Thursday, March 31, 2011

American Exceptionalism



Not really a tough call for me to say that Rand trumps Greenwald. (Greenwald is right, though, that Obama has become an empty suit after presenting such a promising and principled-sounding persona during the '08 campaign. Fool me once....) America as it is right now - in all its intellectually-stunted glory - is not obviously exceptional, even if it is still exceptional compared (in full context) to the alternatives. But America as it might be and ought to be? Of course it's exceptional. It's all about individualism and a benevolent sense of life. (America is also uniquely situated to boldly lead the world toward the Singularity. Ain't integration fun?)

To see that as clearly as Rand did or yours truly does, requires a massive amount of well-focused integration - e.g., a well-integrated understanding of Galt's radio address. Attaining such an integrated understanding is not at all quick or easy (if it were, everyone would be doing it), and the leads (e.g., this) are not at all obvious or accessible. Without the requisite context of understanding, Rand's words - about America, or just about anything else - fall on uncomprehending and/or cynical ears.

Hence the assignment at the end of my previous posting.

"Let your mind and your love of existence decide."

Spiral Progression of Knowledge

Why on earth is this concept - the spiral progression of knowledge - not all the rage even in Objectivist circles, much less wider philosophy circles? (That you'd never hear the phrase "spiral progress of knowledge" in philosophy circles outside of Objectivism . . . well, it's just part of that pattern of failure of non-Aristotelian philosophy I've been harping about.) Peikoff got into the subject in Understanding Objectivism and it's like the idea has just been hanging there for almost 30 years, hardly ever brought up, hardly ever mentioned. Google the phrase. It's all too obscure, when it damn well shouldn't be. This is one insidious thousandfold-multiplied effect of the, ahem, imperfectly exclusive format in which Understanding Objectivism currently exists. It's ridiculous. Bizarrely enough, not even Sciabarra in all his comprehensiveness explicitly incorporates this concept in his dialectical methodology. (It's gotta be there at least implicitly - I mean, it's all supposed to be integrated, right? Of course it is.)

How does such a deficiency go so unnoticed?


I suppose I'll just have to take up the subject and develop it myself. I mean, what else has this blog been, but an exercise in the spiral progression?

Preliminary thoughts on the subject:
I think of the spiral as something like this: You have an integrated body of knowledge but it's developed only so much at a given point in time - meaning there are deficiencies or ill-formed aspects that are later recognized as such from a more advanced perspective. Certain points, concepts, concretes, principles, etc., are approached and thought about, the most cognitively-relevant aspects (in that context) being grasped and retained for future access (see: Subconscious), and then left for the time being as other points, concepts, etc. are approached and dealt with . . . and then, at some future time, the points, concepts, etc. are returned to afresh, and re-integrated, with any necessary modifications, into the newly expanded body of knowledge . . . and on it goes. This is why I find it so bizarre that Sciabarra didn't go whole-hog with this idea, because the progression is so dialectical-sounding. Hell, it's a progression, for crying out loud, a perfective activity. Then again, perhaps the whole point is that not every base has to be covered at any one time; rather, the idea is to formulate the principles by which to cover bases as knowledge expands. (Trying to cover every possible base at a given time without context-sensitivity is symptomatic, not of perfectivism, but of "perfectionism" in the perjorative sense, which holds omniscience as the standard.) That's how you get the idea that a system of thought such as Objectivism serves as its own defender, where rationality in this premise-checking, spiral-progression sense is the primary virtue. And, of course, the ancient master-integrator, Aristotle, sets the tone. I don't know how you have a fully-developed systematizing empiricism without the Spiral concept. It'll be fun to compare my future developments of the idea of the spiral progression with this seedling here, and revel in the self-reinforcing, invincible, undeniable quality of it all. :-) Also, I think there's another, all-encompassing term for this dynamic mental process: Logic. (See also: Induction and Deduction, Psycho-Epistemology, Automatization, Method.)

[ADDENDUM: Now, an assignment of sorts - a mission, if you will, should you choose to accept it: Read through the postings in this blog in reverse order going back to the start of this year, follow the many leads contained therein, and integrate, integrate, integrate! You, too, can and should become a Perfectivist through this process. You'll also earn yourself a big head-start on what's to come for this country. "To save the world is the simplest thing in the world. All one has to do is think." - Leonard Peikoff. In the meantime, while you do your own thinking, I've got a book to write....]

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Long-Term Trend

Analysis of historical causation is a difficult undertaking, and I can't offer anything close to a complete or fully-formed analysis here, but I think that when I write about something on this blog, I've probably given the subject enough thought to say something useful. So here goes.

First off, I'm confining this post to the subject of America's historical trends. Second, I'm very highly optimistic for this country's future. I think that the intellectual advancement this country desperately needs is only a matter of time. The existence of the internet just on its own pretty much ensures it, especially when resources like the Ayn Rand Lexicon and the collection of articles and essays, video and audio, and the Ayn Rand multimedia archive at the ARI website are made freely available. It's only a matter of time before a growing number of up-and-coming intellectuals discover the treasure trove of wisdom contained just in these resources alone, providing an effective counterweight to the rampant anti-intellectualism encountered on "infotainment" sites (e.g., YouTube). It's nice to see the ARI adapt to the information needs of young intellectuals in the internet age. The Lexicon, especially, being made available online serves as a marvelous corrective to the ridiculous, out-of-context, dis-integrative distortions of Rand's ideas that have floated around out there for way too long; the distorters simply cannot get away with that shit any longer and maintain a semblance of intellectual credibility.

Third, I'm certain beyond a reasonable doubt that Ayn Rand's ideas are the most effective vehicle we have today for advancing Aristotelianism (in the broad sense) in the contemporary world. This is not wishful thinking, fawning devotion, or anything of the sort, but a sober observation of reality. There's just no way that the parallels between Aristotle's systematizing empiricism and Ayn Rand's can go unnoticed, ignored, evaded, etc. for much longer. Certainly the Intellectual Class has the least excuse for continuing its policy of base, ignoble and vicious intellectual laziness (born of a pathological disregard of the capitalist ethos) in this area. The better intellectuals are waking up and getting with the program.

Fourth, my expectations of the future are conditioned by my understanding of past trends leading up to this point. Here's where the (again, incomplete) analysis of this country's historical trends begins.

In 1961, Miss Rand gave a lecture at the Ford Hall Forum, entitled "The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age." As evidence of her thesis, I offer the fact that no other intellectual figure was remotely close to presenting the ethical positions she presented in a paper that same year, "The Objectivist Ethics." The fact is that (almost?) no one was presenting the robust neo-Aristotelian voice for America, in 1961, aside from Ayn Rand. Certainly no well-recognized public figure was doing so. The leading voices for "conservatism" at the time, Buckley and Goldwater, don't even compare.

In 1961, America was a year away from the Cuban Missile Crisis. The young people of today - especially the products of the intellectual hellholes known as the public schools - have almost no frame of reference for understanding what led to that crisis, assuming they could even tell you what it was (which is doubtful). The only concrete they know that might be in the same ballpark is 9/11. Otherwise, it's like a distant memory in our nation's consciousness. A nation beat into concrete-boundedness by its leading influential philosophies doesn't grasp things long-term, as distinct from a range-of-the moment mentality which observes a stream of ever-new concretes with no rational policy of integration to identify their nature or a wider pattern.

The insanity exemplified by the Cuban Missile Crisis, then, perhaps can't be communicated to today's intellectually-dysfunctional mainstream. Hell, the underlying nature of it probably couldn't be identified or communicated even back then, except by You-Know-Who. But people did experience the insanity first-hand, most concretely, urgently, and terrifyingly. What many observers at the time (or now) did not know, was that the crisis was an illustration of the power of ideas. The dominant ideology of the age, after all, was Marxism. Rand experienced first-hand the effects of Marxist ideology implemented fully and consistently, knew the principle involved, and watched as America floundered - intellectually bankrupt - in the face of this massive evil. It's amazing she managed through the insane intellectual vacuum of the time as well as she did.

At least Marxism is defunct and discredited now, in 2011, which helps feed my optimism for America's future intellectual and existential growth.

But is America any less intellectually bankrupt now than it was in 1961? Has the dominant mainstream mentality in America changed fundamentally in the last 50 years? True, the stage is much better set for a Randian-style intellectual revolution than it was 50 years ago - for one thing, there are a lot more people who think like Rand now than 50 years ago - but what's the present intellectual state of America as a whole? If you took our current crop of politicians, media figures, leading Ivy League academics, corporatists and the rest of the Washington Establishment, and placed them into the same situation President Kennedy faced in 1962, would they be just as ideologically helpless as he was? I think they would be. I think this is ample reason to think that - thus far - Miss Rand's ideas have actually had next to zero impact on policymaking in Washington (the ignorant shrieks of leftist scum notwithstanding).

Presidents Kennedy and Obama both exemplify the ethos of the cultural elites (in this sorry excuse for a culture): Pragmatism. The same pressure-group warfare and pull-peddling, which is an inevitable byproduct of cultural pragmatism, is characteristic of Washington now just as much as it was in 1961. The same "military-industrial complex" the outgoing president warned of in January of that year is still well in place, determining the country's direction. This is what happens when ideas are cynically forsaken for short-term advantage.

A major difference, now, is that the country is on the hook for the ultimate effects of its long-term course to the tune of tens of trillions of dollars. Call it the Chickens' Homecoming if you like. Combine tens of trillions in fiscal obligations coming due with rampant anti-intellectualism and cynicism, and you get the state of things in America today.

If there is an account-overdrawn "end of the line" for pragmatism, this is it.

Put that way, the nation is arguably as intellectually bankrupt as it was in 1961.

This is hardly surprising if we take a long-term outlook on things. Given the nation's intellectual course over the past half-century, why should it be any different? The nation's Intellectual Class is defaulting now just as much as it was then. The Comprachicos are fucking up the minds of the young as much as ever. The country's politics are as devoid of ideas as ever. If one didn't know the actual long-term cause of our situation, one might despair of our country's situation and maybe even give up on this country's future. Some folks are doing just that.

But what got me interested in writing this post was the question: when did this country reach an absolute low-point intellectually? Given the "lag time" between the ideas formulated by the philosophers and their existential effects on a culture, could things have gotten even worse at some point between 1961's "The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age" and now? If a nation's intellectual course is like a supertanker, then even the heroic efforts of an Ayn Rand can only do so much to arrest a slide toward oblivion. There's intellectual bankruptcy, and then there's INTELLECTUAL BANKRUPTCY. I think that if we actually did have the latter, we'd be doomed as a nation. A nation cannot survive if it has reached the capital-letters stage of intellectual bankruptcy.

This kind of analysis inevitably leads to creative imagination of counterfactual scenarios. Namely: what would this country's existential state be like now were it not for Ayn Rand? Let's say that young Alyssa Rosenbaum was murdered by the rabid Marxists back in Russia before she could get out. Who might possibly pick up the slack in this country? Among 20th-century intellectuals, who comes close to the qualities of mind and spirit exhibited by Ayn Rand? Who among them could possibly be compared to Aristotle as an intellectual, an Atlas that could effectively carry America forward on her shoulders? Without The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and all the rest, just how much of a gutter would we be in? Would someone step up to fill the void?

We will never know, given free will, but if we were to use the pro-capitalist intellectuals aside from Rand - led by Mises, Hayek, Friedman, Rothbard, and Nozick - as our signposts, what would we have today? For one thing, given the power of philosophy over economics, I think Rothbard and Nozick would, in this counterfactual world, be more prominent and influential than they actually are, given their philosophical bent. Rothbard's wide-ranging scholarship would still have led him to the "natural law" tradition, but he was an economist by training and profession and as such I don't think he would have come close to making the identifications in ethics and epistemology that Rand did, and therefore - given the primacy of philosophy to the course of a culture - Rothbard simply would not have provided the intellectual defense for capitalism we need. Nozick for his part would have done pretty much the same thing in the absence of Rand, and I don't see any evidence that he was Aristotelian enough to provide the intellectual defense we need, either. Hayek's defense of capitalism liberalism inasmuch as he put on a philosophical hat was downright insipid compared to Rand's. By the nature of non-insipidness and radicalism as a source of appeal to intellectuals who seek integration, a combination of Mises and Rothbard would probably be the most prominent defense of capitalism on offer in Rand's absence. That is to say, the defense would be primarily economic, with some middling philosophy thrown in.

That is to say, going forward from 2011, the counterfactual-America's course in absence of Ayn Rand's ideas and influence would probably not be pretty. There'd still be that tens of trillions of fiscal obligations coming due, rampant anti-intellectualism, an ever-entrenched out-of-touch Intellectual Class . . . and intellectual bankruptcy with no end in sight, no ideas to save us from potential ruin. The progress of Aristotelianism in the academy is happening too slowly; Aristotle's mainstream-assigned stature as one of the "Big Three" simply doesn't do justice to his actual Atlas-like stature. Too many folks miss the point about Aristotle as it is. And who knows how many more young intellectuals would be sucked in by Nietzsche and existentialism in Rand's absence....

So, back to the question raised earlier: was there a lowest point between 1961 and now? If you imagine being able to plot our intellectual course on a graph and draw a trend-curve, where does it hit the lowest gutter-point? Was there an "end of the line" we might be able to point to, the point where the chickens had most definitely come home to roost?

I'm thinking that things bottomed out for the country sometime between 1960 and 1980. There was the Cuban Missile Crisis, then Vietnam and the draft, then the Great Society programs, then the intellectually-bankrupt counter-culture which ran its course quickly soon enough, then Nixon and his wage-and-price controls, then the Democrats jumping into the gutter with McGovern, then Watergate, then Carter and his stagflation and malaise and lust in his heart and the Iran hostage crisis and detente with the Soviets. As much as Rand hated Reagan, he did appear to provide a welcome relief to all that, with his tax cuts and presidential change of tune toward the Commie bastards, while Rand's Reagan-related fears on the abortion front never materialized. This is far from saying that Reagan was some kind of panacea, much less by political standards, but starting with Reagan the country was showing some improvement for the better. Keep in mind that a nation's politicians are only a symptom, not a cause.

Culturally and politically, the era of the Nixon presidency pretty much did it for Rand. The atmosphere of the time made Rand too discouraged to continue cultural commentary via her newsletters. She remarked quite clearly during the 1970s that the culture had sunk too low to be worth commenting on regularly, and while she couldn't stand Reagan, she did note that the country did appear to be taking a promising turn to the Right. Something was changing for the better in the late 1970s. If I had to name some kind of lowest gutter-point, the trough on the trend-curve, it was probably the period from Watergate to the Carter presidency.

Now, one thing to note in this connection is Rand's observation that while the country was taking a turn to the Right starting in the mid-'70s, the Intellectuals were stuck in a McGovernite mentality, and that never before was the chasm between the Intellectuals and the American people so obvious. I'd say that this condition has pretty much held up ever since.

If there was a cashing-in, a chickens' homecoming, a gutter-point in the nation's intellectual condition, I'd have to say it was concretized by John Rawls's A Theory of Justice (1971). The lasting prominence of this work among the nation's Intellectuals means basically a 40-year-and-counting gutter as far as that goes. The American people don't want, don't need, and don't care about A Theory of Justice. They haven't bought into the confiscate-and-redistribute ethos at its core. They're not interested in being told they are being unjust for not following its prescriptions to "correct for the contingencies of nature" through coercive confiscation and redistribution. They're not interested in McGovernism. If this be intellectualism, then the American people deserve at least some credit for being anti-intellectual. There's only so much fucking insanity flowing from the Ivory Tower that they can put up with. There's only so much bullshit rationalistic contrivance to justify un-American redistributive policies that they can handle. Absent a commonsensical Aristotelian alternative, you can't really blame Americans for their pragmatic rejection of the Intellectuals.

Once again, compare the Original Position getting its own whole entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia, with the truly fucking disgusting neglect of individualism there.

("[The intellectuals] are a group that holds a unique prerogative: the potential of being either the most productive or the most parasitical of all social groups.")

I can hardly blame Miss Rand for her disgusted reaction ("An Untitled Letter") to the arrival of A Theory of Justice on the scene. Her "Untitled Letter" was by no means scholarly, but the author of "This is John Galt Speaking" had little patience for dignifying basically the same shit she already dispensed with quite adequately in her novels. In a big way it's a sense-of-life thing, whether one finds either individualistic achievement or coercive confiscation desirable and ennobling. How else do you expect someone with Rand's sense of life to react to Rawls's concept of justice? Does it really matter how nice a guy Rawls may have been, or how appealing his arguments are to academics, when none of it would get past John Galt's bullshit detectors?

I mean, if Rawls and Galt were ever to actually get into a dialogue, how does Galt not trounce and/or convert Rawls? Hell, just by getting people to adopt and absorb the ideas in Galt's radio address - namely, the encouragement to use one's mind to the fullest - the "Difference Principle" becomes a total irrelevancy. If Rawls's reputation means anything, he'd graciously concede this, repudiate A Theory of Justice, and jump on the Randian team to come on in for the big win. And that's how - short, short version - a neo-Aristotelian dialectic dispenses with and supersedes A Theory of Justice.

(This gets into another counterfactual analysis: if Rawls weren't so out-of-touch and got on the winning team early, and therefore never wrote A Theory of Justice, just how much sooner would we see the country advance to intellectual maturity? Just how much precious intellectual resources have been wasted due to A Theory of Justice throwing so many intellectuals off the scent? Just how much sooner would a Rand-Norton synthesis have happened? Just how much sooner would the professional Humanities gotten its act together? (For that matter, how much sooner would the intellectual revolution have happened had Nathaniel Branden not been so dishonest to Rand and to all his readers regarding their '68 break?))

So, to sum up: the long-term, large-scale trend over the last 50 years in America appears to have been dominated by a pragmatic non-intellectualism in combination with an out-of-touch intellectual class, with little cultural improvement on net over that time, with a trough sometime in the 1970s, and the stage much more well set for future improvement than it was 50 years ago, due to the effects of education over time and accompanying generational shift. Things are, at long last, actually looking bright! :-)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Apologizing for Profits

A pragmatism-eaten apologist for capitalism might think this Chevron "We Agree" ad is genius:

Given the intellectual bankruptcy and cynicism of our media and political institutions, this is what qualifies as "marketing genius," and it's probably the best that can be done in such a context. Hey, look, we put our profits to good use! It serves the common good! Capitalism works! Here, listen to our enemies, whom we are providing a platform, and we agree with them!

Of course, Ayn Rand would throw a shit-fit if she saw this advertisement, and she'd be spot-on right, as usual.

Need I go on?

Marxism, Rand, and Dialectics

I anticipate in the not-too-distant future a grand showdown between Marxists and/or other leftists (on the one hand) and advocates of capitalism (on the other) over who has best mastered the art of "dialetic." Sciabarra gives the most complete and comprehensive treatment to date of the subject of dialectics (comprehensiveness being arguably the chief virtue in dialectics - as it is in Perfectivism), and it's one that ought to just make died-in-the-wool Marxists go apeshit - that is, if they have the intellectual curiosity to enter into an, ahem, dialectic with this treatment. It really hinges on just how deep-seated their hatred of capitalism is.

If there's one group of people I absolutely refuse to go easy on, it's Marxists. The Marxist tradition proudly upholds "dialectics" as its methodological core, but one thing the Marxists haven't done to any remotely respectable extent, is to engage in the activity of dialectic with advocates of capitalism, Mises and Rand in particular. The failure to do so actually goes against the very grain of their professed ethos.

Let's keep in mind, as we proceed, that, as Sciabarra points out, Aristotle is the original grandmaster of dialectics, the greatest synthetic mind of the ancient world. Anyone with a clue about the history of philosophy notices the pattern that has emerged whenever the subject gets around to Aristotle and his influence.

Aristotle's greatness was certainly not lost on Hegel, and it is through Hegel that Aristotle has any influence on Marx or Marxists. (This makes sense of Trotsky's religious prophecy that under communism the average man will rise to the level of "an Aristotle, a Goethe, a Marx," and that above this new average "new peaks will rise.") The question, then, is just how much the Marxian tradition has failed to actually, ahem, integrate Aristotle into its ethos.

If we want to take the concept of dialectic seriously, then we have to see how Rand and Mises represent the next "dialectical" stage in history after Marx. The next step in the dialectic would be a "synthesis," but if we want to be Aristotelian about this, the "synthesis" could not consist in the uniting of contradictory opposites, but rather in considering opposed viewpoints, showing how at least one of them represents only a partial or incomplete "stage" of the emerging totality, and then come up not with a "synthesis" or even a reconciliation, but with a resolution to the "dialectical tension" that exists at any given stage of history. (And any Aristotelian dialectic worthy of the name takes the step of comparing the resolution with sensory observation of reality, the ultimate arbiter.)

The Marxist intellectuals have failed to do the remotely respectable task of even attempting to resolve the "dialectical tension" between themselves and the leading advocates of capitalism. As far as I'm concerned, this makes their pretense to being dialectical a massive fraud. (Don't worry, the "liberal" intellectuals will be having their own massive fraud exposed soon enough. That's for another time/posting.)

Anyone who respects the process of dialectic has to know that you simply cannot let opposing views go unanswered; the whole point is to be able to soundly refute and/or incorporate all the competing answers, to reach the most complete resolution available at any given stage/context. Real dialectic is supposed to be perfective in that way; fake dialectic - e.g., Marxism - doesn't respect this.

It's difficult to say just how much this failure is the product of extreme bad faith, or of some combination of other factors. It's no secret that Marxism has been likened to a religion - most especially by political "conservatives" who have only their own (non-materialist) religion to offer as an alternative. The "religion" charge carries bite because you have here a systematic world-picture that adherents say must be accepted and understood in its totality before you can rightly understand what makes everything tick. Outsiders just won't have the context to "see" the Truth of the matter. (A similar charge has been leveled against Objectivism on many an occasion, but come on. The people who level that charge need to get with it.)

As best as I understand it, that's how you end up with the notion of the non-Enlightened using an "outside" logic as against the full-context-keeping "dialectics" in use by Marxists. That's how one might end up with a doctrine of polylogism, something which Mises apparently had to contend with at nearly every turn back in his day, but which has presumably gone by the wayside given the obvious corruptions involved.

The reason the "religion" charge seems to stick with Marxism is this idea - in conjunction with the "you have to grasp the whole system first" notion above - that the "dialectic" essentially makes Marxism immune from criticism. If dialectic is the central essence and core of Marxian inquiry into the world (distinguished from, say, Hegelian dialectic by its materialist interpretation of history - a dogma which I don't think can be extricated from Marxism), then it contains within it what one might call an "irrefutable" status. In principle you couldn't attempt any refutation of Marxism without implicitly presupposing and adopting the dialectic it recommends. The (apparent) problem is that a doctrine claiming "irrefutability" sounds, on its face, to most people like a religion. (That, plus religious prophecies of a coming Communist Paradise, as per Trotsky above. Gee, who wouldn't imprison and kill dissenters if they were obstructing the path to a collective-ownership Paradise? The delicious irony here is that one person who lived through the early years of the Soviet Revolution did rise to the level of an Aristotle - but not while living under the bloody Soviet dictatorship, of course.)

This problem is further compounded in a country like America, which has been steeped in pragmatism and an accompanying skepticism-cum-cynicism regarding abstract theories ("ideology") and system-building, a contempt for intellectuals who build systems that don't correspond to commonsensically-grasped reality, etc. This also explains much about the state of the intellectual culture of America in the mid-20th century: you had system-building Marxists running a dictatorship halfway around the world, and an intellectually-defanged America offering next to nothing in the realm of ideas to answer it. (The "liberals" were defanged by pragmatism; the conservatives package-dealt America, freedom, and morality with religion.)

There is a further skepticism-cynicism toward the notion of "irrefutability" fostered by the pragmatic intellectuals' implicit (or often explicit) scientism. According to those with a scientistic mindset, the notion of "irrefutability" is a red flag because an idea is supposed to be in some sense falsifiable. (To further integrate things here, this last link is to the wikipedia page for Karl Popper, who also didn't have nice things to say about what he saw as the illiberal tradition represented by Plato, Hegel, and Marx. Also, Popper was, with Mises, a chief influence on Hayek. Ain't integration fun?) This gets into a whole area of study regarding epistemic justification and "the apriori." (This has further relevance to Mises, who argued for putting economics on an "aprioristic" praxeological footing - and who was met with opposition by the scientistic mentalities of his day. The whole context of all of this is the lack of a highly-robust Aristotelianism to counter this fallacy and that.) Scientism and pragmatism being so closely related, we have had in America's intellectual classes an opposition to system-building of whatever kind, be it religious or philosophical. That helps explain the resistance to both Marxism and Randism.

The upshot is that you have this religious-seeming worldview basically requiring agreement with its fundamentals to be adequately discussed, and doctrines like polylogism emerging to counter the "bourgeois" backlash. It seems on its face to involve willful evasion so as to justify ignoring counter-evidence or counter-argument, but doctrinaire sorts of thinking can do weird things to people. They can become deluded that they have grasped the Truth of things when they have not; it's a complicated matter whether this delusion is the product of evasion or of other things (or a combination).

So, back to "dialectic." It's supposed to make Marxism immune to criticism, refutation, or falsification, just given what dialectic is. While it certainly would make any rigorously neo-Aristotelian philosophy immune from refutation, that raises the question: is Marxism a genuinely neo-Aristotelian philosophy? The ancients spoke in terms of fixed and eternal categories (or universals), whereas the Hegelian and Marxian traditions incorporate a philosophy of history, and then speak of the dialectic as working "its" course through history. The particular appeal of this to many intellectuals - apparently much moreso in Europe than in America - is the notion that history represents long-term progress, and that socialism represents a progression over capitalism.

The whole theory goes bust if socialism is not, in fact, a progression over capitalism.

The biggest lesson of political economy of the 20th century is that socialism cannot work, and that its intellectual adherents are deficient in understanding the ways of the world. (Isn't this just common sense? Of course socialism sucks, economically and morally.) So in beating up on Marxists, am I beating a dead horse? No. Absolutely not. The underlying phenomenon remains. Off the top of my head, my over-arching name for this phenomenon is "the separation of philosophy from reality and life." It's the phenomenon that has to be wiped out intellectually if we are going to have genuine progress toward humanity's moral and intellectual maturity.

If the Marxists were Aristotelians, they would have been much more reality-oriented, instead of being beholden to a dialectic which projects socialism as the future for humanity. What's more, they would have undertaken the effort to answer Mises and Rand - and they have not. By not doing so, they have violated the spirit of dialectic. From this vantage point, they had a grasp on a good concept, and distorted and abused it by putting it into the service of socialist politics. For Marxism, politics ends up being the tail wagging the whole systematic dog. Marxism therefore fails, on its own (dialectical) terms.

Rand, meanwhile, did not advocate capitalism as a primary, nor was her system beholden to her advocacy of capitalism. She was primarily an advocate of reason:
I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.

This—the supremacy of reason—was, is and will be the primary concern of my work, and the essence of Objectivism. (For a definition of reason, see Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.) Reason in epistemology leads to egoism in ethics, which leads to capitalism in politics.
(One thing to note in connection with this is just how politics-bound the mentality of so many of Rand's critics is. They dislike capitalism, and end up rejecting Rand as a philosopher basically because of that, thereby cutting off their own noses and spiting their own faces. Their hatred of capitalism is so deep-seated that they can't see past it to her eudaemonist ethics or neo-Aristotelian epistemology. It's fucking sad, it what it is, in addition to being intellectually lazy and just downright pathetic.)

"Every philosopher claims to be an advocate of reason," the cynic might sneer. Oh, yeah? So when a David Hume is reduced to the level of saying "Reason is, and ought [?] only to be a slave of the passions," is that advocacy of reason? Methinks the sneering cynic misses the whole point. Anyway, Rand more than anyone since Aristotle advocated reason heroically, passionately, and non-contradictorily. She did affirm that egoism and capitalism follow from the consistent application of reason, but she did not hold them as primaries. She did not make her advocacy of egoism and capitalism immune from the evidence - but she did nonetheless hold egoism and capitalism to be true in virtue of all the abundant evidence. (Of course, reason itself is immune from refutation - by what means would only possibly purport to refute it?) I can't begin to fathom how the same could be said on behalf of socialism, collectivism, and anti-individualism.

If we're going to follow the "rules" of Marxian dialectic itself, shouldn't we say that Rand effectively supersedes Marx? (In the language of dialectics, the term "subsume" might be used in place of or in addition to "supersede," but the notion that Rand "subsumed" Marx is about as sense-making as the idea that Aristotle "subsumed" Plato despite their fundamental differences. "Accounted for" or "trumps" would be much better.) As best as I understand it, any Marxism worthy of the label is socialistic, and holds that any "dialectical process" ends up reaffirming socialism. If that aspect of Marxism is considered unfalsifiable by Marxists, then we have nothing other than a highly toxic and dangerous (read: DEADLY) dogma, made all the more toxic and deadly by its tightly-integrated package-deal.

(Peikoff might recognize Marxism as a form of mis-integration, as it fits well with his theme concerning the special toxicity and deadliness of fully-integrated but false worldviews. This is why he prefers the pragmatic dis-integration of the "liberals" over the dogmatic mis-integration of the "conservatives." If there ever was a false dichotomy that's undermining America's strength, it's the presented alternatives of pragmatism and dogmatism. (Meanwhile, the best that passes for "system" and "synthesis" to American mainstream Humanities-academics is Rawls's A Theory of Justice. Rawls-groupie Thomas Nagel chides Robert Nozick for his "libertarianism without foundations." For Nagel's idea of what counts as foundations, there's A Theory of Justice - but not the works of Ayn Rand or David L. Norton. Really nice, huh? By the way, Nozick demonstrates way more "dialectical" sensibility than Rawls does - as evidenced by his willingness to actually look at the pro-capitalist literature and thereby reach much more sensible conclusions. As an added bonus, he also tears Marxism a new gaping you-know-what. Just because he wasn't going to entertain the bullshit rationalistic contrivance of the "Original Position" that has had academics wanking all over one another - in many cases, at taxpayer expense - for decades, doesn't mean he isn't as concerned with foundations, or that he wasn't a much better philosopher than Rawls. But then again, Rand was a much better philosopher than Nozick, which makes the academic Humanities look like a pretty sorry state of affairs, doesn't it? By the way, here's what the Stanford Encyclopedia - as representative of the interests and concerns of the academic mainstream as any, as the entry on the "Original Position" above indicates - has to say about the very Americentric concept of individualism. And there you have it. Oh, and don't worry, I'll be getting around to a full-on treatment of Rawls's bullshit anti-eudaemonistic Original Position in due course.))

If, however, intellectual honesty trumps socialism in the dialectical hierarchy, then any Marxism worthy of the name is always and forever fucked.

Any neo-Marxian figure, to be true to dialectics, has to confront Rand (and Mises) and reach the new harmonious resolution to the "dialectical tension." All evidence points to them having defaulted in this task, to have left this tension unresolved, to have (imperfectively) left things hanging, leaving it up to real (neo-Aristotelian, pro-capitalist) dialecticians to do the work. While this reaffirms the validity of (neo-Aristotelian) dialectic, Marxism can be said to be a resounding failure by the standards of dialectic.

And that's how Marxism is undermined from within.

Next stage: Perfectivism.

(Ain't integration fun? :-) )

Sunday, March 27, 2011


integrate - 1: to form, coordinate or blend into a functioning, unified whole: UNITE

- 3: the quality or state of being complete or undivided: COMPLETENESS

perfective - 1 a: tending to make perfect; b: becoming better; 2: expressing action as complete or as implying the notion of completion, conclusion or result

perfect (verb) - 1: to bring to final form; 2: to make perfect: IMPROVE, REFINE

Assuming an appropriate integration of all the topics of the last posting, I now have to ask: Just how far ahead of everyone else was Ayn Rand from the time she wrote The Fountainhead until the time she composed Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, anyway?

With The Fountainhead, for instance, she had essentially put into place all the elements of a completed or perfected eudaemonist ethics, influenced in significant part by Nietzsche but with clear-cut neo-Aristotelian, pro-reason elements she formulated herself - and that was before she got into reading The Basic Works of Aristotle ca. 1945.

So she had already established the fundamentals of a rational ethic, and then basically devoted the next 20 years of her life to investigating the fundamentals of philosophy - i.e., metaphysics and epistemology - to get at the roots of the basic elements - philosophically speaking, not scientifically speaking - of human cognition. She spent 20 years integrating all the issues involved at a rather frantic pace. Two of those years were spent composing the definitive statement of her entire philosophy, Galt's radio address, and if any true intellectual studies that radio address carefully and in depth, he or she will find a most formidable - nay, a pretty much unassailable - system of thought.

(This would help to explain the "cult-like" following she would get - except that Rand is distinguished from cults by actually being pretty much right about everything she wrote in that speech. She can't help if she ended up getting "followers" she didn't want, need, or deserve, who treated her words like revealed dogma, i.e., stuff not integrated first-hand.)

No other thinker in modern times has done anything comparable to what it took to compose "This is John Galt Speaking." It's actually the crown, the absolute masterpiece within the story of Atlas Shrugged, the portion of the book the "average fiction reader" just skipped over, and about which "mainstream" philosophers have been way too slow on the uptake for no good reason. (The explanation is an ignorance of Aristotelian philosophy, but whether that ignorance is an excuse is another matter.) But Rand was assuming too much on the part of her often-intellectually-mangled readership. That's because she was so far ahead of her audience. (It may have had partly to do with the better-than-expected response she had to The Fountainhead. By the time of Atlas, however, the young Marxist and "progressive" intellectuals of the '30s had become university professors.)

The mindset and the context that it takes to compose "This is John Galt Speaking" is that of a heroic, self-sufficient creator of values. There is a spark of that mentality to some extent or other in most people - most especially in the young, before pragmatism-cum-cynicism gets its final opportunity to dim their sense of life into resignation and acceptance of mediocrity - but between mid-20th century and the present day in America, the ruling mentality of the age has been pragmatism, not heroism. That necessitates many of Rand's readers not "getting" Rand and what it took to compose that speech. It's two wildly different contexts passing in the night. But Rand's context is the much more wholly functional one. I don't think any of these claims can seriously be subject to dispute by appropriately informed people (i.e., those that get what "This is John Galt Speaking" is all about).

Rand, clearly, time after time, specified the theme of Atlas Shrugged as "the role of the mind in man's existence - and, as a corollary, a rational morality of self-interest." Who, except someone with a Rand-like context of knowledge, is going to have the remotest understanding of the "role of the mind in man's existence" (much less how a morality of rational self-interest - eudaemonistically understood, of course - is a corollary)? The youths of our culture certainly aren't given that message - if they were, Ayn Rand would by necessity be much more widely-understood than she is, and much more appreciated - but rather are fed with a constant stream of denigrations of that very idea from all kinds of quarters - not the least of which are our media and political systems. When Palinism dominates the public discourse the way it has, it's easy enough for the cyncial to conclude that it's things other than the mind and philosophy that determine the course of human existence. But Palinism is merely a reaffirmation of the theme in foil form. The problem is, who is appropriately situated to recognize that this theme is always and everywhere reaffirmed? Seasoned students of Objectivism are so situated, but the gap in numbers between your average fiction reader and seasoned students of Objectivism is some orders of magnitude.

The same pattern holds up with Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology - a work that hardly anyone other than students of Objectivism have given serious thought and study to, but it's a landmark in the art of integration, a subject which is the very heart, essence and core of advanced studies in Objectivism. The average fiction reader doesn't even have a clue what's at stake with Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. What makes it a particularly special landmark in the art of integration is that it is focused on subjects of the greatest fundamentality to philosophy - the building blocks of human knowledge, the basic and irreducible method of organizing one's mental contents, all the most fundamental whys and hows of a conceptual consciousness. It represents to date the most complete exercise in philosophical integration. And what else could a woman with Roarkian soul have done after devoting 20 years of unrelenting thought to these issues? It's the most perfectivist thing you could hope to see from a philosopher.

As a recent post made quite evident, the correct and true normative identifications Rand made in the space of her 30-some-odd page essay, "The Objectivist Ethics" (1961), have not been equaled in the moral-philosophical literature before or since, not even in Norton's otherwise amazing work. What all too many readers fail to realize about that essay is just how much a highly-condensed presentation of a vast and integrated context it is, and not - as many professional "philosophers" stupidly maintain - a product of being "simplistic" or "unsophisticated" about the subject matter.

There was one thing Rand asked of her readers more than anything else: to be intellectually active, which meant to study carefully the ideas she committed to print. Her condensed presentations - in ethics as well as epistemology - are pregnant with all kinds of philosophic wisdom for anyone who puts in the time and effort. She was, in other words, calling on her intellectually-minded readership to join her in the heroic task of integration.

"The highest responsibility of philosophers is to serve as the guardians and integrators of human knowledge."
--A Heroic Philosopher


Topics currently being mulled over:

(1) Abstraction as condensation (and Rand's genius in identifying/discovering this point). The centrality of measurement to cognition; differences in measurements as central to differentiation, measurement-omission as central to integration. Measurement, integration-as-abstraction, and mental condensation. The senses, concepts, and logic.

(2) Philosophy and fiction - why most fiction readers in our culture are not prepared, intellectually, for Ayn Rand's novels. (How they might be prepared for them sense-of-life-wise.) How this might relate or contrast to non-Aristotelian intellectuals' failure to grasp Objectivism (e.g., with their modern homo economicus model of interests, for example).

(3) Eudaemonism and Perfectivism - Perfectivism as a systematic working-out of the basic eudaemonist principle that one's eudaemonia (which is perfective living, which requires perfective thinking) and the happiness-as-psychological-reward involved, is the central aim of ethics and is how life's meaning is fulfilled. Rand as pioneer in ethics.

(4) Mind and force as opposites - Rand's genius in identifying/discovering the root foundation for the principle that the initiation of physical force is the basic evil in the socio-political realm, and in identifying the foundations for the principle that individuals have rights. How modern-educated readers miss this point due to modern philosophy's homo economicus (instead of eudaemonistic) model of human interests which fails to recognize the primacy of mind (and by implication the fundamental virtue of thinking) in human existence.

(5) "Pull" in politics as not based on the Marxist-Chomsky materialistic principle that dollars = power. In a representative democracy, the votes have to be delivered, and that explains why the not-especially-wealthy Bible Belt constituency exercises so much political pull. This only reinforces Ayn Rand's analyses that ideas/mind and not money/matter are more fundamental to the human condition (i.e., the materialist analysis essentially reverses cause and effect), and that what explains the psychologies of all the political actors involved are the ideas they have absorbed from their culture and from their own self-initiated efforts (or lack thereof) to focus their minds on reality. "Pull" is ultimately an effect of ideas, or ignorance and/or evasion of them, one way or another.

(6) The special appeal of Marxism to socialist intellectuals, given Marx's having a formidable-looking systematic philosophy. Put another way: Marx is distinguished by being the socialist thinker with the most impressive-looking, all-encompassing philosophical system. Given the fundamental human need for integration, and given the intimate relationship between the concepts of integration and of dialectic, Marxism best fills the psychological and intellectual needs of people who oppose capitalism. The only problem here is the package-dealing of (false) socialist ideology with the intellectual seriousness and compellingness involved (ceteris paribus) in systematic integration. Given the falsity of socialist ideology, Marxism serves as a dangerous opiate for the intellectual classes. (Marx-inspired intellectuals are under the delusion, for instance, that they have a monopoly on the concept of "dialectic" and that capitalism disregards the enlightened and magnanimous context-keeping of dialectic in favor of one-sided, plutocratic power-grabs in the Class Struggle. One thing these intellectuals are certainly not equipped to deal with is Ayn Rand's reality-based - i.e., capitalistic - alternative, and the sense of life that goes with it.) It's useful to compare this phenomenon with religion more traditionally understood, from the standpoint of the basic human conceptual-psychological need for integration (i.e., a need for proper mental habituation or automatization) and system. How that ties in with the phenomenon of political "pull" mentioned in topic (5). How that all ties in with Peikoff's DIM Hypothesis, and with properly neo-Aristotelian (non-Marxian) dialectics/integration/system.

(7) What are the presuppositions and implications of all these topics, and how do they all integrate with one another?

P.S. (8) How the kind of integrative task involved might never have been accomplished prior to the mid-1990s explosion of the internet, with its ability to aggregate information just waiting there ripe and ready to be properly, efficiently integrated. (For more on efficient integration, see back to topic (1).)

P.P.S. (9) Ayn Rand was an effing genius. (Note that she just fucking kicked ass without even having the internet at her disposal. Maybe this makes Aristotle all that more impressive? How do the non-Aristotelian intellectuals manage to miss all this? (Did the "cult-like" atmosphere nourished in NBI during the 1960s do untold damage and delay to Objectivism being taken seriously as an intellectual and cultural force, and to a proper, expedited, widespread education in Objectivism? How concrete-bound do people have to be, anyway, to equate Rand and Objectivism with the notion of a "cult" which was, at best, incidentally related to her due to the various moral and psychological failings of followers she didn't want or need? What might cause such concrete-boundedness?))

P.P.P.S. (10) Induction as essentially integration (non-contradictory assimilation of concretes into an existing unified, contextual, hierarchical cognitive whole). Induction and concept-formation. Deduction as adherence to proper rules of inference in regard to conceptual content. Processes of elimination as both inductive and deductive. The theory of measurement-omission as an answer reached through an exacting process of elimination and much testing. Induction and the Aristotelian tradition. Aristotelian dialectic as involving a process of elimination among competing theories, answers, etc. Rand's first-hand-inductive approach as involving downplaying engagement with tradition (save primarily for a hat-tip to Aristotle); advantages and perils of such an approach.

P.P.P.P.S. (11) Rand and the academy, from the standpoint of how radical a departure Rand's approach to philosophy is from that of the "academic mainstream," and when. In the 1950s there was a radical rift between Rand and the intellectual class. Since that time, Aristotle has been increasingly influential, meaning by "dialectical" necessity a move toward convergence between Rand and the academy. Given the state of academia today, with its greater Aristotelian influence, how radical a departure is Rand from today's "academic mainstream," actually? Tara Smith's Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics (2006) signifies a turning point whereby Rand is now right there in contention for mainstream supremacy. The sunny future for the Ayn Rand Society and, hence, for America and the world.

Anyone else hooked on Perfectivism yet? ;-)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Individualism and Modern Philosophy

In a very recent post, I cited Nozick's offered explanation for the opposition amongst the Intellectuals to capitalism. Nozick suggests basically a psychological explanation. But of course I had to press the issue to the question not just of capitalism, but of individualism. (In turning my mind to the subject of moral individualism in relation to the state of modern philosophy, I find that my thoughts keep expanding; an adequate treatment of the subject might have to be chapter-length, so I couldn't post in depth on the subject here and now.)

One might think that while opposition to capitalism among many philosophers is readily understandable psychologically, the decided lack of interest among philosophers on the subject of individualism is bizarre. If individualism extols as a primary virtue "thinking for oneself," you'd think the philosophers would be most interested in the subject. But what academic literature is there out there on the subject? Aside from Norton, and a few Rand-influenced ethical philosophers (Machan, Mack, Rasmussen and Den Uyl), and parts of Lomasky and Nozick, what literature have professional philosophers generated on the subject in recent memory? Why does so deeply American a subject as individualism interest America's intellectual class so little?

I came to these thoughts when working through possible non-psychological explanations for the widespread antipathy to capitalism among intellectuals. At some point during one of Peikoff's lectures, a short and simple philosophical explanation was given: the widespread acceptance of "altruistic" morality in its various forms (e.g., Christianity, Kant, Mill, Marx, Rawls). But I'm not really satisfied with that explanation. Among the intellectuals, the antipode of altruism is not capitalism or individualism, but egoism, and the intellectuals have been hard at work devising moral theories that work somewhere in between the antipodes of egoism (e.g. Rand) and altruism (e.g. Comte). They find such extremes unacceptable because (aside from any pathologically pragmatistic opposition to extremes) altruism runs up against problems of rational motivation (which Nagel's The Possibility of Altruism makes a thorough effort to confront), while egoism supposedly - supposedly - runs up against the problem of respecting all moral agents over and above their serviceability to the agent's own interests.

But what about individualism? The most widely accessible and widely-read "text" on individualist ethics is Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. The theme is "individualism versus collectivism, not in politics but in man's soul." The political themes are there, but mainly by implication. The full implication would have to wait another 14 years. But aside from the supposedly "weird" characterizations and narrative that drive many a reader to miss the point, what about the Roarkian individualist ethos makes professional philosophers so uninterested? True, there are professional philosophers aplenty who openly oppose egoism, but I don't know of any that would dare openly oppose individualism, certainly not in America. Instead, on the subject of individualism, there's one conspicuous fact here: silence.

This might reduce back to some psychological explanations. The Fountainhead is, after all, about individualism and collectivism in the human soul, and provides certain archetypes of motivation. Roark finds himself in fundamental opposition to what, for a long time, he can only term "The Principle Behind the Dean." Keating embraces that principle; it's about the only principle a pragmatist, for all the pragmatists' opposition to principles, can willingly accept. One thing about Rand's style of writing is that she would directly confront, in the most extreme and oppositional terms, the psychology of her readers. The Roark-Keating opposition is pretty deep, and being more fundamentally a psychological rather than intellectual one, it carries more fundamental explanatory power about how people behave. (It would explain, for instance, why someone would turn toward a less intellectual life as such, as distinct from turning to an intellectual life that is, say, socialism-friendly. It also explains Ayn Rand's - the real Ayn Rand's, not the caricatured, distorted, misrepresented and smeared Ayn Rand's - behavior in regard to those who disagreed with her. She valued intellectuality above agreement as such. (There are rare exceptions, like with her treatment of Kant, but she simply did not get Kant or his context.))

This gets to something very fundamental, perhaps not as fundamental in Rand's philosophy as it was in her very soul and being: sense of life. One's views about a thing such as individualism are fundamentally conditioned by one's sense-of-life. Now, either you share Rand's basic sense of life, or you don't. (I like to think that I share her sense of life, and then some.) With Rand, on the subject of individualism, there is heroic and passionate affirmation and praise and benevolence. With someone who doesn't share Rand's sense of life, the response is one of so much indifference.

The logical conclusion to draw here is that the mainstream of the Intellectual Class does not share Ayn Rand's basic sense of life. The American People, on the other hand - the best within the American people, of course - well, they do share her basic sense of life.

And that's how modern "canon" philosophy has defaulted on its task and failed the people. Can I not help but think that modern "canon" philosophy's days are sooooo numbered?


[ADDENDUM: See any entry under "Individualism" here? For that, you have to go here. CASE CLOSED.]

Aristotle and Modern Philosophy

Before Aristotle's complete works were translated into English in the early 20th century, the dominant trends in European and American philosophy were various offshoots of Kantianism and Humeanism, with a big smelly dose of Marxism thrown into the mix. There was logical positivism, existentialism, pragmatism, and, in ethics, utilitarianism.

Let's say that Kant didn't even live to present his developed system, but that the other players, in the hypothetical new context, remained more or less the same in their basic intellectual personalities. I think this still means we'd have had the massive movement among intellectuals toward socialism and pretty much the same disastrous consequences of such in the infamous experiments in Russia and elsewhere. What might have happened in America? Would the basic character of the Pragmatist movement be the same without Kant? The Rand-Peikoff analysis attributes much Kantian influence to Pragmatism, which supposedly adds to the villainy of Kant, but without Kant there would still have been Hume and Mill, and simple common sense tells you that, given the geographical and other limitations, American philosophy was more swiftly and directly influenced by English philosophy than by German philosophy. From Hume you get just as much a pragmatist mindset - arguably more - than you would from Kant. With Hume, there is just as much agnosticism about the "underlying character of reality" as there is in Kant. (This is one aspect in which Kantianism doesn't really even answer the Humean challenge; the concept of causation in the sense we really find interesting - i.e., an Aristotelian sense of human-independent natural necessity - is dispensed with by both thinkers.)

Kantianism never really caught on in America aside from ethics. (The leading "Kantian" of today in America is an ethicist, Harvard's Christine Korsgaard, and even she's not really a Kantian proper. There's too much Aristotelianism going on there keeping her basic moral picture sane, even if still deficient.) Humeanism, however, seems to be absolutely ingrained and dominant in the way recent academic philosophizing has been conducted in America. One thing I can say in Hume's defense is that at least he recognized what a dead-end his style of doing philosophy was, and that there was an irreconcilable gap between his philosophizing and his practical daily routine.

The mainstream American inherits this gap by dispensing with philosophy in favor of practicality. The mainstream of the academy has done extremely little to reconcile their style of doing philosophy with the concerns of the ordinary American. This has nothing to do with the fact of "specialization by experts" that ordinary Americans aren't equipped to be conversant with; rather, it is an extreme rift between the prevailing style of analytic philosophy and the needs of practical life. A certain novelist-philosopher did her damnedest to show that philosophy can be practical, and how it can be, with the academy doing just what by its nature would do - ignore, dismiss, scoff at, etc., this very attempt. It's "popular philosophy" and serious philosophy "is only done in journals." (How many people read philosophy journals? Why should they give a shit?) If "serious philosophy," meanwhile, is philosophy done in the manner of Hume and Kant, our culture faces grave perils.

Thank god, then, for Aristotle.

Were Aristotle around today (how many times will that phrase be used before this blog reaches its terminus?), he'd be conversant with the current mainstream - and he'd also overcome its limitations with his characteristic dialectical skill. So: How does Aristotle compare with Hume? Well, let's at least note this: Aristotle's approach to integration was such that he'd recognize the need to make philosophy practical, to go out of his way to align philosophy with the needs and concerns of the ordinary people. Maybe back in Greece, given its cultural and technological limitations, philosophy was effectively only for a relatively well-to-do or dedicated few. There is no such excuse for exclusivity in modern industrial society. A certain novelist-philosopher figured that out; an Aristotle today would do likewise, and applaud the efforts of that novelist-philosopher.

This raises a pretty striking point: Aristotle's response to Ayn Rand would be way, way different from what the Academy's response has been. An Aristotle worthy of his reputation would also be a staunch advocate of capitalism. That's prima facie evidence that the Academy has yet to come fully to grips with Aristotle's import to philosophy. (Sorry, being "one of the Big Three" is a deficient characterization. In the canon, there's the Philosopher, and then there's everyone else.) So, to answer the question: I don't think Aristotle would have been impressed much by Hume. He already contended with Hume-type foils back in his day.

To illustrate: Hume's dichotomous approach leads to an is-ought gap in meta-ethics. Aristotle would readily recognize the is-ought gap as based on a deficient or incomplete understanding of the facts. An Aristotelian - and commonsensical - understanding of goodness derives from the needs of living things, which are distinctively characterized by being "teleologically-ordered" systems, and which, by definition, meet those needs through the actualization of potentialities. It's quite irrelevant here what the original, ancient Aristotle had to say about the scope of teleology - and it's a base and ignoble response to Aristotle to criticize his conclusions while ignoring his methods. But that's exactly what countless people are conditioned to think when it comes to Aristotle. Time and time again I've personally touted the virtues of Aristotle, only to be met with the equation of Aristotle with his positions rather than his methods. This is quite pathological, and it would be interesting to come up with a complete accounting for this tendency, this awe-inspiring capacity for missing a point. (Or, if you like: "Awesomely committed to misconception," a phrase used by Michael Herr in reference to the clueless critics' and philistines' responses to Stanley Kubrick's cinematic genius.)

At least some academic philosophers haven't been so amateurish and point-missing, and, in fact, I find it plainly evident that the best and most sensible philosophers in the academy have strong Aristotelian (if not Randian) tendencies. It's the ones who take their methodological cues from the likes of Hume and Kant who are the problem. Even taking Rand out of the equation, the present situation in regard to Aristotle is pretty bad. Hell, anything short of full-on Aristotelian dominance in the Academy is bad. If/when empiricism can be reclaimed by Aristotelians from Hume and his descendents, and if/when eudaemonism rightly trounces its competitors in the field of ethics, some real progress might be made. That would necessarily bring Rand to greater prominence for those paying any attention to the true playing field, which would still leave the really obvious sick shit that's in need of fixing: the pervasive bias in political philosophy against the manifestly beneficial system of capitalism. I don't think Aristotle would approve of the vice going on there. Hell, even Hume and Kant would be appalled by it. Time for an overhaul there.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ayn Rand, Intellectuals, and Egg-on-Face

The intellectuals are supposed to be the best and most esteemed repositories of society's wisdom, and so when so many of them are so ignorantly (and therefore basely) opposed to an intellectual figure such as Ayn Rand, they have failed in their task of being the guardians and integrators of human knowledge. (Only those with a clue about Ayn Rand will recognize this last turn of phrase. The ignorant haters won't have a clue, because that's what's in the nature of ignorant haters, A being A and all.) Now, imagine a treatise hitting the American intellectual scene that completely blasts away at the misrepresentations, distortions, and smears of Rand and her ideas that have circulated in the intellectual scene for decades. How do the veteran and entrenched intellectuals react?

First off, the notion that academia as it is today doesn't corrupt the study of philosophy in various insidious ways would be ignorant in its own right, but the results speak for themselves. While Rand essentially delivered a rational eudaemonistic ethics over half a century ago, and provided the American People with a philosophical guide to living, the Intellectual Class has stumbled and staggered to and fro (but with ample logical hairsplitting and footnotes) trying to get at the answers Rand already had reached. The Intellectual Class, in the meantime, became enamored with John Rawls's Theory of Justice because . . . psychologically speaking, it's because it speaks to them so persuasively.

We already saw, in the early 20th century, how socialism spoke so persuasively to the aspirations of the Intellectuals, even though the leading economist of the time, Ludwig von Mises, exploded their myths and aspirations - at least he exploded them logically. He didn't explode them existentially; they plunged ahead in their support for socialism, and the result was widespread death and destruction the more socialistic the ideas that were implemented. This is a dark history that the Left is in denial about. Their dreamy ideas were a fucking disaster in the real world, and it's hard to come to terms with that.

Now, in connection with this observed phenomenon - a friendliness toward socialism and antipathy toward capitalism in the Intellectual Class, most obvious in the Humanities - Robert Nozick provided a thoughtful diagnosis. Combined with an utter fucking ignorance of Rand's ideas among some of these intellectuals, and in some cases an ignorance combined with the most malicious hostility toward Rand or anything capitalistic, the idea that the prevailing academic model produces philosophy, per se, and not a biased cognitive environment, is quite ignorant in itself. As a philosopher, I fucking hate ignorance.

Given the overwhelmingly compelling case for capitalism presented in the works of Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Robert Nozick, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, David Friedman, James Buchanan, George Reisman, John Hospers, Richard Epstein, Randy Barnett, Eric Mack, Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl, Loren Lomasky, David Schmidtz, and Chris Matthew Sciabarra, not to mention the overwhelming, real-world, not-merely-theoretical, demonstrated superiority of capitalism in practice, the opposition to capitalism in the Intellectual Class is nothing short of pathological - quite frighteningly so, in fact. It's hard to expect the Intellectual Class to take Rand seriously when it hardly takes anything pro-capitalism seriously, which in turn makes it exceedingly difficult to take the Intellectual Class seriously.

So here's how certain "types" of intellectual figures are bound to respond to such a bombshell treatise correcting the prevailing misconceptions which they should have been correcting long ago:

(1) The first type, the most intellectually curious and honest type, acknowledges that there was a big un-philosophical fuck-up that happened here, and that corrective measures needed to be adopted post haste.

(2) The second type, a somewhat mixed type, is the one whose context is so foreign to Rand's, that the response is likely to be one of caution and skepticism about new information that challenges one's prevailing opinions. This type would not be so keen on the "post haste" corrective measures, as they would call for the need for time - perhaps a prolongued period of time - to debate the ideas in the fashion that academics debate ideas, which has traditionally carried with it certain insidious tendencies - like those that led to the great degree of academic neglect of Ayn Rand's thought. This second type would be instructive to observe from the perspective of how deeply automatized and integrated a context can be, and how a new and unfamiliar context (but a deeply-integrated context in its own right) intrudes upon their understanding of the world.

(3) The third type would be the social-metaphysical second-hander or social-climber who waits and sees what the prestigious figures in the field say, and react to that. This type is part of the problem to begin with.

(4) The fourth type would be a defensive one - the kind of defensiveness you typically find when someone's long-held conceptions of things are put to severe challenge. Defensiveness can manifest itself in some pretty ugly ways depending on the case. This mentality is not very philosophical, but it can be subtly encouraged when enough like-thinking people (in this case, fellow members of one's trusted community, which is biased against capitalism) behave in like-thinking ways. A mixture of this type and type #3, and with perhaps another character trait added in, leads to the academy's lackluster response to one of their own - Nozick - destroying a great number of their bad non-capitalist views.

(5) The fifth type is the flat-out evader. This is the mentality that has been poisoned, and there are some such poisoned mentalities in the Intellectual Class already. These are the people whose evasions lead most directly to damaging real-world results, and who blatantly defy their job description. Some such so-called intellectuals hold tenured positions in the academy so they can't be fired as they should be. This type will just have to die off and be replaced by someone honest.

Now, if you have a range of people, many of whom fall into these "types," you're going to have clashing contexts between Randian or Perfectivist ideas and theirs, and it's this clashing of contexts that makes for any delay between the introduction of an idea and its acceptance. Rand found out this context-gap the hard way, upon publication of Atlas Shrugged: the context of many of those in her audience had been so fucked-up that effective communication between Rand and such unfortunate souls was next to nonexistent. (That's just how dysfunctional the intellectual climate in America was ca. 1957.) You had some idiotic reviewers of For the New Intellectual declaring quite emphatically that Rand's ideas were "near perfect in their immorality." (Not that these idiotic comments were from people who were able to think philosophically, the way a serious philosopher like, say, John Hospers did.) What's ironic is just how imbecilic the fashionable "liberal" reaction to Rand was. When I think "imbecile," I usually think Sarah Palin and her ilk, but how else do you describe the behavior of fashionable liberal intellectuals who don't have a clue?

Rand was incredulous at first at how the reaction to her work could be so fucking imbecilic (and clueless). She just wasn't prepared for the degree to which irrationality had been ingrained in the culture. Well, I think I'm gonna be more well prepared upon the release of my opus than Rand was on the release of hers. The capacity for people to be proudly imbecilic and clueless seemingly knows no bounds, and the myriad ways in which the anti-Rand crowd seemingly goes out of its way to misunderstand, misrepresent, distort and smear her, are all too predictable by now. But as I said in a previous posting, the target audience for my forthcoming book is, first and foremost, the young intellectuals who have the least invested in a faulty (non-perfective) worldview. The behavioral response across demographics will be quite the interesting subject of study.

How does one avoid the embarrassment of being proven manifestly and insanely wrong about a thinker such as Ayn Rand? My best advice is not to get oneself into that sort of pride-threatening pickle to begin with. It helps not to cultivate mental habits leading to anti-capitalist idiocy, as happens to quite an embarrassing degree in the Academy. No wonder the American people despise their Intellectual Class. And I think they'll be none to pleased to find out just how destructive to their interests the Intellectual Class has been. They won't put up with it; they just won't. I think the Comprachicos' days are numbered. Just how numbered they are, remains to be seen; there is free will, after all.

[ADDENDUM: For some idea of how far behind Rand the cultural and intellectual mainstream of 1957 was, keep in mind that this was before Anscombe's "Modern Moral Philosophy" article, before the rise of Virtue Ethics as a mainstream alternative to utilitarianism and deontology - a rise that has taken longer to happen due to the amount of attention and study diverted toward Rawls's theories - and before a number of authors - e.g., Henry Veatch, Jonathan Barnes, or, popularly, Mortimer Adler - began writing books on Aristotle for more public consumption, and less than two decades after The Basic Works of Aristotle were published in America. Philosophy was experiencing what Rand referred to as a "post-Kantian disintegration," in which Aristotle was being drowned out by lesser and more destructive thinkers, where Positivism and Existentialism were dominant. Only a clueless non-philosopher oblivious to the wisdom of Aristotle would conclude that Rand's ideas "are nearly perfect in their immorality," despite her well-known advertising of her admiration for Aristotle. The fact of the matter is, Rand was just well ahead of anyone else of her time, and figured out the things that it has been taking decades for the Mainstream to figure out. I see egg-on-face syndrome as quite inevitable here.]

When Geniuses Fuck Up

In rummaging around (in the spirit of perfective comprehensiveness) for anything Noam Chomsky said about Ayn Rand, the first and prominent result points to this. Chomsky said:
Rand in my view is one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history.
As a person fanatically prone to differentiation and integration, my mind went quite quickly to this statement by Ayn Rand:
Kant is the most evil man in mankind’s history.
Both Chomsky and Rand fucked up here. The difference is that Chomsky is just way more clueless about Rand than Rand was about Kant. A further difference, one highlighting the intellectual corruption that pervades the American Left, is that Chomsky gets a free pass from them on fuck-ups like this, while Rand does not. (So much for any pretense by the American Left to an intellectual high-ground.)

To further stress the "integration" theme, can we also say that Kant fucked up with his inescapably radical subjectivism, his radical distinction between appearance and the mysterious thing-in-itself (most obviously blowing up in his face when positing on a compatibility between natural necessity and freedom of the will), and with his flimsy rejection of eudaemonism in ethics?

Rand, of course, provides for a corrective in this matters, by distinguishing errors of knowledge from breaches of morality. Applying that distinction, all three of these geniuses fucked up, but rightful ascriptions of evil to someone requires more evidence than of their having fucked up, or of their having faulty thinking processes (like those that the dualistic/non-integrative and therefore not-very-practically-useful Cartesian-Humean-Kantian - i.e., non-Aristotelian - model of thought encourages).

What is, after all, each thinker's context?

At the least, we can say that Chomsky, on some things, is a flat-out ignoramus who knows not of what he speaks. What remains open is whether Chomsky should easily have known better than to be ignorant of Rand's actual ideas (or of the other prominent libertarian intellectuals Chomsky bashes so boldly in that interview). Rand, for her own part, actually once gave positive mention of a review of Skinner by Chomsky, in "The Stimulus and the Response" (Philosophy: Who Needs It). She qualified her comments by noting that he was part of the New Left. A far cry from the idiocy Chomsky showed in return.

From the way he speaks and analyzes things, Chomsky is clearly brilliant and hits upon a great number of quality insights, but he can also be way in over his head on some matters of which speaks, and he doesn't seem to realize when he's way in over his head, which is an intellectual vice on his part. His antipathy to capitalism has really been insidious and costly to his credibility in matters of social science. And his powers of analysis definitely do not meet or exceed Ayn Rand's. Nor, in political economy, could they hope to match Mises's. That's why he's the Linguist, Mises the Economist, and Rand the Philosopher. But Rand did fuck up about Kant, who also fucked up, and his fuck-up was of greater philosophical significance and insidiousness. (For evidence, see the intellectual state of Europe today, base and ignoble sophists running too and fro, wallowing in a subjectivist paradigm. America's doing what America would do - slowly and surely integrating Aristotle and Aristotelianism, including Randism.) The only one here who hardly ever fucked up at all in his analyses, is Mises, a most perfective thinker. Just so we're clear on all that.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Animals and Fetuses in a High-Tech Future

Are Peter Singer and other leading animal-rights ethicists not being progressive and forward-thinking enough about human fetuses? The main gist a casual observer gets from Singer & Co. is that animals deserve strong moral consideration in virtue of being sentient, but that human fetuses, not being sentient or advanced in development, are not and needn't be accorded strong moral consideration as against "a woman's right to choose." The first position (about animals) is pretty radical by today's standards (and I'm highly sympathetic to say the least, despite not being an ethical utilitarian), but the latter position (about fetuses) is pretty mainstream today.

The course of Western history has included, over extended periods of time, progressive "reading-in" of classes of morally-significant beings to more full-fledged consideration or membership in the moral community. We have seen in America, by progressive stages, the abolition of legal slavery, then suffrage for women, then the Civil Rights movement of the '60s, the transformation of the traditional family model starting in the '60s toward greater independence for women (hence the current not-very-fetus-friendly laws), and, most recently, the eminently sensible push for marriage equality regardless of one's choice of consenting adult partner.

Animals currently have some protections under the law against behavior we might vaguely (in moral terms, independent of whatever non-vague language of the law) refer to as "needlessly cruel." Fetuses begin seeing legal protections only after the first trimester of pregnancy. Both of these represent about the most effective pragmatic compromise we might expect under present law given prevailing widespread moral attitudes. We are well short of the expectations of the radicals who seek a greater measure of equality under the law for animals and fetuses, respectively.

The opposition raised between the pragmatic mainstream and the radicals is an opposition between a supposedly "considered and wise" course and a supposedly "morally enlightened" one. The "morally enlightened" argument is that, in history, previously marginalized or discriminated-against classes of morally-relevant human beings ended up winning equal respect under the law, and certain already-existing morally-relevant features is the reason their equality was eventually recognized. It takes a progressive, forward-looking, enlightened mindset to identify these morally-relevant features and then to work to knock down the unreasonable, retrograde mindsets that keep these features from being recognized. At least that's a take on it that the radicals would endorse.

The pragmatic mindset, meanwhile, notices how upsetting to a stable order radical change can be, and so resists these overnight pushes toward an ideal. The current system works well enough; it is not so obviously broken that it needs to be overthrown in one fell swoop. Just look at what happened to Soviet Russia when that was tried.

This pragmatic-idealist opposition (a false dichotomy a Perfectivist doesn't accept) is well-presented and explained in Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions. Sowell's distinction, which essentially lines up with this one, is between the "constrained" and the "unconstrained" vision of human beings.

Anyway, what leads me to this is posting is my thinking about what a technologically-advanced future would look like in regard to the legal protections of animals and fetuses. I do this because I think that the current resistance to radicalism on these subjects is borne not of willful moral blindness necessarily, but definitely a certain moral blind spot engendered by the pragmatic mindset. Both sides ("pragmatic" and "idealist") fall into faulty diagnoses and rationale. But focusing on the problem with pragmatism for a moment: it inhibits visionary thinking, the ability to even creatively explore and challenge the structural weaknesses of the present paradigm. It also results in a tendency toward skepticism, subjectivism, and relativism.

One thing pragmatism is noted for is the skepticism about universal and eternal "categories" that might somehow impress themselves upon us if only we just look and see. That attitude is actually a reaction in the opposite direction from Platonism and "metaphysics" (the investigation of "ultimate reality" as logically prior to the fleeting and ephemeral experience). This notion hardly seems new in the history of philosophy - it comes up in various sects of lesser philosophers in ancient Greece, e.g., the Skeptics and the Cynics - but it is the prevailing, dominant "sense of life" and mindset in America, or at least was half a century ago.

(How many effing times did Rand quote a weak, wishy-washy, or villainous character in Atlas saying, "We've got to be practical--" and stopping, like it needs no further explanation, other than that one shouldn't stand on principle? She was reporting on the state of reality at the time. Rand wasn't alone in this, by the way; Mises once got up at a meeting of the Mont Pelerin society and informed the appeasers and compromisers there that they were all socialists. How impractical! Trump card: By what standard do we regard something as practical? What was Roark's standard of the practical? Would selling out his principles be practical according to his sense of self and standard of value? Notice who the Pragmatist in The Fountainhead is. Actually, there are two of them. One is a mediocrity, the other a slave to the whims of the mob.)

Since half a century ago, Randism has become a cultural force and Aristotelianism has been (slowly but surely) emerging triumphant in the academy. One thing about Aristotelianism (in the broad sense, not Aristotle's own conclusions per se) is that it doesn't succumb to criticism. It just doesn't. Just as the sophists, skeptics, and cynics couldn't hold a candle to Aristotle back then, so American-style pragmatism can't hold a candle to Aristotelianism 2,300 years later. The opposition to Plato-style eternal categories doesn't apply to Aristotelianism, and also falls apart in the face of Aristotelianism. An Aristotelian framework does speak in terms of natural laws within the context of a realist systematizing empiricism.

Here's the different ways pragmatism and Aristotelian respond, respectively, to the present gaps between human knowledge and natural laws in their entirety: Pragmatism dispenses with the notion of "natural law," because, all said and done, there is no "cash value" to be had in the idea of natural law over and above observed regularity. The Aristotelian response is to simply ascribe the gap to the limitations of our knowledge at any given time, and that present ignorance about natural laws does not mean there aren't any or that we can't speak meaningfully about them. Rand takes this analysis to its extreme: denying natural law is effectively tantamount to committing the fallacy of the stolen concept, or perhaps even more strongly, to denying that existence has primacy over consciousness (i.e., to denying that consciousness is identification of already-existing facts, regularities, etc.). Or, perhaps even stronger yet, we could invoke the principle of Affirmation through Denial: inasmuch as we do philosophy well, we're thinking as perfectively, i.e., as comprehensively as to subject matter as Aristotle did, like Rand did.

Now, as to animals and fetuses. I anticipate changes in the law in the future regarding the treatment of animals and fetuses because of changes in technology. In regard to animals, for instance, we will eventually be able to synthesize meat without having to use animals in the process. Food would be assembled in large labs or factories, etc. Likewise, technology will exist in the future that would enable embryos to be removed from the mother's body and stored safely. And the law would mandate that because of the unique potentialities for self-actualized personhood that exist in principle within each embryo. It would be a crime, morally, to dispense of that potentiality it can be saved safely and with little cost. (A technological trump card here would be more completely effective contraceptive practices, so that the inconveniences of unwanted pregnancy don't even become an issue.)

Now, to envision this kind of futuristic scenario requires some thinking-outside-the-box that pragmatism doesn't deal in and doesn't regard as practical. To the pragmatist, we have to deal with the here-and-now, and here and now people get significant enjoyment from eating animals. Hey, it seems to work well enough (despite the tendencies toward bad health that the recently-emerging eating habits have been creating). What's more, the pragmatist doesn't really get into the business of challenging the base and ignoble rationalizations people will offer for eating factory-farmed meat. To call those rationalizations "base and ignoble" is to presuppose a standard that the pragmatist won't endorse. But they are rationalizations born of a blindness or ignorance (whether it's willful blindness or ignorance depends on the individual case). The self-serving rationalizations one is likely to hear are creepily similar to the self-serving rationalizations people would offer at various times for slavery, the subjugation of women, racial discrimination, marriage discrimination, etc. And the pragmatist has no answer to them, because "We have to be practical--"

Let's not mistake something here: the present situation of cruelty to animals and relative indifference to fetuses ("zygotes aren't people/citizens/etc.") is the result of a pragmatic mentality, just like slavery, subjugation, etc. in previous eras were. The Founding Fathers did espouse natural rights, but to get a new country going, they had to pragmatically compromise on slavery. This is not to say that this didn't constitute an improvement over things prior to the founding of the United States. But it is to say that they were willing to "go along and get along" with an evil (under natural law) because that's the best they could do at the time. It would seem that the history of legal rights is a history of the greatest deal of human and/or animal dignity consistent with economic feasibility.

But to deny that there are natural rights is, while the cashing-in (if you will) of Pragmatism, it is opposed to the ideals upon which this country was founded. And when the last century in America was dominated by Pragmatism rather than Aristotelianism, that provides a very compelling explanation for a widespread resistance to Ayn Rand's idealism. (An explanation with much . . . cash value, wouldn't you say?) But if Americans do have a good understanding of their country's founding roots, and if they do understand therefore the value and practicality of idealism, then they're quite ripe and ready for an Aristotelian-Jeffersonian-Randian-Perfectivist program of idealistic education and therefore of a revolution for the better.

With that period of a new Enlightenment, a Second Renaissance, people just wouldn't get away with peddling the open irrationalities we see all over the place; they would be called out and refuted way more resoundingly and effectively than they are now. (This includes capitalism-bashing Comprachicos with top-flight professorships.) This also means that self-serving rationalizations, pragmatic compromises, and the like, would be discredited and rejected that much more quickly. Then, just like with slavery, women's subjugation, etc., people will look back on the treatment of animals and realize just how ignorant, self-serving, and economic-feasibility-based the previous generations' "moral" reasoning was, given the absolute facts of the matter.

. . . and that's why I've adopted Perfectivism. :-)

[ADDENDUM: I've mentioned it before, but it bears mentioning again: Pragmatism encourages dis-integration. How do you best judge the merit of a philosopher? By how extremely, how radically, how emphatically, how heroically the philosopher stresses the systematic integration of knowledge in accordance with the absolute requirements of our conceptual mode of consciousness. Pragmatism is disqualified from the get-go. And that's why America is floundering at the moment. What America needs is a realist philosophy to support its "common sense" ethos - realist metaphysics, systematizing-empirical epistemology, eudaemonist ethics, benevolent individualist social ethics, capitalist political economy, Romantic aesthetics. "Let your mind and your love of existence decide."]

[ADDENDUM #2: By "self-serving rationalization" above I mean, of course, rationalization which serves a current self that is not a fully-actualized self, i.e., the self as it might be and ought to be.]