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Posts Tagged ‘Ayn Rand’

The Psychology of the Rioters in England

Posted by Jerry on August 12, 2011

Over the past few days, as I read the reports about the sickening and terrible loss of lives and property at the hands of looters and marauders in England, I wondered what could have caused such a spectacle.

There was a nagging sense that I was witnessing a rotten malaise spreading within the minds of the youth in England. But what was the cause and nature of this psychological malaise afflicting these youth?

At various discussion threads on Facebook, I kept alluding to and grappling with the psychological cause of these riots. What makes a person behave like this? Note that from all reports we know, these rioters come from very different races–including native English people–varying age-groups, different jobs, and includes men as well as women. Among those found looting shops were people in their 30s as well as kids as young as 11. Many of them were seen laughing and having a grand ol’ time as they ransacked liquor shops and stashed up on cigarettes and whiskey and beer bottles.

riot shop hackneyThe only element in common among most of these rioters was that they were mostly socio-economically disadvantaged. They were largely the poor members of English society. Many–perhaps most–of them were jobless or employed at bare minimum wages. Many of the under-aged youth were drop-outs from school.

Using this as a launching point, left-liberals and others have argued that this sense of alienation, disadvantage, disconnection, poverty, invisibility, unemployment, and disempowerment among this segment of the English community has led to this cathartic exercise of maniacal and delirious power. There has been some sudden class-consciousness among these oppressed peoples and they have finally decided to end the exploitation by staging an “unrest.” This explains the robbing and looting of gadgets, liquor, and expensive clothing–they argue–because it finally gives them what they have always been denied by the “power” elite.

However, in my opinion, this line of rationalization is very lazy. It shouldn’t take you more than a second to remember that this world has far, far more people living in utterly despicable conditions of poverty and disempowerment. There are way too many millions on this earth who–despite their invisibility, alienation, and lack of power–do not have the luxury of wearing warm, hooded sweaters, track pants, and white sneakers and step out on a looting rampage. If Marxist doctrine is to be believed, then every “oppressed” person languishing in poverty across the world should be up in arms rioting and revolting under the enlightenment of a brand new unified class-identity.

And yet, something constrains them; something which clearly did not constrain the rioters in England.

The Arab Spring, the African revolutions, and Islamic Jihad cannot be counted as examples of class-awakening. Theirs are movements driven by ideologies of varying kinds–for better or worse.

The rioters in England have no ideology as such. There is no proclamation for any particular viewpoint. This is in fact one of the reasons why there are so many conflicting interpretations and analyses of these recent events in England. These rioters are rudderless, mindless, collectivist drones.

And therein lies the clue to their behavior. Ask yourself, how does one become a rudderless, mindless, collectivist drone? One answer is when you are never confronted with the necessity to use your own independent mind.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain–one of the largest welfare states in the world–has been nurturing and breeding a mind-numbed cadre of youngsters who are living on dole-outs, whose life, survival, and sustenance are someone else’s responsibility.

These are people who are not demanded to think and confront the fragility of their own survival. These are Britons who are not demanded to be productive. These are citizens who are shielded from the bitter sting of starvation; from the panic of creeping death and the urgency of survival.

What we see now is the logical consequence of a mighty, paternalistic welfare state breeding a class of moochers who simply find no urgency in using their own mind to think–to reason–and therefore, believes that they simply cannot find their own way out of marginalization.

Indeed, this underclass of citizens has been so disempowered–not by any remnants of a capitalist structure in English society–but by the very bloated welfare government that was allegedly meant to “empower” them that they no longer believe it possible to them to get out of their miserable conditions.

It’s not their job to do so–the government has to bring them out of poverty. Indeed, they believe they are *incapable* of doing it themselves–they have been taught so by leftist philosophers, post-modernists, and welfare statists; the capitalist structures apparently are so oppressive that these people are helpless and powerless in front of it. Thus, they *need* the government to manage their lives and direct their course. It is the government’s responsibility–other people’s responsibility–to fulfill their needs and wishes.

How can one expect any sense of self-esteem or empowerment among such a class of people who have been bred and nurtured to be helpless beggars–to be recipients of dole, welfare, free lunches, and other people’s money?

Why should it be surprising then to watch these psychologically disempowered people–who have been robbed of their uniquely human ability to think, reason, value, judge, and be productive–rioting and asserting their “power” in the only way possible to non-conceptual animals, that is, through violence?

When you have the government enforcing moral values upon you, making moral decisions on your behalf, and distributing a regular monetary allowance to you, then why–and how–would you bother to think for yourself, exercise your own rational faculty, and earn your own living?

Ayn Rand noted this inseparable unity between using your own mind, living productively, and having self-respect:

“To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-esteem. Reason, as his only tool of knowledge—Purpose, as his choice of the happiness which that tool must proceed to achieve—Self-esteem, as his inviolate certainty that his mind is competent to think and his person is worthy of happiness, which means: is worthy of living.”

Self-esteem comes with the knowledge that your mind is capable and competent at ensuring your survival qua man on this earth. By doling out freebies and free money, welfare governments may treat the symptoms of poverty, unemployment, or alienation, but never the root–which is, an unproductive lifestyle encouraged by a nanny state.

It is only through productivity and achievement that one gains a sense of pride in one’s own life–that is, self-esteem.

Atlas sculpture, New York City, by sculptor Le...

Image via Wikipedia

The events of these past few days in August 2011 mark the exposure and bankruptcy of the leftist-socialist philosophies. The youth of England have been robbed of their ability to nurture a healthy sense of self-esteem–not by capitalists but by those who allegedly claim to be their well-wishers.

“The need for self-esteem is a matter of life and death,” Ayn Rand had said in her novel Atlas Shrugged in 1957.

Today, in the riots of England, we are witnessing its proof.

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

Release of “Atlas Shrugged” in Marathi

Posted by Jerry on February 17, 2011

Professor Mugdha Karnik from the University of Mumbai had undertaken the monumental task of translating Ayn Rand’s epic novel Atlas Shrugged into Marathi — the regional language of the state of Maharashtra–one of the most populous states in the country.

I have personally heard Prof. Karnik read an excerpt from her translation during one of the Atlas Sunday Club Philosophy Salon’s I organize in Mumbai. She read the passage in which Hank Rearden is holding the dying young wet nurse in his arms. It is a stirring scene in the original novel–and listening to Prof. Karnik read it out in Marathi was equally moving.

I remember telling her at that time that I believe she did not just translate the language of Atlas Shrugged but also managed to translate the spirit of the novel.

Anyway, all of this is in preamble to the reason for this post. The new Marathi version of Atlas Shrugged is being released officially in the city. The following are details. All who are in Mumbai or can travel to the city are urged to attend:

DATE

Saturday, Feb 26, 2011

TIME

7 pm to 8.30 pm

VENUE

Shivaji Mandir
Dadar, Mumbai

GUEST SPEAKERS
Veena Gavankar and Sharad Joshi
Dhananjay Karnik will introduce Sharad Joshi

COMPERE

Jyoti Ambekar

For more details and information about the book, you can reach out to Professor Karnik at the following address:

Mugdha D. Karnik,
Director
Centre for Extra-Mural Studies, University of Mumbai,
Vidyanagari, Kalina, Santacruz (E),
Mumbai 400098

Tel: 022-65952761/65296962
www.extramural.org

 

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, Objectivism, Personal, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Story behind Our Entry into the Atlas Shrugged Video Contest

Posted by Jerry on December 20, 2010

My friends and I submitted the “Sixth Sense” video. Admittedly, the philosophy and concept behind the video is not easily accessible at first–beyond the most obvious message to “Think”; so, I’ll just give a brief explanation of our thoughts that went into creating the script of the movie and then the movie itself.

First, when we decided the enter the contest, we decided to stay away from the political and economic themes of Atlas Shrugged, for the following reasons:

1) These themes are difficult to capture on a personal and emotionally-connective level.
2) It’s easy to get preachy with such themes
3) It’s the most obvious and superficial interpretation of Atlas Shrugged
4) We were sure that political and economic themes would be the ones most commonly captured by other videos in the contest.

Hence, I decided to first identify the core theme of AS, namely: The role of man’s mind in existence.

From there, I began thinking of themes most directly relevant and affecting to me (and my friends) here in India. We thought of themes like the right to free speech (but dismissed it because it didn’t convey powerful images to us in our minds, without being preachy).

We thought of the struggle of Indian youth in asserting their goals and lives in a collectivist society like India (for example, publicly open gay men like myself face some kinds of resistance almost regularly in our lives). We dropped this idea because–again, we didn’t think it hit the core of Atlas Shrugged, would be difficult to execute, may not be relevant to a global or Western audience, and we wanted to avoid an ambitious project that would turn out sloppy.

Finally, I hit upon the idea of contrasting Mysticism versus Reality. Specifically, I wanted to contrast Eastern Mysticism versus a rational view of the world, since Eastern Mysticism is attractive many many people in the West as well. So, I sat through the night and typed up a 6-page long concept paper explaining all the major premises of eastern mysticism (primacy of consciousness, One-ness of Being, illusion of reality, etc.) and debunking their arguments with strong rational, logical, and objective counter-arguments.

Essentially, my concept paper came down strongly and harshly against the side of mysticism and how mysticism makes the act of living effectively and productively impossible–and reiterated the role of the mind as our *only* competent tool of survival in this world.

In the interest of full disclosure, the filmmaker that I was working with is himself a believer in mysticism (as is very common in India). He was very uncomfortable working on such a script. Therefore, the scripwriter in our team tempered the concept-note heavily by introducing a less controversial path to conveying a similar message (albeit, invariably and through no fault of hers, losing some impact of the original message along the way). She conceived of the brilliant metaphor of the five senses–which, when used effectively and in tandem with the “sixth sense”, namely, our minds–can make our life in this world tremendously more efficacious and *human*.

Thus, was born the concept of the Sixth Sense.

The script thereafter went through several more changes by the filmmaker and the scriptwriter.

To explain the final video, the voice over is of the adult character who is reflecting on her childhood. The concept of the five senses is intended to allude to how we generally take the competence of our senses as valid, but *not* the competence of our mind as valid (we accept any truths said by scriptures, priests, collectives, parents, cultures, etc.). Our message is to not surrender the mind to the various “conspiracy theories” of mystics and collectivists. The theme of our video is the competence of our mind, which we have dubbed as “The Sixth Sense” as a deliberate subversion of the mystic’s claim of “extrasensory” or “sixth sense” connection to higher truths.

For successful living, you must trust in the competence of your mind to achieve a successful life.

Watch our video, and if you like it, please do vote for it.

http://wildfireapp.com/website/6/contests/42465/voteable_entries/12473666?order=recency

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Movies, Mumbai, My Friends, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Sixth Sense – Atlas Shrugged Video Contest Entry

Posted by Jerry on December 9, 2010

This is the video we created as our submission to the Ayn Rand Institute‘s Atlas Shrugged video contest.

The movie was filmed and edited by Abhay Kumar–a friend and talented filmmaker.

The concept for the script was developed and written by Gazal Dhaliwal–a close friend, gifted writer, and scriptwriter for Bollywood movies.

I provided the philosophical content, guide, and direction–giving advice on the message, ideas, implications, and choices that our video must make.

So here is our finished product. I am very pleased with the outcome. If you like it as well, then please show your support for our video by VOTING  for it at the Atlas Shrugged Video Contest website.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, Movies, Mumbai, Objectivism, Personal, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Morality Presented in The Dark Knight

Posted by Jerry on August 7, 2008

To the extent of my knowledge, nobody–not even any Objectivists–have pointed out some of the crucial complications in morality that occur toward the climactic scene in the movie The Dark Knight. I haven’t the time to write all of it down right now in detail, although I have stated these in conversations with my friend soon after we watched the movie for the second time.

Let me say this: The Dark Knight is a fantastic example of superb artistic integration–including music, plot, theme, character, ideas, logic, and conflict. It’s a cinematic achievement that occurs only rarely in a lifetime. However, it’s themes are dark, evil, and at very critical junctures, even ambiguous, which I think becomes its failing. This is not Nolan’s fault, however. I think it’s a matter of the philosophical context he functions in–the one in which we all find ourselves–the predominant one holding sway in this world today.

At the Atlasphere review of this movie, this is the comment I left:

I loved the movie as well; however, this review like all the others I have read by Objectivists, fail to identify some crucial failures in the morals held up as ideals by the director for the characters of Batman, Dent, and the people of Gotham.

For one, Rand would never have approved how the boat scene in the end turned out, nor would she have approved of how Batmand undercuts his own virtue and corrupts the image of good by accepting the mantle of a criminal fugitive. It’s a very Christ-like self-sacrificial attempt to take on the “sins of the world.”

In addition to the above, let me clarify that the boat scene requires a moral context that is ignorant of how the plot eventually plays out; imagine yourself as a citizen of Gotham on one of those boats and not having even an inkling about how your fate’s going to turn out. You do not know that Batman will eventually save the day. Now, given this context, analyze the morality of the actions that people on that boat commit–and the implicit affirmation of a certain course of action as the right and moral one.

UPDATE: Hello, yes, there is the gun-point scenario and the game theory. However, there is more, and unfortunately, I don’t have the time to make a detailed case, so here goes: The choice made by both parties in the two boats–and in particular, the choice made by the convicts–would logically have led to the destruction of the lives of everyone on both boats.

Essentially, between choosing to blow either one of the boats, *some* people made the “executive decision” to end the lives of every single person on both boats (by leaving the decision upto Joker to blow both boats at midnight).

However, this evil choice and its horrendously destructive logical outcome is cloaked under the garb of altruism that the movie affirms as the ideal and self-sacrificial course of action, when in fact there it is more a butchering of others than of the self that is being advocated, and the evil is not just altruism but annihilation, a worship of death.

The essential evil is this: Gotham city affirms the exact same premise of burning death and destruction that motivates Joker’s desire to see “the world burn.”

Moreover, the interference of Batman to save the day distracts the movie-watching audience from fully processing the horrendous and evil nature of what had just transpired–something more evil than the Joker himself, and something the Joker should have been proud of. By saving the day, Batman (and thus, the director) sheilded Gotham and the movie-audience from witnessing the explosive mutilation and barbarity that would have resulted from the altruistic choice they had made. Nobody on the boat would have known that Batman would interfere to save them. Thus, Joker won and he didn’t even know.

Thus, in the end, actually, evil in this movie triumphs in more ways than even Joker could grasp–or the director. This is because the evil is served to us on a sappy, emotionalist plate that has all the sprinkling of humanity, humanism, altruism, brotherhood, love, self-sacrifice, etc.

ADDENDUM

Finally, another really disturbing aspect of the movie was that the convict in the boat was shown as the one being able to make the so-called “moral” decision without a thought—of throwing the detonator out of the boat, saying this was something that should have been done a long time ago. I agree that the detonator should have been thrown out–but as I said above, there should have been an explicit statement of the reason–even briefly–that this was being done in defiance of the terrorist, not because we want to accept death and then congregate to pray together during our final moments (as it was shown in the movie among the convicts).

Meanwhile, the free citizens of Gotham were shown as immoral people who not only debated on whether or not to trigger the bomb but also who were ready to press the button right up until the last moment when the man got a moral crisis of guilt (or cowardice, whichever).

Why did Nolan choose to show convicts as making the “right” choice without a thought and show the free citizens debating the matter endless but then not being able to follow through? Is this a matter of undercutting the moral legitimacy of the good citizens?

For these reasons, my argument stands that the ending of this movie is morally ambiguous at best, critically wrong and evil at worst, and the actions of the citizens of Gotham on both those boats were terrifyingly evil for the logical consequences that would have played out. These citizens were not moral, were not virtuous, and were not defying the Joker. Hence, Joker should have been happy.

Posted in General Work/Life, Objectivism, Personal, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Activism at Work

Posted by Jerry on May 29, 2008

Practically everyone I know at work has read at least one of the major works of Ayn Rand. They seem to regard her primarily as a literary figure, and I think, they mostly don’t much agree with (or understand) her philosophy. Rand’s novels, to them, are just that–novels; not a dramatization of a true philosophy of life, just an unusual and radical storyline.

My work also has both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in its library. It’s pretty clear that Rand has an established place in the corporate world–and is particularly well-known in India. I have blogged about Rand’s particular significance to Indians in previous posts.

This Friday, I will be conducting an informal discussion session with my colleagues on Objectivism in general and The Fountainhead in particular, since that is the book most of them have read. Also, since they learned that I have studied Objectivism in some detail for so many years now, they were very eager to hear me make the case for the philosophy. I am happy to do it.

Rand continues to be a polarizing figure; and she still manages to get people involved in animated discussions. My colleagues have been excitedly talking about the Friday session all this week–everytime we gather in the cafeteria for a meal or snack or hang beside each other’s cubicles. I’ve already heard some of the usual criticisms carelessly thrown about: “she was too extreme. It’s too rigid.” But I resist the urge to engage them in full-on discussion because I want to make a proper, prepared, and well-organized presentation on the philosophy. However, I’m not going to be lecturing or doing most of the talking; I’d rather prefer to facilitate the discussion–offer some guideposts, introduce some new ideas, elicit opinions and reactions, ask them to probe deeper into their questions and reactions, etc.

Anyway, if this goes well, I expect to hold additional sessions on the philosophy. I am quite certain that people will want to have more things to say and hear about Rand. After these sessions, I would be eager to get them started on We The Living, because it is my favorite novel and which I have read three times now.

So, cheers for personal activism! Hip hip Hurray! 🙂

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Objectivism, Personal, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Audio: The Absurdity of Libertarianism

Posted by Jerry on May 22, 2008

Since I really can’t find the time to blog, or when I do have the time, can’t find the inclination to sit up and write something, I thought I’d speak into a voice recorder and post that instead!

This is totally experimental, and it’s my first time. So, my recording is very unpolished: I stammer, stutter, ramble, grapple for words, my voice sounds funny, my modulations are whacked, and basically, it all sounds totally ridiculous.

But that’s all I’m willing to give–until I can get myself to write again.

In this recording, I discuss the following:

I find a pleasant coincidence in the topics discussed in Leonard Peikoff’s podcast of May 15.

I talk about my argument with a couple of libertarian friends: their contention was that individual adults should be allowed to murder each other if that is so consensually desired. Of course, one of them was also in favor of pedophilia. They argued that since the government has no place interfering in the private, consensual activities of adults, particularly if it occurs within a person’s private property, the governmen should therefore not interfere in the consensual violation of rights between two adults.

I fully and ferociously disagreed. In the recording, I discuss why and how Objectivism is in agreement with me. Objectivism does not permit even the consensual violation of rights–even if it is on private property. I discuss why and how this is justified.

I also criticize the nebulous, free floating notion of liberty that libertarians hold on to: basically, they just want to be free to do whatever they want, without a care for morality, existence, human nature, reason, or self-esteem.

Click the following link to go to the host site of my recording:

boomp3.com
 

Posted in My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

The Nature of Emergencies

Posted by Jerry on April 2, 2008

When discussing the ethics of emergencies, I have encountered the objection that if a moral system is unable to properly address life-boat scenarios, then the system is at least inadequate if not completely worthless. The argument is that a significant number of people actually do face emergency situations on a daily basis; if a philosophy is unable to address and offer moral prescriptions for such people in such situations, then—effectively—the philosophy has ignored a huge chunk of the human population and is inapplicable to them.

Let us consider the validity of such an objection. Here are some statements that highlight the dire plight and struggles of a large number of people around the world: 

  • Across the world, one child dies every five seconds due to hunger-related causes.
  • Nearly one in three people die prematurely or have disabilities due to malnutrition and calorie defeciencies, according to the World Health Organization.
  • In 2005, about 10.1 million children died before they reached their fifth birthday.
  • 25 million people have died from AIDS, which has caused more than 15 million children to lose at least one parent. Approximately 39.5 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the world.

From the above, one would surmise that the world is indeed in a chronic state of emergency—that human life qua life is essentially always in a chronically anxious and uncertain mode of living. Are we always in an emergency?

This line of thought is grossly fallacious: it confuses the categories of the metaphysical and the empirical or man-made. A given state of affairs in empirical reality does not determine the metaphysical nature of reality. Reality is as is. Human life—by virtue of human free will—often diverges from the norm and ideal of its own nature. For example, while external reality contains and permits no contradictions, human minds and actions often involve contradictory ideas or behavior.

The emergencies faced by a large number of people around the world is a description of the actual state of affairs in the world; in other words, it is am empirical observation. This, however, does not mean that life qua life (in the metaphysical sense) is chronically in a state of emergency. It is meaningless to speak of emergencies without some reference to normality or normal conditions; it is an aberration from normal conditions that is regarded as an emergency. In the context of this discussion, “normal conditions” refers to the identity of reality as it is. Examples of an aberration in reality would be when you face a contradiction due to incorrect premises or irrational actions, or when natural or man-made disasters make nature hostile and threatening to your life.

An emergency situation, therefore, by definition involves a divergence from the normal state of affairs in accordance with the identity of reality. For example, a normal human heart functions in accordance with its identity, i.e., it does what it is metaphysically equipped to do. A malfunctioning heart is an aberration from this normality because its proper functioning is hindered. This creates a state of emergency with regard to the heart.

As a thought-experiment, imagine that 90 percent of the human beings on this planet suffered cardiac arrests at the same time. Would we be philosophically justified in stating that the essential identity of the human heart has now changed? That is, would it make sense to redefine the essential identity of the human heart? Hopefully, this comes across as an absurd suggestion. It is not the number of cardiac arrests that determine the metaphysical nature of the human heart; likewise, it is not the innumerable instances of crises in human lives across the world that determine the metaphysical nature of life and this universe.

Therefore, to claim that human life qua life is always an emergency is to plead for a redefinition of the essential identity of reality and human life. It is not just a particularly sloppy error in thinking but a grossly malevolent perspective on life and reality.

Every moral theory—of any philosophical system—has to rest on a metaphysical view of existence. It has to begin with a set of premises that define the nature of reality and then build a moral theory that prescribes moral actions that will indeed work in such a reality, because it is based on the way in which reality functions.

A moral system cannot be constructed on premises derived from emergency situations because emergencies do not determine or change the metaphysics of reality as such. One example of an emergency situation is wherein no volitional choice by the human agent is possible; therefore, in such a situation, no moral prescriptions can exist as well. However, it is a self-evident fact that we are regularly faced with alternatives in normal conditions and we certainly do make choices; therefore, a moral system must respect and recognize this metaphysical fact in the kind of prescriptions it offers.

Another example of an emergency is wherein a man acts to save the life of another person—perhaps even at the cost of his own life; to apply this as a principle of behavior even in normal state of affairs is to condemn every man to matyrdom—as a sacrificial animal for the other. I hope there is no need to speculate about the consquences of such a moral prescription.

Thus, to fabricate a contorted moral system on the premises of such emergency situations will result in disastrous consequences. A logical system of premises that is based upon the metaphysical nature of reality and human life is the only foundation for a proper code of morality.

Posted in General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

On Romantic Affairs and Sexual Experience

Posted by Jerry on March 24, 2008

I know of some Objectivists whose moral views on sexuality, romantic love, and virginity have a remarkable resemblance to the views of the Catholic Church on these issues (I am deliberately choosing to not provide links to substantiate my claim). Of course, being an Objectivist does not make you immune to errors of judgment; neither does it mean that an Objectivist would accept anything merely because Ayn Rand said so.

Here is what Ayn Rand had to say on these issues in her Q&A session titled “Of Living Death”:

On the question, “If romantic love includes more than one person, what does this do to the institution of monogamy?”

Ayn Rand: To begin with, if you want to ask it in principle, I’m fine. It is not only permissible, it is virtuous and moral. I have never said that marriage is the only proper form of romantic love. There is nothing wrong with a romantic affair, if there are reasons why a couple cannot be married or if they are too young to marry; and that is not promiscuity, provided it is a serious feeling based on serious values.

Now, as to more than one love, now remember men have free will. It is the Catholic Church that advocates indissoluble marriage. I don’t. And a reason one cannot is because man is not omniscient. He can make a mistake in his choice of partner or the partner may change through the years and therefore a man may fall out of love, or as so can a woman, if the partner he or she has chosen no longer lives up to the proper values. In Atlas Shrugged, … [Hank]… was romantically in love with [Lillian] at first because he thought she was a certain type of woman and she deliberately faked the kind of image she thought he would want and he got disappointed. Now, he was very wrong in carrying out a secret affair with Dagny, but what was wrong with it was not sex, but secrecy—the lie.

An open relationship with as many men as you can meet if you are unlucky—but not several at a time—is appropriate, except that of course, one cannot be as unlucky that often, one would have to then check one’s standard if one makes constant mistakes. But as a principle of romantic love, one cannot say that only a single life-long romance can appropriately be called romantic. That is the ideal. If a couple achieves that, they are extremely lucky and they must have extremely good premises, but one can’t make that the norm. Sometimes it is an exclusive single love for all time; sometimes not. The issue to judge here—the moral principle—is the seriousness of their feeling and one gauges that by what kind of values is it based on. What is it that the person is attracted to in a man or a woman, and why. That is the standard of romantic love.

=======

I have transcribed Rand’s speech verbatim; you can hear the entire Q&A session for yourself by going to the Web site of the Ayn Rand Institute, create an account (if you don’t already have one), and then go to their library of free multi-media resources.

I have edited Rand’s references to events in Atlas Shrugged in order to not have spoilers, because my friend who reads this blog is currently reading the novel. Please keep this in mind when you choose to comment.

Posted in Ayn Rand, General Work/Life, Love and Romance, Objectivism, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 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 »

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 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 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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

 
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