Saturday, November 5, 2016

Why Trump is probably the less-worse choice

[Nov. 6 addendum below]

From all that I've been able to tell, it boils down to a few basic points, and I will provide a tally of points won as we proceed:

1. Hillary Clinton's mishandling of classified information, something she has not owned up to in any clear-cut way.  Others similarly situated have faced legal of not career penalties.  What might the Founding Fathers think of a president who was this careless with classified material being promoted to the presidency?
Trump +1

2. SCOTUS nominations.  Ideologues of the left and right might love to see a Court weighted all in one direction.  I've found that as things tend to go in the real world, a mix of right and left on the Court is about the best we can hope for given the kinds of decisions that judges on either side tend to reach.  Or at least I think that's how many swing voters look at this as well.  Under a Clinton presidency, the aging justices - two liberals, one swing vote - are more likely to retire to be replaced by a liberal judge than they would be under a Trump presidency.  The unknown is which of them might die and when.  As it is, the liberals have a 4-3 advantage on the court which would go to 5-3 if the next president is a Democrat.  One factor that is a bit less clear-cut is how significant in the end SCOTUS decisions are, long-run, if they tend to reflect what's already a mainstream trend during their era.  But all else being equal these days, I think balance is preferable to weighting to one side or other. Half a point for Trump.
Trump +1.5

3. General life wisdom/character.  I'll say right off that this comparison doesn't come off well in Clinton's favor, i.e., by the best objective analysis she doesn't gain any grounds/points on Trump in this comparison.  I think one would have to be a rather intellectually bankrupt (or at least corrupt if not bankrupt) partisan to think the edge is clearly in favor of the one or the other.  But in somewhat more subtle ways I think the edge may go to Trump here.  The main legitimate criticism of Trump temperament-wise is that he's "rude and crude," at least by the standards of career politicians who've spent a lot of time finessing their messages to avoid giving gratuitous offense to this or that constituency.  The Democrats seem to have a(n otherwise reasonable) litmus test they're applying to Trump: Do Muslims have a place in Trump's American?  If Trump were to improve in the area of messaging, being less "rude and crude" in that regard, he would of course explain how specifically law-abiding America-loving Muslims would of course have a place in his America.  It is crudeness of political messaging and perhaps general speaking style in some respects (is being blunt being the same as being crude? Trump is I think more often blunt than crude.) that is the simpler and better explanation for his racially- and ethnically-insensitive remarks, than would be racism or ethnocentrism on his part.  I think the Democratic Left has been conditioned over many years of egging-on by various Left-Wing entities (e.g., academia, politicians) to "spot" racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, a lot more hastily - i.e., carelessly - than is warranted.  "That's racist!" seems to have come to be a reflexive retort on the part of "progressives" as code-word for not buying into the "progressive" narrative on race, gender, ethnicity, etc.  That's intellectually lazy and counterproductive, and is often used as cover for PC/SJW agendas gone overboard that wouldn't otherwise be so loudly opposed.  That's the reason that the KKK endorses Trump over Clinton; otherwise, Clinton is simply playing guilt-by-association here, and that's hard to construe as honest on her part.  Likewise hard to construe as honest comment by her is her claim that Trump "demeans women" and "calls women disgusting pigs" when he's on record for having called one woman a disgusting pig.  Why does Clinton abuse the language so when she ought to know better?  Furthermore, it appears that Trump has been an equal-opportunity insulter, demeaner, etc., regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, etc., so there's just no clear-cut gender or race card to be played here.  His (crude) remarks about grabbing women's "pussies" has not been shown objectively to be anything more than locker-room talk.  That a dozen or so women who had truly been assaulted by Trump all waited to come out about that only after a tape emerged (thereby naturally generating all kinds of psychological suggestions and opportunistic motives), defies all belief.  That the Democrats jumped all over these accusations as credible from the get-go - this includes Clinton and her campaign surrogates - is amazing in its own right just considering their history of smearing or downplaying accusations (that didn't all emerge at once just as a shining opportunity arose) against the male President Clinton.

As for the Clintons' character/wisdom, the wikileaks saga exposes plenty.  They are consummate Washington insiders with their network of pull- and power-brokers and schmoozers.  They epitomize that Washington, D.C. gravy train that a President Trump more credibly threatens than any presidential candidate in recent memory.  (Obama blew his credibility on this after having pledged in '08 to change the culture of Washington.)  I won't get into psychological speculations, but the inference to best explanation tells me that the Clintons seem to regard themselves as specially talented at tackling the world's problems (presupposing that their "progressive" mentality is also specially suited to that mission), and if that means having to play that very cynical Establishment game, and bend the rules as much in their favor as they can get away with, then they believe that a Greater Good which they are eminently qualified to serve justifies all that.  It sounds pretty Machiavellian and the people seem to be well aware of this cynical trade-off mentality; the questions now are whether the Clintons are open and transparent with the American people about that cynical trade-off going on (all indications are that they are not), and whether the American people are fed up with that corrupted cynical culture of D.C. enough to send Trump to take that machine on.

Trump has a great family and raised great children.  Even Clinton acknowledged this in the second debate when asked to name a good quality about her opponent.  (Isn't she the nation's foremost political expert on children's issues?  What opening did she leave for Trump with that one?)  He has said some rude and crude thing involving women, but one thing I had deeply ingrained into me over the Obama years is to pay attention to what a political figure does, not to what he or she says.  On the "women front," Trump has hired Kellyanne Conway as his campaign manager, and things have been going better for his campaign than before this move.  He is reputed to have many women highly placed in his business ventures.  On the African-American front, he is glad to have Dr. Ben Carson as a chief surrogate.  On the Muslim front, Trump comes off more as ignorant than as mean-spirited; if he learns more about Muslim issues he and the country could make some progress.

Trump has said a number of things that are rather off-the-wall, things that often fail the Politifact test.  An important question here is whether he says these things to deliberately deceive (an ethical and moral failing) or if he merely has a penchant for playing fast and loose with the facts, i.e., an epistemic (intellectual) failing?  Either would be troubling.  To be a liar requires that one know the difference between true and false and to publicly affirm the false; to be a fool would not to know the difference in the first place.  I don't seriously question Trump's ethical motivations the way I do Clinton's, but I do somewhat seriously question his epistemic character.  Perhaps it's crudeness of political character requiring a lot of further development, finesse, honing.  Poor epistemic character in general would not so easily go with his success in non-political areas of his life.  One last example on the crudity of Trump's political messaging: In the last debate (which, due to Chris Wallace's masterful moderation sensibility, objectively nullifies the noticeably weaker Trump performances in the first two debates being egged-on as he was by "media-liberal" moderators), he was asked whether he would accept the outcome of the election, and - again, not having had the chance like Clinton has to finesse his messaging for decades on end - he said that we would have to wait and see.  This caused all the uproar in the "liberal media" and elsewhere, when anyone with a lick of common sense could see that were at least the question phrased a little differently - "If the process were fair and not corrupted/rigged, would you accept the outcome" - then every indication I have seen is that Trump would have answered in the affirmative.  But what do I know.

So far - and I've gone to some lengths as it is just to make the point - I don't see anything here that points to Clinton as being of wiser character on the whole than Trump, and if anything there are factors that would favor Trump.  I was about to award a quarter point to Trump on this one, but then comments earlier in the election season about Carly Fiorina's looks: I just can't get that out of my mind.  He is a bit of a 'lookist' pig, isn't he?  Playing it safe I award neither candidate points here.
Trump +1.5

(At this point it becomes more and more difficult to imagine how Clinton makes up this ground.  But, just to be thorough....)

4. Domain-specific expertise.  Here we are looking at expertise at doing a job like the Presidency.  Trump for instance could invoke his chief-executive expertise from his business experience as one reason - all else being equal - to think he has the chops to do the job.  One thing where Clinton has a clear advantage over Trump is in the rather general category of what I'll call "public policy knowledge."  This is to be expected, given her many more years in the public sector and political life.  She has a finessed and nuanced understanding of just about all the issues in public policy, even if not a grasp of the best solutions for those issues (which I will get to in a moment).  I don't think anyone questions this about her.  She does appear indeed to be a leading expert on the national political scene on children's issues.  (Again, how much of an opening did she leave for Trump if she concedes that he raised high-quality children thereby setting a high-quality example?)  By contrast what Trump lacks in this area he makes up for to a considerable extent in an "American can-do attitude," deal-making ability, high energy and charisma, and force of personality.  He would need to rely on a lot of advice from experts in his administration, even if he does set a general tone/agenda about what goals he wants to accomplish and with what standards of excellence he wants to apply.  Does "Under budget and ahead of schedule" sound like a plausible general policy tone coming from Trump?  It sure would have quite an impact on the gravy-train mentality in Washington, I would think.

In the domain-specific expertise arena, a basic political philosophy or ideology necessarily comes into play.  On this I cannot personally credit Ms. Clinton or award her points on the basis of her ideology being a "progressive" one.  I am not a progressive myself; based on my own extensive research into political philosophy and political economy, I would fall squarely into the category of a laissez-faire individualist or libertarian.  Ms. Clinton represents the Democratic Party mindset.  That mindset is very public-sector oriented.  Of the two major parties, the Democrats are more the party of the public sector than the Republicans, and quite clearly so.  (Just ask those in the public sector unions, after all.)  This is not to make a value judgment; it's just a description of the nature of the major parties.  The public-sector and Big Labor interests want to see to it that the influence of corporations or other large private-sector entities is fairly balanced against the interests of labor, the more vulnerable, etc.  At least that is their intentions.  I don't question the intentions of the "progressive" movement on matters of public policy.  I do quite severely question the results.  For example, Ms. Clinton's party declared a "War on Poverty" 50 years ago; they built a sizable civil service staffed by and large by like-minded public-sector Democrats, implemented in concert with mostly Democratic big-city administrations and public schools run almost overwhelmingly by Democrats.  The result, on the other hand, has been disappointing just on its face: the U.S. poverty rate is not much changed from 50 years ago.  The Democrats' version of accountability on this has usually been to shift blame or to massage the numbers so as not to look so disappointing.  What they don't seem to address much, is the epidemic in poorer and minority communities of single-parent families.  (Would the nation's leading political expert on children's issues like to weigh in on that, at some point?)  What the Democratic Party in general doesn't seem to address much is a principle that is likely more integral to the founding doctrines of this country than any other: individual freedom.  I cannot name the last time I heard a Democrat praise the virtues of individual freedom.  They have been more in the business of drawing a contrast between their general moral and economic vision and those of Republicans, and their vision involves bigger government, more wealth redistribution, and so on.  I am far from convinced - indeed, the evidence I've encountered appears to go the other way - that progressives, Democrats, those on the Left, including those in the academy, have done a decently thorough job of exploring the greater-individual-freedom alternative.  (Can they provide clear and convincing counter-arguments to the combinations of moral and economic insights provided by such laissez-faire thinkers as Rand, Mises, Hayek, Friedman, and Nozick, just for starters?  Did these thinkers somehow fall short themselves of doing a decently thorough job of exploring the non-laissez-faire alternatives?  The evidence I've seen points just the other way.)

Ms. Clinton would imprudently shift the balance of the court left-ward, a point already mentioned but it is part of the "domain-specific expertise" package.  Also included in that package is Ms. Clinton's self-undermining assertions to expertise based on her experience at the State Dept. - self-undermining for how she blatantly mishandled classified material.

Trump has no policy record to go on.  He has no experience in elected office.  These are not things we can go on to assess his domain-specific expertise.  We can look at how he has formulated policy proposals for some amount of insight in that regard.  Earlier on in the campaign season, he was floating ideas such as "take out the terrorists' families" or "bring back waterboarding and a whole lot worse" (or perhaps even more embarrassing, the idea of punishing women who obtain abortions along with punishing the doctors).  Or, indeed, the blanket "ban on Muslim immigration."  In recent months he appears to have done less in the way of floating toxic policy prescriptions, and one should probably credit Kellyanne Conway for that.

I say the expertise issue is close to a wash all things considered, although I do recognize that the crucial swing voters in this election might not share my ideological enthusiasm for laissez-faire policy over Clinton-style policy.  Trump-style policy doesn't seem to be considerably more laissez-faire then hers, nor do I see such policies being on offer by the major parties all that soon.  What voters are looking for is the best person for facing and managing the nation's problems as they exist now.  But does Trump pay more attention and respect to the importance of individual freedom than Clinton does?  I think so.  I'm not saying that he has a well-developed political philosophy to speak of, over and above a patriotic "Americanism" and the sorts of common-sense values that made America great (at the forefront of which is individual freedom).  I am saying that by virtue of not having a deep-seated ideological doctrine he at least doesn't offer the unpalatable (for me) one that Clinton does.  On the other hand, he also has spoken about going a more protectionist route with respect to Chinese imports.  All I know is, Trump wants to have a "winning" attitude and temperament, but protectionism is for losers and chokers.

In terms of specifically-political managerial competence and expertise, my "gut" tells me Clinton, but my rational part tells me that Clinton blatantly screwed up in her handling of classified material, and her ideology favors expansive government over expanded individual freedom.  And her shady and cynical behavior as part of the Clinton Political Machine is somewhat difficult to extricate from questions of her political expertise.

How is one supposed to award points either way on this question?

This means that Trump remains up 1.5 points on Clinton based on the above analyses.

Is there some other major point in addition to these others that it all boils down to, something that might swing the assessment toward Clinton?  I think I have raised a good number of the most important ones that are on the minds of voters, especially the swing voters, and I can't really think of some point that Clinton would make up major ground on.

I'm not a big fan of Trump.  I'm turned off by his crudeness, although he appears willing and able to learn.  My focus here is on a comparison of these two flawed candidates on the basis of the balance of their strengths and weaknesses/shortcomings.  I think the GOP could have put up a better candidate on the whole and such a candidate would have beaten out Clinton by better than 1.5 points.  This is to say that despite all the hype from Democrats (whose penchant for larger government doesn't in any way indicate a superior moral or intellectual compass), about Clinton being the runaway enlightened choice, doesn't hold up under tough and fair scrutiny.

Perhaps Clinton would have some kind of advantage in having a former President as a key informal adviser.  How much of an advantage one thinks this might be, is likely related to how much of a fan of the Clintons and the Clinton Machine, and of Democratic-progressive ideology, one is.

I would also point out how the candidates have been faring down the home stretch of the campaign.  Clinton has studiously avoided serious contact with media for months, while Trump has not.  Trump has greater stamina, does more events, wants it more, has more heart, and Clinton has been trying to run out the clock just as wikileaks and other scandals mount.  Clinton has grown increasingly rhetorically deceptive in characterizing Trump as anti-woman, anti-minority, etc.  I don't find that to be dignified or stateswoman-like.  Clinton seems to think that her paint-by-numbers political career combined with purportedly superior ideology and moral compass entitles her to the position.  She's somewhat complacent in a number of areas, and I don't respect or relate to that mindset.  I think Democrats' fears about Trump are overblown or misplaced, their explanations for this or that Trump behavior being beaten out by better, simpler, less frantically partisan ones.  They raise the fear of Trump, a "rude and crude" guy, having the nuclear codes.  That's their last trump card so to speak.  Why should we be particularly concerned in his case, based on our most objective assessment?  Is he going to start a nuclear war?  Putin and Kim Jung Un have nuclear codes, but haven't started nuclear wars.  Is the fear that throwing Trump into the mix could easily increase the chances?  That he's too easily provoked?  I do see him being rather easily provoked into saying things (in a not-politically-finessed way) in response to insult or attack, but I'm more interested in what he would be provoked into doing, and I don't think Democrats know any more than anyone else does on that count.  That we might not really know much in Trump's case is itself concerning.  On the other hand, we do know for a fact that Clinton blatantly mishandled classified materials, exposing (via her unsecured server) national secrets to some 5 to 7 hostile actors.  Should we trust this individual with the nuclear codes?

Partisans for either candidate tend to focus on a "worst-case scenario" involving the opposing candidate and a "best-case scenario" involving their own.  I don't anticipate either of these in either candidate's case, nor do I play such biased games generally, so the best/worst-case scenario doesn't sway my view here either way.  I do enjoy showing how a lot of these biased/partisan arguments tend to be self-defeating, e.g., with the "nuclear codes" card that the Democrats have been playing.

In closing, I don't claim to have covered all essential bases, or to have tied up all loose strands.  I doubt that doing so would sway my tentative preference (which allows for some "margin of error") in a significant way.  In any case, these sorts of things still stick in my mind: Trump's suggestion that a judge of Mexican heritage might not be objective in Trump's court cases; Hillary's statement in one of her highly-paid speeches that she could be of two minds - one public, one private - on any given issue presented before the American people; Trump up at 3am tweeting about accuser Alicia Machado and his more general pattern of attacking the source of criticism rather than the focusing on the criticism on its merits; the real levels of uncertainty about how Trump would govern; Clinton facing a mostly hostile Congress that would impede her "progressive" agenda; the general and more long-term state of the U.S. polity that led to this unappealing presidential choice (and for which the best medicine generally speaking is: philosophy, philosophy, philosophy, very preferably Aristotelian philosophy, that is, philosophy done best - but that is a topic left to another occasion).

[Addendum Nov. 6: In the interests of dialectical completeness: someone kindly notified me of this discussion between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan.  Now, as bad as these two are at criticizing Ayn Rand's ideas, they - mainly Sullivan - make points that have made me reconsider, points the quality of which far exceed most of what I've been seeing from pundits and others during this election cycle - itself a distressing sign (either about my inability to find all the best arguments - the time constraints involved notwithstanding - or about the quality of the dialogue, or both...?).  I do note, however, that "email scandal" was mentioned only once, in passing, during that entire talk. I think the 110 classified emails HRC routed through her private server is a big deal, certainly a bigger deal than Dem/HRC supporters have acknowledged - and they're certainly drinking a lot of Kool-Aid if they believe that an election victory over that other guy represents some kind of mandate for a Dem agenda. Anyway, yesterday I was leaning in the direction of marking the Trump oval on my ballot but now I'm probably going to leave the whole damn presidential section of the ballot unmarked. Sullivan is correct that electing Trump would be imprudent. The (less-imprudent but still deplorable) alternative is a lady who put her personal political ambitions above national security, which is certainly a good reason to reject any talk of a HRC/Dem mandate.]

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A (p)review

So, today's the day.  As I announced a few months in advance, 4/20/2013 would be the day I go on strike unless some eminently reasonable conditions were met.  (I've made some revisions to them since then.)  I'll get to those in a moment, but first, consider a hypothetical:

Say that today, I wanted to "wake and bake" in the privacy of my abode, saganize my cognition, and set myself to the task of thinking about a Platonic-Aristotelian-Kantian-Hegelian-Nietzschean-Randian-Rawlsian-Nozickian-Chomskian "synthesis" and see what I could come up with so as to "go out with a bang" for my 4/20 blog posting . . . but, oh darn, I was out of cannabis and just couldn't get my hands on some all that readily.  And so no edutainment in that regard today.

Instead, some fucks, somewhere, without my consent, had decided to exercise physical force and power over my life to prevent me from engaging in such peaceful, productive activity, in violation of my not-specfically-enumerated natural rights (which are at the core of the "live and let live" ethos that grounds the best modern Lockean-liberal theories of government).

In the United States of America.  In the year 2013.

You might begin to see the problem here.

This is unacceptable.

If you were to poll Americans on what the Ninth Amendment of the Constitution said, a pitifully low percentage would know the answer . . . and that's how creeping statism became a fact of American political life.  I'm sure that the Framers would be most dismayed at this state of affairs.  Ignorance is the problem, and only education can be the solution.

My posting yesterday posed the question, "Is it 'later than we think'?" and went through a number of items that indicated that we may well be nearer the cultural and technological singularities than we think.  A fitting title for today's entry might well have been, "Is it earlier than we think?" - that is, there seems to be a large amount of evidence that we still have a long way to go before humanity achieves the state of enlightenment necessary to reach "maturity" as a species.  As I noted yesterday, humanity entered what might be termed an "adolescent" phase some 2,500ish years ago.  Some time in the not-too-distant-future, if the human race doesn't wipe itself out first, it can and will enter an "adult" phase.  (The so-called new atheists think this means an end to religion.  None of them seems to possess the intellectual prowess of a Plato, Aquinas, Hegel, or Whitehead.  Just sayin'.  Hell, Antony Flew owns them already; they've had no answer to him as of yet.  Quelle ignorance!)

That said, here are the nine eminently reasonable "no-brainer" conditions, in bare essentials, which I have set down in order for me to end the strike which I am starting at 4:20 today:

1. Cannabis becoming as legal as alcohol for all adults age 21 and over living in America.

2. Accountability for CIA acts of torture, sodomy and killing of detainees.

3. Marriage equality.  (At least this one appears to be close to a done deal.  Yay, one out of nine!)

4. Good-faith effort by America's elected representatives to broker a mideast peace deal in the spirit of Taba, which even both Dershowitz and Chomsky agree on.

5. A quality program implemented by educators for educating the nation's youth in the humanities in an age-appropriate fashion.

6. A move toward outlawing factory-farming and other cruel and inhumane practices toward animals.  (This alone would help to reduce net carbon emissions a shit-ton, not to mention improve diets.  A win-win-win!)

7. An overhaul of corporate-cultural norms that presently have the effect of dehumanizing and demoralizing stakeholders, which also has the effect of stunting productivity.  (In a perfective world, people would be much less dependent upon employment by others for their livelihoods.  In the meantime, ... .)

8. A serious move by political, business, and other leaders to get leading intellectuals (like this guy for instance, or this lady) much more involved in the presently-impoverished national dialogue.

9. A serious move by the leading ideas-merchants in academia and elsewhere to do a much better job of connecting with the concerns of ordinary folks (and this emphatically includes taking Ayn Rand more seriously than they are at present; the Ayn Rand Society can serve to provide many promising, uh, leads).

Being that this is 2013 already, it seems to me to be quite a shame that these haven't all happened already.  They are no-brainers.

For anyone who's been paying attention, item #1 is particularly galling considering that no one has any good arguments for keeping the status quo on drug policy.  There is a constant chorus by now that "the drug war is a massive failure," and yet the vast majority of congresscritters aren't doing jackshit to fix the problem.  How did we ever come to this state of affairs?  The only answer I can think of is: ignorance.  The congresscritters aren't doing jackshit because the people to whom they're supposed to be accountable aren't doing enough to light a fire under their asses.  Education is the only solution.

Here's a hint to good aspects of both Rand and Chomsky that can be synthesized: how the abuse of language, a dichotomy between territory and mental map, corrupts any dialogue.  If there's one key lesson I gleaned from Chomsky's Understanding Power, it's this one.  The muddling of language is caused by, and causes, the muddling of thought.  Abuses of power-relations are just one of the results.  Both the pioneer of linguistics and a leading proponent of a neo-Aristotelian, objective approach to concepts can agree on that.

I said in my original strike-announcement that my blog would "shut off" after today.  I'm not ready to do that just yet; at minimum I'll have a grace period, perhaps 90 days.  (What I am doing for sure is withholding, indefiitely, future mental products from public circulation.)  I think the probability is somewhere around 50/50 that there are roughly 420 pages worth of page-turner material in this here blog, and it would be kind of a shame to delete it immediately from public view, though I think it's only a preview of what could be to come.  As of now, though, it's arguably roughly 420 pages worth of page-turner material available for free, which is really about all I'm willing to just give out up to this point in time, without my stated conditions being met.  This does leave me with one monetizing option I may well use to help support my future work: making the existing contents of my blog available (perhaps in eBook form) only for paying customers, probably at $4.20 a shot.  Maybe it will be available only to members of an online Ultimate Gulch I might be setting up.  (Now taking applications; there's one entrant so far....) Would that be "cheating" on my "strike" commitment?  I don't think so, but I don't give too much of a shit about that; it's the product of my mind to do with as I please, and it's future production that non-Gulchers would be missing out on.

All this does raise a question: am I setting up some kind of Catch-22 situation?  That is to say, don't the conditions I've set forth require a fairly rapid progress in the direction of the cultural singularity, whereas publication of future products of my mind would supposedly speed up that very progress?  Hell, I think leaving that as an exercise to this blog's readers should make things a bit more interesting for all concerned.

Anyway, if a dedicated reader were to mentally integrate all my existing blog postings into a single unit, I'm roughly 100% confident that he or she would come away with the essentials necessary to grasp that perfectivism is the philosophy of the future, which is to say that Ayn Rand's ideas are the wave of the future, which is to say that America's intellectual status quo is unacceptable.  (And, as advanced students of Objectivism are well aware, it's all about method - integration - and only derivatively about individualism and capitalism which the cowardly and/or ignorant preservers of the status quo are so fearful of.)  My future mental products will only build upon the essentials set forth in this blog, which is to say, they should be pretty fucking awesome.  But a shit-ton of promising leads are already contained herein; all one has to do is pursue them, and to think.

I, for one, am optimistic about what is to come, whatever it may be and however it happens.  I think it'll end up being a lot of fun for a great many concerned.  As far as I can tell, my going on strike will be for the best when all is said and done.  If there's anything my perfectivist mindset has taught me, it's how seemingly unfortunate circumstances can be turned into a positive; I notice parallels in the martial arts tradition, when it comes to using an opponent's strength to one's advantage.  Sure, I set a goal some months back for today, and fell short.  But it's like Jordan said, you use that as an opportunity to improve and, ultimately, to succeed.

In connection with this blog posting's title: In briefest essentials, the past, present and future of true and correct ethical philosophy is contained right there in "Perfectivism: an Introduction."

And so, with that, I can't think of anything more of importance to add to what I've said already.  Catch y'all on the flip side?

(and obligatory musical accompaniment :-p)

ULTIMATE CLIFFHANGER: Will UP write his entire book on Perfectivism while stoned?

Problem, America? ;-)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Is it "later than we think"?

For those of you reading this in the year 2100 (I think the human race will make it till then), a bit of perspective: this past week's American news was focused almost entirely on the "Boston Marathon Bombing" and the aftermath that left four dead and well over one hundred wounded.  Within 4 days of this terror attack, one of the two suspects (young Muslim males, as it happens) was dead and the other in custody.  This was the story for 4 days, seemingly 24/7 on the cable news channels.

I figure if that was the main story of the week, it was - all things considered - a slow news week.  Bombings of this sort still happen quite frequently around the world in the year 2013, but this was one that hit home, hence the wall-to-wall news coverage.  Boston went into lockdown mode for most of today, but in all seriousness, if this is the main - seemingly exclusive - focus of news coverage for an entire week, just in how bad a state is the world in the year 2013, really?  I have in mind here Steven Pinker's recent work on the decline in violence (percentage-wise) over the course of human history.  Despite the troubles and challenges we all still face at this point in history, we should certainly step back and take the long view of these things.

Some 2,500ish years ago, the human race - in existence pretty much in present form for some hundred thousand years - entered what may well be termed an adolescent phase, a phase of questioning and examining pre-existing beliefs, with philosophers leading the way.  Back then, it is true, a philosopher could be sentenced to death by hemlock, but that wouldn't happen today (not in the West, anyhow).  At most he'd be assessed a fine.  Fast forward some 2,300ish years, and modern republican democracy is established in America, and that ethos spreads to much of the rest of the world over that time.  Slavery is no longer considered acceptable, women enjoy equal social status with men.  (Again, in the West.)  The agricultural revolution of thousands of years ago, along with human intellectual progress since that time, paved the way for the industrial revolution of the modern republican-democratic era.  A system that came to be termed 'capitalism' emerged and, after failed experiments in socialist models of production, it now looks to be here to stay for the foreseeable future, with modifications here and there.  Now, it appears that some new revolution, bringing the human race to the next stage of advancement, is in its infancy.  Within a couple centuries, the population boomed to over 7 billion, and in recent decades the global rate of poverty has been falling more and more towards zero.  Nuclear technology, almost the moment it was developed, was used to end a world war some 7 decades ago, and hasn't been employed in wartime since.  Back during those times, a bomb killing three and injuring scores of others was merely a small subset of a single day's bloody events.

If one were to look at the dystopian science fiction that emerged in the postwar era and lasting until roughly the internet age, one got the impression that by 2013 the world might plausibly be engaged in more world-warring, or nuking one another (how about the future dystopia depicted in the Terminator film of 1984, produced during a period of intense nuclear buildup between the U.S. and the Soviet Union?).  We don't have the flying cars yet, but neither has a world resembling Orwell's 1984 even remotely been realized, despite concerns in recent years about a military-industrial "surveillance state" (concerns that, voiced as they have been, have kept such activities of the state in check).  Note that big cities such as Boston now have security cameras that can used to survey public spaces, which were instrumental to tracking down the two bombing suspects in a relatively very short amount of time; the cultural norm of today is that privacy is naturally expected in one's own home, but there's no expectation of privacy in public spaces.  So we have had advances in technology in combination with evolved legal norms that, other things being equal, have made undetected criminal behavior that much more difficult to carry out.

As has been widely noted, including here on this blog, the democratization of the world means less warring between states.  Dystopian totalitarian scenarios appear to be a thing of the past, arguably in no small part due to the very warnings from observant and conscientious authors such as Orwell (and Rand!), and other public intellectuals.

According to the cheesy dystopian '70s and '80s sci-fi (ever see Logan's Run?  Jenny Agutter was hot, at least), the average human being in the year 2013 might turn on the television and be witness to the surreal - say, like, an inhuman "game show" such as The Running Man.  Well, it turns out that humans these days aren't nearly so eager to see their fellow humans being hunted down in such a fashion.

Yes, a truly bad candidate appeared on the Republican presidential ticket 5 years ago, a sign the country might have been going insane.  But the candidate ended up discredited due to diligent commentary in the blogosphere and other media.  Sure, there's an obesity epidemic in America, but fat-shaming has become a thing as a consequence.  At least the problem isn't the other way, as in a world running out of food.  Yes, global warming appears to be the biggest problem facing humankind in the coming decades, but . . .

Getting back to that thing about what we might see turning on our television sets in the year 2013.  How many have noticed just how beautiful Hi-Def television is?  I'm talking especially in terms of form of presentation; the content can certainly be improved.  But there's got to be some kind of theorizing among those in the field of aesthetics about the nature of Hi-Def television, else they will have failed at doing what they're supposed to be doing.  And let's keep in mind that Hi-Def television was not at all envisioned back in the 1980s, certainly not in the cheesy sci-fi movies.  If it had been envisioned back then, there would be a huge fortune to be made by the envisioner(s).  Or the smartphones and digital pads.  Do human beings these days realize, all things considered, just how good people have it these days?  And let's not forget about the way the internet has exploded and evolved as a medium of information and communication, and can only continue to do so.  Now this thing called 3-D printing appears to be hitting scalability.

Given the course of human history over the past few decades, we may well be in near-Singularity mode (the technological singularity, at least) as it is, because we don't seem to have any really clear idea how the world will look 10 years from now.  If we could, then - again - some huge fortunes can be made based upon some good predictions.  Kurzweil defines the technological singularity as the point when super-intelligent machines are created, which is supposedly some decades down the line.  Supposedly, in principle, they can be created, despite the present barriers we face with regard to reverse-engineering the human brain.  (Biological theories of consciousness seem to be what the philosophers are converging upon.  I think they might have figured that out a lot sooner had they paid more attention to Aristotle . . . but what the F do I know.)  And I don't see what else we could converge toward culture-wise than the whole Aristotelian-Jeffersonian-Randian-perfectivist paradigm.  Kurzweil has made his case in the technological realm; I believe I've amply demonstrated mine (here in this blog) for culture, at least in broad outline.

So where do we go from here?  Whatever it is, it ought to be really effing interesting.

So it looks like tomorrow, 4/20, at 4:20 p.m. (EST?) I go "on strike," which may very well contribute to the interesting-ness of whatever is to come.  I hardly have the faintest idea as to the what, when, where, how, etc.  We're just gonna have to find out, aren't we. ;-)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Aristotle and Ayn Rand redux

My main article on the subject, from January of this year, is here; I've also provided some notes as to Aristotle-Rand similarities in my "Perfectivism: An Introduction" from December of last year.  As anyone who has done the relevant research knows by now, Ayn Rand's ethics (both the meta-ethics and the normative ethics) is a leading modern contender to the neo-Aristotelian throne.  Scholarly interpretation of Rand's ethics over the last few decades has converged upon a neo-Aristotelian interpretation of her ethical egoism; a very prominent recent case in point of said scholarship is Tara Smith's Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist (Cambridge, 2006).

(I'll note as a glaring example of left-"liberal" cognitive bias that many on today's left aren't even aware of literature such as this, else they wouldn't put their ignorance of such way out on display for all to see; I conjecture that the cognitive bias involved here has to do with an unexamined prejudice - perverting their perception of what's fact and what isn't - namely, that "Rand isn't taken seriously by academic philosophers."  This cognitive prejudice is actively encouraged in intellectually-incestuous leftist venues such as reddit and its joke of a "philosophy" forum, via the intellectually and morally corrupt mob rule generated by its upvote/downvote model.  Things were better in the days of widespread Usenet usage.)

So I bring this subject up because of a current internet poll on the subject of the most important moral philosophers in the history of Western thought, supervised by the Leading Brand(TM) among philosophy blogs.  The poll results for the top 10 appear thuswise:

1. Aristotle  (Condorcet winner: wins contests with all other choices)
2. Immanuel Kant  loses to Aristotle by 307–170
3. Plato  loses to Aristotle by 341–134, loses to Immanuel Kant by 292–191
4. David Hume  loses to Aristotle by 402–76, loses to Plato by 302–167
5. John Stuart Mill  loses to Aristotle by 407–78, loses to David Hume by 241–223
6. Socrates  loses to Aristotle by 385–77, loses to John Stuart Mill by 249–196
7. Thomas Hobbes  loses to Aristotle by 455–22, loses to Socrates by 266–163
8. John Rawls  loses to Aristotle by 452–31, loses to Thomas Hobbes by 220–212
9. Jeremy Bentham  loses to Aristotle by 439–36, loses to John Rawls by 224–207
10. Aquinas  loses to Aristotle by 445–18, loses to Jeremy Bentham by 241–176

So we have philosophy's "Big Three" at the top, although second place is a distant second and third place a distant third behind second (and fourth place a distant fourth behind third).

Now, the poll's supervisor is a big-time intellectual bigot when it comes to Ayn Rand, and - unsurprisingly - Rand is not included among the 50 philosophers to choose from in the poll.  (In the Irony Dept., this very same blogger has a posting today about injustice within the profession, namely not giving credit where it's due.  Also, in top form for him, he had this to say just yesterday: "What a sick, pathetic country [the United States] is."  Perhaps part of what makes it so "sick and pathetic" is an anti-dialectical estrangement between the professional intellectual class and the unwashed - an estrangement perpetrated and perpetuated to no small extent by the intellectuals themselves?  Physician, heal thyself?)  Anyway, what interests me is: if Aristotle is indeed the most important moral philosopher in the Western tradition, where does Rand (objectively) belong in the results of such a poll?  Who, after all, has been more emphatic than Rand about rationality being the primary virtue, which is the core idea in the most plausible version(s) of Aristotelian-perfectionist ethical theory?

Without proposing a specific answer here, I think the question itself is worth taking seriously.

No, Rand did not write a stand-alone nonfiction treatise in ethical theory.  Her essay "The Objectivist Ethics" runs to all of about 25 pages (and she unfairly denigrates Aristotle in that essay no less).  However, let's not forget about the "authorized" status of Leonard Peikoff's 1976 lecture course, The Philosophy of Objectivism, which devotes one of its 12 two-and-a-half-hour lectures to the subject of moral virtue (which appears as chapter 8 in Peikoff's print-adaptation of that course, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, and which more or less forms the basis of Tara Smith's Virtuous Egoist, which is more or less "vetted" by Peikoff via discussions with the author).  That chapter runs to 75 pages (on top of 45 pages in Chapter 7 on the subject of "The Good," which has a section on Rationality as the Primary Virtue).  Not that any of this is new to seasoned students of Rand, but I'm covering bases for any newbies.  So we have about 120 pages worth of nonfiction ethical writing in the "official Objectivist canon" - not exactly lightweight stuff as such measures go.

And how about Rand's fiction, anyway?  Large books illustrating the principles involved.  There's one thing that I've (inductively) noticed lately about large books: they tend to be written by intellectual heavy-hitters.  (This is not to say that the observation runs in reverse, i.e., that heavy-hitters tend to write large books.)  Large volumes (around 600 pages or more) in my collection of books, in addition to Rand's two big novels, include: Plato: Collected Dialogues; Basic Works of Aristotle; The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson; multiple volumes by Marquis de Sade; The Marx-Engels Reader; The Portable Nietzsche and Basic Writings of Nietzsche; Copleston's History of Philosophy; Mises's Human Action; Letters of Ayn Rand (a page-turner and one of the four most essential Rand books to have, IMHO, in addition to the two big novels and the Lexicon) and Journals of Ayn Rand; Rawls's A Theory of Justice; Charles Taylor's Hegel; Nozick's Philosophical Explanations; Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea; Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near; Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Zinn's A People's History of the United States; The Freud Reader, the Holy Bible; and last but not least, Shakespeare's complete works.  (Now, if only someone, somewhere could integrate all that's good in these many large volumes into a single unit priced at, oh, say, $4.20 apiece, and not go "on strike" before making said unit available for public sale....)

On a related note, there's moral philosopher Derek Parfit's recent two-volume On What Matters, which, as I've noted, contains next to zero discussion of the philosopher appearing at #1 in the poll above.  Perhaps some prominent academic philosophers have some effed-up ideas about whom and what is important, and thereby lack the wherewithal to unite historical concretes in accordance with fundamentally important similarities?  (I'll just note that when the poll above had only one vote, Nietzsche topped the list.  I wonder who that first voter might have been?  Oh, the irony just keeps on pouring in, dunnit?  What, am I the asshole here?)

Two days left . . . .

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Links for the day (with relevance to the eventual Aristotelian/perfectivist cultural singularity)

(A note on terminology: The "cultural singularity" would basically be the vast majority of people adopting an "Aristotelian-Jeffersonian-Randian" way of life.)

1) On the 14th of this month, I promised something on the subject of "force, alienation, and the dialectical tradition."  (April 15th in America is a date widely noted for the federal government's use of physical compulsion or force against its citizens, see, and so the timing seemed appropriate.  Alas, I've been busy, hence the delay.)  In relation to that grouping of subjects, I floated this posting over at the philosophy subreddit (but, /r/philosophy being such a joke, it got next to no traction there, and it even received a downvote from an anonymous coward, probably an anti-Rand one if that forum's history is any guide).  Perfectivism, of course, urges the student of P/perfectivism to present the best theory he or she possibly can, with due engagement with the philosophical tradition.  This linked posting represents the state-of-the-art in such a process of dialectic.  Methinks that forums like /r/philosophy may very well just have to learn the hard way, whatever that turns out to be.

2) "What would Socrates do?"  A review by Naomi Schaefer Riley of the late Earl Shorris's The Art of Freedom, in today's Wall Street Journal.  I like how, in Shorris's Western-humanities curriculum which some idiots criticized as culturally imperialist, he opted for the likes of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty over African cultural studies.  Doesn't that rather conclusively demonstrate how some cultures are objectively superior to (i.e., more advanced than) others?  English culture gave rise to On Liberty; to what, comparably speaking, did African culture give rise?   (American culture, meanwhile, gave rise to The Fountainhead and Google.  America, fuck yeah!)  My, how easily the idiots can miss a point....

Note: Three days until I go on strike.  I'm thinking 4:20 p.m. on 4/20.  Whatever verbal rivers of gold that any of my saganized cognition generates thereafter may be my exclusive private domain indefinitely, unless or until the eminently reasonable conditions I've set forth are met.  I haven't ruled out forming some kind of "Ultimate Gulch" along with high standards for admission, however....

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Question for the day:

Would it be more correct for to redirect to this here blog, or to the Objectivism subreddit?  (Or to somewhere else?)  I'm asking in complete seriousness. :-o

On the agenda tomorrow: Force, alienation, and the 'dialectical' tradition.  It could very well be mind-blowing stuff.  Stay tuned . . .

P.S. 6 days . . .

P.P.S. What about the badphilosophy subreddit?  Note: I've been banned from posting there.  I find that quite funny. :-)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Alternet idiocy, or: the intellectual bankruptcy of the Left

The latest from the very well-known leftwing news-and-opinion outlet,

Just so that things don't become too repetitive around here, I'll refer readers to my previous posting, in which Paul Ryan (a United States congressman) is contrasted with Leonard Peikoff (the person in the world with the biggest clue as to what Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy is all about), and simply note that Les Leopold, author of the above hit-piece (and whom I've never heard of before), is also not Leonard Peikoff.

Ayn Rand's vision of "paradise" was presented in Atlas Shrugged, particularly the first two chapters of Part III, where the social ethics of Galt's Gulch is made plenty clear.  (A few months ago, I had also uncovered an insightful statement from the late Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick on the nature of the Gulch, which I discussed here.)  Anyone with a clue can easily recognize that the Gulch does not resemble present-day Tennessee in the relevant respect(s).  The eminently interesting and important question in this connection is: What are the intellectual-cultural preconditions for such a society to ever come about, and how do they differ from those preconditions that generated the present-day circumstances (in Tennessee and elsewhere)?  If the gap between these two sets of preconditions can be bridged, then we have a blueprint for utopia.

The Left has thoroughly, pathetically defaulted in this regard - not only in regard to its ridiculously bad approach to Ayn Rand's ideas which I've documented on countless occasions here already, but also in presenting a remotely compelling vision of the requisite intellectual-cultural prerequisites for achieving a utopian social order.  The "best" representative of any such vision that the Left has had on offer for 40 years now, is the late Harvard philosopher John Rawls's A Theory of Justice.  Rawls drew heavily on Kantian moral theory, which is to say, he missed the mark something terrible.  The correct mark is Aristotelianism, and Ayn Rand, in her presentation of a neo-Aristotelian vision of life, was some decades ahead of the leftist intelligentsia.  (They have yet to catch up, still.)  It is on the basis of an Aristotelian (also Jeffersonian) ethos that a realistic blueprint for utopia can be offered.

(It should be noted that Rawls was also considered by perceptive scholars to be a utopian of sorts, but notably as it pertained to his writings on international relations.  (Hint: for there to be international peace, there needs to be worldwide democracy, as, empirically-inductively speaking, democracies never go to war with one another.)  Nozick, for his part, offered his own libertarian idea of a utopia - also not premised in Aristotelian intellectual-cultural preconditions, and therefore that much more deficient - in part III of his Anarchy, State, and Utopia.  But there is a very astute inductive generalization to be drawn here: the two "leading" political philosophers of our time were utopians!  WTF, right?  Where does that come from?  What's with philosophers and utopia?  And, most pressingly: how do we best and most quickly get from the philosophers' theoretical castles in the sky to a real-world utopia?  Hint: Aristotelianism, which also means Randianism, and Nortonianism, and Jeffersonianism.  Or, put another way: perfectivism.)

Anyway, how did the Left in America sink to such a low state, that it can't or won't address the likes of Peikoff, or Sciabarra, or the Ayn Rand Society head-on, so as to supposedly expose the gaping flaws of Objectivism in a compelling fashion?  (Hint: they just can't.  Hey, once you go Understanding Objectivism, you never go back.  It's inductively certain.  But I guess I'll just have to leave that one up to the doubters to establish in their own minds, independently and objectively, of course.  But at least I've done some part in leading them to the water.  Another hint: the Ayn Rand Society is chock full of Aristotelians.)  I submit that this ignorant deficiency goes all the way to the top.  Had Brian Leiter done the intellectually responsible and honest thing when it comes to Ayn Rand, the cultural discourse would be that much more moved along at this point.  But he defaulted on this task something terrible.  He may know a shit-ton about Nietzsche, but he doesn't know jackshit about Ayn Rand.  (Hint: here's what a Nietzsche scholar with a clue about Ayn Rand has to say about these two.)  But this phenomenon isn't limited only to Brian Leiter; it's a pervasive ignorant deficiency in the left-wing academy and intelligentsia.  Here's a suggestion as to why: lack of Aristotelian influence.  Today's "leading" academic ethical philosopher, Derek Parfit (The Leading Brand[TM]), barely mentions Aristotle in his recent mammoth treatise in ethics, On What Matters.  Rawls gave some attention to Aristotle, and there's something to be said for that.  (Rawls was a fairly comprehensive thinker in his own right - as a thinker focused primarily on political philosophy, that is.  His main philosophical treatises are centered around the subject of political liberalism and "justice as fairness."  Aristotle-like thinkers, on the other hand, of which there have been very few historically, present a comprehensive view of humankind and its relation to existence.  Ayn Rand is one such example, and her Aristotelian-intellectualist-perfectionist-eudaimonist ethics blows away the competition, more or less.  Which is to say, Aristotelianism blows away the competition.)

So, instead of being governed by an Aristotelian ethos, today's intellectual, academic, cultural and political Left in America is mired in a very damaging selective ignorance.  When its leading ideological professors aren't smearing or ignorantly dismissing Rand (who is a - perhaps the - key representative of Aristotelian-style thinking in the last century, her shitty polemics notwithstanding), its media outlets send out no-name jabronis like Les Leopold to do hit-pieces. [EDIT: As to the leading living "intellectual of the Left," Noam Chomsky, whose specialty in any case is linguistics, I've addressed his ignorant comments on Rand here.]  Sad.

Checkmate, assholes. :-D

Eight days left before 4/20, the date I go on strike . . .

P.S. Also, let's not forget - let's NOT forget - that, aside from amphibious animals as a domestic, uh, within the city not being legal, let's not forget that in year 1922, when all the trendy lefty intellectuals were embracing socialism, there was a man - I'll say a hero, and a man for his time and place - who stood up against all that lunacy and proved that socialism wouldn't work.  He checkmated their asses real good!  Story of 20th century political economy in a nutshell, dudes.  Worthy fucking adversary.  Rand is next up for vindication; either you're with her, or you're with the terrorists.  Poor little leftists, what ever are they going to do?  (They might start by doing their homework, the intellectually lazy bastards - just for once, at long last, for a very refreshing change from the pathetic charade they're putting on now.)  Whatever they do, they better not fall down from my obstacle; that would break my effing heart!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ayn Rand's cameo appearance

In the Verbal River of Gold department:

You'd think that in all the discussion about Ayn Rand (widely known/loved/hated author of The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), and originator of a philosophy she called Objectivism) that has been generated in American culture to date, the subject of the author's one cameo appearance in her novels would not have gone almost totally undetected in that discussion.  But no.  What we have here is a failure to integrate.  On the one hand, we have all this discussion about the author and her novels, and on the other hand, we have near-complete ignorance among the populace as to where that author made a cameo appearance.  But an analysis of that cameo appearance both (a) demonstrates the awesomeness of Objectivism and (b) points inextricably to a massive, gaping plot hole.

This may well go down as one of the biggest checkmates in history, for nearly everyone concerned.  Not for me, though.  I got here first. ;-)  Anyway, the eventual outcome of said checkmating is going to be awesome, for all concerned.

The likes of Bill Maher are a triviality at this point, squashable little roaches.  (Easy, just get 'em cornered, and drop something heavy on 'em.  Reisman's Capitalism comes readily to mind.)  Simply ask Leonard Peikoff what he thinks about Rand's Objectivist philosophy at age 78 or thereabouts, compared to what he thought about it at 19.  He'll probably tell you that her philosophy is all about the fundamental need of mental integration for successful human living.  You can also even ask Rand's former associate until 1968 (but hardly an "ex-Objectivist" - an impossibility given the right training, BTW; I've reached this absolutely certain conclusion inductively based on observation of countless real, concrete, serious students of Objectivism who are all perfectly normal, happy, and functional), Nathaniel Branden.  Or Allan Gotthelf, for crying out loud.  Bill Maher doesn't understand jack shit about Ayn Rand's ideas.  Simple as that.  Checkmate, asshole.  (Now into Maher mocking sneery-voice mode.)  Hey, here's a clue for you, asshole: Paul Ryan isn't Leonard Peikoff!  I've got proof right here:

Paul Ryan:

"I'm congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin, chair of the House Budget Committee and the 2012 GOP Vice Presidential nominee."
Now. Here's Leonard Peikoff:

"I'm Leonard Peikoff, the foremost authority on Ayn Rand's philosophy. If you have questions about what Rand really thought, I'm the best guy to ask.  I have written a book, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (1991), which presents a fundamental, tightly integrated view of man and his relation to existence.  My lecture courses are available for purchase for around $10 each, or roughly 40 cents an hour.  The coming generation of highly-information-savvy college students interested in Ayn Rand's ideas are gonna just love these; I'd seriously and strongly urge today's philosophy professors to prepare themselves for the coming stampede.  Bill who?"

Methinks that the likes of Bill Maher are guilty of a psychological phenomenon known as projection, seeing as how the grotesque caricature involved resembles no serious adult students of Objectivism.  So their attributions of whatever psychological shortcomings in their fantasy version of "Objectivists" come from somewhere within them.  Maybe Maher at 19 was a clueless idiot, more or less like he is now?  This is a much, much better, simpler explanation than that it's Rand and not Maher who's the asshole here.  And if Maher's so great and intellectual and so concerned about the root of the country's ills, why doesn't he at least have Chomsky on his show as a regular, much less an actual student of Objectivism with a clue?  (Don Watkins would be a great choice of guest for Maher's show, would he not.  He's the one currently teaching the up-and-comers all about writing and communicating objectively and compellingly.)

(Also, I hate having to take "l"s out of "Mahler" just to spell this asshole's name right.  Can we not have any more talk about him until he's been whipped into intellectual shape?  Thanks.)

Reminder: 11 days to go before I go on strike.  Pity about poor Catherine, though.  Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Importance and culture

A key indicator of how perfective a society is, is how important the typical subject matter is in the popular culture and media (including cable news media and the internet).

Concretization question: How important is the typical subject matter on Glenn Greenwald and Glenn Beck's (call 'em "The Glenns" for convenience) columns/programs, as compared with (i.e., contrasted to) the rest of the media?  How about Noam Chomsky?  Whatever else you think of him, the shit he typically talks about is damn important.  And how about what representative members of the Ayn Rand Society have to talk about, as it relates to contemporary political culture?  Why aren't they prominent in today's mass-media discussion?Wouldn't they have the most of importance to offer in explanation of this whole "Ayn Rand phenomenon?"  (One of them is a prominent Aristotle scholar currently at the No. 3 ranked department of philosophy in the English-speaking world, for crying out loud - and is editing a volume on Ayn Rand's epistemology due out this summer, as well another, much-anticipated Wiley-Blackwell volume due out hopefully in the very near future.  Which would be of greater importance for understanding Rand's Objectivist ideas, that or the next rendition of Ayn Rand Nation by a fuckin' amateur?  Which will the leftwing interblogs devote their attention to this time around?  Last time around, with near-identical publication dates ca. March 2012, it was Gary Weiss's Ayn Rand Nation getting all their attention, with Leonard Peikoff's Understanding Objectivism getting none of their attention.)  I mean, how fucking low does a culture have to be for their voices not being the most prominent in media discussions of Ayn Rand?  Isn't that pretty much as pathetically bad as Chomsky not being all over the popular media?

Relevant distinction: "Intellectually high-brow" and "Important" (also consider: "Relevant")

More to come . . . .


P.S. Another checkmate to come . . .

P.P.S. 24 days left...

Friday, March 22, 2013

The "bad guys" in the Wikileaks saga

UPDATE: There's a necessary edit below, which I'll re-state in slightly different form here: [EDIT: A better google search than the one I conducted before brings these results.  The March 2006 military incident in Iraq highlighted below was investigated by the Pentagon, which in June 2006 cleared U.S. soldiers of wrongdoing.  So, um, I fucked up.  Lesson to be learned here.  I figure I'll leave this posting up for now, as an example of how fuck-ups can happen.  I mean, how plausible is it that both (a) the incident happened as Iraqi police claimed and (b) the alleged perpetrators got away with it?  More epistemic discipline is called for.  Still, the rest is at least very nearly spot-on.]

Our federal government - the same entity that granted final immunity to CIA personnel who tortured two detainees (Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi) to death, the same entity that a human rights court determined had tortured and sodomized another detainee (Khaled el-Masri), the same entity that has conducted a well-known extrajudicial assassination of at least one American citizen - has charged Pfc. Bradley Manning with, among other things, "aiding the enemy," when he released classified documents to Wikileaks.  Many people in a complacent and complicit American lamestream media have echoed the government's claims in this instance.  How much credibility does this government have, though, really?

One of the documents leaked by Wikileaks concerns this incident:

WikiLeaks: Iraqi children in U.S. raid shot in head, U.N. says

[Original photo caption] This cell phone photo was shot by a resident of Ishaqi on March 15, 2006, of bodies Iraqi police said were of children executed by U.S. troops after a night raid there. Here, the bodies of the five children are wrapped in blankets and laid in a pickup bed to be taken for burial. A State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks quotes the U.N. investigator of extrajudicial killings as saying an autopsy showed the residents of the house had been handcuffed and shot in the head, including children under the age of 5. McClatchy obtained the photo from a resident when the incident occurred. |

(h/t: Matt Taibbi)

What has the federal government's response to inquiries about this episode been?

Silence.  [EDIT: A better google search than the one I conducted before brings these results.  This March 2006 incident was investigated by the Pentagon, which in June 2006 cleared the soldiers of wrongdoing.  So, um, I fucked up above.  Lesson to be learned here.  I figure I'll leave this posting up for now, as an example of how fuck-ups can happen.  I mean, how plausible is it that both (a) the incident happened as Iraqi police claimed and (b) the alleged perpetrators got away with it?  More epistemic discipline is called for.  And, now, how about Matt Taibbi's dropping that link the way he did? ;-) ]

Now, who is the bad guy (or guys) here again?

Who's the one (or ones) being targeted by the federal government for punishment?  Who's the one (or ones) being held to the accountability of the rule of law?

And all those lapdog media outlets accusing Bradley Manning of treason -- what have they said, if anything, about the CIA's acts of torture and sodomy (sodomy - a moral crime in itself according to many of the very same pseudo-patriots who've cheered our government on), or about the un-responded-to claims concerning execution of Iraqi children and air-raid coverup?

Jack shit, that's what.

(Apparently, since the rights of American citizens are at issue in the case of extrajudicial assassinations, these people are "concerned" all of a sudden; this one hits too close to home, apparently.)

How can these people display such righteous outrage (or, in the case of the fedgov, vindictiveness) about Bradley Manning's supposedly horrific transgressions - which are, arguably, by a sensible analysis, roughly comparable to the "transgressions" involved in the leaking of the Pentagon Papers - but remain so tight-lipped or willfully ignorant of these activities carried out by the federal government, the very sorts of activities Bradley Manning believed needed to be brought out into the open?

What kind of credibility, moral or intellectual, can these individuals claim?

Along these lines, individuals in our political discourse who are ignorant of (or choose not to mentally integrate) Glenn Greenwald's column can claim no intellectual credibility, either.  And that goes for just about all our political "leaders."  That goes for the so-called constitutional lawyer whose main prima facie credential for the presidency was that Harvard-cultivated legal expertise.

What would Thomas Jefferson think about all this?  Patriots and tyrants and all that....

P.S. Reminder: 29 days left....

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Some notes on integration

In my cognitive experience, I've arrived inductively at certain observations as they relate to the prescribed thinking methods of Ayn Rand's Objectivism, with its key concepts of integration, context-keeping, and rigorously maintaining the hierarchy of knowledge.  (All of this ties in to induction as a regulative cognitive principle, which I'll get to shortly.)  Serious students of Objectivism - the ones who've taken Rand's advice and listened to serious amounts of Leonard Peikoff's lecture courses - are continuously immersed in these concepts, continuously actively "chewing" them mentally.  Their grasp of Objectivism - their context of understanding - pretty much puts them at radical odds with how Objectivism is so often "understood" (i.e., not really understood at all) in the mainstream of our intellectually-deficient culture.  If Rand's critics don't so much as have an effing clue as to how the concepts of integration, context, and hierarchy regulate the daily thinking processes of serious Objectivists, then they really haven't a clue at all what's at the root of Ayn Rand's philosophy.  They might know that Rand says things about the need for human beings to live by reason, but that would only be lip service on her part if she didn't provide some detailed picture of what living by reason consists in - namely, in terms of how one organizes one's mental processes in such a way as to know for sure, independently and first hand, how one's practices accord with the facts of reality.

Rand wasn't bullshitting around here and wasn't into the standard-issue "self-help" game of buzzwords and bromides.  We have an absolute, indispensible need for a philosophically-formulated cognitive method that assures us that our practices accord with reality, because that's what's inescapably necessary for functioning optimally in the world.  I submit that were people to read carefully through Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged, and the "expanded" version of that speech, namely, Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (the closest thing in print (meaning both in book form, and still in print *) to an "authorized" primary source on the philosophy outside of Rand's own writings, and lived by the principles presented therein, the culture would be well on its way to another, and better, Renaissance, and that's despite whatever flaws and errors (and readily correctable ones, if one employs the very self-correcting methods prescribed therein) exist in the book.  (* - Nathaniel Branden's Basic Principles of Objectivism book - based on a course Rand endorsed - is not still in print, and is superseded anyway in key respects by OPAR.)

That's just preliminary stuff (context-establishing, if you will) to get blog-newbies oriented and regulars re-oriented.  Now the notes, in no specific pre-ordained order:

Induction: I think of induction in terms of "adding-on," that is, in terms of integrating new information into the accumulated body of existing knowledge.  This differs somewhat (though perhaps not in substance, if you perform the correct reduction) from the "popular" or Phil-101 understanding of the notion of "induction," which is about going from particulars to general propositions.  That "logical leap" from particular to general has been an unending source of confusion and red herrings for students of philosophy, thanks (or no thanks) to David Hume's framing of the "problem."  Induction in Objectivist terms, as I understand it, has a kind of open-ended quality with regard to how one mentally organizes the particulars or new incoming bits of information, which relies on a certain practical need (whether or not this approach reduces to "pragmatism" is another, and complicated, issue) for unit-economy given the inherent physical limitations of homo sapiens cognitive powers.  In what most likely involves what Rand identified as a process of measurement (whether qualitative or ultimately quantitative) and measurement-omission as a key to how concepts originate, we quite normally and virtually automatically order concrete particulars along various dimensions of characteristics they possess in common.  That is, if we're good at having and maintaining an efficient and orderly mental process, we (implicitly or explicitly) rank concrete particulars in various ways.  The rankings can be cardinal or ordinal, though a scientifically-rigorous thought process will involve making the best effort one can to base ordinal rankings in cardinal measurements.  ("List-making" is one well-known form of such activity, like in, how do we go about ranking the greatest athletes or filmmakers of all time?  Quantitive cardinal measurement adds a genuine scientific rigor to these things, as much as the idea of that is cynically mocked by many, "as only providing a pretentious mask of scientific rigor."  Don't buy into that cynical horseshit for a second; the only issue here is not whether scientific rigor can be had, but how one gets there.  It's the cynicism that's a mask for cognitive sloppiness and intellectual laziness when it comes to justifying - or not justifying - one's "opinion."  Perhaps this explains how - in stark contrast to such attitudes - Rand honed in on the phenomenon of measurement as the root of optimal cognitive functioning.)

The issue then becomes how one places this or that grouping of particulars under what cognitive-conceptual classification, in such a way as to allow for cross-classification as and when the need for such arises.  How does one classify, for instance, The Big Lebowski?  What are key features of this unit that more or less necessitate our placing it under a genre classification, for instance?  It usually gets classified primarily as a comedy - and that's cool; that's cool - but we need a philosophical accounting for this that doesn't make it arbitrary.  Why isn't it primarily classified as a mystery?  I mean, it could be classified as a mystery, but in measurement-terms is it as much of a mystery-narrative as The Silence of the Lambs?  Conversely, aren't there darkly humorous elements of the latter film?  (Of course there are!)  In some way I haven't thoroughly formalized in my mind yet, I think this process of classification is ruled by what Rand identified as the Rule of Fundamentality.  I think it's this (i.e., fundamentality) that is at the heart of any inductive-classificatory process.  Again, induction is about a certain kind of process of adding-on (or re-adding-on, as and when one needs to come back to the original concrete particular in spiral* fashion and re-integrate) plus classifying the added-on concrete particular or unit in accordance with the requirements of unit-economy and cognitive efficiency.  Fundamentality is also at the basis of efficiently comprehensive explanation* of observed phenomena.  (* - Myself, I look at the search results of these asterisked links, and quite immediately perform - or is it re-perform? - a certain kind of induction.  Notice, by the way, how Google search results are ranked on the basis of relevance, according to a scientifically-rigorous heuristic-algorithmic procedure, which I'll call "hal" for short.  And that's before applying the full powers of our own cognitive machinery to mentally organize such search results.)

Anyway, that about covers my to-date ideas concerning the process of induction.  Now some other points:

Some things integration entails in practice: First off, integration in the originative sense - the uniting of sense-particulars into mental units or concepts - is a process of induction in the sense I've been discussing.  But what else does this mean?  It means, as a cognitive habit, the virtue of rationality, which requires a constant, unrelenting focus on bringing new items of information into the sum of one's knowledge, and always expanding one's knowledge.  Put another way: it's all about intellectual curiosity, man.  It's a constant striving to add on the new bits, to always be learning, to expand the range and scope of one's cognitive awareness to fullest of one's abilities.  If this is a "bromide," then you'd think it'd be so ingrained into the everyday culture that it would go without saying.  But maybe that's just it - maybe it's "ingrained" (i.e., not really so) only as far as being a "bromide," something that gets paid a lot of lip service but isn't attended to in the way responsible philosophers would attend to it.  As long as the intellectual kids get marginalized, mocked, bullied, and beat up at school while the so-called educators and so-called parents just resign themselves to accepting it as a "normal" part of youthful upbringing, then the message hasn't really gotten through to the adults (and needlessly, tragically so).  And it certainly as shit ain't happening for real when you listen to the utter crap that flows from the boob tube and the politicians.  (How on earth did we get complete morons on the House "Science" Committee, or obviously unqualified ignoramuses kept on a presidential ticket, or a pseudo-intellectual head of state who's clueless about a key cultural figure?  A big fat fucking failure to integrate, that's how.)

Now, here's something - I base this on extensive exposure to many self-styled "Objectivists" over the years - where all too Objectivists themselves need to clean up their acts and follow their own methodological advice.  And what specifically do I have in mind here?  Their attitude toward the rest of the philosophical community, of course, that's what.  Provincialism is pervasive in human cognitive and other behavior, but the whole idea of philosophy - of intellectual curiosity, of integration, of context-keeping, of hierarchy-recognizing - is to break free of such limiting cognitive biases, to the best of one's abilities.  It's a two-way street here; on the one hand we have a philosophical community that has been by and large dismissive of Rand and Objectivists, and on the other we have the same thing only in reverse.  Mutual contempt and dismissal, with (tragically) little productive dialogue.  If there's something that Objectivists could have learned from their other intellectual hero, Aristotle, it's that the traditional Randian approach to polemics is just piss-poor when you compare it to the way Aristotle and other serious philosophers responded to different viewpoints.  There's no way that a serious philosopher could imagine, with a straight face, someone of Aristotle's philosophical temperament saying a bunch of the things that Rand said about Kant.  Her views about Kant listed under the "psychological techniques" section of the Lexicon entry on Kant are particularly atrocious.  Not long ago I gave myself the assignment of going through the entirety of that entry and determining which excerpt was the least worst at providing an intellectually-empathetic characterization of his views.  The result of this exercise was not encouraging.  Even where you get some straightforwardly traditional interpretations (particularly concerning the "appearance/reality dichotomy" Kant constructed), it's usually one mostly-sensible sentence couched in a terrible paragraph consisting of bad inferences.  This is, in short, a failure to integrate.  What Objectivists need - and, again, they are far from being alone in this regard, and the Rand-bashers themselves are some of the worst offenders - is to practice what I term intellectual empathy.  It took me a while to induce this principle (and all that it entails) as a requirement of integration, context-keeping, and hierarchy-respecting.  In brief, unless one has made a connection to the cognitive context of the "other," one isn't doing one's job of integrating.  What does it mean to make such a connection?  Here's the eminently reasonable standard I would propose: that one characterizes or represents the viewpoint of another to the satisfaction of that other.

You know how cool things would have gotten, that much quicker, had Rand done that with Kant and the rest?  (Seeing as Kant wasn't around to vet Rand's or anyone else's representations, you have to do some imaginative integration here.)  Or, for that matter, if a great many of Rand's critics did that with her ideas?  Note that this is easier said than done; it took me a good deal of time and practice to make it a cognitive habit and discipline to do my best to hold myself to that eminently reasonable standard, which has also led me to recognize how much some of my older blog postings are offenders in that regard.  But hey, you know, perfectivism.  Can't be refuted.  Now.  What needs to happen, as far as putting integration into practice goes, is a much better dialogue ("dialectic," which Dr. Sciabarra poignantly describes as the "art of context keeping," only to be dismissed by all too many Objectivists who failed to live up to that aforementioned reasonable standard) between Objectivists and the academy, and basically between everyone and everyone else.  It's not easy.  Actually, I take that back.  It is easy, but also time-extensive.  It's a cognitive habit that has to be developed over time.  What would not be easy would be to make it happen overnight; but baby steps in that direction are easy, and then it snowballs from there.  Habituation is key here, a concept which most likely ties into the concept of integration as such.  Just throwing a lead out there off the cuff, for whatever it's worth.  And, of course, integration ties into (integrates with) the concept of perfection (which, of course, is not an end-state but an ongoing process in humans, hence eudaimonia-as-activity).   So the cultural Singularity (defined by culturally-pervasive cognitive integration, which would be "utopian" by the lackluster standards of the present-day) is going to necessarily presuppose that the folks have been habituated over time.

If such a potential integrative dialogue were to be actualized, I think you'd have people coming to a consensus on some things despite their differences; I mean, a consensus on real substantive issues of tremendous importance - like about the vital need to integrate, for example. ;-)  Anyway, we'd have people meeting and overcoming (in some quasi-Nietzschean, quasi-Hegelian sense, I suppose) the barriers presently erected between people's cognitive contexts, so that they aren't clashing (to use Peikoff's term) as they used to.  That's quite a challenge to embrace, but the payoff would be amazing, I think.  Objectivists, Kantians, Aristotelians, pragmatists, theists, Christians, Muslims, atheists, the whole variety of viewpoints . . . with a proper mutual understanding between them ("Oh, so that's what Thinker X was getting at!  Now it makes sense!"), they would discover not only how much they have in common but also have an enhanced approach toward Getting Things Right.  Plus humor quality and irony-detection might explode exponentially (especially with the aid of Sagan's favorite brainfood).  Perhaps when all is said and done they'll all get together and sing Kumbaya.  Oh, don't you laugh, you cynical fucks, damn you, don't you laugh.  (Movie reference there of course.)  It's like Lennon said....

(I was originally going to title this posting "Brief notes on integration," but it didn't turn out so brief.)

P.S. Reminder: 30 days left.  Tick tock, tick tock.  (Movie reference of course.)