Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy’

The Pressures of being an Intellectual

Posted by Jerry on November 11, 2011

220

Tehelka Magazine

The pressures of being an editorial columnist, journalist, or some kind of published intellectual can put real strain on your abilities to reach rational, honest conclusions. Because, in this information age, we interact within a massive marketplace of ideas–a market that is constantly and rapidly updating itself with newer, better, more provocative, more sensational ideas.

Thus, to really stand out–to win, to be noticed in this marketplace of ideas–especially, if you are in the business of peddling some and your survival depends on being noticed for your ideas, one has to either be a savant genius and genuinely innovative or be at least an imitative provocateur.

Ashis Nandy of the Tehelka is an example of the latter. It appears that he has succumbed to the pressures of grabbing eyeballs in this fiercely competitive marketplace of ideas by resorting to gymnastics–of the mental and provocative kind. His latest piece is particularly demonstrative and revealing.

In an article titled “The Pursuit of Happiness and other Absurd Ideas“, Nandy picks three ideas that he regards as particularly egregious and poisonous to human civilization: (a) pursuit of happiness; (b) progress; (c) secularism.

Now, if your hoping to encounter some definitions of these terms, you will be disappointed. Nandy proceeds blithely through these ideas without ever pinning down their exact meanings or how he uses them.

To begin with, Nandy makes this highly debatable–even untrue–statement: “Our value systems, even in India, are increasingly based on reason. Which is why, perhaps, we constantly feel like we are a country sitting on a tinderbox — riots, terrorism, insurgency, discontent.”

First, it is unclear what he means by “reason” in the claim that India’s value systems are increasingly based on reason. Next, given a common sense understanding of “reason”–as the faculty of human consciousness to identify, evaluate, and integrate the facts of reality–his statement is squarely false. If anything, the world–and India included–is marching towards irrationality, mysticism, new age spiritualism, whim-worship and hedonism, and overall irrationality than anything resembling reason. The global economic crises and the European bankruptcies are arguably great demonstrations of what short-term, hedonistic irrationality gets you.

What’s more interesting is that three of the four consequences Nandy cites here of the use of reason, namely, riots, terrorism, and insurgency, are all actually variants of the use of force. Now, any sensible analysis of force will reveal to you that force is the destroyer of reason. Nandy would perhaps retort here that it is precisely our reason that has convinced us of some superior “right” to use force against other people. For instance, some religious groups have somehow reached a “conviction” that their use of force is justified.

But that line of argument is fallacious. Force and reason are opposites. The ability to reason (to think, to evaluate, and to choose) ends immediately when a gun is pointed at you. A gun is a command to action, not a syllogism to persuade. It appeals to your fears not to your reason. Indeed, as it is empirically evident and proven for any honest person to see, it is only when reason, dialog, discussion, persuasion, and argumentation is abandoned that force becomes the means of settling disagreements.

Having disparaged reason, Nandy proceeds to attack the three “poisonous” values of pursuit of happiness, progress, and secularism. This is where the article derails from any semblance of intellectual rigor and enters into the territory of the absurd. Indeed, the absurdities leap out of the screen at you. For example, in explaining the origins of the idea of happiness, the author states that “all societies deny the idea of death”. Really? Which one? He does not say.

What he does say, immediately thereafter, is this: “In successful capitalist societies–bereft of religion, afterlife, rebirth, or any of the philosophies that transcend death–the panic [about death] is profound.”

That should qualify as the most uneducated statement of the year. If any country can be considered as a successful “capitalist” country, it has to be the United States of America more than any other–and this is also perhaps of all advanced economies the only country most rooted in the faith of Christianity, in the Protestant ethic, in the belief in life after death, salvation and damnation, and the transcendence of this material world!

Nandy goes on to make another risible claim: that “Both the disease called unhappiness and the determined search for happiness afflict the more developed societies.” Meanwhile, in the world of his own mind, the under-developed societies of repressive Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Nigeria, Somalia, Burma, etc. are veritable paradises of–what?

“Happiness, like school uniforms, has now become compulsory,” he says. Is he implying that the ideal human condition need not be one of “happiness”? Is Nandy suggesting that a human life lived in unhappiness or banality is just as optionally preferable as a life of happiness? If you answered NO to be charitable to the author, you are wrong. He explicitly states his intention, saying: “We need to be practical and reconcile to live in this imperfect world with our normal unhappiness.”

Yes, my dear readers. He just said that we should learn to live happily with our unhappy lives. Whatever that means.

National Socialist Workers' Party of Denmark

Nazism

If you think Nandy is just innocently unwise, again you would be wrong. Nandy belies a high degree shrewdness and sophistry. As evidence, note that immediately after citing history’s two most murderous, collectivist, tyrannical regimes–Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany–as examples of societies that enforced “utopian” happiness and thereby inflected untold atrocities upon its people, he goes on to allude that the modern conception of (poisonous) happiness is an outgrowth of the philosophy of individualism. The mental gymnastics that is required to at once connect the epitome of collectivistic horror with the philosophy of individual freedom, self-autonomy, and liberty is not possible without some intentional sophistry at play.

To be charitable, the author does introduce a brilliantly benevolent, correct, and pleasant thought into his otherwise vapid article; unfortunately, the thought is not his. “According to philosopher KJ Shah, the strength of a human relationship should be measured not by the absence of quarrels, but by how much quarrelling the relationship can take.”

The implication of this view–correctly–is that happy people are not unmoored by momentary disappointments. That happiness is not an experience of the moment, but an orientation towards life. Sadly, however, the author is unable to see that such an orientation towards life as that of happy people is not possible without reason–without a philosophy that promotes the exercise of the rational faculty. As the philosopher Ayn Rand noted correctly, happiness cannot be achieved by the pursuit of irrational whims and hedonistic pleasures of the moment. A rational man projects the task of happiness across the entire span of his lifetime. Thus, he seeks his happiness not in the mindless fraudulent pleasures of the moment (although he may choose to indulge in legitimate relaxation), but in the experience of a joy that comes without penalty, guilt, shame, or contradiction. Happiness is the state of consciousness that comes with achieving the non-contradictory values of one’s life.

Indeed, from a psychological perspective, happiness is an important signal about the successful state of our lives. It is the emotional barometer of human consciousness, which informs us about our success at living life. Happiness and suffering are parallel indicators about the physical issue of life or death, pain or pleasure.

Moving on to his criticism of “Progress,” Nandy states that progress is the major source of violence globally. He says we should “hang our heads in shame when using” the word Progress. Again, his distortions are unbelievably confounding. In his attack on the concept of progress, he raises yet again the repressive regimes of Soviet Russia, China, as Cambodia as examples to fight his case. However, the connection that he wishes to forge between these regimes and progress is one that is founded on non-essentials, and is therefore simply untenable. The common ideology that underlies these regimes is not simply “progress” as a vague, general goal–but a *specific* approach to achieving their own conception of progress, namely, a collectivized, classless, communist society achieved by force and revolution. This is diametrically opposed to the classical liberal and democratic approach, which also had as its goal “progress” for the human condition. The results are evident and history has offered its verdict.

The author conflates the failures of socialist ideologies with the legitimate and praise-worthy goals of human progress–without, notably, ever defining what he means by progress. Then, he identifies a phantom relationship between secularism and the genocides of socialist regimes, such as that of the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Khmer Rouge. Perhaps, he is blind to the fact that National Socialism (Nazism)–the originator of one of the most hateful periods of human history–was virulently anti-secular, anti-atheistic. It

Nazi German propaganda poster: "Danzig is...

was at the same time socialistic and religious. The Reich, or the German State, cloaked in Christianity, was elevated to divine status with the blessings of Hegel, Heidegger, and Nietzsche. If the modern Catholic Church is seen as a benevolent and benign dictatorship, the Nazi regime was an evil and violent one.

One should also wonder if the perpetrators of the Crusades, Inquisitions, Islamic wars, and other religious wars had access to the kinds of modern weaponry, would the scale of their murders be just as vast?

Ultimately, what drives maniacal men to genocide is not and cannot be a “belief in non-belief” — or atheism. It has always been a belief in some assertion–either that of the Divine God or the Divine State or the Superiority of the Collective.

But Nandy is apparently convinced about something that’s paradoxical (and perhaps because it is so, given his antipathy towards reason): he believes that any desirable society must bypass the idea of progress because progress is essentially “anti-life.”

Now, to take that seriously, one would first have to know what he defines as “progress,” because in the general understanding of the term, progress means the general enhancement of the living condition. To illustrate it simply, if the average human life span in the 18th century was 30 years, today it is 70. And that is progress. Period.

Turning to the “third killer in [the author’s] violent lexicon,” we are confronted with an insidious analysis of “secularism.”

SecularismIn a very disconcerting claim, the author argues that one must not keep religion and politics separate. However, quickly, the reader realizes that the author does not really understand the full implications of what he advocates. At one point, you are even confused about the author’s take on secularism–does he hate it or like it? Because after disparaging it for a while, the author appears to defend secularism when he refers to the “hindutva” movement–claiming that Hindutva is actually secular. Wikipedia describes Hindutva as a Hindu Nationalist movement. So, is he implying that Hindutva is as good as secular or as poisonous as secular?

Indeed, much of this article is a (deliberate or not?) mix of conflated terms, inaccurate and ill-defined usages of words, and flat-out contradictions of ideas.

It appears to me that Nandy gunned for a shock-treatment approach to writing this piece, by employing “toxic” vocabulary to describe values that are–in the right spirit–actually some of the pillars of a civilized society. Perhaps he did this so that he could gain some eyeballs, shock a few people, and win a few uncritical nods at the seeming profundity of it all. To this end, the author achieves the goals. But he does so at the cost of exposing the goals themselves and at the risk of our evaluating such pursuits and such methods of trying to appear “intellectual.”

Advertisements

Posted in Atheism, Culture, General Work/Life, India, My Theories and Ideas, On Collectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

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.

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 »

Explaining Postmodernism by Dr. Stephen Hicks

Posted by Jerry on August 1, 2011

My trip to Italy provided a fitting background for me while I finished reading the brilliant book Explaining Postmodernism: From Rousseau to Foucault by Dr. Stephen Hicks.

This book should be required reading for all university graduates–especially those of liberal arts and humanities.

The essential thesis of this book is:

The failure of epistemology made postmodernism possible, and the failure of socialism made postmodernism necessary.

Dr. Hicks has an incredibly lucid, engaging style of writing–and the expansiveness of the topics he covers with such ease–going from Kant to Rousseau to Marx and Rorty and then back to Plato–is astounding.

Reading his account of the philosophical drama that played across centuries and which gave rise to the anti-intellectual movement that we call Postmodernism today, one is reminded of a fact that is often forgotten: that philosopher need not all be wise just because they got published and are famous today; and that what they preach need not always originate from honest and true intentions; that philosophers, like anyone else, can almost stubbornly and petulantly defend a viewpoint in order to save face, score a brownie point, or wage a war of words for its own sake. Hegel, Fichte, Marcusse, and others fit this description.

Take the following excerpts, for instance:

Immanuel Kant is the most significant thinker of the Counter-Enlightenment. His philosophy, more than any other thinker’s, buttressed the pre-modern worldview of faith and duty against the inroads of the Enlightenment. Kant firmly chose religion. And so, he stated famously in the Second Preface to the first Critique, “I here therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

And another philosopher Schleiermacher, a Kantian in approach, said: “The essence of religion is the feeling of absolute dependence. I repudiated rational thought in favor of a theology of feeling.”

Then Fichte, who wanted to create a superior race of German automatons through socialized education, preached, like Kant, a dedication to pure duty and an abdication of all self-interest:

“in place of that love of self, with which nothing for our good can be connected any longer, we must set up and establish in the hearts of all those whom we wish to reckon among our nation that other kind of love, which is concerned directly with the good, simply as such and for its own sake. The pupil of this education is not merely a member of human society here on earth and for the short span of life which is permitted to him. He is also, and is undoubtedly acknowledged by education to be, a link in the eternal chain of spiritual life in a higher social order. A training which has undertaken to include the whole of his being should undoubtedly lead him to a knowledge of this higher order also. [The German] “alone above all other European nations, [has] the capacity of responding to such an education.”

And among the most outrageous ideas, we have Hegel–who inspired Marx–creating a Divinity out of the Government. He said:

“It must further be understood that all the worth which human being possesses–all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State. The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on Earth.” The State has as its final end the self-realization of the Absolute, and thus “this final end has supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of the state.” “One must worship the State as a terrestrial divinity.”

People have agendas–and philosophers are not exempt from this. And philosophers in particular can be incredibly evil–in that they intentionally develop, defend, and promulgate ideas that are horrific in practice.

I am reminded of Ayn Rand’s brilliant analysis of the history of Counter-Enlightenment philosophy in her dramatic speech for John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, in which she correctly identifies and summarizes the key themes of Kant (the mystic of spirit) and his successors (the mystics of muscle). You can read the relevant excerpts from the Ayn Rand Lexicon here.

The discovery of truths is in sifting through the layers of detritus and engaging one’s own honest intellect with the evidence provided by our senses. Surely, geniuses can help illuminate the path along the way, but it’s up to us to figure out which path will lead us to the Enlightenment world, and which, to the one of nihilism.

I cannot recommend Dr. Hicks’ Explaining Postmodernism enough.

Posted in Books, Culture, General Work/Life, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, Political Issues, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

We Evolve into Preferring Monogamy

Posted by Jerry on November 20, 2008

People generally can’t quite decide whether monogamy is natural–or even possible–for humans (men, for the most part, I think, tend to pose this doubt). There’s usually debate about the morality of monogamy or multiple partners. Some people believe that monogamy is properly moral, but we are weak-willed humans and therefore cannot live up to the ideal in our relationships.

Others argue that monogamy is unnatural–and offer biologically deterministic arguments in their defense.

I have always held the view that monogamy is neither inherently moral or immoral — a relationship’s morality is the function of the character, values, and virtues of the people involved.

Having said that, I also hold the view that monogamy is a more prudent setup–and that we consciously come to recognize it as such usually only much later in our lives–for reasons that have nothing to do with a person’s character but because of the natural context that evolves around us.

Take this analogy:

When one is younger, one is tempted–and rightly so, I would argue–to try out different majors in college, simultaneously take different courses from different streams, trying to make up one’s mind about what one prefers. Likewise, when it comes to choosing a career, a young person is eager to try different streams; he is likely to switch jobs more frequently, hunt for jobs while staying on his current one for less than a year. A younger person is more open to physical mobility–to relocation, travel, new experiences, and new friends. A younger person has a higher tolerance for transformation, upheavals, and new starts.

As one gets older, the context evolves. People tend to get settled in their careers; their tenure at a job tends to get longer–perhaps even life-long. People tend to decide upon and setup a “base” which they call home, even if they are open to long trips away. People tend to make fewer, but longer-lasting friendships. As one gets older, the tolerance for transformation, upheavals, and new beginnings diminish greatly.

Hence, my argument around the choice of monogamy–and by implication, my views about its morality–takes a similar road. I think it’s primarily a matter of prudence in response to changing contexts.

It is clear that monogamy does not come easily to most people–and certainly not naturally–in the younger days of one’s adulthood. This is due to various reasons that make up the context within which this issue arises. And in my opinion, the reasons are as follows:

  1. For various physical and biological reasons that may differ among men and women, younger people tend to have a greater sexual appetite–not just in terms of frequency but also in terms of variety. (Of course, this does not mean that such “appetites” cannot be controlled or channeled, but that’s not the point here.)
  2. For various psychological reasons, younger people tend to be more resilient to break-ups. Even though while they undergoing one, they might think that a break-up is the end of the world, younger people become quickly aware of the fact that a whole life is ahead of them and that they can move on, that they deserve better, or that they can find another mate.
  3. For reasons similar to the one above, the pressures of maintaining fidelity and abiding by the rules of a relationship tend to be weak among younger people–again, because the end of a relationship is really not the end of the world.
  4. Younger people generally have access to–or are frequently placed in–social environments that open possibilities for exploring outside the relationship (e.g., clubs, colleges, etc.). Moreover, the modern world has opened up innumerable possibilities for younger people to connect with each other–across boundaries, even. (This opens up the tangential issue of whether a person having a purely online affair can be considered to be monogamous.)
  5. Younger people generally have a lower level of tolerance when things don’t go their way in a relationship or when they experience dissatisfaction in an aspect in that relationship.

For the reasons I outlined above, I think monogamy is harder to come by and equally harder to impose upon oneself when you’re young.

As people grow older, however, I think we generally shift our predispositions quite naturally to prefer monogamy–to prefer a kind of stability in romantic relationships. 

It becomes more prudent–more sensible and in accordance with our nature as older adults–that we focus all our emotions, efforts, time, and money on a single partner (and expect likewise in reverse) because this is what lends us the most amount of physical, psychological, sexual, and emotional satisfaction.

To conclude, monogamy or open relationships are neither inherently moral or immoral. However, having said that, I believe that most people will tend towards monogamous relationships later in their lives of their own will as a consciously recognized and evaluated option that is most sensible for them–and hence, properly moral as well. Since what is rationally good for you with your life as the standard, is also properly moral.

Posted in Culture, General Work/Life, Homosexuality, India, Love and Romance, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 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 »

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 Facebook

Posted by Jerry on March 29, 2008

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

Here is the description I wrote:

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

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

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

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

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 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 »

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 »

Facets of Ayn Rand

Posted by Jerry on February 18, 2008

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

Here is an excerpt from the introduction by Leonard Peikoff:

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

[HT: Medworth]

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

Best Objectivists Posts of 2007

Posted by Jerry on February 15, 2008

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

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

Private Ownership of Roads

Posted by Jerry on February 11, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Objectivist Carnival No. 30

Posted by Jerry on February 8, 2008

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

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

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

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

Gus Van Horn presents Heartland on VanDamme

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

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

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

In Response to Values

Posted by Jerry on February 6, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 »

Book Reviews and My Room Videos

Posted by Jerry on January 26, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And another:

And finally:

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

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 »

 
%d bloggers like this: