Friday, December 31, 2010

The Intellectuals Need Rand

Okay, so the mainstream discourse in this country is an anti-intellectual cesspool. That's the problem. There's really no question that's the problem. It will do no good to idly harp on that problem over and over. We need to diagnose the problem's causes, and then work to solve it. I think we have some good idea on the diagnostic level: a culture-wide denigration of reason down to the very roots. We need a revolution - an intellectual one - from the ground up. For this to happen, it is an absolute imperative for the nation's best and brightest minds to adopt reason wholesale - not superficially, not ostensibly, not at-the-political-economic-level, but all the fucking way. All the way to Aristotle and Rand. There's just no way around it. The absolutism of reality offers no alternatives.

If you look out at the world right now - on the grand scale, on the big picture - you get the acute sense that we're on a crash course with disaster if things don't change pretty damn fast. It's a train wreck in slow motion. The locomotive is doing its thing, charging right ahead with the brakes barely being applied, and we see down the track some faint signs of the object with which the train would collide. We can't be sure just what it is, but it looks like it's there, and we have only so much time.

The intellectual class in this country - and make no mistake about it, for all this country's poor intellectual reputation around the world right now, we have the world's leading intellectuals right here in this country, because America is the breeding ground of greatness and leadership - sees the vast chasm separating their average worldview from that of the country's mainstream. They just don't know what to do about it. Well, good news: help can be on the way, if they're willing to accept it. They're going to have to clean up their acts first.

The silver lining with pragmatists is their willingness to shift course when they are, near-panic-stricken, under the impression their current course just isn't working. They can't say they know their current course isn't working; that isn't the pragmatist psycho-epistemology. They can only say that they can attach a probability to things, and when they get the impression that things are past 50/50, they've got to consider alternative courses of action. Well, now's the time to consider it. If there's one thing the liberal intellectuals in this country can be credited for, it's a pragmatic - and I mean this in a good sense, i.e., the concern with practicality and, therefore, reasonable, real-world, empirical, scientific input for decision-making - sensibility at root. There's a reason Dr. Peikoff finds a closer ally among the "liberals" than among the intellectually-defunct and deranged "conservatives." The "conservative" intellectual movement in this country delivered us the Dingbat, a strident ignorance, and a demand for regression into pre-modernist unreason. Dingbat is the final cashing-in, the final proof of the full-on intellectual and cognitive failure of the American Right.

When Rand delivered a lecture in 1961, titled "The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age," she was addressing it primarily to the "liberals" in her audience who care about reason more than the "conservatives" do. She was, however, also speaking at a time when Marxism and socialism were at a peak of intellectual and political influence around the world. You have to look back and realize the surreal nature of a lot of it; her lecture was one year before the Cuban Missile Crisis, and just a few years before America conscripted its young to go fight in what eventuated in a failed war. You had the President delivering an inaugural address asking Americans to accept a false dichotomy between receiving altruistic handouts or performing the altruistic handouts. You had the "liberals" clamoring for a "War on Poverty" just as capitalist economic growth was almost finishing the job for them.

(Poverty rates have since escalated, and the "liberals" are, inherently and fundamentally, at a loss to understand why. They turn to the economics community and get mixed answers at best from their vantage point. They just don't know. They've run out of answers.)

Rand's main goal was to try to get the "liberals" to recognize that their adherence to reason should lead them to reconsider the socialist-Marxist rewriting of capitalism's history. By then, however, the intellectual dominance of Marxism was too entrenched for that reconsideration to happen any time soon. The nature of intellectual entrenchment is, for the most part, a generational thing: many intellectuals have already formed a worldview by their 20s and it conditions and lenses their interpretation of everything. Practically speaking, the way around entrenchment is for the current generation to die off and be replaced.

Remember, however, the pragmatist silver lining: everything gets to be open to reconsideration. The pragmatic mindset is to eschew hard doctrines. Notice, further, that today's intellectual class is basically out of answers as to how to fix problems. They have no ideology to fall back on, like the Marxists did. They're adrift at sea without a rudder or compass. That's their cashing-in. They put their political eggs in the Obama basket and got just what they should have expected by placing their trust in politicians and government to fix problems. All they know is "at least he's not the Republicans," the Republicans being Bush, Cheney, and the Dingbat. That's what they get for thinking any significant fundamental change is going to originate at the political level.

They think - though they don't know - that the economic crisis we're going through is the result of too much "Republican," "right-wing" economic policy - knowing full well that politicians in Washington in recent memory have been from both parties, doing what politicians in an intellectually-bankrupt age could only be expected to do, and that is to sell influence to the highest bidder. So they can only guess that the current crisis has anything at all to do with smaller-government (much less "laissez faire" - are you fucking kidding me?) economic policies. They're awash in a sea of not knowing anything with any degree of certainty - certainly not in this day and age, when the economic data appear to point in all directions, some appearing to point in the pro-capitalist one, others appearing to point in the Euro-welfare-state one, a vanishingly small amount pointing toward the Marxist one. They don't have Marxism to point to like the intellectuals of the '30s did. They don't have any ideology at all that they find appealing. They only know - actually, here, they do know - that their opponents across the political aisle are intellectually defunct from beginning to end. They just haven't seriously considered any alternatives to get out of the cesspool they're sinking into.

If you look at today's political environment and asked to identify the two main alternatives, they are pragmatism on one side, and unreason on the other. A person of conviction, of reason, of love for America's founding ideals will say, "No, thanks."

These thoughts originated earlier today while thinking about the oncoming train wrecks we're told about all the time (assuming we're paying attention): man-made global warming, peak oil production, a general American decline. Now, if we were to take off any political or ideological hats, ignore any political agendas and motives on either "side" of the debate about man-made global warming, the first thing to notice is that very few of us are scientists who have studied the issue in depth. The notion that more than a few of us have any expertise on the issue is like the notion that more than a few people have any expertise in the philosophy of Ayn Rand. The notion is ludicrous. What we do have, however, is a large and growing body of evidence that (a) the global mean temperatures are rising at a fast rate in geological terms, and (b) human-made emissions play a causal (not merely "correlative") role in helping this process along.

Now, if you were to look at the mainstream, cesspool-style debate on the issue, you have pragmatic liberals on one side, and fucking knuckle-draggers on the other. In what has to be one of the most jaw-dropping acts of projection any of us may ever see, the right-wing in this country, on this issue, accuses the other side of being driven by a political agenda. Sure enough, there is a political agenda going on on both sides, but any reasonable and intelligent person can abstract from the political agendas to look at the plain scientific facts of the matter. Doing that requires a minimal ability to distinguish descriptive statements from prescriptive ones. The right-wing charges (fears - and the fears are to some extent justified - but the main driving element here is fear, not justification) that the "liberals" are using climate science data as a reason to tax and control the American people more. I don't side with the "liberals" on the prescription, but their prescription is not hard to understand given the ruling paradigmatic mindset that if there is a problem, then the solution is government controls, taxes, etc. (I think we do need to be concerned that if - more likely, when - the scientifically-modeled global warming predictions materialize, that the industrialized nations are potentially open to class-level legal action of some kind, when peoples of non-industrialized nations are displaced by rising coastal waters and other bad stuff.) The "liberals'" error here is relatively minor next to the strident, screaming anti-science and anti-reason of the opposition. The opposition won't even get on board with the descriptive element, even though it is informed by the best science. They won't do it on the issue of evolution, so why in the hell would they do it on this issue?

So I think we as Americans should be willing to prepare ourselves for the worse - more warming, and, simultaneously, a peak and drop in petroleum production - and arm ourselves accordingly. I don't mean, of course, arming ourselves with guns, to prepare ourselves for the supposed "resource wars" some people are predicting. I mean arming ourselves cognitively and intellectually. The only way to do this, is to adopt and integrate the Randian method. There just isn't any other way. Reality doesn't allow for another way.

What the liberal intellectuals need to do, to get people of reason on their side and push the screamingly irrational right-wing into the status of irrelevant minority, is to get over their silly little aversion to Ayn Rand, and adopt reason in all its primacy over the political. If, as I think is the case, they're pragmatic enough to acknowledge the failures and problems with Big Government - not the least of which is how Big Government runs contrary to America's founding ideals - and look for serious alternatives, they might find that they have a chief ally in reason with Ayn Rand, the dreaded egoist-capitalist. The socio-political problems the liberals fear (yes, they have their own version of fear) from adopting a Randian social ethic (a) are not real concerns once you actually understand what she's saying, (b) are secondary and subordinate to the issue of reason, and (c) a culture of reason would make the whole issue moot. A culture of reason has much better means at its disposal to solve any and all problems, be it poverty, or global warming, or energy production, or even obstinate right-wing ignorance. The genuinely intellectual and intelligent elements on the political right today - the "economically conservative and socially libertarian" - are already on board with the Randian program whether they even know it or not.

It's the pragmatic liberal intellectuals who now need to step up and do their part to build the cultural bridge that can unite us as Americans, as a people of reason (and, therefore, of individualism, freedom, and capitalism). If they would only put down their defenses for a bit and do some intellectually curious and responsible investigation (this means not chuckling and dismissing Rand when, oh, like when she says "A is A" - believe me, by now I know pretty much every trick in the book people have for dismissing this and that about Rand - hell, I was prone in my own ways to that same kind of problem back in my naive stages), they'd recognize in Rand their greatest and most potent ally.

Time may well be running out.

(They should just do it, anyway. Rand's eventual status as world-historic thinker is inevitable. Better sooner than later. And, the left is out of ideas, besides.)

Let's get it done! :-)

[ADDENDUM: I'm considering making this my "sign off" post before going into heavy-duty writing of the book's manuscript. I won't give a timetable on a finish, but it should be really soon now. Time is, after all, of the essence. ;-) ]

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