Monday, December 24, 2012

"Good Will in a Non-Sacrificial Way", or, Merry Christmas

"The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way." -Ayn Rand, The Objectivist Calendar, Dec. 1976 

Objectivism, according to Rand, was to be "a philosophy for living on Earth." And that includes, of course, "peace, good will toward men." In that spirit, I'd like to share some of that good will in music form, with an improv/"work in progress" I started today, "Snow on the River." So, with good will for the best within you, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. 


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

AYN RAND EXPLAINED vs. THE IDEAS OF AYN RAND

My review of Ayn Rand Explained: From Tyranny to Tea Party, as published at amazon.com:


This attempt to explain Ayn Rand's resurgence via the Tea Party, by way of updating The Ideas of Ayn Rand by the late Ron Merrill, is, at best, misguided. Although Marsha Familaro-Enright is to be commended for her even-handed approach to the many issues involved in discussing Objectivism, her technical approach is puzzling, to say the least; and insulting to Merrill, at worst, given the rewriting and, in some cases, omissions of his original words (I've seen no indication that he or his estate would have approved of such editorial changes). Enright doesn't simply update the book to address Rand's relevance to today's socio-political climate (or simply to address outdated predictions or events), or to correct factual errors (i.e., a wrong date or citation), but too often changes Merrill's meaning, or omits them where she may have disagreed. (In fairness, Enright does say, in the introduction, that she will be doing this, so my charge is not to claim she deceives the reader, but against her methodology.)

The changes would go unnoticed by those who haven't read Merrill's original book, but should downright annoy those well familiar with it.
(It was one of the first books about Rand that I ever read, and I personally still have my original copy, purchased back in 1998.) The original book is not presented as is, which commentary or updates provided in footnotes or brackets; rather, rather, Enright alternates between presenting Merrill's original words as-is, to switching to something like "Merrill says," or "Merrill believed...", to changing the ending of sentences in paragraphs that change the meaning of his original intent.

Example: On page 154 of the original, Merrill writes:

"Will the day ever come when Objectivism gets a place in the philosophy curriculum? That will be the day!--when Ayn Rand is taken as seriously as Plato or Kant or Mill--when textbooks devote a chapter or so to her ideas--when students learn about Objectivism and carefully compare and contrast its tenets to those of other schools of thought. That will be that day when professors no longer fear Objectivism--because it will be dead."

Contrast with Enright's revision:

"Will the day ever come when Objectivism gets a place in the philosophy curriculum? When Ayn Rand is taken as seriously as Plato or Kant or Mill-- when textbooks devote a chapter or so to her ideas-- when students learn about Objectivism and carefully compare and contrast its tenets to those of other schools of thought: that will be the day when professors will no longer fear Objectivism-- because it will be, like Aristotle, so completely incorporated into the ideas of the culture that most will accept many of its premises without realizing it."

In another brazen example, Enright eviscerates Merrill's challenge to Rand's definition of art. On page 126 of the original, he writes: "Thus, the correct definition of art is: A man-made object or process the function of which is to induce a sense of life in the observer", and concludes that "Though this definition does not immediately lead to an esthetic of music, it at least does not make the problem more difficult, as Rand's does." This is gone in the revision (although the final sentence does suggest a challenge to Rand's definition, the certainly of Merrill's challenge, right or wrong, is gone, and the chapter feels incomplete as a result, as if a limb was amputated); instead of challenging Merrill, his original thesis on the matter is discarded, audaciously replaced with a link to a website featuring Enright's own theory.

Despite the permission granted by Ayn Rand to the heir of her estate, Leonard Peikoff, to do with her work as he saw fit (edit: yes, I realize the controversy of this statement...anyway...), many critics have seen fit to challenge the editing of her previously unpublished journals, letters, lectures, and Q&A series for altering their tone and meaning. Shouldn't Merrill, whether or not one agrees with his personal conclusions, get the same consideration? If Enright is one of those critics, I would hope that the irony of her revisions of Merrill's work does not go unnoticed. If not, it would be interesting to see her reaction to the idea of her own original writings being "revised" in the same manner. (Or, how would she react to a revision of her revision? Perhaps an omission of her opening for Chapter Nine: "In the battle of for the mind, the ideas of Ayn Rand are winning." Will that statement, laughable in today's climate, stand the test of time?)

But reading the attempt in the best light: Again, Enright should be commended for her even-handed discussion of the pros and cons of Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and the controversial issues surrounding them; it's obvious that she is sympathetic to the ideals espoused. (And ultimately, the responsibility lies with Open Court, the publisher of the original book, for revising it in this manner for their IDEAS EXPLAINED series.)  Unfortunately, she has not done well by Merrill. Because of the inherent controversy of using a previously published book by a deceased author, the attempt becomes a dual between using the book as a vehicle to address today's issues while wrestling with the original's author's own words and intent. One or the other might have been acceptable, but this just undercuts both projects in the process.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

ARC: "Actually, Mr. President..."

Your president, Barack Obama, previously alluded to Ayn Rand with his infamous "I don't know when they decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness." And now, in the current Rolling Stone magazine, he outright addresses her, in regards to Paul Ryan's supposed "obsession" with her (HAH!).  I don't care to either quote Obama, or to link to Rolling Stone on this (however, I will quote Neil Schon, of the band Journey: “The only thing I use the Rolling Stone for is toilet paper when I run out.”)

Fortunately, others are already on it.

From the Ayn Rand Center: "Actually, Mr. President, Ayn Rand is Quintessentially American 


Yaron Brook of the ARI was also quick to get a statement out there:



 

And here's a commentary from Objectivist Stuart Hyashi, with a timely Halloween-ish title: "About Teens, Ayn Rand Answers President Obama Beyond the Grave" 

(Updated 10/28: Ari Armstrong, in The Objective Standard: "Obama, Unsurprisingly, Gets Ayn Rand Wrong"


And Yaron Brook/Don Watkins in Forbes: "President Obama Duels With Ayn Rand Over What Makes America Great")

Speaking of Halloween and toilet paper, and since these gentlemen have already addressed this story in a mature fashion, it frees me up to engage in some spirited holiday fun. (Hey, if Obama thinks Rand and Objectivism are "immature," who am I am to argue?) So here are some ideas for mischief night at the White House. 






Trick-or-Treat, bitch.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rand Sighting: The Endless Enigma

Hmmm...I have already published this elsewhere, years ago, but just realized I hadn't posted it here, yet, so...

Ayn Rand is mentioned several times in a book from 2006 entitled
Endless Enigma: A Musical Biography of Emerson, Lake & Palmer by Edward Macan. Macan briefly mentioned Rand in his previous book, Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture, in relation to the band, and he is not unfavorable towards her, unlike authors of similar books on progressive rock. This is also notable since the author took part (pdf) in a JARS symposioum on Rand and progressive rock featuring writers both friendly and hostile towards Rand. (Notable also that Chris Sciabarra, with his piece "Rand, Rush, and Rock" that led to the sysymposium, is acknowledged in the opening of Endless Enigma.)

The book itself is long (over 600 pages) and pricey ( I can't believe I bought it!). For those not interested in the whole book, here are the relevant Rand passages:
p. xvi:
(On another author's misrepresenting Rand), criticized Paul Stump for calling Rand a "Canadian philosopher" and relatedly, for criticizing the band Rush for their Rand-inspired lyrics based on Stump's misrepresentation of said lyrics: "Philosophers and plowmen each must know his place" instead of "know his part." (Stump labeled Rand and Rush as Fascist.)

p. 248-249 references "Project X" from Atlas Shrugged, in relation to themes of technological misuse in ELP albums as well as religion and counterculture:
"So the agnostic musing of 'The Only Way'-although , as Ayn Rand has already demonstrated, right-wingers could be atheists, too, while among the counterculture, atheism was much less popular than a kind of gauzy monism that syncretically blended elements of a number of different spirtual traditions."


(THIS is interesting in light of the Peikovian argument against the religious right...)

Chris Sciabarra is mentioned on pg. 253:

"...Sciabarra...points to the Ayn Rand-influenced libertarianism that is so evident in the music of Rush...as proof that not only does Randian objectivism adapt comfortably to the progressive rock style, it addresses a number of concerns that have traditionally been assumed to be the province of the Left. I do not argue that a strain of libertarianism analogous to Rand's was probably present in in incipient form in the hippie movement [though Jeff Riggenbach might; see In Praise of Decadence]; I would caution that it was not fully evident until after the disolution of the hippie movement around 1970..."

p. 123:
"Inherent in 'The Barbarian' and explicit in 'Knife-Edge,' is the vision of technology gone spectacularly awry in the hands of oppressive, totalitarian regime, a vision captured with considerable power in three great dystopic novels of the thirties, fourties, and fifties, respectively – Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, George Orwell's 1984, and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged-that strongly impacted the hippie movement of the sixties."

Macan's work and style overall is a systematic approach to the underlying factors that contributed to the formation of progressive rock, integrating economic, cultural, sexual, and other factors in a manner not unsimilar to Atlas, so it's no surprise that Rand is mentioned and defended, especially more admirable when you consider that progressive rock, despite its better attributes, is, at its worst, and at its base, an example of eclecticism in art, a fusion or hybrid of rock, English classical music, jazz, and eastern styles, not necessarily systematically approached but juxtaposed, what might be categorized as "misintegration." (For example, see my piece on the Avatar/Prog Rock connection). The better bands did develop their own style, but so much of the genre is a result of "filling in the grid", mixing musical genres, instead of developing an integrated body of work.

At any rate, I was glad to see at least one writer address Rand's influence in a fair way, as well as countering the smears of Paul Stump and Marxist criticisms of Bill Martin. Chris Sciabarra deserves credit for getting the ball rolling on the symposium, and for getting her serious attention (with the help of people like the JARS symposium contributor Durrell Bowman, who recently co-edited Rush and Philosophy: Heart and Mind United
I hope to see more, starting with my own contribution, "The Rand-Rush Connection", which goes in-depth inside um...the Rand-Rush connection...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Double Facepalm...

For when one facepalm just isn't enough...

"Simply put, there is NOTHING a woman can do that a man can not do better and with far less drama and headaches (excluding pregnancy). And yes, one day a better philosopher than Rand will come along and correct her mistakes. That day can't come soon enough (as I keep saying, he will be taken more seriously than Rand). 


"BTW, that doesn't mean that I don't love Rand. I do. Its just that I never forget that she was a woman and that has meaning because all women are insane. Its their nature."

-Doug Bandler's recent posting, out of many similar misogynist and racist posts,
on solopassion.com (because one Elijah Lineberry wasn't enough...what is it about that site that attracts these people? In the name of Objectivism, no less?)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ayn Rand Sighting: "Sons of Ayn-archy?"

The Randian resurgence keeps on comin': "‘Sons of Anarchy’ season 5 spoilers: Jax gets into a whole new business"

 "Before we get into specifics when it comes to Tuesday’s all-new episode of “Sons of Anarchy,” we have to take a second to comment on just how phenomenal of an episode title “Orca Shrugged” really is. It has almost an Ayn Rand sort of feel to it thanks in part to the last word, and it is the sort of title that makes up want to know just what is going to be coming up next."

Never watched the show, myself, so I couldn't tell you a thing about it, but I  just may have to check this one out. And I don't know if the "anarchy" refers to a political anarchy, or the colloquial association with chaos. Either way, I do, however, have to imagine a minor "earthquake in Valhalla", given Rand's antipathy towards anarchism. (Oh well, even she couldn't get it all right...)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

ATLAS SHRUGGED at 55

I've been on an indefinite blogging hiatus, even with all of the Ayn Rand sightings in the news, but being that today marks the 55th anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged, I'd be amiss if I didn't say something...so, happy 55th anniversary to Atlas Shrugged! The date makes it that much more appropriate that the second installment of the movie will appear in theaters Oct. 12.

And, to show just how vital Atlas is at 55, check out some of the latest headlines (mostly involving "is he/isn't he a Randian?" Paul Ryan). He may have shrugged, but the influence isn't ready for retirement, yet... (My favorite has to be the claim that it was Rand's fault for the recent NFL controversy...damn, Objectivism may not be "winning", but it's certainly getting under their skin...)

From salon.com: "How Ayn Rand Is Wrecking Football"
"Paul Ryan's beloved Packers were robbed last night--because the owners are putting the 'moochers' in their place"

From HuffPo: Paul Ryan Obsession With Ayn Rand 'Disturbing,' Says House Challenger Rob Zerban
 

Also from HuffPo: "Jennifer Burns: On Ayn Rand and the Election"

And, of course: "Paul Ryan Disowns Remarks To Ayn Rand Group Decrying ‘Collectivist’ Social Security"

And on a lighter note, but also noteworthy, is that the "couch-gag" of the recent season premiere of The Simpsons featured a cameo appearance of The Ayn Rand School for Tots, which goes back to a film short that appeared in movie theaters, over the summer (and has its origins in the classic episode from '92, "A Streetcar Named Marge"). With The Fountainhead segment from a few years ago, that makes for three references to Rand on the show.

"The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare' Trailer: Maggie Simpson Stars In Theatrical Short"

 
 
So, happy birthday, Atlas! First they crucified, then, they ridiculed you. But they can no longer ignore you. "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ayn Rand on Johnny Carson's TONIGHT SHOW

Many people in the objectivish sphere have waited to see Ayn Rand's appearance on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. (The story goes that Carson cancelled the other guests and spent the entire show with her.) These tapes were long-thought to be lost (although the transcript appears in the book Objectively Speaking: Ayn Rand Interviewed...more on that in a second), (Michael Paxton wanted them for his documentary Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life , but was told by Carson's people that the tapes were all destroyed), but they have surfaced on the website of one Kerry O'Quinn, who was a friend of Joan and Allan Blumenthal. O'Quinn claims that the VHS tapes were made by a fellow named John Waldrop.

(Regarding the transcript in Objectively Speaking...a poster has pointed out, on the Objectivist Living website, that Rand's mentioning of Nathaniel Branden was selectively omitted, and tied it in to Robert Campbell's "Rewrite Squad" thread (I discussed that previously, here), which chronicles the history of selective editing by the ARI of Rand's spoken words). Anyway, now we have both for comparison.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ayn Rand vs. Barack Obama

Obama, aping the villains from Atlas Shrugged, just fired a shot heard 'round the world:


If you understand the implications here, it's time to make YOUR opposition heard. DON'T HIDE YOUR LIGHT UNDER A BUSHEL. Make the point clear, one way or the other, that the capitalist response is not just practical, or utilitarian, but MORAL...because not everyone is simply misguided or ignorant...some are out to burn the house down.

In answer to Obama, on business creation:

"It is morally obscene to regard wealth as an anonymous, tribal product and to talk about 'redistributing' it. The view that wealth is the result of some undifferentiated, collective, process, that we all did something and it's impossible to tell who did what, therefore some sort of equalitarian 'distribution' is necessary--might have been appropriate in a primordial jungle with a savage horde moving boulders by crude physical labor (though even there someone had to initiate and organize the moving)."

"To hold that view in an industrial society--where individual achievements are a matter of public record--is so crass an evasion that even to give it the benefit of the doubt is an obscenity... Mistakes of this size are not made innocently." - Ayn Rand, "What is Capitalism?" in Capitalism the Unknown Ideal

and another one: "Howard Roark laughed-at Barack Obama":

"We inherit the products of the thought of other men. We inherit the wheel. We make a cart. The cart becomes an automobile. The automobile becomes an airplane. But all through the process what we receive from others is only the end product of their thinking. The moving force, is the creative faculty which take this product as material, uses it and originates the next step. This creative faculty cannot be given or received, shared or borrowed. It belongs to single, individual men. That which it creates is the property of the creator. Men learn from one another. But all learning is only the exchange of material. No man can give another the capacity to think. " - Howard Roark's Speech in The Fountainhead

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"ObamaCare" Upheld? "Brother, You Asked For It!"

So, the Supreme Court upheld ObamaCare? In the immortal words of Francisco d'Anconia: 

                      "Brother, You Asked For It!"

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ayn Rand sighting: AMERICA THE PHILOSOPHICAL

 I spotted a new book the other day called America the Philosophical by Carlin Romano. A title like that just begs the attention of anyone familiar with Ayn Rand's comments on the subject...
 

From the Amazon description:
  A bold, insightful book that rejects the myth of America the Unphilosophical, arguing that America today towers as the most philosophical culture in the history of the world, an unprecedented marketplace of truth and argument that far surpasses ancient Greece or any other place one can name.
   With verve and keen intelligence, Carlin Romano—Pulitzer Prize finalist, award-winning book critic, and professor of philosophy—takes on the widely held belief that ours is an anti–intellectual society. Instead, while providing a richly reported overview of American thought, Romano argues that ordinary Americans see through phony philosophical justifications faster than anyone else, and that the best of our thinkers abandon artificial academic debates for fresh intellectual enterprises, such as cyberphilosophy. Along the way, Romano seeks to topple philosophy’s most fiercely admired hero, Socrates, asserting that it is Isocrates, the nearly forgotten Greek philosopher who rejected certainty, whom Americans should honor as their intellectual ancestor.

The author does discuss Ayn Rand in some detail, though oddly enough, it does not discuss her view about the role, or lack of, philosophy in America. The bulk of attention is found in the chapter titled "Women," which discusses the role of women philosophers in America, mostly in a biographical sense. The biography on Rand does have a condescending tone to it, but it packs a lot of information into a small space. He mentions all the usual names, like the Brandens and Alan Greenspan, but is up-to-date with names like Paul Ryan, and mentions Chris Matthew Sciabarra's Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical: "The book spurred debate with its novel claim that Rand is best understood as a thinker whose roots in Russian philosophy and Marxist dialectical account for the unique syntheses of her later work." 

To be fair, I haven't read the book in full (just the parts on Rand, for reporting purposes), so I can't say much on the author's full views. But he does touch on a couple of issues relating to Rand's ideas about philosophy in America, namely her attacks on B.F. Skinner and Immanuel Kant. Romano, discussing Skinner's various critics, writes:
Novelist Ayn Rand, perhaps the world's greatest champion of autonomous heroes, savaged the book as a 'corpse patched with nuts, bolts and screws from the junkyard of philosophy, Darwinism, Positivism, Linguistic Analysis, with some nails by Hume, threads by Russell and glue by the New York Post.' Could such evil be generated by a mild-manner type born and reared in the friendly little town of Susquehanna, Pennsylvania?...Apparently, the answer was yes."

Speaking of "evil generated by mild-mannered types," Romano writes that Rand misrepresented Kant: "Her claim that Kant believe we owe moral duty only to others, not oneself, utterly distorted his work, as shown in a 1952 article by the scholar Julius Ebbinghaus." With this, though, it should be noted that Romano takes care to distinguish Rand's usage of the word "altruism":
"To be fair, by altruism Rand did not mean 'kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others--' three things she claims altruism makes impossible. Instead, she meant the principle 'that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence and his self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and valor.' Since self-sacrifice meant to her 'self-immolation,' and reason dictates that man choose a morality that sustains his life, reason and altruism were 'incompatible.'"

These passages had potential, but there is more from Rand that has more bearing on his thesis: for example, this quote from Philosophy: Who Needs It, in the last chapter, "Don't Let It Go":
Americans are anti-intellectual (with good grounds, in view of current specimens), yet they have a profound respect for knowledge and education (which is being shaken now). They are self-confident, trusting, generous, enormously benevolent and innocent....Europeans believe in Original Sin, i.e., man's innate depravity; Americans do not. Americans see man as a value--as clean, free, creative, rational. But the American view of man has not been expressed or upheld in philosophical terms (not since the time of our first Founding Father, Aristotle; see his description of the "magnanimous man").

While it's noteworthy to see Rand discussed in the conversation at all, at this point, we don't need another biography; Romano doesn't add anything new to the conversation, and a brief bio would have sufficed. I'd have been more interested to see how Romano would address her ideas about America's philosophical issues in relation to his own theory that America is, indeed, philosophical. Even if it would have been critical, a more direct discussion of Rand's ideas of "America the Unphilosophical," which would have better suited the book's thesis.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ayn Rand and the First Amendment vs. The Chicago Police

For the "Horror Files":

Badge number: 13603 Chicago Ward 010 District OGDEN

"Cop Arrests NBC Reporters, Says "Your First Amendment Right Can Be Terminated"


Select quotes from this officer of the law:

"I don't care about no damn lawsuit" officer yells at media:

Two NBC journalists were handcuffed and threatened by Chicago police after attempting to report on the murder of a 6-year-old girl yesterday, NBC Chicago reports.

"Your First Amendment right can be terminated if you're creating a scene or whatever. Your First Amendment right has got limitations."

When the reporters asked for clarification on how they were creating a scene, the officer replied, "Your presence is creating a scene."

"I don't care about no damn lawsuit!"  "F*ck a lawsuit. Just 'cause you sue doesn't mean you're going to win."

Now, more than ever, these words of Ayn Rand's ring true; from Philosophy: Who Needs It, "What Can One Do?":


“[W]hen you ask ‘What can one do?’—the answer is ‘SPEAK’ (provided you know what you are saying).”
A few suggestions: do not wait for a national audience. Speak on any scale open to you, large or small—to your friends, your associates, your professional organizations, or any legitimate public forum. You can never tell when your words will reach the right mind at the right time. You will see no immediate results—but it is of such activities that public opinion is made.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Curing the Fountainheadache

I was originally looking to see what books the store might have by/about Louis Sullivan, having just read his Autobiography of An Idea, after reading an review called "Louis Sullivan: What's the Big Idea?" by Peter Cresswell, at Rebirth of Reason. (Sullivan, you may know, was the basis of Henry Cameron in The Fountainhead. Highly recommended reading.) Anyway, in the process, I had an "accidental" Ayn Rand sighting in the same section: Curing the Fountainheadache: How Architects & Their Clients Communicate by Andrew Pressman. It came out in 1995, I believe, with a second printing in 2005. I took a quick glance through, and it seems like a straightforward how-to book for both architects and clients on how to communicate. (It's even seasoned throughout with pictures and quotes from book and movie.)

Here is the product description from the original printing's back cover:

Howard Roark's attitude toward clients was guaranteed to cause him endless headaches. Most architects understand that they must balance their creative ambitions with the client's need for a building that solves real-life problems, can be built for a reasonable cost, and doesn't leak. Learning to strike that balance, however, can be a painful trial-and-error process that produces its own special brand of headache.

The Fountainheadache investigates the complex, sometimes rocky relationship of architect and client through the personal recollections of some of America's best-known and most successful architects. Roger K. Lewis, Charles Gwathmey, Stanley Tigerman, and many others discuss their methods for establishing working relationships with clients, describe the impact of these relationships on the design process, and offer insights and advice on a broad array of issues covering a range of projects from single-family dwellings to large commercial buildings and public facilities.

Andy Pressman's often hilarious stories of his own fledgling practice illustrate the kinds of client-related problems that can take a young architect completely by surprise: A married couple can't agree on how to remodel their house, a client wants to have his house redesigned without meeting the architect, a couple allows a contingent of neighbors to grill the architect about his design. But from each jarring experience, Pressman draws a valuable lesson. He develops a set of guidelines that help bridge the gap that often separates architect from client, replacing frustration with satisfaction, conflict with collaboration, and disappointment with delight.

The Fountainheadache offers a candid and completely human perspective on the frustrations and joys of the architect-client relationship. It also provides plenty of practical advice that will help architects and prospective clients turn this potential headache into one of the most rewarding aspects of any building venture.

Having only thumbed through it, I can't say if it stays true to the ideas expressed in The Fountainhead. But its existence was a pleasant surprise, at least, and although the title originally led me to suspect some Rand-bashing, it does seem to treat the source material with respect.