Saturday, November 24, 2012

An Aristotelian utopia? (repost)

[Originally posted Aug. 25 of this year; spiraling back...]

While the most prominent economist on today's public scene spends his scarce time going apeshit over the Paul Ryan-Ayn Rand connection, complete with laughable commentary on Rand/Galt/Atlas, my thoughts turn more toward the long-term and to subjects of the greatest and furthest-reaching scope.  That's what I do, see.  That's all I do.  And I absolutely will not stop, ever, until I am dead.

So, without further ado, I direct your attention to a blog commentary (Part 1) (Part 2) on Prof. Marcia Homiak's essay, "An Aristotelian Life" (a chapter in the collection Philosophers Without Gods [Louise M. Antony, ed., OUP, 2007]).  The collection as a whole is okay, but the one essay that stuck in my mind was this one.  The basic idea of her essay is that a society built along essentially Aristotelian lines would fulfill all the needs that many human beings think requires belief in a god or gods to fulfill. It wouldn't be an atheistic or secular society by necessity or default - for all we know, a rigorously-philosophically-informed theism may be a prominent feature in such a society - but the point would be that belief in god(s) would not be necessary for the society to function in a, well, pretty fucking awesome manner.

I wish to go a step or so beyond the envisioned social order outlined by Prof. Homiak and consider certain questions.  These include: (1) How realistic is it that such a society might be actualized?  (2) Were such a society to be actualized, wouldn't the benefits of a philosophically-enriched citizenry have a snowball effect, leading to ever-better social discourse and, in turn, to ever-better solutions to major challenges facing humanity?  (3) Would this not hasten the onset of the technological singularity?  (4) Is such a social order, properly speaking, utopian?  Breaking that question down further: Is the society envisioned by Homiak already utopian, or would we need the aforementioned snowballing effect to reach utopia?  (5) What exactly is the difference between perfection (in this context, a utopian society) and excellence (an awesome society), anyway?

Well, I think the chief question here is (1).  I think once such a society were realized, the snowball effect and the rest follow quite logically - that is, unless humanity is already doomed.  Is humanity doomed?  I don't know.  But what's a pretty fucking awesome way to hedge our bets on that?  Or go out with a bang if the end really is near?  Could it get any better - could we do any better - than an Aristotelian society (be it to stave off extinction, or just because that's the best way to go regardless)?  If we could do better, that's what the Man himself would recommend we do, of course!  (You can't refute perfectivism. :-)  So, now: what about (1).  Is such a society a realistic goal?  Let me turn the tables here: Is it not a realistic goal, and if not, why?

The strategy here isn't difficult to figure out.  (It's tactics used to carry out the strategy that need some big-time investigation, I think.  How are memes optimally propagated in this day and age?)  The strategy is to get as many people turned on to this Aristotelian idea as soon as possible.  This has a number of things going for it.  For one thing, Aristotle is canonized.  Ayn Rand, on the other hand, deservedly or not, is not canonized.  Even though I think Aristotle and Rand would converge on support for the Aristotelian program, using Rand's ideas as the vehicle for such a social change would be something of a non-starter.  I think that comes after the Aristotelianization (great word!), which would enable the folks to actually understand what the hell Rand has been getting at all this time.  Or, perhaps, the Aristotelianized citizenry would tear Objectivism apart (if not ignore/scoff at it), as the current genius-packed academy-consensus would believe.  (I'd be happy to take bets on that.  But one philosopher against a million; what chance do I stand?)  But that's really quite beside the point.  The point is to have a citizenry that is maximally intellectually tutored and let the chips fall where they may.  (Again, I'm happy to take bets on how well Rand pans out in such a scenario.  But hell, we'd all be winners in that scenario.  I'd just want to be a bigger winner. ;-)

So, a maximally intellectually-tutored citizenry.  How can that be achieved?  Well, I said the strategy would be fairly simple and straightforward: Get as many people as possible understanding Aristotelianism as soon as possible.  Especially rationality as the highest virtue, and the progressive activity that is eudaimonia (involving self-actualization) the good life.  A citizenry devoted to learning and growing and deriving enjoyment from doing so.  Higher aesthetic standards in the public sphere.  Stupidity in politics scorned rather than celebrated.  A people "conditioned" to think eudaimonically and therefore looking down on lying, cheating, and stealing as purported means of getting ahead in life. Growing bonds of trust.  Capitalism with businesspeople actually of the character of Randian heroes, rather than the sociopathic unprincipled cutthroat philistinic cronyist assholes that dominate the business scene too much today. Violence scorned rather than celebrated.  And on and on and on.  Like I said, fucking awesome.

So how does that ball get rolling?  Is it realistic for the ball just to get rolling?  Well, is it not realistic, and if not, why?  How does a people concerned with their survival and well-being reject Aristotle?

Say that it's achievable in principle.  Better yet, say that it's at least plausible.  (If not, why not?)  In that case, it comes down to a matter of time: just how long would it take before Prof. Homiak's (admittedly ambitious) vision is achieved?  And why not sooner rather than later?

A couple other twists to the narrative above:

(1) Jesus of Nazareth can still play a key role in all this.  Think of this combination as the possible citizen-ideal: Having the head of Aristotle and the heart of Jesus.  (Do keep in mind what Aristotle had to say about intellectual activity as expressing what is "divine" in man, and ask yourself how Jesus could possibly object to the maximal use of one's cognitive faculty.)

(2) Cannabis legalization would speed all of the above way up, for the reasons Carl Sagan explained.

More to come, of course . . .

Friday, November 23, 2012

Vertigo not yet on Blu-ray?

This is an obvious travesty that should hopefully be remedied in the near future (how does a 4/20/2013 deadline sound?).  Also, it would be really nice if Orson Welles's masterful 1962 adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Trial got the Criterion and/or Blu-ray treatment.  Just thought I'd throw that out there for consideration.  (I wonder if the The Big Lebowski Blu-ray has come down enough in price yet?  Concretes, concretes; units, units; lotta strands, man....)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Books, CDs, and DVDs as units

This blog entry's subject is unit-economy.  Its theme is: unit-economy as key to cognition.

(I'm writing this in a Saganized state.)

I was looking down at a hard copy of Morton Hunt's The Story of Psychology and it finally hit me in a completed/perfected form: Books (i.e., their entire contents) as units.  Then I generalized to other units in my immediate sensory vicinity - CDs and DVDs, meticulously organized to criteria I won't go into here at this point in time.  (Dramatic intrigue to ensue; see P.S. below [currently in my mind but yet to put down on digital screen].)

The Hunt book was grouped in with other "empirical psychology" books.  They can be grouped together as units in that regard in accordance with conceptually fundamental similarities.  (See: Rand, "Fundamentality, Rule of" which I see is right over there in the large white-cover well-worn copy of The Ayn Rand Lexicon, similarly grouped in with other concepts according to fundamental-level similarities (which I won't name at this point in time - dramatic intrigue, again).  This process of generalizing falls, I think, under the general category of "induction."  (Now I look over at the Harriman book and also physical copies of Peikoff's "Objectivism Through Induction," which I've barely even listened to yet.)

(I've just had another important unit enter my perceptual field, but I'm sure as shit not going to tell all of you right now.  Just a moment.)

Gist: The task now is to condense (units and concepts being condensatins of concretes, with mental units serving as concretes with respect to higher-level integrations/condensations) all the units in my perceptual view, as well as all those other higher-level units rolling around in the ol' noggin), into a philosophically compelling, dramatic narrative to culminate a few months from now.

P.S. 4/20/2013.  "Mark it, Dude."  Possible title: There Will be Bud.  Details to come, of course.  (Are you hooked on my every word yet?  I know I am. :-)

P.P.S. I think I can present a pretty good case against digitizing much less pirating all information/entertainment units. ;-)

P.P.P.S. Ain't integration fun? / You can't refute perfectivism. :-)

P.P.P.P.S. What Would Howard Stern/Seth MacFarlane/David Shore Do?  shifaced

P.P.P.P.P.S. UP asks: So am I the first to figure all this out or am I just now catching up with everyone else?  (Hi there year 2100 readers! :-D )  lmao

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Best 10 bucks I ever spent lol.  Plenty more material where that came from. :-o

Monday, November 12, 2012

A goal: total cannabis legalization by 4/20/2013

[UPDATED below.]

(Stimulated in part by the insanity of this news item.  Something something Mark Twain quotation.)

Completely legalized in all of the United States for all adults 21 and over (unless we want to be wink-wink hypocrites by making it nominally 21 while acknowledging that college kids starting freshman year will do it; do we want to be fucking wink-wink hypocrites or do we want to be reality-observant like Aristotle?).

The only question is how to make this happen.  (The ironic part is that formulating strategy for swift-as-possible legalization would itself be aided by cannabis-induced semantic priming.)

I think there is already a basis for pot legalization in the Ninth Amendment.  What would Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, Locke, Sagan, Marley ("Get up, stand up..."), the Coens, Kanye, Glenn Greenwald and plain old common sense say/do?  If consuming cannabis in the privacy of one's home poses no clear or present danger to the security or well-being of others or self, then prima facie we have a pre-political, nature- or God-given right to do so, which government is instituted to secure.  It's plain, simple, and common sense - something we don't see enough of in the world, unfortunately.  (A compromise measure would leave cannabis prohibition up to the states - a Tenth Amendment thing - but at the very least the wise tactic is to go into negotiations demanding as much as you can reasonably demand.  And I rather like the appeal to Sagan and Marley on natural-rights and common-sense grounds.)

There also needs to be a common-sense plan in place for educating people about the benefits and hazards of cannabis use.  (Available data indicate that it's not a good idea, in terms of cognitive development, for people in their teens to use weed - not frequently or in large amounts, anyhow.)  In fact, such an educational program should be a required condition of cannabis legalization, because we don't want a big fuck-up.  We don't want such legalization to go bad for no good reason, and then get blamed for problems that ensue from irresponsible use or what have you.  The cognitive benefits (when used responsibly) as explained by Sagan need to be brought to the fore of the public's consciousness.  (Something something semantic priming.)  It's fucking Carl Sagan, man!  There's no reason for anything he wrote to languish in obscurity.  (Exhibit B of what's gone the hell wrong with this country.)  The other health benefits are all well and good, but we have a planet to save from possible ecological collapse, and/or a technological singularity to reach ASAFP, and we need all the cognition-boosting resources at our avail to make this happen.

That, and a thorough, age-appropriate education in philosophy for as many citizens as possible, as soon as possible.  (Might not happen by 4/20/2013, but the future is not determined . . .)

That's pretty much the gist of it in a nutshell.

The nice thing is that there's really no refuting any of it.  (Perfectivism rearing its pretty head again....)  Ah, it's neat having truth, beauty and justice on one's side. :-)

Can we as a nation get our shit together on this issue in a little over five months?  If not, why not?

"Weed is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." -UP, with revision from the original saying

UPDATE: Might as well make same-sex marriage the law of the land by 4/20/2013 while we're at it . . .  Then prostitution other capitalist acts between consenting adults?  What Would Jefferson Do?  (The philosophy-education program would probably be higher priority with him, but hey, we're not limited to just one or the other, thank Rand.)

UPDATE: Wouldn't the fucking politicians just love a large-scale cannabis revolt right around April 15?  "Legalize it and then we'll pay up.  Deal?"  (Hell yeah, that's way more than a fair bargain.  Throw the other rights retained by the people in there as well, while we're at it.)

UPDATE: It had slipped my mind by the time I posted this blog entry, but the original Ninth Amendment idea planted in me quite some time ago is rightly credited to Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett.  My "prima facie natural right" formulation above and Barnett's "presumption of liberty" idea amount to essentially the same thing.  (Ain't integration fun? :-) / You can't refute perfectivism. :-) )

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Various things to integrate:

(1) On the provisional playlist: Bob Marley, Songs of Freedom; Boogie Down Productions, Edutainment; Leonard Peikoff, Philosophy of Education

(2) Some of the nation's founders were indeed Christians, but the fact of fundamental importance is that they were men of the mind.  Whence America's greatness?  The mind.  The intellect.  Reason. Learning, knowledge, science, philosophy.  Glenn Beck echoes Jefferson: "Question with boldness even the very existence of God."  Integrate with the theme of Atlas Shrugged.  Contrast that with various and sundry loudmouth right-wing "Christian" dingbats who have defaulted on the issue of mind, intellect, learning, philosophy.  Contrast also with shortcomings of the left, such as the amazing failure of leftist loudmouths to grasp Rand and her theme(s).

(3) Question for the day: What Would Carl Sagan Do?

Ain't integration fun? :-)

You can't refute perfectivism. :-)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Now listening: Kanye West

I've never experienced semantic priming like this before; whoa.  Many updates to come?  Goldberg variations after this?  Spiral back to KRS-One, who kinda sparked all this here philosophizing?  I hear there's some election shit going on tomorrow, whatever.  Best of luck/premises to the states of CO, OR, and WA, and to marriage-equality proponents. :-)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Plantinga's stinky "evolutionary argument against naturalism"

The argument is simple, and stupid.  The stupidity of it might well be evident to an attentive observer, even if an explanation for how it is stupid might not be so easy to come by.  The argument, in its essence, holds that if (note the "if" part here) evolution selects traits in accordance with survival value rather than truth-value (also note that Daniel Dennett uses this analysis to explain the existence of religion, so we have a double-edged sword going on here...), then we do not have a good enough reason, epistemically and scientifically, to accept that evolution itself happened without a Divine Presence (either intervening in the natural process or very-delicately calibrating the initial laws and doing as the god of Deism does (i.e., doesn't do)).  (I should note that the "fine-tuning argument" of the latter sort might have its difficulties but it doesn't run counter to the worldview accepted and practiced by scientists and many other rationalists (reason-ists), as one can see by pointing to an example like Jefferson, or perhaps Spinoza, or perhaps the panentheists).  If, the argument goes, our mental faculties are constructed for the sake of survival value rather than truth-value, then we cannot accept the theory of evolution itself as being the product of a cognitive process reliably grounded in truth-value.

So, what stinks about it?  I don't mean, it's just a little bit, subtly, odious, but that it stinks to high heaven.  IOW, we expect much better than this from philosophers.  What stinks is that it lumps specifically human traits in with all the other traits living things have, under the general heading: "Promotes survival value," and then doesn't explain how those traits - in each organisms's case - promoted the survival of that species.  We don't have the faculties that (without technology) promote survival value in an aqueous environment; we don't have the faculties that (without technology) promote survival value in hunting-from-the-air terms.  What we do have, that other organisms do not, is a faculty that is selected for survival value in virtue of its uniquely-adept and superior capacity for tracking truth.  What we don't have in terms of big, sharp teeth, or hawk-like wings and eyesight, we make up for with this other faculty.

What's more, this observation holds across all of human history, not just pre-technological (much less pre-modern) human history.  In all cases, a better truth-tracking faculty - or, yet more accurately put - a better use of our biologically-hardwired truth-tracking faculty - aided in promoting survival.  It is in virtue of that increasingly optimal use of that faculty that we now have bullyons and bullyon of people on the planet, living longer lifespans than before.  No thanks to believers and practitioners in less rational variants of theism.  (Would a good god, incarnated as Jesus, want us to accept and love Jesus with our heart only, or with all our critical Socratean-Aristotelian-Jeffersonian intellect as well?  Why don't we get this latter aspect of Christian devotion until the modern, scientific, post-Thomas/Maimonides/Averroes, post-Servetus period?  It's called progress from a state of lesser to a state of greater perfection of human potentials.  Also, Dennett's analysis of religion in terms of survival-value doesn't mean a discrediting of religion on the basis of truth-value; the best and only way of actually determining the truth value either of religion - whatever its initial survival value - or of evolutionary theory is through the classic, evolution-independent canons of logic, which our allegedly unreliable cognitive faculties managed to discover and formalize and made learning, science, and technology possible.  That way, we go from a state of lesser rationality (what we had in the prehistoric periods) to a state of greater rationality, whatever our reliably-constant genetic hardwiring.  I mean, like, duh.)

That's some preliminary commentary, anyway.  Spiral progression will come back to this with enhanced findings.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

These are not worthy fucking adversaries

So Romney has gone 22 days at a time without taking any questions from the press, and Obama has gone six weeks at a time without doing so.  They do not want to be caught in any "gotcha" moments.

This is not accountability or transparency.  This is a sham.

Fuck it, dude, let's write in Glenn Greenwald.

(Oh, snap.)

Now there's a worthy fucking adversary.

I'm pretty Saganized at the moment. :-D

UPDATE: I've heard that the Romney/Ryan ticket is too odious even for some serious long-time students of Objectivism (SLSOs) despite Ryan's professed support for Ayn Rand.  When you get some of those SLSOs migrating to even the "subjectivist, anarchist, and nihilist" Libertarian Party candidate (ze nihilists [not an ethos], zay vote for CHONSON!!!), you know what a joke this whole election is. The serious change can only come intellectually/culturally, as the SLSOs know quite well.  This time around, I'm at least as "apathetic" about a presidential election as I've been since Bush/Gore 2000.

UPDATE: Miguel Cabrera - HOF or no?  (Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron are the most similar through age 29!)

UPDATE: Bigger circle-jerk: FOX News or /r/politics?  The FOX pundits are all working themselves up into a lather in expectation of a Romney upset.  I guess it just makes them and their audience feel better to ignore the statistically-best projections?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Some "desert island" books

[UPDATED below.]

I figured that I would do this sort of thing once in a while, in order to chart a course of progress over time, to reminisce from points in the future, etc.  This is a listing of books that "I'd take with me to a desert island" (a hypothetical that doesn't really tell you what would be most useful for you on a desert island, but rather illustrates something else, namely, the small number of books you'd want on hand over any others).  It does not, at this point, include fiction, since I have yet to really explore that written world.  Also, these are not synonymous with "favorite" books - though there is some overlap - but rather those books which I think I might come back to the most.  Some I have not even gotten to reading but want to have them on hand as much as I can, just in case.  It's not a perfect list; the point is to make it become more perfect over time. ;-)

David L. Norton, Personal Destinies
Alan Gewirth, Self-Fulfillment
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning and Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning
The Essential Plato
The Basic Writings of Kant
A Spinoza Reader
Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
Basic Writings of Nietzsche and The Portable Nietzsche
A Kierkegaard Anthology
The Marx-Engels Reader
Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia
John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement
The Essential Epicurus
Epictetus, The Art of Living
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Saint Augustine, Confessions
Erich Fromm, Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics
Albert Ellis, A New Guide to Rational Living
The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader
Thomas Jefferson, Writings
Benjamin Franklin, Writings
Thomas Paine, Collected Writings
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
Strunk and White, The Elements of Style
The Ayn Rand Lexicon and Letters of Ayn Rand
Leonard Peikoff, Understanding Objectivism
Alan Dershowitz, The Best Defense
Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics
Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty
David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom
Thomas Karier, Intellectual Capital
The Essential Jung
V.S. Ramachandran, Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind
Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works
Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat & Other Clinical Tales
Morton Hunt, The Story of Psychology
Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel
Douglas Hofstadter, Godel, Escher, Bach
Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea
Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge
Michael Steinberg, The Symphony: A Listener's Guide
Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century
Ursula Vaughan Williams, R.V.W.: A Biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams
Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis

Nov. 4, 2012 additions:

The Jefferson Bible
Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings
Ruth Garrett Millikan, Language, Thought and Other Biological Categories
Henry Veatch, Rational Man: A Modern Interpretation of Aristotelian Ethics
Marquis de Sade, Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings
Walter Kaufmann, Critique of Religion and Philosophy
A. John Simmons, The Lockean Theory of Rights and On the Edge of Anarchy: Locke, Consent, and the Limits of Society
Charles Taylor, Hegel, Sources of the Self, and A Secular Age
Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations
Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons and On What Matters