Saturday, November 28, 2009

Quote of the day: Gallileo Shrugged (off)

"And don't (sic) the authoritarianism within that AGW scientific community stick out like dogs balls? "Peer review" now means "to bully & intimidate." They look worse than the 17th century Catholic church. Perhaps they now sympathise with the church rather than revere Galileo?"

-Sam Pierson, regarding the MSM silence on "Climategate" thread at solopassion.com.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Climategate: The Smoking Gun?

















(Click image to enlarge "the smoking gun.")



Global-warming skeptics got an early Christmas present this year: "Climategate." Now that a few days have passed, let's take a sober look at what it is and means.
According to the current (as of this post) Wikipedia entry,

The Climatic Research Unit e-mail hacking incident, referred to by some in the media as "Climategate",[1] began in November 2009 with the hacking of a server used by theClimatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, England, in the United Kingdom. The unknown hacker copied[2] and anonymously disseminated over a thousand e-mails and other documents.[3][4][5]

The university confirmed that the security breach took place, but could not confirm the authenticity of the material at short notice,[6] and expressed concern "that personal information about individuals may have been compromised."[7] Details of the incident have been reported to the police, who are investigating.[3] Later, Phil Jones, Director of theUEA-CRU, confirmed that all of the leaked emails that had provoked heated debate appeared to be genuine.[8]

Climate change skeptics have asserted that the e-mails show collusion[9] by climate scientists to withhold scientific information[10]. Other prominent climate scientists, such asRichard Somerville, have called the incident a smear campaign.[11] Among those who wrote the released e-mails and documents, Phil Jones, Director of the Climatic Research Unit, called charges that the emails involve any "untoward" activity "ludicrous", and [12] Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research stated that the sceptics have selectively quoted words and phrases out of context in an attempt to sabotage the Copenhagen global climate summit in December.[13]


Now, the question is, if this is truly the "smoking gun" skeptics have been waiting for, will it make a difference? Of course, the defenders of AGW are already spinning the situation, saying that the emails aren't that damning, or simply calling those who are and remain skeptical "denialists," "kooks," "nutjobs," etc. Personally, I believe that the defenders of GW will never admit defeat, even if hell froze over tomorrow (they'd just take that as proof.) Obama, Gore, and NBC will most likely carry on "Green is Universal" week, simply because it's never really been about the environment, but about power. (See Ayn Rand's The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution.)

Anyway; in the interest of Objectivity, the files, going back to as early as 1996 and up to the present, are available online (for now), and we can see for ourselves what they say. Will this truly be remembered as "the Smoking Gun," a misfire, or dismissed/ignored in the ongoing march towards U.S.S.A.?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ginger Hair is Not a Crime


Is this the best use of Facebook possible from these feeble little minds? Listen, you little fucks, Cartman is NOT a role-model.

In Calabasas, Calif., police think a Facebook posting declaring Friday as "Kick A Ginger Day" led to a red-haired 12-year-old getting attacked by 14 other students. ("Ginger" is a nickname / slur for people with red hair, light skin and freckles. It became especially popular a few years ago after a "South Park" episode.)

Now, I'm not one to support the category of "hate-crimes", crime is crime. But to say that these incidents won't be charged as a hate-crime is just so hypocritical of the p.c. agenda. If it was "Kick a Kike Day" or "Kick a Coon Day," heads would be rolling, and the stupidity of dividing up crimes by race. Hate is hate and violence is violence, no matter what color you are.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Civil Disobedience: A Principled Stand

When I was in high school, during my "neo-hippie" phase (i.e., the '90's), I did a few things to rile the establishment and question authority: underground newspapers, anti-war signs, infiltrating student government. One day, a few friends and I instigated a "sit-out" to protest the school's dress code, which prohibited shorts before a certain date, regardless of temperature (South Jersey can be pretty swampy early in the spring.)

I was well-meaning, but not learned in the ways of civil disobedience. Not all of the students who took part (and there were many; the police were called out at one point) were so principled; most saw it as an excuse to get out of class (which resulted in many "0" grades from teachers who decided to have "pop quizzes" during that time.) Anyway, instead of a principled fight, the students decided to use the restrooms, vending machines, etc., rendering the event less than meaningful, and we acted without honor and more like spoiled children. I could accept the failing grade, I could accept the posturing of the police...what I couldn't bear was the shame when a teacher pointed out my hypocrisy for utilizing the school's resources for personal gain. That day, I learned that civil disobedience is not supposed to be comfortable, or at least the comfort is not supposed to come from the opposition. More importantly, I learned that a principled stand is not possible to a parasite.

Fast forward to 2009. School protests have given way to the big time, tea parties, End-the-Fed rallies, and calls for civil disobedience. It's been a long time since Thoreau offered his resistance to Civil Government, but have we learned his lessons? Unlike the protesters of the WTO, or even the original Boston Tea Party, the current protesters are anything but disobedient, and plenty civil. Some even go so far as to...gosh...ask permission? Get permits? Why not just ask "please pretty please with sprinkles on top?" (That might be more effective than voting, at least...) At the tea party I attended, I was passing out fliers with information about the REAL Boston Tea Party, and asked a fellow Objectivist to help. He would not, saying that it sounded too "anarchistic." When I explained that it was not, but instead about civil disobedience, he still balked. He's not alone; there were many among the colonists who also thought that the original Party was an act of anarchy.

But as the saying goes, "well behaved women seldom make history."

That said, there is a flip side to civil disobedience, if one is going to make a principled stance. I present the following* posted in The Christian Science Monitor by Jim Sollisch, the creative director at Marcus Thomas Advertising in Cleveland:

STOP FEEDING THE LOAN SHARKS

The author of this call-to-arms is lighting a brushfire under those with credit-card debt to STOP paying. Is it because the banks received taxpayer bailouts? Is it the bonuses? No. the reason is because the banks are "unscrupulous." Why? Because they arbitrarily raise their rates and charge late fees; in short, they're "loan sharks." Nevermind that these borrowers took on the loans, and the risk, voluntarily. The plan is offered as "our bailout."

Who is this guy to say this? "Full disclosure: As you might have guessed, I'm not a lawyer. I don't know what kind of trouble you can get in for refusing to pay your credit-card bill. I do know that the idea of consumers revolting over unfair practices is as old as America itself."

This is the reason one needs to be mindful of their allies...This is NOT an example of a principled Civil Disobedience. The issue is clouded somewhat here, being that the banks long-involvement with the Fed, which was manipulated by the government from the start. And, of course, the banks being nationalized by Big Brother threatens the sanctity of the original loans. This is not the way to do it, however. There is a difference between making a legitimate stand and becoming just another thug in a gang war. Because of the "coercion" involved in our economy, there is the possibility that even honorable people will be forced to do unscrupulous things; "morality ends where a gun begins." This was illustrated by the secret deals Hank Reardon had to make in Atlas Shrugged. It's was led a philosopher to become a pirate. However, that's not the whole story.

It needs to be remembered that Reardon and Ragnar both stayed true to their principles. They only claimed what was wrongfully taken; even Ragnar took pains not to kill or take anything that wasn't originally stolen, he was a principled "Robin Hood." The point of civil disobedience is to not do harm to the innocent, or "pass the buck." As stated on the current wiki page, "the driving idea behind the essay was that of self-reliance, and also how one is in morally good standing as long as one can "get off another man's back"; so one does not necessarily have to physically fight the government, but one must not support it or have it support one (if one is against it)." Or, as another commentator puts it, "advocating individuals to not pay their legally incurred credit card debts, Jim, is nothing other than advocating being a deadbeat, a credit risk, and a fool. I recommend you re-read Thoreau’s essay Civil Disobedience and then apply Thoreau’s recommendations regarding civil disobedience where they should be applied, against the government, not private companies which deemed you a creditworthy risk when you needed some extra cash."
(This blogger maybe should have added that though the banks are not "private" businesses anymore, they were when the loans were taken out.)

A call to action like this is a wake-up call to anyone considering engaging in acts of civil disobedience today, especially when the problems today involve a financial crisis. Our money and sense of self-worth are so tied up together, it can be easy to be tempted to rationalize our situations in ways that are less than honorable. I know the temptation, believe me. I'm as angry about the bailouts as everyone else, and struggling as well. But my experience in high school keeps me in check. Unfortunately, guys like Jim Sollisch are making their voices available, and we have to compete with that.

Sollisch says, "I do know that the idea of consumers revolting over unfair practices is as old as America itself." THIS, I submit, is WHY we need to know the details of our country's history, such as Shays's Rebellion, The Whiskey Rebellion, The Boston Tea Party, the Stamp Act, etc. Sollisch is right; revolts ARE as old as America itself. But it's not being concrete-bound to say the "devil's in the details," not when the slopes are this slippery.

*Hat tip to Billy Beck.

Review of GODDESS OF THE MARKET: AYN RAND AND THE AMERICAN RIGHT

The publication of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns is perfectly timed to capitalize on the growing popularity of Ayn Rand in light of the recent economic developments that are predicted in Rand's magnum opus Atlas Shrugged. This book also benefits from the distinction of being the first Rand biography written with access to archival material not available to previous biographers. It's no coincidence, then, that the two points of interest about this book, the personal and the political, intersect, but that is to the book's detriment. In trying to be both a biography and a discussion of Rand's influence on politics, it fails to be effective at either.


The intro claims that the focus is on "Rand's contributions as a political philosopher, for it is here that she has exerted her greatest influence," and that "the story of Ayn Rand is also the story of libertarian, conservatism, and Objectivism, the three schools of thought that intersected most prominently with her life." Yes, there is quite a bit of discussion about Rand's involvement with political campaigns and the relationships with the likes of Isabel Paterson, Murray Rothbard, and Ludwig von Mises, but little of significance is revealed to those already familiar with these matters. The claim about the book's focus is undercut by Burns' overemphasis on the personal aspects of Rand, to the detriment of the discussion of the ideas. This is not primarily a book about Rand's political influence or influences, but about Rand herself, with the politics serving as a backdrop. And the publishers know where the money is: in the juicy gossip. (Witness the tag line on the inside dust jacket: "Worshipped by her fans, denounced by her enemies, and forever shadowed by controversy...".) That's why this book is of greater interest to "insiders," but for far more personal reasons than the current Atlas-like state of the world...


Given the controversy surrounding Ayn Rand, a reader looking for an unbiased, non-partisan review might take comfort in Burns' insistence that she is "less concerned with judgement than with analysis," a choice that Burns says that Rand would "certainly condemn." Burns claims that she approaches Rand as a "student and a critic of American thought." But Burns' comment about Rand's "condemnation" foreshadows what's to come...Burns continues: "This book seeks to excavate a hidden Rand, one far more complex and contradictory than the public persona suggests." Already problematic for those expecting an in-depth analysis of Rand's influence on politics, this is where the problems begin for the "insiders" of the Objectivist persuasion in the battle over Rand the person.


There is hype around this book for its "unprecedented access to original, unedited journals." For those coming to learn about Ayn Rand via the current news headlines, this will probably mean little, especially since that material is not presented directly in the book, and because they are unlikely to be familiar with the material that was controversially edited. For insiders, however, this book is, for better or for worse, destined to be compared to James Valliant's The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, which relied on Rand's unpublished diary entries. Valliant's book was criticized for the intrusion of the author's comments on those published excerpts, marring the experience of reading the evidence independently. But at least in the case of PARC, the excerpts are there to read. In the case of Goddess of the Market, the opposite is true; if Valliant's commentaries get in the way, then the criticism must apply doubly to Burns' book, where the reader does not see the unedited material themselves, only Burns' personal interpretation.


The problem of the "analysis" over "judgement" claim is apparent in the author's constant use of negative adjectives regarding Rand throughout the book, best exemplified by the claim on page 235: "There seems to two Objectivisms: one that genuinely supported intellectual exchange, engagement, and discourse, and one that was as dogmatic, narrow-minded and stifling as Rand's harshest critics alleged." This is very similar to the claims made by both Barbara and Nathaniel Branden. Burns does little to explain her opinions, a flaw compounded by the promotion of having access to unedited, archival material, which, at this point, comes to function as a crutch for the author to use as an argument of authority. Speaking of such arguments, Burns supplements the archival material with testimonies of various people from Rand's life. Sometimes, due to the writing style, those testimonies are intermingled with the author's narrative, making it difficult to determine where the quote ends and the author's voice interjects. The source material is selectively quoted and filtered through the author's voice. The footnotes to these quotes add little for the reader to verify on their own. (It should be said, as well, that the judgement of quotes that can be verified and used to portray a negative Rand often come down to a matter of one's personal values; what Burns or her interviewed participants might consider negative, another might consider a virtue, i.e., Rand's legendary non-compromising anger.)


These problems work against the celebration of the use of unedited material; given the battle over Rand's legacy (which, for the longest time, has been based on "he-said, she-said" testimony) and the claims on both sides of the Randian schism that this book will settle the score in their respective favor, the reader might expect some kind of "silver bullet" to clear up any doubts. This book does little service to either side of the schism. To her credit, whatever the basis for her negative opinions towards Rand, they are her own, and she acknowledges virtue and flaw in people on both sides. And, Burns, as an "outsider" to the Randian circle, is not responsible for the appropriation of her book for use in the insider schisms. Burns is certainly entitled to her opinions, but she probably would have been better served by not making the claim that she did in the intro. And Burns, by the promotion of the access to unedited material, put herself in the situation of carrying the responsibility of being the first biographer with access to that material, and carries the burden of having to explain her negative interpretations of Ayn Rand's ideas, even if independent of the schism. (In other words, "Who is Jennifer Burns?") Ultimately, despite the hype, all we have is another voice added to the din of claims and counter-claims.


What, then, for those interested in the case of the "real" Ayn Rand? For those who weren't there, we must think like computer programmers, in "if-then" logic. "If" what x says is true, then we have to deal with that scenario. If what "y" says is true, then we deal with that scenario. If "x" is right here, but "y" is right there, then we deal with that scenario. That's all it will ever be for most of us. After the publication of the Branden memoirs and the Valliant book, we are presented with more questions than answers, and the possibility that while Rand may have been ill-served by the former, she may not have been fully vindicated by the latter. With the failure of Goddess of the Market to live up to the hype promised by access to "unedited" material, readers of this and subsequent biographies must deal with such "filtered" material, both hostile and celebratory, by putting themselves in the position of "philosophical detectives," not only sorting out the fact from opinion and hearsay regarding Rand, but dealing with the premises of the biographer as well. For those independent of "schism" politics, and without first-hand evidence/experience, or verifiable documents/information (such as personal access to the archives), the best advice about this book is the same as Burns' own advice about the Branden memoir and the edited Journals of Ayn Rand: use with caution.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Union Scumbag Pickin' on Boyscouts Resigns. Good Riddance.

As if unions didn't have a bad enough reputation (and coming off of a 5-day SEPTA union strike over...gasp! having to contribute to their own health insurance and pensions!), this guy decides to shake down the Boy Scouts:
"Allentown union official Nick Balzano has been a political punching bag all week because he threatened to file a grievance against the city for allowing a Boy Scout to clear a walking path in a city park...The controversy began last week when Balzano warned that the union may file a grievance against the city after officials allowed a local Boy Scout to clear a 1,000-foot walking path in Kimmets Lock Park. "We'll be looking into the Cub Scout or Boy Scout who did the trails," Balzano said, and told council that given the layoffs of 39 union members, no one except union members may pick up a hoe or shovel, plant a flower or clear a walking path."
Truly disgusting. Glenn Beck chimed in on this, saying "Even the Boy Scouts aren't safe from SEIU's thuggery." U.S. Representative Charlie Dent (R) summed it up best: "Taxpayers pay my salary, your salary, and the salaries of your Allentown members. As a taxpayer and Member of Congress, I can assure you that no one wants to hear about you or your union bothering and hassling young people trying to do right by their community." Balzano and seven other executive officers of the local SEIU stepped down. Damn skippy.

2012: "Where's Your Messiah Now?"



Interesting tidbit about this movie:

Roland Emmerich is willing to murder billions of people in his films, blow up the planet, and end life as we know it; but there’s one thing that stops him cold: Islam. Emmerich tells Sci-Fi that he’d originally planned to include a scene in his new disaster movie 2012 where the Kaaba was destroyed. It’s a cubed shaped building in Mecca and one of Islaam’s holiest sites.

So why’d he back off? You know why. Because he’s afraid of Muslims. Emmerich says, “my co-writer Harald said I will not have a fatwa on my head because of a movie.” Bear in mind that in this same movie he utterly demolishes the Vatican while wiping out a bunch of Buddhist monks and no one seems to care. I’m not sure this is so much a feather in the cap of the Pope as it is a check mark on my list of reasons not to read the Qur’an.
It's obvious the Christians and Buddhists don't set Emmerich shaking. Whatever that says about Emmerich, it says more about the nature of Islam, Jihad, and the P.C. tendency to apologize (see the latest denials, like the Fort Wayne Massacre...).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Orpheus Remembered: The Objectivist/Music Debates


First order of business is to incorporate my blog Orpheus Remembered, a blog dedicated to the the musical debates of the Objectivist persuasion. (That was fast! Already archived here under their original publish dates.) That blog was started as a personal labor of love, being that I am a musician myself. It covered everything from Rand's formulations on music, her questionable comments on Beethoven, the debates of rock music versus classical versus jazz and the speculations on those who love and loathe such genres, as well as my own speculations on the future of music. I pretty much concluded that blog months ago, taking it as far as I could, though I have one more post to add, if I ever get around to it...anyway, the posts will be here, as well, so that the full fury of the musical invective can live on...

(Some of these archived posts may appear a bit hinky because of the format used on the old blog. I'll try to fix these as I go along.)

Objectivish: Just Callin' It As I See It...

Objectivish: my subjective thoughts on the objective (and Objectivist) world.

Why "Objectivish" and not outright "Objectivist?" Short answer: this is basically me presenting MY opinions and thoughts on the current state of the world, thoughts grounded and informed by Objectivism. These are my thoughts and opinion, not Ayn Rand's. I take responsibility for the thoughts and opinions expressed as my own. In other words, "just callin' it as I see it."


Long-winded answer:

Because I don't claim to speak for Objectivism or Ayn Rand. So why use the name? I do consider myself "Objectivist," and proudly so! And while I don't consider myself a "disciple" or "worshipper," I don't feel the need to hide the influence out of fear of the negative opinions of those who hate all that Objectivism stands for. I am grateful for the works of Ayn Rand and couldn't ignore her if I tried. "Objectivish" states my premises right up front. If Christians and Muslims and Marxists and other assorted ideologues can do so, so can I. If you have an problem with Ayn Rand or Objectivism, that's you're problem. If you have a problem ADMITTING you admire Ayn Rand or Objectivism, that too, is you're problem, not mine.) But this is not an "Objectivist"™ blog; this is basically me presenting MY opinions and thoughts, not those of Ayn Rand, even if they are formed from an Objectivist grounding. Similarly, I take responsibility for the thoughts and opinions expressed as my own. In other words, "just callin' it as I see it."

Specifically, I'm starting this blog as an outlet for things I've said and things I'd like to say on topics from an Objectivist point of view, or topics related to Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. While there are a myriad of other forums to do so, I've found the online world of discussion to be one of diminishing returns. Personally, while I value Objectivism greatly, I do have my criticisms, right or wrong, refuse to stifle my questions and concerns. Conversely, while I don't believe in censorship, there are just some criticisms out there that are simply ill-formed, malicious, or flat-out WRONG, and I don't want to share the same online space. (Racist class-warmongering participants come to mind...). The in-between, of course, is vast and varied...there are people and topics I would consider that others would chastise me for, such as my appreciation of rock music, or a willingness to consider anarchist arguments, or for being gay. And then there are the many flame wars, schisms, and cockfights, and the Objectivist variety are no exception, generating more heat than light. But I think there is also something about the nature of online forums itself that contributes to this, and that's no good for Objectivists or Objectivism; not only is there the concern of being a "good Objectivist", there's the concern of being a good member of the various sub-factions. The oxymoron of "Soloists" comes to mind, but it's certainly not the only one...and let's not forget the "Loyalty Oath" of the Binswanger list.) Even those accused of dogmatism (Noodlefooders) are criticized for not towing the line closely enough (The Forum), and even the most "liberal" are accused of squashing debate and heavy-handed control (Ojectivist Living). Enemies becoming friends, friends becoming enemies...There's a lot of demand for dedication of truth, and a lot of confusion over the truth, of demand for loyalty to truth and in spite of the truth...and trying to remain an individual at the same time?

It's all too much.

It's a scene straight out of Monty Python's Life of Brian, (a scene constantly invoked in the O'ist world, ironically): "You must think for yourselves!" "Yes, we must think for ourselves!" "You're all individuals!" "Yes! We're all individuals!" "You're all different!" Yes, we ARE all different!"

"I'm not..."

Seriously, if this is the price of being "right," I'd rather take the risk of being wrong.


On all this, I am in agreement with Leonard Peikoff, who discussed this in his sixth podcast. In answer to a question about his opinion on "Objectivist clubs and advocacy groups" and their role in "spreading the right ideas," he responded that:

...you might get some information or some leads from it. But on the whole, I think the potential harm intellectual you get from such groups is greater than the values you put out unless you're very selective and careful in what topics you decide to take part in and how you take your part.

Yaron Brook offered his perspective as well, commenting on those potential hazards of participants who are taken as "experts" when that may not be the case. I'd agree, from experience, with these observations, and include such problems as anonymity and outright lying. This leads to the pitfall of signing on to a forum dedicated to Objectivism with the expectation of speaking with like-minded people, only to find yourself arguing with people who may only have a casual interest, or even an outright antithetical or hostile approach. You find yourself having not only to verify what is said, but the premises behind what is said. On a forum with a multitude of posters, you can find yourself arguing with others holding multiple and conflicted premises...all at once! Then there are people who are simply wrong, or misguided, or confused. The flipside to this has the equally potentially hazardous effect of discouraging ANY dissent or debate (whether outright or through implication; I am not thinking per se of moderation or forum rules, but the "read between the lines" type of controls). These are problems for any type of forum (hell, I've seen flame wars on Youtube videos dedicated to genteel ballads!), but it's particularly troubling for sites who aim to present themselves as forums for objective, rational discussion and debate. Even more disturbing to see "social metaphysics" on forums dedicated to individualism.

Am I "innocent"? To quote Z.Z. Top, "I've been good, I've been bad..." Some of this I chalk up to honest error, other things out of anger, and yet other things out of self-defense. I hope I've corrected my wrongs for the the former two, and I don't apologize for the latter...but it's all made me "check my premises".

Similarly, I've seen the same behavior from others online, some good, some bad, and some downright ugly. Without excusing individual responsibility, I've wondered if there wasn't something else contributing to this, something inherent in the format. Indeed, the idea "social networking" seems almost antithetical to the ideas of Objectivism; not because socializing or networking is bad in itself, but that the current dominant philosophies favor what Objectivism calls "second-handedness." I see most online activities to be digital versions of those depicted in Rand's The Fountainhead. When one sees the multiple polls on sites like Facebook, I think of the scene where Peter Keating is conducting opinion polls, "to find out what he thinks." When I think of the reality shows that carry over into the web that pander for ratings, I hear Gail Wynand: "I give the public what it wants-including your column, Mr. Toohey!" Gail Wynand was based on real-life yellow-journalist William Randolph Hearst, whose influence lives on via the twitterings of Myspace, Facebook, and the like. Only today, the paper is digital, and one man does not control the press. So, if Howard Roark didn't build in order to have clients, but had clients in order to build, a writer today can do the same with relative ease, bypassing the "compromises" of social sites (including "Objectivist" sites), and build from an individual blog. A blog enables one to speak their mind, right or wrong, on their own turf. Conversely, the content, right or wrong, is the responsibility of said blogger. For the reader, they can take the content as they will, right or wrong, and conversely, are responsible, right or wrong, for how they take that content. The trader principle in action.

Does this mean that one should only write from the privacy of an individual blog, never to venture out into that world wide web? I don't think one needs to build a wall of "Floydian" proportions per se; man is, after all, a social creature. And I don't hold to a "party line" of orthodoxy that limits debate or discussion to "sanctioned" topics. I don't believe in ad hominem attacks, or malicious behavior generally; I'm a live-and-let-live kind of guy. At the same time..."judge...and prepare to be judged." I don't hold Ayn Rand up to be infallible or as a goddess; same for her critics. (You can hide a Branden behind a pope-bubble all you want, but they're still visible.) I do believe one should be selective, not "opened-minded," but "active-minded." As far as joining online "groups," I think Rand's advice on political action has some weight here as well:

Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to “do something.” By “ideological” (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals...The only groups one may properly join today are ad hoc committees, i.e., groups organized to achieve a single, specific, clearly defined goal, on which men of differing views can agree. In such cases, no one may attempt to ascribe his views to the entire membership, or to use the group to serve some hidden ideological purpose (and this has to be watched very, very vigilantly).

Sounds like a pretty sane personal policy to me. It's possible to find, or create. But for now, I'm finding the personal blog a more personal solution.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ego: Problems of Definition

EGO: Problems of Definition
by Joseph C. Maurone

The criticism that Rand's work primarily appeals to adolescents stems, I believe, from her celebration of the ego. This is perhaps most explicit in Anthem, where the plot revolves around the re-discovery of the word "I." Rand was aware of the link between heroism and its crucial significance in the psychological development of the individual. The role of ego in the formation of the self is also a crucial aspect of the hero cycle of mythology and religion, and both Jungian psychology and Objectivism take up the relation in their work, defending the ego against its negative connotations in common usage.

As Objectivist Leonard Peikoff states, "…[E]goism has been advocated through the centuries mainly by subjectivists. The result is several corrupt versions of egoism, which most people now regard as the self-evident meaning of the concept. ... Objectivism upholds objectivity and therefore rejects all these versions…. We reject the notion that selfishness means 'doing what you feel like doing.'"

Jungian analysists would agree. As Mary Ann Matoon states, "The ego of Jungian psychology should not be confused with the ego of common parlance. The latter, often is used to denote selfishness or conceit, is used to mean 'egocentric' or 'big ego.' However, such an ego is not big; rather it is underdeveloped, insecure, and in need of protection . The healthy ego of which Jung wrote does not need protection; it can tolerate criticism from other people as well as from within." And according to William Doty, "Within the Jungian system there is a strong emphasis upon individuation, the process by which selfhood is attained by an individual. The transpersonal or archetypal self is considered to be manifested though an individual, and there is a strong bias toward the attainment of an integrated and creative individuality ... "

In addition, Robert A. Segal writes that for Jungians, "the key feat of the first half of life is the establishment of a measure of independence from the unconscious." Compare this to Peikoff's take on Rand's use of ego: "Each individual must choose his values and actions by the standards of man's life in order to achieve the purpose of maintaining and enjoying his own life. Thus Objectivism advocates egoism-the pursuit of self-interest-the policy of selfishness."

But a problem arises when comparing Jung's and Rand's usage of the word ego. Both thinkers affirm the ego, but Jung saw it as part of a larger whole, the Self, while Rand identifies it as the Self. In Nathaniel Branden's words, "A man's ego is his mind, his faculty of awareness, his ability to think-the faculty that perceives reality, preserves the inner continuity of his own existence, and generates his sense of personal identity. 'Ego' and 'mind' denote the same fact of reality, the same attributes of man; the difference, in the use of these terms pertains to an issue of perspective: I use the term 'ego' to designate man's power of awareness as he experiences it."

Branden identifies the ego as awareness and thought, but does not mention here the relation of the ego to the rest of the psyche, or what is often termed the unconscious or subconscious, suggesting that it is the whole of the self. His next statement confirms this: "Any threat to man's ego -anything which he experiences as a danger to his mind's efficacy and control—is a potential source of pathological anxiety. The pain of this anxiety is the most terrible that man can know—because the value at stake is, necessarily, the most crucial of all his values."

This, Jung might say, is the source of ego-inflation which cause the hero to become tyrannical, creating a need for the hero to be sacrificed. According to Jung, the ego that sees itself as the whole self runs the risk of inflation with its own importance. In mythology, this is illustrated by the hero replacing the defeated tyrant with his own variant of tyranny. He usually starts out with good intentions; the hero acts as a benevolent dictator who knows best for the community. But when the populace doesn't act in the manner that he thinks they should, he decides that it is in their best interest to make the decisions for them. So, the cycle of tyranny continues.

This would normally be the part of the hero cycle where a new hero arises, which usually results in the downfall or the redemption of the former hero. If the former hero is not slayed, he is otherwise sacrificed. But this is not a sacrifice in an altruistic sense, for the heroic sacrifice signifies the submission of the ego to the larger realm of the Self, of which the ego is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Segal writes that "The feat of the second half [of the hero cycle] is, almost paradoxically, the restoration of contact with the unconscious." But Rand's fiction does not include this aspect. As Joseph Campbell states, "If one or another of the basic elements of the archetypal pattern is omitted from a given fairy tale, legend, ritual, or myth, it is bound to be somehow or other implied-and the omission itself can speak volumes for history and pathology of the example…".

A study of Rand's literary and political influences can shed light on the significance of this omission, in her work, and may offer more insight to the criticisms against her work for appealing to adolescents.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review of IN PRAISE OF DECADENCE by Jeff Riggenbach

(Originally published at Amazon.com:)

Jeff Riggenbach defies the authority of "conventional wisdom" in his 1998 book In Praise of Decadence. He claims that the "baby boomer" generation was "more Libertarian than anyone expected" (which explains the phenomenon of "Deadhead stickers on Cadillacs"). Tracing the history of libertarian thought, Riggenbach explains that the unrest of the Sixties was not monolithically Leftist, but co-opted, and that the disenchantment of a growing number of boomers with both the New Left and the YAF, combined with the collapse of the Objectivist movement, provided the motivation to start the Libertarian Party.

Riggenbach goes another step, however, arguing that the boomers embodied a spirit of decadence in contradiction to "conventional wisdom;" not simply decay, but the decay of authority, and that decadence historically has led to vitality in various fields. This is a tempting theory for any liberty-minded person to embrace. But then Riggenbach then takes this to make his case for anarcho-capitalism, arguing for "spontaneous order" over "central planning." Basing his arguments on the theory of natural law described by Adam Smith as "the invisible hand," Riggenbach celebrates the "welcoming attitude" of the baby boomers towards "diversity and eclecticism," or "doing your own thing." This is where Riggenbach's argument crashes into Ayn Rand, who he both damns and praises, and her philosophy of Objectivism, which argues against totalitarianism but rejects the celebration of the eclecticism and hedonism associated with the "vitality" of the hippy lifestyle. Riggenbach argues that there were two perceptions of Rand, the minarchist and the anarchist, that influenced the boomers (an argument mirrored in the 2009 biography Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right). This is just a microcosm of the larger schism of minarchism and anarchism and the claims by Rand that Libertarianism is a plagiarization of her ideas in a pragmatic pursuit of political short-cuts.

But confined to its own arguments, the praise of "decadence" fails to convince on its own terms. In the absence of an integrated philosophical system, the "spontaneous order" of eclecticism and anarchism did not lead to the "Dionysian" utopia of Woodstock but to the "Orphic dismemberment" of Altamont. It's notable that Riggenbach has to condemn certain aspects of the eclecticism and hedonism associated with the Sixties generation while admitting that the "conventional wisdom" of authority is often there for good REASON. In doing so, Riggenbach is in danger of making Rand's arguments against eclecticism (Rand anticipated the hippies with her portrayal of the "pseudo-individuals" portrayed in The Fountainhead.)

But what place is there for reason in Riggenbach's argument? Quoting Hayek, who defined "spontaneous order" as "the product of human action but not of human design," Riggenbach seems to argue from a teleological viewpoint of final causation: "the natural order of human society, with which rulers and planners tinker at their peril." This simply replaces the authority of "God" or "the State" with the dictates of "human nature" (an "ecological" conception.) While there is the maxim that "nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed," Hayek's formulation eliminates the reasoning mind with blind action, which is no guarantee of freedom. (A full analysis of Hayek's nuanced views on reason are beyond the scope of this review, but one notable comparison between Hayek and Rand and their view of reason is found in Chris Matthew Sciabarra's Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.) And although Riggenbach celebrates human creativity and technology, "human action without human design" does not lead to innovation, but to the retrogression found in Rand's analysis of the
New Left's "Anti-Industrial Revolution."

To use Riggenbach's own arguments demonstrates the limitations of "spontaneous order" in human relations. I give Riggenbach credit for his historical identification of the various makeup of the baby boomer generation, and his insight into his targets that would inhibit freedom and creativity. (His argument against centralized government and the danger of unchecked statist growth is a constant thorn in the minarchist/Objectivist side, and for good reason: "Who watches the watcher?" The very question has created something of a "
Mobius Strip" in the issue, preventing neither side from claiming total victory in the argument.) It is his philosophical underpinnings FOR freedom that I find weak; his arguments against oppressive authority were better met by Ayn Rand, who provided a way to navigate through creative matters without the perils of decadence. And a specific parallel to Riggenbach's thesis can be found in Leonard Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels, which, in contrast, identifies the decadence and philosophy of Berlin and the Weimar Republic in relation to the rise of the Third Reich, and the similarities found in the United States that have led to the current economic and political turmoil.