Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘Objectivism’

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 »

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 »

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 »

Are You Afraid of Ayn Rand?

Posted by Jerry on January 7, 2008

It is well-known that Ayn Rand’s name elicits sharp and extreme reactions–either positive or negative. But the extremely dishonest lengths to which those who hate Ayn Rand go to smear her name, attack her philosophy, and discredit her impact is simply puzzling. Are these people actually afraid of Ayn Rand? Are they afraid of identifying what their reaction to her philosophy reveals about themselves?

The National Review has had a history of spreading lies about Ayn Rand; they are committed to smearing her legacy–this seems to be their raison d’etre. Here is their latest attack by Michael Novak, writing about atheists and their various beliefs:

Those relativists and nihilists who do believe, as Nietzsche warned, that the “death of God” has also meant the death of trust in reason and science and objective rules of morality. Such atheists, therefore, may for arbitrary reasons choose to live for their own pleasure, or for the joy of exercising brute power and will. This is the kind of moral nihilism that communist and fascist regimes depended upon, to justify the brutal use of power. It appears, also, to be the kind of atheism that Ayn Rand commended. [bold added]

Let’s take this point by point:

According to Novak, the kind of atheism Ayn Rand advocated had no “trust in reason and science and objective rules of morality.” However, here’s just a sample of what Ayn Rand in fact had to say about reason, science, objectivity, and morality:

I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.

This—the supremacy of reason—was, is and will be the primary concern of my work, and the essence of Objectivism. 

To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-esteem.

Reason is the only objective means of communication and of understanding among men; when men deal with one another by means of reason, reality is their objective standard and frame of reference. But when men claim to possess supernatural means of knowledge, no persuasion, communication or understanding are possible.

Ethics is an objective, metaphysical necessity of man’s survival

The concept of objectivity contains the reason why the question “Who decides what is right or wrong?” is wrong. Nobody “decides.” Nature does not decide—it merely is; man does not decide, in issues of knowledge, he merely observes that which is. When it comes to applying his knowledge, man decides what he chooses to do, according to what he has learned, remembering that the basic principle of rational action in all aspects of human existence, is: “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” This means that man does not create reality and can achieve his values only by making his decisions consonant with the facts of reality.

Then, Novak declares that Ayn Rand’s philosophy is a mixture of nihilism and hedonism, where people may choose to live for any arbitrary reason, or for the “joy of exercising brute power and will.”

Here is what Ayn Rand actually states about hedonism:

I am profoundly opposed to the philosophy of hedonism. Hedonism is the doctrine which holds that the good is whatever gives you pleasure and, therefore, pleasure is the standard of morality. Objectivism holds that the good must be defined by a rational standard of value, that pleasure is not a first cause, but only a consequence, that only the pleasure which proceeds from a rational value judgment can be regarded as moral, that pleasure, as such, is not a guide to action nor a standard of morality. To say that pleasure should be the standard of morality simply means that whichever values you happen to have chosen, consciously or subconsciously, rationally or irrationally, are right and moral. This means that you are to be guided by chance feelings, emotions and whims, not by your mind. My philosophy is the opposite of hedonism. I hold that one cannot achieve happiness by random, arbitrary or subjective means. One can achieve happiness only on the basis of rational values. By rational values, I do not mean anything that a man may arbitrarily or blindly declare to be rational. It is the province of morality, of the science of ethics, to define for men what is a rational standard and what are the rational values to pursue.

To declare, as the ethical hedonists do, that “the proper value is whatever gives you pleasure” is to declare that “the proper value is whatever you happen to value”—which is an act of intellectual and philosophical abdication, an act which merely proclaims the futility of ethics and invites all men to play it deuces wild.

And about brute power or force:

Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate—do you hear me? no man may start—the use of physical force against others.

To interpose the threat of physical destruction between a man and his perception of reality, is to negate and paralyze his means of survival; to force him to act against his own judgment, is like forcing him to act against his own sight. Whoever, to whatever purpose or extent, initiates the use of force, is a killer acting on the premise of death in a manner wider than murder: the premise of destroying man’s capacity to live.

Do not open your mouth to tell me that your mind has convinced you of your right to force my mind. Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, Objectivism, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Lights Out

Posted by Jerry on January 4, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Common Sense of Thomas Reid

Posted by Jerry on January 3, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Books, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Medical Ethics and Moral Dilemmas

Posted by Jerry on December 19, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immoral and Illegal

Posted by Jerry on December 6, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

The Incoherence of Rationalistic Rights

Posted by Jerry on November 29, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideological Allies

Posted by Jerry on November 23, 2007

At the culmination of a convoluted debate that’s been raging on this thread, the commentor Db0 finally stated some premises explicitly. The commentor is an atheist, moral subjectivist, collectivist, and is obviously influenced by evolutionary empiricism a la Dawkins, Hitchen, et al. to a great extent.

The fact that a person is an atheist does not say anything about his commitment to rationality. This is what undercuts Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkin’s attempts to blame all evils on religion and argue that Hitler et al. were not in fact atheists. The point is it simply does not matter whether you’re an atheist or not.

Picking your ideological allies just based on atheism–or, to use another prime example, the non-initiation of force principle–is a fundamental error. This is why Objectivists refuse to align with ideologies that on the face of it seem reasonable but are fundamentally incomplete or flawed: like secular humanism, naturalism, evolutionary empiricism, libertarianism, and others.

If you read the comment thread on that post, you will notice how the influence of evolutionary empiricism is infused in Db0’s view of morality. Db0 commits the naturalistic fallacy of arguing from the view that what is given by nature is the way it should be. Notice the dismissal of the volitional faculty of man’s mind to make choices autonomously.

I do believe that this is the side-effect of Dawkins et al. who have been so vocal in criticizing the morality offered by religion but have not been able to provide a consistent, robust, and rational alternative instead. They are creating a vacuum in morality, which permits people like Db0 to conclude that morality is ultimately a fabrication of society, the fad of the day, the need of a pack, subjectivist, relativistic, etc. In essence, while throwing out the dogmatic morality of religion, they throw out the notion of objective morality itself.

Somewhere in all this there is a lesson for those Objectivists who seem to think that libertarians are a benign bunch of people who share pretty much the same views; the religious libertarian Ron Paul may not be quite your ally as you think he is.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Who Cares For the Disabled?

Posted by Jerry on November 12, 2007

I have been having fruitful e-mail exchanges with an intellectual blogger who is only now discovering the philosophy of Objectivism. I believe my blog has had something to do with it. On my eager recommendations, he bought four Ayn Rand books to read–including the Virtue of Selfishness.

I am very happy to respond to his e-mails and queries because he seems truly committed to discovering a philosophy that makes rational sense, and I find great interest in fostering his rational explorations. Therefore, even if I’m busy with my day, I try to take the time to give him detailed responses, often with literature recommendations, links to Objectivist resources, and Objectivist blogs (I recently sent him over to Gus Van Horn’s excellent essay on modern-day atheists).

Today, he asked me: 

In an Objectivist society, what about the people who cannot work; the mentally or physically handicapped? Would national insurance and the NHS be abolished? Rand says that in a purely capitalist society these people fare better, but how can this be if they cannot actually work? Where does the money to support them come from, if not the government and our taxes?

Readers are welcome to contribute a point or perspective that I may have missed in response to the above question. I could forward the comments over to the questioner. My response was as follows:

I understand that it is difficult to imagine a context with practically no government involvement in individual/private affairs because we have become so accustomed to having the government practically run every aspect of our lives.

Let me just point to one principle–the rest is all a matter of concrete-bound applications of principles: Omniscience is an invalid epistemological standard. No entity has an omniscient faculty.

Therefore, having uncertainties about the manner in which a free market or a laissez-faire society would function is not to concede the necessity of having a government to manage and handle the areas of our uncertainty. The government–a group of bureaucrats and politicians–is as non-omniscient as the rest of us are.

In fact, uncertainty is a very integral part of a free society: it is the way in which specific individuals can deal with their own specific issues and resolve them privately without epistemologically burdening other individuals who have no stake in that particular transaction or issue. A simple example: I don’t need to know exactly *how* a doctor will perform his surgery on me in order for me to trust my body in his hands. It’s his business to know; not mine. The uncertainty exists, but it does not faze me.

One man’s limited knowledge in a particular area does not mean that everyone else is also limited in knowledge in that same area. Just as the industrial revolution engendered the division and specialization of physical labor, the whole free market system fosters the division of intellectual and physical effort. It leaves you free to pursue and specialize in that which you have the most interest in pursuing, thus resulting in different people attaining knowledge and specializing in different fields.

I mention all this to assuage your future concerns about the specificity of how some particular aspect of a free market will function. If you know that a principle is moral and practical, then you just have to remain consistent with that principle in your applications to specific situations; if you know the government has no business meddling in the free and voluntary affairs of individual men, then you simply have to apply that principle across the board.

Now, coming to the specific issue of what happens to those who cannot work–due to physical or mental disabilities, etc. The principle is, regardless of your mental and physical state, no man can make unearned demands on another human being: no man is a slave to another; no man is morally obligated to be servile to another. Therefore, people with disabilities can make no legislative demands or claim moral obligations on the work, effort, and productivity of other abled people.

Now, specifically *how* such people might be cared for in a free society is an area of uncertainty (though not wholly); but remember that the principle with regard to uncertainty is, no one is omniscient–and therefore, you cannot claim that in a free society such people will *not* be cared for by some or the other means. In other words, this uncertainty does not justify government involvement just because you cannot seem to project how this matter will be resolved. (Do you see the parallels here with the religious argument for the existence of god from epistemological ignorance?)

In a free society, people with disabilities may be taken care of by several means: family members, lovers, friends, immediate social groups, the general benevolence and voluntary charity of free individuals, private institutions, corporations, religious organizations, etc. You do not need to have the concrete and specific answer to this. Just think at the level of principles.

A free society does not de facto translate into a malevolent society. In fact, observe that the most generous countries and cultures are the ones that have the highest levels of civic liberties–because free societies typically produce more than enough wealth and capital to have some left over to give away: another principle at work here is freedom allows rational choices, and rationality fosters prodigious, often competitive, productivity. Private american citizens are the most generous group of people in the world–in terms of voluntary donations.

When man is left free, he realizes that it is in his best interest to be rational in order to ensure his survival. In a society of individuals, men will realize that it is to each of their own selfish interest to foster a society of rational individuals that they will enjoy living in, find value in entering into economic transactions with, and find purpose in mutual productive benefit. People will realize that it is to their own interest to live in a society that is free from poverty-induced agitation, civil unrest, and fear of crime. Also, on a personal egoistic level, it is rational to cultivate personal virtues of benevolence and kindness: those are the virtues you admire and seek in others in your vicinity; you do not want yourself or your valued lover/children/parents/friends to live next to a malevolent psychopath who hates everyone and treats others maliciously.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, Economics, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

Adults Only

Posted by Jerry on November 9, 2007

The Objectivist Carnival has just turned 18! And this latest edition is one of the largest, with 13 blogposts, including an audio post by an Objectivist blog radio host speaking on civilization’s debt to Aristotle.

Visit the hosting site–Rational Jenn–for all the links to the carnival posts.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Objectivist Carnival, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Selfishness

Posted by Jerry on November 4, 2007

There are times when I read or hear something and I am reminded again of just how radical the Objectivist philosophy is and how difficult it must be for someone new to the philosophy to get their head around it–it is a complete reversal of practically every fundamental premise that was considered moral for millenia–from judeo-christian ethics to Kantian duty ethics.

Just take one example. Objectivism identifies the fact that all ethics proper to man is essentially egoistic; that is, whatever is proper to man’s life qua man is in his interest and is therefore moral. However, the concepts of egoism and selfishness are so corrupted in our language and philosophy that it is seemingly impossible to understand how moral acts can be selfish.

Mainstream morality offers only one alternative: you either sacrifice your own interests for others or sacrifice the interests of others for yourself. Selfishness is defined as concern for the self at the expense of others, a vice; and selflessness is defined as concern for the other at the expense of the self, a virtue. And for some odd reason, people who are selfish are considered evil.

However, as Ayn Rand noted, this moral vocabulary permits no concept for a benevolent interaction among men which requires no sacrifice! One is either selfish or selfless, and both are defined in sacrificial terms. What is the moral concept identifying a relationship among individuals where no one is asked to be the sacrificial animal for the other? For this reason, Ayn Rand saw the imperative need to rescue the concept of selfishness from philosophical adulteration.

Properly, selfishness is concern with one’s own interest. It is the job of philosophy and ethics to define what those interests are, whether the interests of men clash, and whether the pursuit of those interests are a vice. In other words, it is the job of ethics to define the moral status of human goals and goal-directed actions, and identify a set of values and interests that are proper to man’s survival. Objectivism is a value-oriented philosophy: it points out that values presume beneficiaries and that the pursuit of a rational value is selfish, because it is a concern with one’s own interests.

After reading Roger Scruton’s article Altruism and Selfishness, I realized that the Objectivist virtue of selfishness is not an easy concept to grasp. Scruton gets it all wrong despite coming close to understanding the concept. He says:

Learning to love your neighbor as yourself is learning to take pleasure in the things that please him, as a mother takes pleasure in the pleasures of her child. To call this “selfishness” is to abuse the language. A selfish act is one directed at the self; an unselfish act is one directed at others. And the truly unselfish person is the one who wants to perform unselfish acts, who takes pleasure in giving, and who enjoys the prospect of another’s success. This is not, as Rand would have us believe, just another form of selfishness. It is an altogether higher motive, one in which the other has replaced the self as the object of concern.

Notice how Scruton succumbs to mainstream altruist vocabulary by divorcing a mother’s love for her child from her own interest or the love one has for a neighbor from one’s own pleasure; he wants to insist that any love a mother has for a child is purely selfless. In effect, the argument is that the child is not a value to his mother. To pursue values eagerly is to be selfish, and were the child a value to his mother, then the mother would be selfish. 

Scruton divorces the concept of life from objectivity, the concept of objectivity from values, and the concept of value from self.

Scruton ignores the fact that life offers the concept of objectivity, that values are objective, and that rational selfishness involves the pursuit of rational values. For Scruton, selfish actions are only those that are directed toward the self. This sort of definition completely ignores the issue of whether those actions which are directed toward the self are indeed objectively proper and rational actions or not; that is, are those actions truly in one’s objective self-interest or are they self-destructive even though you might derive pleasure from those actions.

Scruton also argues that wanting to love someone or taking pleasure in giving is not selfish. Here again he does not address whether the object of our love or generosity is someone whom we value or it does not matter who this person is. The value-oriented or goal-directed nature of human action and human life is ignored completely.

For Scruton, the goal of our pursuit does not matter so long as the action is directed at someone else: if we love someone else, then we are selfless.

By this line of argument, he not only divorces values from actions but also equivocates any random, hedonistic, promiscuous, irrational acts of self-indulgence with selfishness even if it might actually be a self-distructive behavior.

If selfishness is properly the concern for oneself, then self-destructive hedonism and self-indulgence should be the epitome of selfless acts, i.e., acts done with no concern or regard for one’s self and well-being. In other words, it should be clear that pleasure is the not the standard of moral evaluation: merely wanting to love someone or wanting to be generous is not the standard by which we decide whether our actions are selfish or selfess, moral or immoral.

[Related post: Morality in the Jungle]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Virtual Objectivists

Posted by Jerry on October 30, 2007

There appears to be a particular affinity for Ayn Rand–or at least for the individualistic passion of her classic hero Howard Roark–among many people in the IT/software industry.

I assume we all know that Jimmy Wales, the famous creator of the Wikipedia, is an explicit Objectivist (I think Diana from Noodlefood is even friends with him). He describes himself as an “Objectivist to the core” and has even named his daughter Kira–after Ayn Rand’s heroine in We The Living.

But Michael Berliner of the Ayn Rand Institute revealed some additional names from the software industry who seem like Ayn Rand admirers, in an article titled Ayn Rand Inspired High-Tech Capitalism:

“I know that T.J. Rogers [of Cypress Semiconductors] loves Atlas Shrugged,” says Michael Berliner, the director of the Ayn Rand Institute in Marina del Rey, Calif. “Both Gates and [Michael] Milken have read it. But they’re afraid of what it has to say.

The 1997 article goes on to discuss the popularity of Ayn Rand in the Silicon Valley:

If a decade ago students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could be seen lugging around copies of Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, today many of the same guys are pulling down million-dollar-a-year salaries in a tiny pocket of economic affluence known as Silicon Valley.

… in the meritocratic manner in which they run their companies, many high-tech business leaders would be more at home with architect Howard Roark, Rand’s heroic iconoclast who propelled The Fountainhead to the top of the best-seller lists, than Ben and Jerry, who sell heart disease by the pint all the while claiming that their “1 percent for peace” philosophy is rooted in something deeper than the bottom line.

As a demonstration of the fact that meritocracy is the law of the land at Silicon Valley, in one incident…

Rogers lambasted a group of Roman Catholic nuns who, owning 7,000 shares of stock in Cypress, felt compelled to tell him they thought he should place women and racial minorities on its board of directors. Rogers, after telling the letter’s author, Sister Doris Gormely, to get off her “moral high horse,” went on to say that it would be immoral for him to heed to the nun’s request, especially since there are few women with the engineering or business experience to qualify them to sit on the Cypress board.

Then there is this recent post by Yahoo! Web Developer Isaac Schlueter, who considers The Fountainhead as one of his favorite books. He writes about a Howard Roark residing in each web developer:

Yahoo’s internal web developer mailing list flares up in these delightful debates once or twice a month, and it always warms my heart to be reminded that there’s an intransigent little Roark inside each one of us. Some 50 years before the Internet was even a spark in TBL’s eye, Ayn Rand managed to capture the timeless essence of a web developer in the character of Howard Roark.

If you’re wondering what is it about web developers and people in the software business that find such an appeal in Ayn Rand’s intransigently individualistic philosophy, I’ll venture to offer that the clue lies in the individualistic nature of their work, the uncompromising demand for personal merit and skill on the job, the inventiveness and imaginativeness of their products, the intimacy between the creator and the emergence of the product being created, and in the privately creative process of their production.

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

15th Objectivist Carnival

Posted by Jerry on October 26, 2007

The 15th Objectivist Carnival is being hosted by Rational Jenn. Here’s a preview of what Objectivists have written this week. To read the posts, visit Rational Jenn and click on the links there.

Ergo presents My Interview with The Telegraph posted at Leitmotif.

Flibbert presents Introspection Part 2 posted at Flibbertigibbet, saying, “I was really torn about what to submit this week. I posted a bunch of interesting things, but nothing that represented any real insight or scholarship. Then, I thought to myself, “You know, my blog really isn’t always about insight or scholarship” and you guys almost got a link to a YouTube video with a woman performing a trumpet solo for a beauty pageant. (It’s hilarious.) But then I thought, “As sloppy as it is, I think my commentary on introspection is really interesting and somewhat insightful.” And so that’s what you’re getting. Instead of laughs this week, you have a post about introspection. Perhaps we can start getting rid of this vicious rumor that Objectivists are emotionless Vulcan robots. Randroids unite!” Flibbert always cracks me up.

Valda Redfern presents Independent of the Truth? posted at Valzhalla, saying, “Objectivists point out some of the more obvious errors in a long article on Ayn Rand published in The Independent, a British newspaper.” It still amazes me the lengths to which people will go to represent Ayn Rand and Objectivism in dishonest terms. 

Darren Cauthon presents Re: Free My Phone posted at Darren Cauthon. Darren discusses a WSJ article about cell phones and regulations, pointing out that at least some people at the WSJ don’t quite understand capitalism just yet.

Gus Van Horn presents The Global War on Carbon posted at Gus Van Horn. Gus ably dissects an article by conservative Cal Thomas who has been showing his green stripes lately.

Kendall Justiniano presents The FDA and Experimental Drugs posted at The Crucible & Column, saying, “Kendall looks at recent court rulings on patient access to experimental drug therapies.”

Rational Jenn presents Well, Actually. . . posted at Rational Jenn, saying, “A mother laments that it shouldn’t be her responsibility to figure out if the products in her home are safe or not–that’s the government’s job. This mom disagrees.”

Greg Perkins has an exciting announcement: weekly online Objectivist study sessions, entitled The Objectivism Seminar. You can find an explanation of how it will all work here. I for one am quite thrilled about this, particularly because it fits into my budget and my available free time. A must read for anyone who is interested in studying Objectivism a little more formally.

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

My Interview with The Telegraph

Posted by Jerry on October 24, 2007

The following are the questions posed by the reporter from The Telegraph (TT) and my e-mailed responses to them. I have slightly edited only my responses at some places for stylistic reasons; in the question about the response of young readers to Ayn Rand’s books, I have added a few additional points to expand upon my original thoughts.

TT: What drew you to Ayn Rand?

JJ: I was first introduced to Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead by a friend of mine. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel as a work of art, the philosophical ideas in it disturbed me greatly. They were radical and completely alien to everything I had been taught as moral. My response to this cognitive dissonance was to shut out Rand’s ideas from my mind and continue to live the way I was used to. A couple of years later, I happened to pick up a copy of Atlas Shrugged. My life was never the same after that. I could no longer just ignore the radical ideas in the book. This pushed me to investigate further, ask “why?” to every single premise and belief I currently held, dig deep to the roots and trace out the ideological contradictions in my belief; in essence, from that point on, I embarked on a critical evaluation and a massive upheaval of my belief systems. It was a challenging and confusing period of time, but I was open to the experience.

TT: There are successive generations of readers who discover Rand in their youth and then move away. What are the elements in Rand that you continue to revisit or discover over the years?

JJ: There are several reasons why young readers become zealots of Rand’s ideas and then move away as they grow into adulthood: Rand’s philosophy is tremendously complex and radical. Every principle in the system is internally related with every other, non-contradictorily. Therefore, there are two approaches to dealing with this philosophy: first, one honestly wrestles with the ideas of the philosophy and attempts to follow all its logically connected chain of thoughts to integrate them in one’s own mind, or second, one can take the shortcut approach and memorize the key fundamental principles, learn a few choice quotes from Ayn Rand and the novel’s heroes, and then claim to be an Objectivist.

Unfortunately, the young readers who have not yet achieved the intellectual capacity (due to their age or intellectual training) required for such massive integrations across philosophical levels tend to adopt the second–easier and shorthand–approach to express and feed their emotional excitement from having read the novels. The reason is that one can simply not read these emotionally stirring and philosophically challenging novels and remain passive or wait over years for intellectually maturity to set in: one is compelled to feed this immediate emotional experience by retaining key slogans or quotes from the books that express an emotional truth, then they seek out answers from wherever they can–even if it may be from Google searches or the Wikipedia.

Consequently, an intellectually pre-mature and overwhelmingly emotional introduction to the radical Objectivist premises of individualism, egoism, and self-interest often leads young people to hold an undigested, unintegrated, contortion of dogmatic beliefs–identical to religious beliefs held on faith, emotional need, repeated memorizations, and acceptance from authority. Eventually, such a person may literally “grow out” of their memorized philosophy and regard it as his foolish and juvenile indulgence in youth.

For me, Rand’s works continue to reveal whole new integrations, different perspectives, unique approaches, and various applications of a principle to reality. For example, my recent discovery was the integration of the Objectivist position on charity with the issue of cultural activism for change in society. While I won’t go into the details of this integration here, I will only say that the elegant nature of Objectivism’s non-contradictory system of principles can give amazing insights into any and all aspects of reality: since there is only one reality, it necessarily means that all of reality is a totality of interrelated facts and relationships. Therefore, it is simply an incredible experience to discover new relationships among seemingly unrelated existents in this one reality.

TT: Would you say Rand’s time has come in India?

JJ: I would say that Rand’s ideas have long been pervasive among Indians–both abroad and here in India. After the United States, India is cited as the nation with the most Ayn Rand fans. Further, Rand’s ideas have a particular relevance to the history of Indian politics and economics. One can actually argue that many from our parent’s and grandparent’s generation “Shrugged” in the intellectual sense in response to the repressive Socialist policies of Nehru and the License Raj. Free minds cannot function under oppressive regimes. That generation chose to withdraw their minds and the products of their minds from this society in search of free societies in the West; the government of India called it the “brain-drain”–Ayn Rand would have called it “Atlas Shrugged.”

Notice how with the opening of the Indian borders, the gradual acceptance of free markets, and the loosening of government regulations, not only is tremendous wealth flowing into this country but also the minds who create such wealth are choosing to return to make their fortunes here.

TT: In what way is Rand’s work, particularly Atlas Shrugged, relevant in India today?

JJ: [I think the answer to this question is the same as above.]

TT: What are the common misconceptions, if any, that you find people bear about Rand’s philosophy?

JJ: Rand’s philosophy is only about 25 to 30 years old. It is only now being studied seriously in the philosophy departments of 30 universities in the United States. As an intellectual movement, Objectivism–the philosophy of Ayn Rand–is only beginning; most movements take centuries to merge into the mainstream mindset. Until that happens, Objectivism is prime target for misrepresentations and outright distortions. Some examples of such are as follows: some people claim that Ayn Rand advocated that man is an island, that individualism means isolationism, that to be independent is to never ask the help of anyone else on principle.

Any substantial study into the actual ideas of Ayn Rand will reveal that such a notion of individualism and independence is contrary to Objectivism. Among other things, Objectivism champions laissez-faire capitalism. The crucial and practical tenet of capitalism is the division of labor society: that individual men engage in the mutual trade of products that they have gained an expertise in producing. A division of labor society–that is, a capitalist society–necessitates a society of individual men who need each other in the rational–non-sacrifical–sense of traders–traders who voluntarily exchange a value for another. In simplistic terms, this ensures a steady supply of products out in the market for exchange and a market of consumers eager to exchange their own products or values for that which they have not produced.

Therefore, it is contradictory to claim that Objectivism preaches isolationism or that independence means man is an island. Quite the opposite, it is only the rational man who can foster a benevolent society of individuals who engage in voluntary transactions that mutually benefit each other’s lives immensely! 

TT: What is your personal favourite AR writing?

JJ: We The Living–for its incredibly moving portrayal of a rational life struggling to exist in an oppressive and irrational society. It is also the closest to an autobiography of Ayn Rand–in terms of its ideas, themes, and values, not in terms of the concretes.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Pulse of the Culture

Posted by Jerry on October 24, 2007

After reading this very interesting article by Sarah Baxter, I’m getting the impression that some key Objectivist positions are already seeping into the mainstream of intellectual and englightened dialog–on say multiculturalism, the moral bankruptcy of the left and Marxism, the rising reactionary threat of Christianity, the current threat of Islamofacism and the requirement of full war against it.

Read the entire article. It amazingly brings together various interconnected issues and persons into focus: Che Guevara, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Islamofacism, feminism, multiculturalism, antisemitism, the war in Iraq, Bush policies, atheism, Christopher Hitchens, and more!

A case in point is the treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somalia-born author of Infidel, who has received an astounding lack of support from liberals and the left. An article in Newsweek described her as a “bomb-thrower”, when it is Hirsi Ali who faces death threats from real bomb-throwers merely for speaking her mind and has had to rush back to the Netherlands because its government will no longer pay for her bodyguards while she is abroad.

Natasha Walter, reviewing her book in The Guardian, wrote blithely: “What sticks in the throats of many of her readers is not her feminism, but her antiIslamism” – as if the two could be separated. It was Hirsi Ali’s culture that led her to be genitally mutilated as a girl, and it was her Muslim former co-religionists who murdered her friend Theo van Gogh, the Dutch film-maker. Why should she remain quiet?

Posted in Culture, General Work/Life, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Atlas Anniversary Pictures

Posted by Jerry on October 24, 2007

I’ve finally taken the time to upload the pictures from the Atlas Shrugged Anniversary event in Mumbai. Check ’em out!

Also, Taylor–one of my blog readers–visited Guatemala, where the Universidad Francisco Marroquín (UFM) unveiled the new Atlas high-relief sculpture in conjunction with anniversary celebration events. Taylor has some lovely close-up pictures of the sculpture and of the book release of the 50th Anniversary Edition of Atlas Shrugged. Thanks, Taylor! 🙂

Read my post on this Latin American university’s celebrations here.

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

Peikoff’s Podcast

Posted by Jerry on October 23, 2007

Oblogger’s alert:

Dr. Leonard Peikoff has his first podcast up on his site. I’m listening to it right now! 🙂

[ht: Diana]

I’m typing this as I’m listening to the podcast. I found the second question on atheism quite interesting: one could substitute the questioner’s concern over “atheism” with any other belief that is in opposition to one’s family’s or societies accepted norm. For example, I had concerns about my mother’s emotionally distraught state when she comes to learn that her son is gay; but I realize that her emotional state would not be caused by me or my gayness but by her own faulty morality. Therefore, I refuse to psychologically burden myself with any unearned guilt in this matter.

A muslim questioner from Pakistan gets an apt reply from Peikoff: “You can’t target your weapons based on the ideas people hold.”

Well, it was a very brief podcast. I like how Peikoff speaks: it’s a strong–almost forcefully violent–voice. He has such strong oratory powers. What I didn’t like about the podcast was that I wasn’t able to download the stream onto my computer and listen to it on my iPod “Gaspard.” Is there a way to do this?

Posted in Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Telegraph on Ayn Rand

Posted by Jerry on October 22, 2007

The Atlas celebrations in India is covered by The Telegraph. Since I organized the one in Mumbai, I am mentioned several times in the article.

The writer of the article e-mailed me to express her regret that her original piece was “severely truncated” for space issues. I can see that the intent of the article is very positive towards Ayn Rand. However, as with all such cases of articles on Ayn Rand’s philosophy written and edited by people who are not properly familiar with it, this article contains at least three major factual errors. It is highly unfortunate. I immediately e-mailed the writer and pointed out the inaccuracies, asking that she either revoke the article or rectify the errors quickly. I offered some suggestions on how those errors may be rectified. I’m not sure what will come out of it.

😦

P.S. For copyright issues, I was told not to post the article on my site. So visit the link to read it in full.

UPDATE: I was just informed that prominent Indian actor Shammi Kapoor’s quote in the article (about AS’s thesis that money is the root of all evil) is verbatim. This means either the entire book went right above the man’s head, he has an incredibly weak memory of what he read, or Kapoor was just very sloppy in talking with the reporter. In any case, all of this merely underscores the case that he shouldn’t even be mentioned in the article.

I encourage all of you to send Letters to the Editor (ttedit@abpmail.com) pointing out this error and raising more points to get a discussion going. I’ll be writing one myself. Feel free to post your LTE’s here in the comments.

UPDATE: My entire interview with the reporter, which was excluded from the article for space reasons, is posted here.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

 
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