Thursday, December 2, 2010

How this Philosopher is Looking out for You

There is a deep "fit" between someone's adopting the Ultimate Philosopher moniker and writing a book titled Toward Utopia, and that someone being a huge and well-informed devotee of Ayn Rand. It's really no surprise in the slightest to someone in my epistemic position - someone with tremendous amounts of intellectual curiosity combined with a deep familiarity with philosophically-sound cognitive guidelines (explicated at length by Rand and Peikoff, as it turns out). But even taking Ayn Rand out of the picture, there's Aristotle, and he was looking out for the everyday human being as skillfully as anyone.

Take some hate-filled bastard like Karl Marx. He proclaimed to be a defender of humanity, and many, many people, by the millions if not billions, bought into it. Yet the likes of Karl Marx are the biggest enemies of humanity, in virtue of lousy cognitive processes or bad character or a combination of these things. The only reason Marx seemed to have more credibility than the run-of-the-mill socialists of his day, was his ability to dress up his "findings" in respectable-sounding philosophical-level jargon. He got that pretense to respectability by adopting a Hegelian context. Marx's co-opting of Hegel was his way of coming up with intellectual cover for his monstrously bad social-economic ideas. His writings reflect a deep-seated hatred of capitalism for which he was seeking a rationalization.

The result of Marx's influence: tens of millions of people dead. Needlessly dead, of course, as the Socialist Revolution promised by Marx, and the Paradise promised by his devotees, never happened. Capitalism has triumphed for the simple and obvious that capitalism is the proper social system for human beings. (This left-wing meme that capitalism is the source of oppression, wars, plutocracy, the military-industrial complex, poverty, and such is so much biased, ignorant, cognitively-fucked, and sometimes-dishonest BS.)

So, if Marx was clearly not on the side of the people, just what other intellectual figures, in their own insidiously damaging ways, were also against the interests of the people? Turns out there are shit-ton of them. Something about the very philosophical profession as such seems to provide a bias against everyday practicality - from economics all the way up to the fundamental-level cognition philosophers specialize in. We could start, for instance, with Plato's arbitrary doctrine of the Forms - Form being an otherworldly and unseen, but perfect and pure, X that "explains" the lowly, dirty every day appearances which we need to get beyond in order to attain true wisdom. Does it really take that much imagination to see what insidious anti-man effects this notion has in practice?

Strangely enough, the philosophers - the ones who are supposed to detect and identify the insidious effects of fundamental-level ideas - have dropped the ball. This would follow naturally from their theory/practice disintegration. What sort of real-life destruction could flow from Plato's doctrine of the Forms? It's not even a question that the philosophical mainstream seems to even want to consider. There are ideas over here, and then reality over there, and philosophers like Plato are merely doing their best to understand life in fundamental terms; so how could we vilify Plato or his system? This is the instinctive reaction from non-Randians to Rand declaring Kant "the most evil man in mankind's history." I think Rand is mistaken about this, but - unlike the mainstream philosophers gleefully ready to dismiss her as a crank - I understand what Rand was getting at: Kant's ideas are extreme in their insidiously destructive effects.

It was the utter fucking mess made of philosophy by Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx, Nietzsche and Heidegger that has turned Europe into what it is today: a people looking to America to show the way, since their leading lights don't have the answers. This is without even getting into the indirect and insidious influence these thinkers' ideas had on the course of European politics in the very bloody first half of the 20th century. Socialism was all the rage amongst the intelligentsia in the early 20th century, including by the head intellectual honcho of the time, Heidegger. The effects of socialism have been widespread death, stagnation, etc. Heidegger liked National Socialism. Is this someone the man-on-the-street can trust to be on his side?

Kant said that morality is about following abstract universal principles with very murky substantive guidance, rather than about achieving happiness and self-actualization. Is Kant on your side?

Kant said that he had found it necessary to deny human knowledge of the "thing in itself" to make room for faith. Whether or not his intention was to keep religion and reason separate, this could only have the effect of emboldening the pro-faith crowd; the cashing-in is Dinesh D'Souza and his fellow illiberal theocrats. So, is Kant on your side?

Kant said that human perfection isn't possible in this world, and that morality demands that we act as if there were an infinite afterlife in which only then perfection might be achieved. So, is Kant still on your side?

Hegel's reaction to Kant's dualistic approach to philosophy (one emulated to an appalling extent in the mainstream academy) is to dissolve all distinctions into identity; the World, in other words, is a manifestation or emanation of Idea; Object is identical with Subject. Is Hegel on your side?

Schopenhauer intuited that the "thing-in-itself" is Will and that if we can detach in the way prescribed by Eastern mysticism, we'll not suffer so much. Is Schopenhauer on your side?

Bertrand Russell played a bunch of linguistic parlor-games that had no positive practical effects for life, for morality, for common sense, or for political freedom, i.e., capitalism. Is Russell on your side?

John Rawls said that whether you have a right to keep the product of your mind and efforts depends on whether your doing so satisfies his Difference Principle. Is Rawls on your side?

I could go on, but the concretes mentioned already should establish the essential point. We should judge a philosopher on the basis of how well he or she fulfills the job a philosopher is supposed to fulfill, and that job necessarily involves working on behalf of - not against - human beings.

It is no wonder that philosophy has gotten such a bad reputation in the mainstream. It has the reputation for head-in-the-clouds impracticality. At the hands of Plato, Kant, Hegel and others, that reputation is deserved. What the mainstream - not just the ordinary folk but also the mainstream of intellectuals - doesn't yet know is that these thinkers' abstract ideas do have massive practical effects. No philosopher sets out to create an impractical or destructive system of philosophy; the philosopher has a basic worldview and seeks the greatest intellectual fortification for it. It's that process of fortification that has the greatest potential real-world effects. If the fortification runs contrary to the actual requirements of reason, happiness and freedom, then it can have tremendously damaging effects on these values. It is precisely in virtue of the impracticality of a well-fortified worldview like Plato's that it can have the most damaging practical effects when people - whether knowingly or not - adopt such ideas and attempt to implement them.

The solution isn't to toss the philosophy baby out with the anti-practicality bathwater, but to fundamentally transform what philosophers do so that they are finally working in unison on behalf of ordinary people. We might start with repudiating those philosophers who are most clearly against the interests of ordinary people, which are the philosophers opposed to capitalism. The likes of Marx are the most obvious charlatans. But remember what made Marx's prominence possible: Hegel. That means doing higher-level, more abstract work at the greatest level of fundamentality: metaphysics and epistemology. (Again, this is why David Kelley's working-with-libertarians strategy is such a futile waste.) And at that level, we need philosophers who are on our side: Aristotle and Ayn Rand.

This is the goal of my blog and my work. I aim to be the philosopher who writes and works on your behalf. I affirm the classical realism first defended expertly by Aristotle. I affirm that cognitive clarity and sound thinking methods on fundamental questions can be achieved. I affirm the pursuit of happiness in ethics. I affirm the right to the pursuit of happiness in politics. I affirm that human beings, given the right conditions, are capable of mind-blowing greatness. I affirm that capitalism is the only social system proper to human beings where they can seek and achieve greatness and enjoy the product of their efforts.

I affirm that free will means the possibility of greatness and moral perfection, not an excuse for moral failings and for projecting perfection onto an unknowable infinite afterlife. I affirm that the popular practice of wondering about whether we're all brains in a vat (or, better/worse yet, "why there is being rather than nothing") is so much sophomoric, context-dropping BS. I affirm that "the problem of induction" can be solved by actually looking at how sound real-world thinking processes are inductive in their essence. I affirm that you can't attack these principles without implicitly affirming them.

Anyone notice, by the way, how no BS ever got past Roark or Galt? Isn't it time for the anti-Rand types to take a hint?

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