his surroundings. What this results in is a notion of rights that is coherent, logically consistent with other rational principles, valid in reality, and universally practicable without conflict.

Posted in Animal Rights, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Cutting The String

Posted by Jerry on November 21, 2007

Paul Hsieh, over at Noodlefood, posts about the formulation of a new theory in physics that may well be *the* Theory of Everything:

Physicist/surfer Garrett Lisi may have come up with a physics theory that unites all the fundamental particles and forces of nature, including gravity, without relying on dubious multidimensional string theory. According to this related article:

…[H]is proposal is remarkable because, by the arcane standards of particle physics, it does not require highly complex mathematics.

Even better, it does not require more than one dimension of time and three of space, when some rival theories need ten or even more spatial dimensions and other bizarre concepts.

In other words, it doesn’t require invoking arbitrary new dimensions for which we have no evidence. Plus it makes testable predictions that are at variance with the so-called Standard Model. The New Scientist article states that his theory predicts:

…[M]ore than 20 new particles not envisaged by the standard model. Lisi is now calculating the masses that these particles should have, in the hope that they may be spotted when the Large Hadron Collider – being built at CERN, near Geneva in Switzerland – starts up next year.

“This is an all-or-nothing kind of theory – it’s either going to be exactly right, or spectacularly wrong,” says Lisi. “I’m the first to admit this is a long shot. But it ain’t over till the LHC sings.”

David Harriman [Objectivist physicist and philosopher] mentioned in his lecture to our Front Range Objectivism group last year that any physicist who wants to challenge the dominance of string theory will have a very hard time, since nearly all the grant funding in academia for such foundational issues is controlled by people who believe in string theory. It seems that this is borne out by Lisi’s experience, as reported by New Scientist:

Most attempts to bring gravity into the picture have been based on string theory, which proposes that particles are ultimately composed of minuscule strings. Lisi has never been a fan of string theory and says that it’s because of pressure to step into line that he abandoned academia after his PhD. “I’ve never been much of a follower, so I walked off to search for my own theory,” he says. Last year, he won a research grant from the charitably funded Foundational Questions Institute to pursue his ideas.

For those who are interested in the details of his theory, here’s the link to his paper (click on “PDF” on the upper right). The abstract reads as follows:

An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything

A. Garrett Lisi (Submitted on 6 Nov 2007)

Abstract: All fields of the standard model and gravity are unified as an E8 principal bundle connection. A non-compact real form of the E8 Lie algebra has G2 and F4 subalgebras which break down to strong su(3), electroweak su(2) x u(1), gravitational so(3,1), the frame-Higgs, and three generations of fermions related by triality. The interactions and dynamics of these 1-form and Grassmann valued parts of an E8 superconnection are described by the curvature and action over a four dimensional base manifold.

Those who want a semi-technical explanation (with video) can find one here. My own mathematics background is not strong enough to make an assessment of the merits of his theory. Nor do I know any more about the Foundational Questions Institute besides what’s on their webpage. But for what it’s worth, I did meet Garrett Lisi at a dinner party several years ago as a friend-of-a-friend, back when Diana and I lived in San Diego and he was still a graduate student in physics at UCSD. At the time, he struck me as an extremely intelligent man, so he would be a plausible candidate for someone who could have come up with a revolutionary new theory in physics.

I had two thoughts after reading Paul’s post:

1) A consensus among scientists about any theory–a la AGW–does not make it right. Indeed, there have been spectacular cases of the majority of scientists being proven wrong about their acceptance of a theory by some individual or minority who usher in a paradigmatic revolution.

2) I need to start reading my book “Not Even Wrong” by Peter Woit that talks about how the dominance of string theorists have practically stunted the exploration of new ideas in this field, and goes on to point out the flaws in string theory.

P.S. I’m making no judgements about the merit or validity of Lisi’s new formulation: it would be absurd for me to do so, I have neither the background nor any competence in this field. This post is just to make a note of something newsworthy.

Posted in Philosophy, science, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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