Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

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On Facebook

Posted by Jerry on March 29, 2008

I have created a new group on Facebook called “Ayn Rand Fans in Mumbai.”

Here is the description I wrote:

I have created a new group–primarily for people in Mumbai, but also open to all fans of Ayn Rand’s novels and philosophy around the world. You are welcome to join and participate in the group. Occassionally, there might be events and socials organized in Mumbai, the details of which will be posted here. A tentative upcoming event I am planning is an Ayn Rand movie festival, showcasing the Oscar nominated documentary “Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life” and the Italian movie “We The Living.

I intend this to be a place for fans of Ayn Rand’s novels and philosophy to meet, network, socialize, and be updated on city events related to the activities of this group.

I intentionally avoided making the group exclusive to Objectivists because I do not want this to be primarily and fundamentally a philosophy group, although the common interest here is largely philosophical–or intellectual. The group is also open to those who admire Rand’s novels but do not have a philosophical bent of mind, including those who properly do not call themselves Objectivists until they fully understand what subscribing to the philosophy entails.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, Objectivism, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Consistent Irrationality

Posted by Jerry on March 28, 2008

Most people function on a mix of rational and irrational ideas in their lives. There are only two ways you can survive: either you be consistently rational and act accordingly or you allow for instances of irrationality and hope that you will luckily escape the consequences of it or have someone else (usually, the government or rational neighbors) bail you out from the mess of your own creation.

It is only the human mind that can harbor contradictions, because it has free will—and since external reality does not permit such a mix of contradictions, the extent to which a person functions on irrationalities and contradiction, to that extent he is at war with reality.

Religion is fundamentally irrational. To the extent that you practice your religion consistently, it won’t be long before you either seriously or fatally harm yourself or someone else. It is the inescapable nature of reality. Here are just a couple of examples that highlight this principle manifesting in reality (from John Enright’s blog):

An eleven-year old girl is dead because her parents refused to take her to the doctor for a treatable condition. Instead, they chose to pray to god for a healing to occur. When, miraculously, no healing occured, and the child’s condition worsened over 30 days until she eventually succumbed to her death, her parents said that they did not pray with enough faith. Not to accept defeat in their battle against reality, the girl’s mother has now vowed to pray for her daughter’s resurrection:

An 11-year-old girl died after her parents prayed for healing rather than seek medical help for a treatable form of diabetes, police said Tuesday.

Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said Madeline Neumann died Sunday in Weston, just outside Wausau.

“She got sicker and sicker until she was dead,” he said.

Vergin said an autopsy determined the girl died from diabetic ketoacidosis, an ailment that left her with too little insulin in her body, and she had probably been ill for about 30 days, suffering symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness.

The girl’s parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to “apparently they didn’t have enough faith,” the police chief said.

They believed the key to healing “was it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray,” he said.

The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.

A very troubling aspect of this story is that the government’s child services division apparently finds nothing alarming about these parents’ behavior and its implications to their three other daughters. The dead child–whose death was directly caused by the faith and irrationality of her parents–has three siblings between the ages of 13 and 16.

The girl has three siblings, ranging in age from 13 to 16, the police chief said.

“They are still in the home,” he said. “There is no reason to remove them. There is no abuse or signs of abuse that we can see.”

In another account of a battle against reality, a father allegedly placed his infant baby in a microwave oven to burn; his wife explains that her husband was under the influence of Satan, who had taken advantage of a “weak moment.” Through some means, the wife acquired the knowledge that Satan was angry at her husband for choosing to become a Christian preacher. Therefore, Satan compelled her husband to put their infant child in the microwave, shut the door, turn it on, and watch as the baby suffered serious burns.

The wife of this demon-haunted man, however, does admit to an interesting fact:

Mauldin said her husband had a mental disability and her efforts to get him help have failed.

Those who claim that religion is not something to be made fun of are correct in one sense. Religion cannot be taken so lightly as to be made fun of; know that the believers are not taking their religion lightly–and to the degree that they are not, we shouldn’t either, because life hangs in the balance. Religion should be criticized, denounded, and condemned as strongly as the practitioners who practice it hold their faith.

The pernicious death-premise of religion is hardly recognized by even most secular folks and atheists. While the secularists and atheists are content with rejecting religious beliefs, many of them often acknowledge that some people need religion and that religion can certainly provide a path to a virtuous and moral lifestyle. Indeed, many atheists share the same moral code that religion prescribes! Religion is seen as a guide to virtuous living that can be secularized, which is the insidious nature of this form of irrationality—it hides under the garb of universal virtue. 

A majority of people in the world (including many atheists) consider only religious people to be some of the most virtuous people on this planet. Think Teresa of Calcutta. How many people believe that Teresa was lacking in any significant moral virtue? I’d venture to say—very few. How many think she was downright evil?

Do you see my point? 

====

UPDATE: Yahoo! News and the Associated Press have just posted a more detailed account of the 11-year old girl’s death, including interviews with the parents and some relatives. Here are some of the details missing from the original link I posted in my article above:

An autopsy showed Madeline Neumann died Sunday of diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition that left too little insulin in her body, Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said.

She had probably been ill for about a month, suffering symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness, the chief said Wednesday, noting that he expects to complete the investigation by Friday and forward the results to the district attorney.

The girl’s mother, Leilani Neumann, said that she and her family believe in the Bible and that healing comes from God, but that they do not belong to an organized religion or faith, are not fanatics and have nothing against doctors.

She insisted her youngest child, a wiry girl known to wear her straight brown hair in a ponytail, was in good health until recently.

“We just noticed a tiredness within the past two weeks,” she said Wednesday. “And then just the day before and that day (she died), it suddenly just went to a more serious situation. We stayed fast in prayer then. We believed that she would recover. We saw signs that to us, it looked like she was recovering.”

Her daughter — who hadn’t seen a doctor since she got some shots as a 3-year-old, according to Vergin — had no fever and there was warmth in her body, she said.

The girl’s father, Dale Neumann, a former police officer, said he started CPR “as soon as the breath of life left” his daughter’s body.

Family members elsewhere called authorities to seek help for the girl.

“My sister-in-law, she’s very religious, she believes in faith instead of doctors …,” the girl’s aunt told a sheriff’s dispatcher Sunday afternoon in a call from California. “And she called my mother-in-law today … and she explained to us that she believes her daughter’s in a coma now and she’s relying on faith.”

The dispatcher got more information from the caller and asked whether an ambulance should be sent.

“Please,” the woman replied. “I mean, she’s refusing. She’s going to fight it. … We’ve been trying to get her to take her to the hospital for a week, a few days now.”

The aunt called back with more information on the family’s location, emergency logs show. Family friends also made a 911 call from the home. Police and paramedics arrived within minutes and immediately called for an ambulance that took her to a hospital.

But less than an hour after authorities reached the home, Madeline — a bright student who left public school for home schooling this semester — was declared dead.

She is survived by her parents and three older siblings.

“We are remaining strong for our children,” Leilani Neumann said. “Only our faith in God is giving us strength at this time.”

The Neumanns said they moved from California to a modern, middle-class home in woodsy Weston, just outside Wassau in central Wisconsin, about two years ago to open a coffee shop and be closer to other relatives. A basketball hoop is set up in the driveway.

Leilani Neumann said she and her husband are not worried about the investigation because “our lives are in God’s hands. We know we did not do anything criminal. We know we did the best for our daughter we knew how to do.”

Posted in Atheism, Culture, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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 »

Get Crucified in Style

Posted by Jerry on March 20, 2008

On Obloggers, Paul Hsieh alerts us to “some important safety tips for those who plan to be crucified this weekend.” (Lol!)

==Excerpts:

This Holy Week, the thousands of guilt stricken or pious worshippers who will flay the skin off their backs, and the handful who will crucify themselves, are encouraged to get a tetanus shot first and be sure to use a clean whip or nails.

“Getting deep cut wounds during whippings or lashings is inevitable and being so exposed during the course of the penitence, with all the
heat and dust blowing in the wind, welcomes all sorts of infections and bacteria like tetanus,” he explained.

Re-enactments of the Passion of Christ are common in many parts of the mostly Roman Catholic Philippines but frowned upon by the church
authorities.

In San Fernando City 23 people, including two women, have signed up to re-enact the crucifixion at three “improvised Golgothas” around town.
Four of them will use real nails.

The city government’s website trumpets the preparations.

“The City Health Office (CHO) autoclaved all the nails to be used and will administer anti-tetanus vaccine to all the “Cristos” to ensure
their protection from possible infection,” it points out. City officials will conduct an inspection of the Golgothas on Thursday.

Some 23 people, including two women, plan to reenact the crucifixion. The festival is sponsored by Coca-cola and a company called Smart
Telecommunications.

In a break from the original tradition, penitents are encouraged to “bring enough drinking water for the whole course of the pilgrimage to
avoid dehydration, rather than buy bottled drinking water from unfamiliar sources.”

There is also government advice for the many tourists and spectators who attend the events.

“It is also better to bring self-prepared foods such as sandwiches, not only to save money, but also to avoid getting diseases such as
diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid after eating food bought from street vendors,” the health secretary suggested.

============

Just imagine, instead of asking for myrrh, Jesus would have called out for “some Coke please.” WHAT BRAND ENDORSEMENT THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN!! Coke would officially have replaced wine in all the chalices of Catholic churches!

Posted in Atheism, Culture, General Work/Life, Humor, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

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 »

The Unchanging Constant in Climate Change

Posted by Jerry on March 12, 2008

My readers in India know that we have had one of the coldest winters in several decades. In fact, Mumbai–which a city known to have only two seasons: summer and monsoon–experienced record low temperatures over the past few months. People in the city felt as if they were teleported to some arctic locale, being completely ill-prepared for the weather and having no warm clothes.

Apparently, the Indian subcontinental peninsula was not the only region to experience an abberrant drop in temperatures. According to this article in the DailyTech:

Over the past year, anecdotal evidence for a cooling planet has exploded. China has its coldest winter in 100 years. Baghdad sees its first snow in all recorded history. North America has the most snowcover in 50 years, with places like Wisconsin the highest since record-keeping began. Record levels of Antarctic sea ice, record cold in Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Australia, Iran, Greece, South Africa, Greenland, Argentina, Chile — the list goes on and on.

The article goes on to say that the total amount of global cooling only this past year has been larger than the entire range of warm temperatures recorded in the past one hundred years. Note that this data suggests that the range of cooling that has occurred in this past year comes at the height of our industrial activity and population numbers.

All four major global temperature tracking outlets (Hadley, NASA’s GISS, UAH, RSS) have released updated data. All show that over the past year, global temperatures have dropped precipitously. The total amount of cooling ranges from 0.65C up to 0.75C — a value large enough to wipe out most of the warming recorded over the past 100 years. All in one year’s time. For all four sources, it’s the single fastest temperature change ever recorded, either up or down.

Scientists quoted in a past DailyTech article link the cooling to reduced solar activity which they claim is a much larger driver of climate change than man-made greenhouse gases. The dramatic cooling seen in just 12 months time seems to bear that out. While the data doesn’t itself disprove that carbon dioxide is acting to warm the planet, it does demonstrate clearly that more powerful factors are now cooling it.

So, is it time to return to the global cooling hysteria of the 1970s? Whatever the new fluctuating trend in global climate change, this one thing remains an unchanging constant–the environmentalists’ predilection for fear-mongering and human hatred.

[HT: Al-Kafir Akbar]

Posted in Culture, Environmentalism, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Right to Migrate

Posted by Jerry on March 10, 2008

The right to migrate–that is, to move from one nation or society to another–is a derivative of the right to liberty and the right to own property wherever it is possible. Ultimately, all of these are derived from an individual’s right to his own life. Objectivism upholds a policy of open immigration for America–and not impractically so. It is impossible for a moral principle to be impractical in reality.

The Objective Standard–an Objectivist journal of culture and politics–has a new article on how the moral right to immigrate is not only consonant with individual rights but also fully and consistently practicable in reality. People wrongly associate issues like illegal immigration, over-population, competition in jobs and wages, cultural erosion, and so on as challenges to open immigration. What they do not realize is that these problems arise precisely because the U.S. government rampantly violates human rights by not permitting open immigration and instead legislating arbitrary immigration quotas and ethnic lotteries. 

The article in the Objective Standard explains in detail how current immigration policies give birth to greater security concerns and rights violations than a moral and objective immigration policy. Here is a particularly striking excerpt from the opening paragraphs of the article:

Morally speaking, if a person rationally judges that immigrating to America would be good for his life, he should immigrate; a rational morality holds that one should always act on one’s best judgment. But does a foreigner have a right to move to America? And should America welcome him? Yes, he does—and yes, she should.

And here’s another juicy bit from the article:

America’s border is not properly a barrier for the purpose of keeping foreigners out; it is properly a boundary designating the area in which the U.S. government must protect rights.

Posted in Culture, Economics, Immigration Issues, India, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

The Sword of Wafa Sultan

Posted by Jerry on March 7, 2008

Syrian-born political commentator and American psychiatrist, Wafa Sultan, speaks with the ferocity of a sword-wielding soldier in the battlefield of ideas.

“I have decided to fight Islam; please pay attention to my statement; to fight Islam, not the political Islam, not the militant Islam, not the radical Islam, not the Wahhabi Islam, but Islam itself… Islam has never been misunderstood, Islam is the problem…. (Muslims) have to realize that they have only two choices: to change or to be crushed.”

This video of her interview on Al-Jazeera is a must-see:

http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/1704.htm

Go to fullsize imageWhen Islamic barbarism was revealed in the wake of the Danish cartoons fiasco, Wafa Sultan and members from the Ayn Rand Institute got together on panel discussions across the United States to stand up against the Islamic threat to freedom, liberty, and western civilization. The ARI website has the video of one their events in which Wafa Sultan participated:

Totalitarian Islam’s Threat to the West
A panel discussion featuring Daniel Pipes, Yaron Brook and Wafa Sultan
Recorded April 12, 2007
View video playback (requires RealPlayer®)
Part 1 (55 min.)
Part 2 (60 min.)

Watch more videos of this brave woman. [HT: Rule of Reason]

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, Islamo-loony, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

The Evil Obamas

Posted by Jerry on March 4, 2008

The disgusting racket of self-sacrifice and self-abnegation that the Obamas run must be exposed and condemned harshly for all its evilness. If ever I heard anything downright evil explicitly offered as virtue, it has to be these words of Michelle Obama–the wife of US presidential candidate Barak Obama and perhaps the next first lady of the United States:

“We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do,” she tells the women. “Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond.”

And you thought Ayn Rand exaggerated the evilness of her altruistic villains in her novels? The Obamas are right out of the pages of Atlas Shrugged. If Barak Obama is elected as the next US president, it will be the end of an industrial and financial powerhouse that literally holds the continent of Africa and many nations afloat, and the start of a self-sacrificial, tribalistic, village economy that will surely bleed to its own death.

I picked up this story from The Undercurrent, which has written up its own harsh condemnation of Michelle Obama. I encourage bloggers to blog this story on your sites as well.

Posted in 2008 US Elections, Culture, Economics, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

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 »

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 »

Objectivist Carnival No. 30

Posted by Jerry on February 8, 2008

Evanescent is the first-time host of the 30th Objectivist Carnival! Check out his site for links to all the posts below:

RationalJenn wants to know which states are currently complying?, and says…
Somehow, this whole thing snuck past me when it went through Congress nearly 3 years ago. It looks as if the Feds are going to come down hard on states that refuse to comply fully with the federal “security” guidelines for the issuance of state ids. Not only that, I fail to see how on earth this will protect me from Bad Guys. But I see quite clearly how much information our federal government will have about me and everyone else who wants to drive a car or ride in an airplane

Nicholas Provenzo at The Rule of Reason tells us Why Boycotting Berkeley is Important. [This is important: apparently, the city council of Berkeley has banned the US Marines from entering their city limits for recruitment purposes. Oh, but they certainly want the Marines and the rest of the US military to continue to safeguard their lives and property–only from the outside. — Ergo

Stella Daily at Reason Pharma reckons it Would be Cheaper if You Were Dead! [I’ve noticed a recent trend in books and studies extolling the virtue of death and non-existence; a pop philosophizer recently wrote a book arguing that non-existence is bliss; Stella, in her post, talks about a study that says health-care costs would be less if people were more unhealthy, obese, and sick–because they’d die faster. Is this the culture of nihilism? — Ergo]

Gus Van Horn presents Heartland on VanDamme

Evanescent exposes the Nihilism of Subjectivism. [An excellent post tracing the nihilistic roots of subjectivism, which lie at the ideological foundations of many “New Atheists.” — Ergo]

The next edition of the Objectivist Carnival will be a compendium of the Best Posts of 2007 and will be hosted at Crucible & Column.

Posted in Culture, Objectivism, Objectivist Carnival, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Hindi News Channel on Ayn Rand

Posted by Jerry on February 1, 2008

Of all the places to find an article about Ayn Rand, there is this recent one on Zee News. The online version of the 24-hour Hindi News cable channel carried a decent article on Ayn Rand (in English, of course). Reading the title of the article, I was prepared for yet another misinformed, second-handed diatribe on Rand’s life and a grotesque caricature of her philosophy.

The article is fine, however; the author Ipsita Baishya treats the essential ideas of Objectivism fairly enough. Like in these excerpts, for example (note how Baishya points out Rand’s rejection of the libertarian party):

According to Rand, one’s highest value should be one’s ability to reason. This also manifested in the way she viewed her own life, not through feelings but through her interest in ideas and her thinking.

Politically, Rand wanted to provide liberal capitalism with a moral anchor, to take on the commonplace notion that communism was a noble if unworkable idea while the free market was a necessary evil best suited to flawed human nature. Her impassioned arguments against “compassionate” redistribution–and persecution–of wealth have not lost their urgency and relevance even today.

Although Rand denounced the feminist movement, one cannot help but see a strong feminist subtext in her repertoire. All of her heroines are strong-willed, independent women; feminism being all about women asserting their individuality. So it would not be incorrect to assume that Rand by default had a feminist streak to her as many feminists have interpreted. She rejected the Libertarian movement due to her emphasis on epistemology and her rational premise did not allow her to believe in the existence of any Superpower. [bold mine] 

But the sprinkle of words like “cult”, “religious doctrine”, and “loopholes” leaves me wondering about the intent of the author. I suspect this article was published in time to mark Ayn Rand’s birthday on February 2.

I myself had made plans to commemorate the occasion over two days by airing an Oscar nominated documentary on Rand’s life—Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life and the Italian movie based on her book We The Living. However, as I was making my plans, I learned that Mumbai would be celebrating a 10-day long art festival slated to begin on the same day. Due to the festival, the venue I was considering for airing the documentary would not be available—Prithvi Theater, MaxMueller Bhavan, etc. Besides, I would be competing with more established festival events for an audience to the movies.

Perhaps, after the Kala Ghoda Art Festival concludes, I might set up the dates for screening these movies. The American Center Library in South Mumbai is open to hosting the event, when I spoke to them earlier this week. Let’s see how it all turns out.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Movies, Mumbai, Objectivism, Personal, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

X-Men in Mumbai

Posted by Jerry on January 30, 2008

Last Sunday, I went on a coffee date with a man I had been in contact with for several months. Our conversation was fluid, lively, expansive (in terms of the topics we discussed), and stimulating. However, there was this one moment that totally cracked me up. You’ll see:

Him: You know that the X-Men movies have a definite homosexual sub-text, right?

Me: Oh, of course! It’s hardly a sub-text–it’s the entire freakin’ gay agenda, loud and proud!

Him: Yah. Precisely! Well, in Mumbai, there is a definite X-men type gay underground group. We have Magneto, a.k.a, Ashok Row Kavi–the militantly gay activist, and his posse at the Humsafar Trust; and then we have his nemesis Professor X–the more benign and amiable founder of Gay Bombay groups with the rest of us followers.

Me: Oh, interesting! And what character are you?

Him: Well, I’m not really a “character” per se: I Am The Cerebro!

Posted in Culture, General Work/Life, Humor, India, Mumbai, Personal, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 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 »

Congrats VanDamme

Posted by Jerry on January 28, 2008

Lisa VanDamme’s unique approach to education, which has proven to be a great success among students, parents, and educators, was featured in an article in The Heartland Institute’s newsletter.

The VanDamme Academy, a K-8 school in Laguna Hills, California, has an unusual way of giving students a better foundation of knowledge.

Founder Lisa VanDamme said the students learn incrementally, not moving forward in concepts until they’ve mastered the one at hand. Moreover, teachers encourage them to make connections within and between the subjects, and between school and life.

“[We’re] teaching in a very deliberate, planned, incremental order that provides for real understanding on the part of the child,” VanDamme said. “They’re starting on the small, simple steps and building on it, so at each new stage, they thoroughly grasp the material.”

Using a carefully planned curriculum, teachers help students build core knowledge and hone skills necessary for their future success, VanDamme said.

VanDamme developed her teaching method when she began as a homeschool teacher to an exceptionally gifted child about 11 years ago. She drew on the experience of highly educated friends and the educational philosophy of Ayn Rand to put together her curriculum.

The school emphasizes science, math, history, and language arts, which VanDamme considers universally necessary for all mature, informed adults.

Students must demonstrate a thorough understanding of each topic, often writing essay questions to explain everything from scientific theories to vocabulary.

“Something can pass as knowledge when it’s really just memorized gibberish,” VanDamme explained. “We only consider ourselves successful if [students] can explain to us what they’re doing in complete thoughts of their own.

“We don’t give multiple choice or true/false [tests] at any time,” VanDamme continued. “We put a big emphasis on writing. We want them to really, fully, completely understand what they’re doing. We want them to grasp and be able to explain everything.”

VanDamme’s curriculum advances students without putting them in the traditional K-8 grade classes, letting them progress in subjects as quickly as they learn them and constantly challenging each student, she said.

Of the 25 students who have graduated from the six-year-old academy since 2005, one-third had made their way partially through calculus before entering ninth grade.

Other students are just as successful: One seventh-grader recently scored a perfect 800 on the writing portion of the SAT. VanDamme’s first student, now in his early 20s, is in his fifth year of graduate studies in physics at Stanford University. [bold added]

Read more here.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, Objectivism, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Book Reviews and My Room Videos

Posted by Jerry on January 26, 2008

I realize I haven’t been blogging at all lately. I find that I have very little free time to myself; and the precious little that I do have, I must choose between spending it on finishing a book that I’m reading, watching something on TV to just relax blankly, or typing up my thoughts on innumberable things on my blog. Invariably, I end up choosing from the first two options.

I just finished reading Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It’s an explosive book!–what a fascinating story, a heroic life, an incredible journey of a real heroic giant of a woman! It should be compulsory reading for every crazy multiculturalist and Islamic fundamentalist out there. In fact, everyone should read it, and be inspired by it. Ayaan Hirsi Ali defies cultural determinism, cultural bonds, traditions, religious injunctions, the threat to life and soul, family, clan, nation–practically everything that an average mediocrity finds as constituents of his self-identity. Rising from the tribal muck of primitive Somalia and the backwardness of Islamic traditions, Ayaan charts her own course, explicitly based on reason, individualism, and enlightenment ideals. Infidel is the autobiography of this strong, young, and heroic woman. It’s the story of a woman that exemplifies Ayn Rand’s words: “man is a being of self-made soul.”

Then, I plodded through a terribly clunky, horribly-written book on Poincare’s Conjecture in the mathematical field of Topology. The book is about the story of an unknown Russian mathematician Greg Perelman, who suddenly shot to fame after quietly submitting a paper on the Internet in which he had written up a proof for Poincare’s Conjecture—a problem that had remained unsolved until then for several centuries. This incident had happened on a few years ago, and at that time (sometime in 2001, I think), I remember reading about a Russian man solving a centuries-old problem in the newspaper. I still recollect being intrigued by the story and wondering what the details of this solution and the mathematical problem was. 

Now, I love reading books on mathematics, although I am terribly weak in the subject myself. I have never been good with numbers: we are as mutually repelling as opposite poles of a magnet. However, I am fascinated by the story of mathematical achievements, geniuses, mathematical research, inventions, explorations, thoughts, etc. I had immensely enjoyed reading about Godel’s theorems and Fermat’s proofs. And the more I read about the field of mathematics, the more I understood it, because each new book contains several references to similar themes, ideas, topics, problems, and personalities–and they approach it from different angles; and when you identify these similarity and begin making integrations in your mind based on these vantage points, the feeling of awe and wonder is more than gratifying.

However, as I was reading Poincare’s Prize, I thought to myself that the contributors to Wikipedia write far superior articles, and they are more captivating as well! The author of Poincare’s Prize seems completely scattered in his organization, overwhelmed by the complexity of the subject matter he’s tackling, and unsure of how to simply progress from one paragraph to the next. His transitions are clunky and distracting. He dwells on irrelevant–almost encyclopedic–details of personalities that add little to the progression of the storyline.

In any case, all of these deficiencies can be overlooked as nothing more than mild annoyance. However, what I found most egregious is the author’s gall to inject his sense of morality and judgment on the actions of the mathematicians he discusses. Instead of staying clear of such moral evaluations in a topic dealing with objective facts and dry logic–or at least letting the reader make his own moral judgements of the characters, the author generously indulges in moralizing. It should go without saying that my heightened senstivity to this aspect of the book is primarily because I deeply disagree and detest the author’s moral evaluations.

Anyway. Moving on to something unrelated. For my recent birthday, I was gifted a Nikon CoolPix L11 digital camera. I decided to tinker around with it in the privacy of my room. Here are some short videos of my room.

And another:

And finally:

Posted in Books, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Islamo-loony, Movies, Mumbai, Personal, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Free Market Defense

Posted by Jerry on January 17, 2008

I like this opinion piece appearing in the New York Times; it indicates that free market ideas are not only getting visibility in high-profile media outlets but also that they are openly and boldly being defended. For example, in this article, it is noteworthy that the author Steven Landsburg couches the economic prudence and defense of free trade in strongly moral terms. Even though I believe he does not go deep enough to the root of the moral issues involved, I’m happily satisfied with his piece as it is.

Here’s an excerpt:

If the world owes you compensation for enduring the downside of trade, what do you owe the world for enjoying the upside?

What do we owe those fellow citizens?

One way to think about that is to ask what your moral instincts tell you in analogous situations. Suppose, after years of buying shampoo at your local pharmacy, you discover you can order the same shampoo for less money on the Web. Do you have an obligation to compensate your pharmacist? If you move to a cheaper apartment, should you compensate your landlord? When you eat at McDonald’s, should you compensate the owners of the diner next door? Public policy should not be designed to advance moral instincts that we all reject every day of our lives.

Posted in Culture, Economics, Political Issues, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

 
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