Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Some of my favorite essays by Ayn Rand appear in the late 1960s and early 1970s; they represent a part of the Objectivist canon that goes underrecognized and underappreciated, because to fully recognize and appreciate them requires a certain (a) deep structural familiarity with Objectivism down to its unit-economizing psycho-epistemology and characteristically clear communication method, and (b) fundamentally American sense of life, one that the left-liberals squandered away with lousy philosophy. Some of my favorite Rand essays include "Apollo 11" (1969), "The Comprachicos" (1970-71), and "Don't Let It Go" (1972). This last, in particular, is unapologetic in its pro-Americanness. It represents a greater appreciation of America - not as it is, but as it might be and ought to be - than any of the flag-waving right-wingers (who would undermine America at every step, starting with silly and stupid amendments to the constitution to ban flag burning, as if a symbol were more important than the substantive freedom the symbol is supposed to symbolize; but it doesn't stop there: how about their reason-undermining religious tenets, eh?).

The Fountainhead is the Great American Novel. Rand's Letters are generously peppered with reverence and love for the country she emigrated to so that she could be more than nominally free to self-actualize as a novelist-philosopher. It's almost something the left-liberals simply don't get about this country, something they either forgot or never grasped, due to a Pragmatism-inspired education which inculcates Rawls-style mental processes rather than Rand-style mental processes. That alone stunts and stultifies genius and encourages wimpy conformity. What Americans qua Americans long for and hope for is a vision of man's greatness and examples of the ability to achieve it. They've already got that in its highest-paid actors, athletes, and businesspeople. Where they have yet to achieve that is in the area of the intellect, but once structural greatness is instilled at the level of the American intellect, we'll see "we've only just begun."

The left-liberals have nothing new to offer to enhance America's structural greatness; it's just more of the same old government, and bureaucrats, and public employee unions, and taxes, and crossed fingers ("maybe!") that it all doesn't fall apart on them. It's a cult not just of compromise and conformity, but of stagnation. Let's be more like the Euros and . . . stagnate. What kind of inspiring vision is that? It makes you almost want to hop right on over to the Palin camp, it's so stultifying and boring. Obama tells an audience of the converted the other today that "I am my brother's keeper." We've heard that for 2,000 years, and where has it gotten us? We are told that ethics and morality is supposed to be about restraining your own interests in the service of society. Kant, philosophy's Naked Emperor, said that ethics isn't and shouldn't be about achieving your own happiness, but about subordinating yourself to the Moral Law. The modern intellectuals just lap this nonsense right up, but it's not what America is about.

Already an observer of academia is seeing how happiness-based neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics is sweeping aside the fraudulent deontology-utilitarianism alternative, as neither of those manifestly inferior approaches tell us how to self-actualize or why that is the fundamental ethical priority. America's best home-grown intellects advance eudaemonism in ethics because, well, it's the only sound ethical system going. It's no mistake that Aristotle, the Philosopher, advocated a version of eudaemonism. At least Kant got it right that human moral life requires the free exercise of one's mind, but - aside from building that tenet upon an empty formalistic base - it's such an obviously true aspect of ethics that he doesn't get much more credit for identifying that ethical truism than other moderns like Locke, Jefferson, Spencer, Rand, Rothbard and many others deserve as well. Hell, Ayn Rand at age 21 could recognize that fundamental moral truism, in choosing America over Soviet Russia. That's the drawing power that America has to a truly functioning mind. Just let a country's minds be free, and there's pretty much no limit to the greatness that can unfold.

If you truly recognize, understand and appreciate what makes America great despite all its flaws and checkered history, you'll recognize that our best days are ahead of us, that we'll lead the rest of the world instead of follow, that Rand is on the way in and Rawls with his "let's forcibly sacrifice the most productive" ethos is on the way out, that Aristotelianism easily trumps Pragmatism as robustness trumps weakness as Roark trumps Keating, that this Friedmanite-liberaltarian pragmatist-maybe business is an aberration based on non-integration. We're going to see that Jefferson and Rand and Kubrick and Jordan and Stern and Buffett and Google can be the norm rather than the exception.

If we think of human history as analagous to human life-stages, we can identify the point in time that humanity reached its late adolescence, when it declared, via the United States Declaration of Independence, its independence from all forms of authority and tyranny over the mind of man. The rest of the world has had little choice but to follow in America's footsteps on this, or to perish. Humanity's next step is into full adulthood, and America can and will lead once again.

America - Fuck Yeah!

Obama = President Rawls

To follow up my postings yesterday on pragmatism, what we have today is an extremely pragmatistic president in the epistemic mold of Harvard philosopher John Rawls. What does Obama stand for? He doesn't appear to stand for anything other than an undefined, please-everybody reconciliationism. He's like the perfect pragmatistic president.

It's most fitting that both of these Elites define the culture that is the Harvard culture. They're the consensus pick of the fellow elites for the best that America has to offer. According to these elites, Rawls's Harvard colleague Robert Nozick is the best representative of libertarian philosophy anyone has to offer, and it is a left-liberal mythology of these elites that Thomas Jefferson today would side with Rawls over Nozick. Ayn Rand, in this elitist mythology, is a reactionary-capitalist antisocial individualism (she did say that selfishness is a virtue, after all, and it's obvious to anyone what she must have meant by that: antisocial individualism) that defines the "libertarian" side in politics which Nozick, via Kantian intuitions, does a more respectable job of defending and is one of the two big "sides" Rawls incorporates into his Great American Synthesis along with the effective de facto abolition of private property (via trump-claims on individual talents by the community) so as to please the kindly, well-intentioned Marxists.

Here's a blatant falsehood in the elitist mythology: Jefferson today would not side with Rawls. He would side with Rand and Nozick. He would be a radical for capitalism, a libertarian, and he would affirm these things as a matter of common sense. He would not be a "progressive" who defines away capitalistic freedom, by piecemeal concession, into some bizarre and insidiously anti-American caricature of it (as with, e.g., John Rawls). So while Obama the pragmatist represents intellectual stagnation in America, Jefferson represented intellectual radicalism and progress, a President Rand if you will. Jefferson, in his radically libertarian, capitalistic, natural-law political ethos, was more progressive than self-styled "progressives" are!

Oh, my brothers, the Established Elites will scoff at first upon reading this, but what comeuppance they will receive, oh what comeuppance!

One great thing about Jefferson was his contempt for class-minded elites. So just keep that in mind. A President Rand (Jefferson) today would be against a corporatist economic elite in bed with the government, so let's just chalk Rand's "economic elitism" up to ignorant misunderstanding on the part of her opponents. (That's usually how you can chalk up liberal-left characterizations of Ayn Rand. They're really just very ignorant and point-missing. Once the liberals get the same education in Randianism that Leonard Peikoff's students have gotten, they'll be way on board with pretty much the entirety of her philosophical edifice, mark my words. All it takes is mental focus and some conscientious integration, for crying out loud.) So this mythology about Rand as a voice of an angry American "right-wing" bent on being callously selfish assholes to their fellow human beings, is just plain old intellectual incompetence fostered by a pragmatistic spirit of intellectual conformity amongst America's pragmatism-eaten elites.

You know what the problem is with these fucking pragmatist elites? Just take all the evil ideas in the world and the pragmatists' lack of any deep ethical, epistemological and metaphysical commitments, and just hand all the deep commitments to the America-destroying, man-destroying Bad Guys, why don't we. Really, now? Really? Say what you will about the tenets of Totalitarian Islam, at least it's an ethos. At least they've got the deep commitments that the cowardly Established American Elite lack. Dinesh D'Souza is onto something here in his own demented right-wing theocratic-authoritarian way ("let's be more like the Islamofascists; at least they maintain law and order and virtue and tradition")! All we get with pragmatism is intellectual chaos. (Didn't Rand say this throughout her Vietnam-era essays, like, a hundred times? Also, Peikoff's recent DIM Hypothesis work deals with the implications of an intellectually disintegrated worldview in contrast to an integrated worldview with deeper commitments. American liberals have pretty much disarmed themselves intellectually due to their ever-insidious pragmatism - especially when their opponents offer a whole moral and intellectual package-deal along with Americanism. This is true whether the package-dealing is a fundamentalist-Christian one or a rational neo-Aristotelian/Jeffersonian one.) The cashing in: Let's reconcile the opposing views. Let's be more like them, but not too much. Let's be less like them, but not too much. Let's keep mixing politics and religion together in vaguely defined ways because that's how things have been done before and it works well enough. Let's keep trying to mix socialism and liberty and keep genuflecting to John Rawls who has no deep commitments on the really big philosophical issues that matter - and on those issues let's have an unsteady, unseemly, and unsanitary admixture of all three of Plato, Aristotle, and Kant.

That works. Right? Maybe.

Say that Obama wins in a landslide in 2012, which is the likely outcome absent a major short-term game-changer. Contra the reactionary Tea Party types, the progressive pragmatistic Rawlsian Elites will feel short-term vindication. ("He improved the economy! Right? Maybe.") Not having the wherewithal or deep enough commitments to view the world in terms of the Big Picture Issues, they do not foresee the long-term triumph of the Randian model over theirs. Ideas do rule human history, as Ayn Rand - given all her deep commitments - recognized and affirmed, and Pragmatism as an idea has had its time and failed.

America vs. Pragmatism

To follow up today's earlier posting, I'd like to provide a brief intellectual narrative of the United States of America.

The United States of America were founded upon an absolutism and radicalism expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Its chief author, Thomas Jefferson, was an uncompromising advocate of reason as against unreason - including opposition to the use of physical force as a reason-negating activity, as a matter of principle. His moral groundings were in Lockean natural law (with some Jesus-inspired other-oriented benevolence thrown in to complement the rights- and self-preservation angles covered in natural-law theory). The Founders, Jefferson included, grounded their statements on things like "self-evidence" and "the Creator" and some abstract "Divine Providence." The religious overtones of it notwithstanding, the radically libertarian idea - then as well as now - was one of religious toleration and freedom, hence the broadly abstract and not-specifically-defined statements concerning "Divine Providence."

The early decades of the United States of America were defined by the height of Enlightenment-era philosophy, and Thomas Jefferson (not Germany's Immanuel Kant) best represents those heights. There's not just the reverence for natural law, or the uncompromising commitment to reason intermixed with a people-respecting religious tolerance, or the recognition of the secular value of Jesus's teachings in isolation from the magical-mystical bullshit of his non-philosophical adherents, but also the commitment to a very central American value: common sense. In addition to being President of the United States of America, he was, at the same time, president of the American Philosophical Society. If you read through some of his letters concerning philosophy, he shows he is well-versed in the ancient Greek philosophers, notably and positively Epicurus. His statement that Epicurus represents the height of secular and Greek philosophy is incomprehensible except in light of the evident fact that he wasn't aware of Aristotle. Can you just fucking imagine how robust America would be had Thomas Jefferson known about Aristotle? Would Ayn Rand's philosophical writings have even been necessary to restore America to its intellectual origins? Ayn Rand was correct on one point: Aristotle, via Aquinas, via John Locke, was the intellectual father of America, without the Founders even knowing it. Nevertheless, Jefferson represents one heck of a standard for America to follow; the basic sensibility is all the same as with Aristotle.

Aristotle, Jefferson, Rand - they all represent an approach to philosophizing that is empirical and yet absolutist, reality-oriented without being authoritarian, judgmental and pro-virtue and non-libertine while remaining libertarian, eudaemonistic and perfectionistic with emphasis on personal well-being and happiness (incorporating other-related virtues - most importantly, justice) as the aim of life, unapologetically capitalistic, and marked at all times by a respect for common sense. It's as American as it gets.

So, how did pragmatism come about and begin to consume the American ethos from within? For the first 100 or so years of America, there was a classically Jeffersonian ethos that ruled. It's ultimately what led to the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves. Being very practical and productive, the American people had little time or patience for the wankers who often pass for philosophers. The main focus of life in the American mindset is to live this life well, and philosophy is only of value, cash-value if you will, if it is of aid in advancing the life well lived. Until the pragmatist movement came along in the late 19th century, after the Civil War, American intellectual life was radically individualistic, optimistic, and perfectionistic. The abolition of slavery, for instance, was a moral necessity to America's leading intellectual lights. Any visions of future utopias - be they Josiah Warren's hippie-communes or Spoonerite-Tuckerian private-property arrangements - were all based on a vision of voluntary participation rather than state-enforced regimentation. Those utopian-perfectionist voluntaristic visions remain as true now as they did then; only the American intellectual context has changed since that time.

The Pragmatist movement was borne of a concern about relating ideals to practice. One thing that has to be emphasized here is that when the Pragmatist movement was at its height - ca. 1900 - Aristotle had only begun being translated for an English-speaking audience. So it was really just a matter of timing and place, essential factors in analyzing the history of ideas. If Epicureanism (or whatever the top English-speaking philosophers like Hume, Adam Smith or John Stuart Mill had to say) was the best philosophy known to Americans at the time, something better had to be erected in order to deal with the emerging problems and challenges that Epicurean or British philosophy just can't deal with. You need intellectuals who aren't wankers who can usefully guide us through these challenges.

Pragmatism is not defined by specific commitments but by a certain way of dealing with challenges, and the method here is rather minimalistic: piecemeal adjustment with empirical weighing of hopefully-well-defined and well-measured costs and benefits (short-term as well as long-term, with priority given to the short term, ceteris paribus, given Keynes's dictum about the long term).

Compare America's intellectual state ca. 1930 vs. that of the European states. By 1930, Europe had been bombarded with bad philosophy for centuries, was under the spell of Kant's disastrous "Copernican" subjectivism, under the spell of unsurprisingly mystical interpretations of Hegel's Absolute and historical necessity, or under the spell of Schopenhauerian metaphysics of Will, or Nietzschean subjectivism, or under the spell of non-Aristotelian, Humean-Millian empiricism, or under the spell of Marxian socialism, or under spell of Millian progressive-socialism, and the spell of Hegel-inspired Nationalism. With that kind of intellectual bombardment, it's no surprise that Germany embraced National Socialism, that Britain was not far behind in the push for socialism, that France was filled with ennui and existential angst about it all, that the Soviet experiment (with millions of people's lives, against their will, it must be pointed out) was being embraced and/or taken seriously as an alternative model of organization of "the resources." It wasn't a matter of Ludwig von Mises having or not having compelling arguments against socialism; it was a matter of a condition of intellectual dysfunction/insanity whereby the vast majority of his contemporaries were heavily invested in the nationalist-socialist mentality. The history of ideas is such that the kind of intellectual revolution Mises initiated requires time to unfold; had Mises been writing around at the time of Marx's heyday, things would very likely have been quite different. (It's also worth mentioning that by ca. 1900, the intellectual center of Europe had migrated from Germany to Austria, given the failings of German philosophy and the relative promise offered by the Vienna intellectuals.)

In America ca. 1930, the intellectual context was one of Jeffersonian individualism combined with home-grown Pragmatism. The Pragmatic mindset was that our Constitution didn't embody such abstract ideals as those set forth in Herbert Spencer's radically libertarian Social Statics. That famous pronouncement by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was taken as received wisdom rather than as an easily-challenged - and false - understanding of constitutional jurisprudence. Wouldn't it just be mind-blowing if the Fourteenth Amendment did indeed enact Mr. Spencer's Social Statics? The very mind-blowingness of such a notion is enough to send any good Pragmatist running in fear. It's un-pragmatic to blow people's minds, now, so let's play it safe. . . . Do you begin to see the insidious unintended effects of a pragmatist mindset? Could the American Revolution, or the slave-freeing Civil War, have happened on a pragmatist base?

One bad but understandable interpretation of American-grown pragmatism is that it saved the United States of America from pursuing the same path that the Marx-infused European nations pursued. Going full-out socialist would have been unpragmatic, as it represented too drastic, too idealistic and too radical a shift from . . . from whatever American ideals at the time were. As a pragmatism-infused mindset is not defined so much by specific commitments but rather a means of dealing with conflicts amongst commitments, the radically individualistic and Jeffersonian ideals America was built on were incidental to the pragmatist analysis. The main objectionable thing to a swift departure from these ideals is not that it is a departure, but that it's swift and - get this - overly idealistic. And, we have discovered (via empiricistic observation - so there's always a pervasive uncertainty and "maybe" about it all) that capitalism "works" well enough to satisfy competing mainstream (the mainstream being defined - how?) ideological demands.

We can see an influential home-grown theory of justice - John Rawls's A Theory of Justice - as an exercise in American-style pragmatism. We have two competing ideals - libertarianism and egalitarianism - that need to be reconciled via a please-everybody Synthesis. Only - as with pretty much anything pragmatistic - it satisfies no one except for the compulsively pragmatistic (like many academic philosophers). What we don't get in Rawls is anything "mind-blowing" or "too radical." What we do get is a kindly and well-intentioned (the road to hell, etc.) attempt to fuse (evil) egalitarianism with (good) libertarianism. The reason that Rawls's theory even gives so much weight to liberty is because of its being American. Leaving everything in the hands of the Euro intellectuals, what would we get? Given the European context, the best we get in reaction to socialistic egalitarianism is Mises and Hayek, and neither of them offered their pro-capitalistic visions as moral visions. What we get with them is a classical liberalism little distinguished from that of Hume and Mill. With Hume we get chronic uncertainty; with Mill we get a consequentialist defense of liberty based on its social benefits. And in a pragmatistic mindset, these get thrown into the mix as ideas that need to be reconciled with the others. Hey, I'm as ecumenical in my sensibilities as they come, but it's more like Aristotle's ecumenism: recognizing what's right in a view will tossing out the weak stuff. Pragmatism doesn't acknowledge the strong and the weak in this sense; rather, there is a Primacy of Reconciliation that has ideas and conflicts amongst them, rather than an absolute and independent reality, as the primary focus and orientation. (How on earth can Rawls's theory of justice have truly lasting impact when it steadfastly abstains from deep ethical, epistemological, and metaphysical commitments? Are Rawls's genuflecting-wankers this intellectually puny? The notion is mind-blowing, I know. That's why the Prevailing Academic Model of Doing Philosophy is going to fall on its face. Mind-blowing, I know....)

Here's what Ayn Rand said in the most succinct and biting terms about pragmatism as the intellectual malady that it is: "Someone wants to bash your skull in, reach a livable compromise: Tell him to break one leg." (Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A, p. 7)

After some 50 years of pragmatism making its way through American culture, America was broken intellectually in the mid-20th century. Broken, dysfunctional, directionless, proudly anti-philosophical (philosophy having been dispensed with as an impractical failure). Ayn Rand was proclaiming this fact like it should have been as obvious to everyone in her day as it was to her. But just keep in mind: in a pragmatist mindset, someone making the sweeping and absolutist and idealistic (and unacceptably mind-blowing) proclamations that Ayn Rand made is not to be trusted. Rand simply was far ahead ("out of place") of her time, thrown into a world of anti-philosophical intellectual disintegration. But taking a long-run view of these things, all that Rand was doing was initiating an intellectual revolution, in the midst of a sea of pragmatism, to get America back to its roots. In short, the pragmatist movement was a diversion from America's (and the world's) true course, an intellectual stumbling block borne of a lack of Aristotle. Aristotle alone whacks Pragmatism upside the head; Rand puts Pragmatism to shame; historical experience will be the ultimate proof of its anti-practical failings.

Now, here's what's gonna happen. (Only someone perceptive enough to run a blog like this one knows how these blog postings are "for the ages," and there is a special satisfaction of knowing how subsequent generations will look back and say, "Yes, indeed, those ideas were mind-blowing for the time, but he turned out to be right, of course.") The big one-two punch that, on its own, would, in time, restore America to its founding ideals, is the introduction to America of Aristotle's English-translated works, and Ayn Rand's Objectivism. One amazing thing about Rand's early philosophy - summed up in her most perfect novel, The Fountainhead - is how much of it is simply Americanism, discovered and discoverable quite independently of Aristotle. (This is just how commonsensical Jeffersonian-American ideals really are; they aren't beyond the reach of the "man on the street," even; all we need is the right kind of intellectual leadership, like we had in Jefferson's day, and not wankers who eschew common sense.) The best evidence indicates that Rand did not start into a hardcore study of Aristotle and the history of philosophy until the early- to mid-1940s. Random Houses's Basic Works of Aristotle, a compiled volume of translations edited by Richard McKeon, was first published in 1941. Rand mentions in a 1940s letter having bought a copy of "the complete works" of Aristotle, presumably referring to this volume. Anyway, the basic point here is that Aristotle was just being introduced to America in the early 1900s, and Ayn Rand was independently developing American-common-sensical ideas in a radical, integrated, and systematic way after taking from Nietzsche what needed to be taken and integrated into a rational individualism (namely, a heroic sense of man's greatness and potential). With founding ideals represented by Jefferson, and bold echoes of those very ideals in the world-historic philosophers Aristotle and Ayn Rand, what will happen "as if by necessity" is a second Renaissance centered right here in America. America's potential hasn't even come close to being fulfilled.

The problem with Pragmatism? It simply couldn't offer a moral vision like this, and therefore simply can't work to bring about the desired result (widespread human flourishing-perfection).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The problem with "maybe"

This posting is to address the fundamentally different paradigms represented by Randianism and "liberaltarianism," respectively. The thing with Ayn Rand is that she represents very basic American, Aristotle-inspired, Jefferson-mirroring respect for common sense, which of necessity includes "Lockean" natural rights of person and property. In academic-philosophical jargon, intuitionism is some kind of theoretical stand-in for "ordinary common sense." (I happen to think "intuition" is a euphemism for Randian "grasp," but that's not a theory of epistemic justification, much less any theory involving bullshit metaphysics a la Plato.) And one thing that hard-headed, uncommon common-sense does not put up with is mushy "maybe"s. Just think how "maybe" commonly infused throughout your everyday life wouldn't result in anything other than an unsustainable anti-conceptual chaos. And yet that's what the "liberaltarian" paradigm gets us. It is borne of a psycho-epistemology of chronic uncertainty and pragmatism. What Aristotelian-Jefferson-Randian American commonsense was hijacked by, was a home-grown Pragmatism.

So here's how Pragmatism clashes with common sense: Pragmatism doesn't give us any fixed, firm absolutes, whereas common sense does. Common sense tells us that it is wrong to initiate the use of physical force against human beings, since the appropriate mode of activity for human beings is that guided by the use of their own minds, and physical force (inasmuch as it is present) negates the possibility of such activity. So in common sense such behavior is wrong, and such anti-force principles are ingrained in common law and well-understood under natural-law doctrine. Pragmatism is different: it takes fallible and imperfect humans as the given, as the standard to which all practice is to be tailored. Out is the concept of reality as the ultimate given and standard-setter (as common sense dictates). It is no surprise that Pragmatism quite commonly devolves into cynicism. The fundamental orientation becomes one of taking conflicts between fallible humans as the primary and finding a means of resolving the conflict, rather than of establishing the truth of the matter. Does this not describe the entire ugly process that is politics, oh my brothers. Everything gets subject to the authority of committee decision rather than of reality. Aren't we better than this?

So here's the problem with Pragmatist-liberlatarianism: all we get is "maybe." The most unacceptable "maybe" of them all is its basic epistemic uncertainty. Humans don't function that way because humans acting with common sense are reality-oriented, and reality is an absolute. And from the radical epistemic "maybe" of Pragmatism we get a moral-social-political "maybe" on the question of whether physical force is acceptable. The Pragmatist has to go through some non-reality-based process or other of determining whether the force in some instance (or class of instances) "works," according to arbitrarily or committee-defined standards of what "works." So apparently it is an open "maybe" in the Pragmatist-liberaltarian mindset whether depriving a human being of the effective use of his own mind and judgment "works" to advance some desired end. The absolutist and common sense response to this is a facepalm in reaction to the whole contradictory notion of it all from the outset. Why the fuck do "liberaltarians" leave such a fundamental moral primary - of not using force against a rational being - up to a big fat "MAYBE"? What kind of goddamn selling point is that?

Here's the problem, then: The Pragmatist-liberaltarian readily admits that if everyone became aware of the prag-lib arguments, maybe we'd all get the nice libertarian capitalist utopia we've all been wet-dreaming about. Maybe we wouldn't even need to address more fundamental metaphysical, epistemological and ethical ideas, including ideas about human virtue and perfection and self-actualization, to get to this nice utopian scenario.

Ayn Rand wouldn't settle for this. The whole idea is to make our lives as perfect as we can, and that doesn't admit of mushy maybes. We need to know that in the good society we will be free of physical force. We need to know that our arguments are right, that anybody presented with them will be convinced that physical force is categorically evil. It is an absolute matter of fact: a people who are exposed to and independently-integratively understand Ayn Rand's ideas will by necessity be a libertarian and capitalist people in virtue of being self-perfecters intellectually and morally.

Much as F.A. Hayek's arguments are as compelling as it gets in the Pragmatist-liberaltarian paradigm, I'm gonna have to go with Ayn Rand on this, thank you very much. The world is going to be a heck of a lot better place a lot sooner as a result.

[ADDENDUM: I swear to God, I didn't see this Sully post until after posting the above. The problem with Sully, of course, is that he quotes Cowen's "maybe" stuff approvingly - as if probability, uncertainty, statistical reasoning, and so forth are the best model. I'd like to ask: did the truly great philosophers think in probabilistic terms? Is that how the reality under consideration by them - absolute, ontological reality - appears to them, in probabilistic terms? Is that how they reasoned on ethical matters? Aristotle was some version of a pragmatic philosopher, but was he vague in any way about the absolute, categorical, and binding character of abstract principles as a constitutive means of the practical? Ayn Rand - soon to be widely recognized as one of the 5 greatest philosophers of all time - certainly wasn't at all vague about the relation between the abstract and the practical. Hell, was Hayek probabilistic, uncertain, and all "maybe"-like about how decentralized and dispersed knowledge is necessary to a working social order, or that socialism fails in virtue of its constructivist-rationalism, or that liberal norms occupy a place between instinct and abstract-reason? I haven't studied Popperian epistemology - a chief influence on Hayek's thinking along with Misesian praxeology - enough to know whether it encourages or thrives on the uncertainty-ethos. My best guess is that it's very British and therefore very commonsensical along with being very, um, pragmatic and non-rationalistic. So in some sense, yeah, I think it does thrive in that context. Anyway, as theory, Hayekianism has much the similar appeal that Misesian praxeology has, but built on some kind of scientific (though avidly anti-scientistic) empiricism rather than aprioristic categories. Let's just not mistake all that for Aristotelian-Randian methodology.]

Monday, October 18, 2010

The GOP: Truly Disgusting

As a hardcore philosopher, I have no option but to be a hardcore independent in today's political scene. I can't stand either the Republicans or the Democrats. Today, however, I would like to comment on the GOP.

Ever since the disaster known as the Bush Presidency, and ever since the nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice President in 2008, the GOP has absolutely jackshit for credibility as a major political party.

As a hardcore philosopher, I am also a hardcore liberal in the original, true sense. (Today the concept is associated with the term "libertarian.") It means that I have at least as much animus towards state power as many in the GOP claim to have. When it comes to state power, however, the GOP has absolutely shat away its credibility.

Supposedly, according to the thoroughly dishonest narrative foisted on us by the Republican Establishment (read: Roger Ailes's propaganda outlet, FOX News), the American People are fed up with government and, therefore, fed up with Barack Obama and his big-government ways. The solution, goes the narrative, is to hand the reigns of power right back over to the very same sonsabitches who gave us George W. Bush, Dick W. Cheney, and Sarah W. Palin.

If the GOP gave the slightest two shits about out-of-control federal power, they would have been calling for remedies to the war crimes of the Cheney/Bush era. But they haven't, for the simple reason that they have no principles whatsoever. The war crimes were committed by Their Side, so that's okay.

And let's not kid ourselves here: the GOP - just as with the Democrats - is all about serving the interests of an Establishment Elite, a corporatist oligarchy that is always looking for new ways to screw over the American People. That is how we got the fucking farce of a War on Terror that pours trillions of taxpayer dollars into the tried-and-true Military Industrial Complex with the taxpayers' fear-manufactured acquiescence. To sum up the 9-year-and-counting War on Terror: Osama bin Laden is still alive and sending out messages. That fact alone ought to be fucking mind-blowing to the American People.

But, alas, the American People have very short memories. That's the way of the sham that is human politics. Remember the GOP/FOX/Ailes/Palin-fomented paranoia as little as a year ago that was the Birther nonsense? All part of a strategy to discredit Obama and stoke fear in the American People. There is little doubt that it worked to a considerable extent. The very same GOP-voting crowd that believes in 2,000-year-old Resurrections, also disbelieves the evidence that Obama is an American-born citizen. This is the same crowd that turns a blind eye to America-conducted war crimes, mind you, despite all the overwhelming evidence. This is the same crowd - loosely aligned with the so-called Tea Party - that now professes to want to go back to America's roots. I guess that means shitting all over the pro-reason (read: anti-bullshit), pro-freedom philosopher, Thomas Jefferson, in the process.

This is what makes the whole Tea Party thing a sham. First off, the Tea Party phenomenon succeeds in conflating original American liberalism with ignorance, anti-intellectualism and paranoia. The American People - 50 percent of whom deny the reality of evolution in spite of the overwhelming evidence - supposedly want freedom from federal tyranny, too. The true voices of reason and freedom - i.e., people like Ayn Rand - get drowned out in all this. The GOP really doesn't give a shit about them. They will use them up and then spit them out after the election returns are in, so that they can go back to fucking us a la Bush, Cheney, Rove, Ailes, and Palin. In short, the Tea Party is just another cause for cynical opportunism by the GOP so that they might take back some power from the Democrats. Period.

The Tea Party, on its face, is a positive thing, reminiscent of founding American ideals. Distrust of government power. Advocacy of freedom from things like lawless torture and surveillance and people-killing wars of convenience. This also does not reflect maintream American opinion today. Mainstream American opinion is full of all kinds of falsehoods, lies, evasions, equivocations, cowardice, intellectual laziness, gullibility, inconsistency, politician-trusting, media-trusting, church-trusting, and any number of other intellectual vices. (For evidence: look at the completely stupid, unwarranted, and illiberal prohibition on marijuana, still supported by a majority that simply does not know any better.) This is what the GOP Establishment feeds off of, for one primary purpose: political power. The power to illegally kill, torture, and spy, and to enrich corporate sponsors at the expense of the people. And when it comes to totally credibility-destroying things like war crimes and the '08 Palin VP nod, the Establishment is full of nothing but fucking cowards who won't call it like it is for fear of alienating the voters/corporations that might get them elected.

Just remember this as we approach Nov. 2 and are told, once again, how we need Change in Washington.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jackass Leiter, Cont'd (Part 26)

You wanna know how the Academy fries the brains/minds of students? When they're taught by the likes of the Prestigious Jackass:

This is unbelievable. These Tea Party bozos (that's a nice word for them) who may get elected make George W. Bush look like a paragon of intellectual sobriety and moral acuity. That the response of large segments of the brain-dead electorate to the current crises of capitalism and American empire is to turn to crazies to the right of Bush is the clearest sign that all hope is lost in this increasingly dysfunctional country.

Whenever you get someone talking about how "all hope is lost" with a country such as ours, it is best to simply dump them into the intellectual wastebasket as useless and hopeless themselves. How is it that with all the Great Minds in Academia, they can't get a handle on the American People and brainwash them like they do fellow Academics? Why do they whine and complain so? Why so impotent to influence the minds of The People in the direction of whatever batshit-crazy capitalism-destroying scheme the Leiters of the world concoct? Why all the elitism and condescension? Why all the cynicism and pessimism and defeatism? (Defeatism is a psychological confession of weakness; pretty ironic for a Nietzsche devotee, eh?)

There's also a distinct anti-Americanism going on here. Elitist fucks like Leiter hate America. They really do. And that only makes sense: when Ayn Rand symbolizes all that is great about America, and when dipshits like Leiter blindly and irrationally hate her, it follows quite logically that they have a deep-seated hatred of America, A being A and whatnot.

Meanwhile, Ayn Rand has the truth on her side, and when you've got truth on your side, it's not too difficult to sway people eventually. Try as the Academic Fucks might to import the failed European intellectual models into America, it's simply not gonna happen. Not if I have anything to say about it. America is gonna be just fine, no thanks to cynical dipshits like the Distinguished Professor. Nothing is fucked here, folks, nothing is fucked, they're just a bunch of fucking amateurs! Their inescapable choice in the coming years is to get their act together and jump on the team for the big win, or to be steamrolled under by the Aristotelian-Jeffersonian-Randian juggernaut. Either/Or.

One thing that will happen - the immutable laws of economics dictate it - is that Academia as we know it will be crushed asunder. The "great unwashed" are fed up by the likes of the Jackass who simply refuse to engage pro-America, pro-individualist ideas in a fair and honest fashion. It's outright fucking bigotry - and therefore projection - for these elites to ignorantly and arrogantly bash Rand, America, and ordinary Americans who more or less foot the bill for these hateful elites. Good riddance!

[ADDENDUM: It cannot pass in silence that Leither plays a typical smear-game by associating right-wing blogger Pamela Geller with Ayn Rand. Can we name all the brainless idiots and bigots who are devotees of the ideas of Karl Marx? Let's start with Brian Leiter, why don't we. If Leiter had an ounce of intellectual courage, he'd name the best representatives of Randianism inside and outside of academia and then proceed to bash away or cower as he chooses. It so happens that not just Pamela Gellar is "devoted" to Ayn Rand; I, the Ultimate Philosopher and Singularity-starter, am also "devoted" to Ayn Rand. And I'd fucking kick Leiter's ass in a head-on debate about Rand. :-) ]

WTF Happened to Leonard Peikoff?

Diana and Paul Hsieh present an array of relevant facts relating to the recent silliness surrounding the "Peikoff-McCaskey schism" which threatens to splinter Objectivists into silly warring factions yet again. I'm ready to draw some conclusions here that are amply justified based on the available data.

First off, Peikoff has decided not to hold himself accountable for his behavior. The sum total of his "reasons" for issuing his "him or me" ultimatum are contained in an email which leaves a bunch of questions unanswered. McCaskey, for his part, is accountable for his doings and responds to inquiries. The fact that Peikoff would fail to respond to the Hshiehs' follow-up inquiries after maintaining a consistent correspondence with them prior to that is evidence of . . . well, what? Evasion? Arrogance? Incompetence? We just don't know. What we do know is that somehow Peikoff's "stature within Objectivism" is supposed to be some kind of undefined trump card he feels he can pull in any dispute.

Second, following Objectivist inductive method, what we have seen in this latest instance is an addition to previous behaviors on Peikoff's part that establish a pattern from which we can draw a generalization. For one thing, he pulled the same "I'm Ayn Rand's heir" card in the Peikoff-Kelley split of 1989. For another, Peikoff leaves questions unanswered but has decided that his judgment is final. Usually, when forming an objective judgment of something, you don't make a final determination while leaving questions hanging. That is the behavior of an authoritarian who expects people to go along or leave. How this is consonant with Objectivism, I haven't the faintest. This occurred not just with Peikoff-McCaskey and Peikoff-Kelley, but also with Peikoff-Reisman (1993). How many times do we need to see this pattern rear its ugly head before we conclude that Peikoff, for all his stature and accomplishments, isn't the be-all-and-end-all of the advancement of Objectivism today? (Besides, the be-all-and-end-all of Objectivism, the Prime Mover, remains Ayn Rand. It bears noting that the one great schism of which she was a part - the Rand-Branden split (1968) - was one where Rand was entirely justified given Branden's ghastly moral crimes against her and countless other Objectivists.)

Third, Peikoff's moral condemnation of McCaskey ("raises him one rung in Hell") is inexplicable based on every item of evidence that has come forth. There's no rationally-identified (or identifiable) context to this - for the simple reason that the judgment is contrary to the facts, i.e., false. But this appears to be a judgment for which Peikoff, again, has decided not to be accountable. The significant conclusion to draw from this is that this judgment-methodology (if there's even a methodology behind it) runs counter to the spirit and letter of Peikoff's own advice given in such outstanding courses as Understanding Objectivism.

There isn't room for agnosticism on this point: the facts establish that Peikoff has abdicated his credbility as a leader within the Objectivist movement. That may not come to much, considering how he has recently announced his official "retirement" from teaching Objectivism, but the fact that (due to his control over Ayn Rand's estate) he continues to hold sway over the ARI, self-described as the Center for the Advancement of Objectivism, shows that he continues to throw weight around in certain "Objectivist circles." Now, either he's "in retirement" or he isn't. This behavior resembles that of a diva who wants to have it his way or else, and expects everyone to simply understand, somehow.

Finally, this stuff is just all too silly considering how far removed it is from the spirit of Ayn Rand herself. The "Objectivist movement," whatever advances it has made in recent years (capped off most notably by Tara Smith's 2006 Cambridge-published book, Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics), it's simply not up to the standards that Ayn Rand or I would have demanded. The intellectual-cultural revolution Rand had foreseen could have happened a generation ago had a lot more people had their acts together. (This is one reason why Nathaniel Branden was and is such a fuck: were it not for his massively anti-Objectivist behaviors, the Revolution might well have happened by the 1970s. That is the power that ideas have over a culture, and how the course of those ideas can be affected for better or worse by a mighty few.) Fortunately, there is at least one person ready, able and willing to take up the torch in ways the current mainstream Objectivist movement has yet to even foresee, but of which Ayn Rand herself would have been proud. Thankfully, for all concerned, this business of Peikoff and his schisms will be left in the dust.

Know hope.

[A follow-up post is here.]

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bill O'Reilly: Pinhead for a Day

(I'm "on vacation" for the week but didn't want to let this one pass.)

Oh, goodness gracious:

"Seventy percent of Americans don't want that mosque down there, so don't give me the 'we' business," said O'Reilly to co-host Joy Behar; the studio audience applauded.

Fifty percent of Americans also don't believe in evolution. Point?

Afterward, when pressed by Goldberg and Behar to explain why the "Ground Zero mosque" was somehow "inappropriate," O'Reilly leaned over and pointed at Goldberg saying, "Muslims killed us on 9/11."

Ah. So, the structure of the argument is something like this:

I. Muslims killed Americans on 9/11
II. The 'Ground Zero Mosque' is built by Muslims
:. The 'Ground Zero Mosque' is therefore inappropriate.

The conclusion of course is a complete non-sequitur, so one would have to be a fucking idiot to think the argument has merit. How does this blatant idiocy become a centerpiece of our nation's political discourse? This is sickness and madness and downright irrational bigotry, whether it's coming from the Wasilla Dingbat (or other cynical, scum-sucking politicians), or from Bill O'Reilly. What's more, I expect better from O'Reilly, even if he isn't an intellectual giant. You know who'd really clean his clock on this point, is FOX's own analyst, Megyn Kelly.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Andrew Sullivan: Mushy, Cont'd

Glenn Greenwald puts on a clinic. In what deep shithole would our political discourse be mired were it not for the seeming-lone-wolf Greenwalds laying the smackdown on the teeming hordes of lesser-thinking, power-deferential, D.C.-based wussies?


Friday, October 1, 2010

Andrew Sullivan: Mushy

If there's one thing I cannot abide, it's mushiness. Andrew Sullivan, probably the world's most-read blogger on political and religious matters, fails to make my Ultimate Blogroll (see column at right) for two main reasons: Obama-Love and his weekly Sunday attempts to rationalize a religious faith (which happens to be Catholicism, but weirdly enough isn't Islam, or Judaism, or any of the hundreds or thousands of other religious faiths out there - no, it has to be Catholicism with its bullshit metaphysics of transubstantiation among other things). The religious mushiness is old hat, nothing new to see here. It is notable only because he's supposed to be, like, the Most Reasonable Blogger on the Internet, and yet this grown man seemingly cannot manage to wean himself off the god-nonsense. It matters not a whit to any of this that Jesus of Nazareth may have been a wonderful human being. That's not the point; the point is how grown adults with fully functioning intellectual capacities get all mushy and sentimental and start doing god-talk that can't be pinned down to literal facts.

(Fuck political correctness; stripped of its pretenses and euphemisms, PC is a cover for intellectual weakness and an attack on intellectual courage and honesty. People die millions of times over in the name of religion, and it's goddamn time people figure out why that is. Sully treats it as if it some kind of accident that the leaders of his chosen fantasy-sect have done untold damage to people around the world, for centuries on end. Sully: your religion sucks, grow up and get over it already. Your mealy-mouthed and second-rate apologetics notwithstanding, you're only two or three steps removed from the Wasilla Dingbat because of this, and only a few steps more removed from hardcore fanatics with a different fantasy than yours and who are willing to die and kill in its name.)

What really ticks me off, though, is how you can't get a coherent picture from him about our current president, Barack Obama. Here's Andrew Sullivan on September 9, 2010, just 3 weeks ago:

But Obama's insistence on protecting every Bush era war criminal and every Bush era war crime from any redress or even scrutiny is a sign both of how cold-blooded he can be, but more, I think, of how powerful the security state now is, how it can protect itself, how it exists independently of any real accountability to anyone, how even the metrics of judging it are beyond the citizen's reach or understanding.

I tried valiantly not to believe this of Holder and Obama for months; I tried to see their legitimate concerns about exposing a war machine when it is still at war; I understand the need for some extraordinary renditions; and the necessity for executive power in emergencies to act swiftly, as the Founders intended. Yes war requires some secrecy. But Obama has gone much further than this now. The cloak of secrecy he is invoking is not protecting national security but protecting war crimes. And this is now inescapably his cloak. He is therefore a clear and knowing accessory to war crimes, and should at some point face prosecution as well, if the Geneva Conventions mean anything any more. This won't happen in my lifetime, barring a miracle. Because Obama was a test case. If an outsider like him, if a constitutional scholar like him, at a pivotal moment for accountability like the last two years, cannot hold American torturers to account, there is simply no accountability for American torture. When the CIA actually rehires as a contractor someone who held a power-drill against the skull of a prisoner, you know that change from within this system is impossible. The system is too powerful. It protects itself. It makes a mockery of the rule of law. It doesn't only allow torture; it rewards it.

Now, on September 30, it's like he's forgotten all that:

Obama's speech to Gen44 tonight knocked my socks off. ... If you've forgotten why many of you worked your ass off for this guy, and felt hope for the first time in many years, watch it. He deserves criticism when necessary as this blogazine has not shied from at times. But he remains in my judgment the best option this country still has left - and it's far too easy for the left and far too dangerous for serious conservatives and independents to abandon him now.

(and more Obama-knob-slobbering in similar vein)

This is why Glenn Greenwald makes the Ultimate Blogroll, and Sully doesn't. It's only a matter of time before I'm vindicated on this. Unless he changes his ways, Sully will go down as a mush-head who refuses to speak truth to power in a principled and convincing way, and who tries to be a "uniter and not a divider" when the choice is food or poison. (Notice, if you click on the Sept. 9 link, how it is Glenn Greenwald and his principled commentary that eventually brought Sully around to the "Obama is a tyrant" and "I have been radicalized" viewpoint.)

This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise when Sully's intellectual heroes are not principled advocates of reason, individualism, and capitalism, such as Ayn Rand, but evolutionary "conservative" types such as Hayek and Oakeshott. I have the utmost respect for Hayek in his areas of professional expertise, economics and social theory. The evolutionary model is correct as a description of how institutions change over time, and there are solid classically-liberal conclusions suggested by such description as long as the audience isn't overwhelmed by intellectual mush or lack of common sense. But there's a reason why radicals for capitalism such as Ayn Rand are the wave of the future, and non-radicals are not. Barry Goldwater's proclamation that "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" is lost on the likes of Sully. Hayekian jurisprudence is fine as a descriptive model, but the correct prescriptive one is natural law, where talk of pragmatism, compromise, incrementalism and whatnot are out of the question. Vascillating back and forth between "Obama is a tyrant" and "Obama is what we need right now" is a clear and convincing failure to grasp or apply natural-law ideals.

The main part of Sully's appeal - to a concrete-bound and politically-focused blog audience - is how he does a convincing job beating up on the dysfunctional American Right. It is true, the Dingbat & Co. have totally destroyed the GOP's reputation for intellectual respectability. Or, better yet, the Dingbat & Co. are the inevitable outcome of decades of cynical and anti-intellectual GOP political strategy. But come on. This is like shooting fish in a barrel. Standing up and being consistent about whether President Barack Obama is a lawless tyrant and manipulative Machiavellian orator or the best political thing since sliced bread, however, is not. It requires a courage and an intellectual context that Sully lacks. If Sully knew the first thing about proper cognitive method - about integration - you wouldn't see him damning Obama one minute and praising him to the stars the next. That lame excuse for a balancing act simply doesn't make sense to people who can retain a thought from one moment or day or week or month to the next.

If we get a meaningful America-worthy freedom in our lifetimes, it'll be no thanks to Europeanized, intellectually-disintegrated, pragmatistic, concrete-bound, mushy, crypto-quasi-socialists like Andrew Sullivan. It's very irrelevant to all this that we've got current problems that, in the prevailing context, require governments doing this or that to "help and protect" people, or being fiscally responsible enough to ensure that taxation covers government outlays as much as reasonably possible. That's all short-term, very concrete stuff. That seems to be all that Sully is currently capable of grasping in his half-assed way. It is, however, the next planet over from how Ayn Rand commented on the concretes of her day. And one thing she was most certainly was not, in any way, shape, or form, was mushy. Where the hell would our political discourse be today were it not for her? Thank GOD for Ayn Rand!

Andrew Sullivan, eh? Read Greenwald instead. No mush there.

[ADDENDUM: Credit where it's due, one thing that Sully hasn't been mushy on over the years, is his defense of gay rights. But that only reinforces the lesson here: in those matters, personally critical to him, there is absolutely no room for mush. But intellectual disintegration, just in virtue of what that is, can mean firmness in one area and mushiness everywhere else. The lesson to draw here is that Sully could be that much more effective if he were as firm on everything as he is on gay rights. That ultimately requires an intellectual context he presently resists for no good reason.]