Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blog Resumption?

I may return to normal blogging soon; the insane "debt-ceiling debate" and the fiscal trainwreck ahead is tempting enough in its own right to comment on.

I'd like to mention a recent read that I found highly readable and "entertaining": Noam Chomsky's Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky. It's a great introduction for the layperson to the workings of a brilliant mind. (The footnotes themselves are hundreds of pages worth, compiled at the book's website.) I don't agree with some of his analyses on economics (namely, that corporations almost universally benefit at the expense of peoples), but he is nonetheless very perceptive about the dynamics of power in the world today, even were we to assume a pro-capitalist, pro-corporation-in-principle point of view. It is true: corporations have managed to buy elections and work in conjunction with states to exploit peoples around the world. It's not something Ayn Rand and other advocates of capitalism would support. I did catch two instances where Chomsky states facts in a misleading way: (1) That slaves as 3/5 persons is "in the Constitution." By the same token, Prohibition is "in the Constitution," but so what? (2) That under Clinton, the defense budget exceeded the Cold War average. But it certainly didn't as a share of GDP, even if it did in absolute terms. A ton of other facts he cites I simply am not up on, but I suspect some of them are stated misleadingly.

I also schlepped through Gewirth's Self-Fulfillment recently. I may have something substantive to say in reaction to he book in due course, beyond pointing out the fact that it's very dry and tedious, that it sets forth an intriguing theory of rights to freedom-and-wellbeing, and that it is argued very thoroughly. I just wish it were argued way more accessibly. Sigh.

I tried Nozick's Philosophical Explanations and The Examined Life; the former was not all that accessible, while the latter had a hard time holding my attention.

I also went through the post-1950 portion of Anne Heller's Ayn Rand and the World She Made; among other things I discovered that a Daryn Kent was most likely the unnamed young woman "put on trial" as described in Barbara Branden's biography of Rand. Another thing I can't really do at this point is to form a coherent, context-sensitive picture of Rand the person based on all the things others have said about her. There are a total of 100 accounts in 100 Voices that conflict with some 100 or so accounts in Heller's book. If you see Rand the way Leonard Peikoff sees her, you see someone of staggering genius, insight, rationality, and character, who could argue anyone she met into a corner. If you see her as a good number of NBI-days ex-Objectivists and ex-close-associates see her, you see a domineering diva who's nonetheless a staggering genius. And it's all things other people have said. (Heller basically sides with the latter crowd, since she didn't have much of the former type to rely on as a source. She said she was denied access to the archives because she didn't agree with Rand's ideas; I think it had more to do with the fact that she was going to the Brandens as a leading source. Heller does get a good number of facts wrong that more meticulous fact-checking would correct, BTW.) The Ayn Rand I know is the Rand that appeared in print and in some public forums, including the Donahue show. The Rand I see on the Donahue show is one I find enjoyable to watch. The Ayn Rand that might be and ought to be is, of course, the Ayn Rand we'd all want to know, and there's a shit-ton of that Ayn Rand in her writings. (I still think she gets some things wrong about, e.g., Kant, and I'm still not up on what's great about the speech-filled dialogues in Atlas, but I'll spiral back to all this in due course.)

Heller's book is also very wordy and repetitive, for what that's worth. Anyway, for the latest Rand-related gossip, it's a "good" source. It's not clear Heller has anywhere near the kind of grasp of Objectivism that a student of Peikoff's does, which definitely makes a difference in how one might perceive Rand the person (e.g., with one's method of judgment). That's one big context about Peikoff that Heller simply misses. If Rand says in a general letter of recommendation that Peikoff has a "superlative" understanding of Objectivism, one would do well to study Peikoff's work carefully to understand the philosophy better, and it's pretty clear Heller didn't do that. I'm still waiting for that other shoe to drop, the "definitive" biography from the ARI.

And I think I still have a book in the works; it is evolving into I-don't-know-what at this point. I want it to be pretty excellent, though, even if not absolutely, ahem, perfect.

(Next up on the reading list: Mayhew-edited volumes of essays on The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged - here and here.)