Thursday, January 31, 2013

Regarding absolutes

Serious philosophers hold that there are absolutes - perhaps, indeed, that everything (every existent, every fact, every event, every sound mental integration of such things) is an absolute, i.e., not subject to alteration or revision.  The question then arises, what does that mean?  I'll respond first with a concrete instance: It's an absolute that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776; it is a fact and as such it isn't alterable.  But from what I've seen, many people have difficulties with the concept of absolutes (or absolutism), and so an example such as this might not really hit home in the face of their objection to, or rejection of, the idea that there are absolutes.

Miss Rand dismisses the doubters thusly:
“There are no absolutes,” they chatter, blanking out the fact that they are uttering an absolute.
That sounds like a familiar stock response to skeptics who utter something to the effect that there are no absolutes.  It works, but maybe it doesn't address the non-skeptics, the "ordinary folks out there" who are suspicious of those who speak in terms of absolutes.  What I want to suggest is that  there isn't true confusion (among intellectually serious people) over there being absolutes or not, but rather the issue is what the rejection of something put forward as an absolute means in people's minds.  Are they really rejecting the idea of an absolute, or are they misunderstanding what "absolute" means to the serious philosopher, or are they, perhaps, simply rejecting something proposed as an absolute because either (a) they don't think the that something being proposed as an absolute (often a controversial moral, political, or religious ideal or principle) should be regard as an absolute, or (b) because the absolute being offered is ill-formed?

The case-in-point that brought me to thinking about this appeared in philosopher Edward Feser's blog, under the blog entry titled "The road from libertarianism," which chronicles his move away from ("right-wing" or capitalist) libertarianism to the politically conservative position he holds today.  What stuck in my mind was this paragraph in particular:
That the “ownership” aspect of the thesis is no less indeterminate than the “self” aspect also became more evident to me as I thought more carefully about John Locke, who was a defender of the thesis of self-ownership but also someone who denied that our rights were so absolute that we could have a right to commit suicide or to sell ourselves into slavery.  And after all, in everyday life we can rightly be said to own all sorts of things to which we don’t have absolute property rights.  For example, you might own the land your house sits on without thereby having the right to store nuclear waste on it.  But then, how absolute should we take property rights to be, and why?  That depends on your theory of rights.  And that reinforces the point that the thesis of self-ownership by itselfdoesn’t tell us nearly as much as many libertarians think it does.  Ifthe theory of rights that underlies the thesis entails an absolute right of self-ownership, then our rights over ourselves are exactly what libertarians think they are.  But if the theory that underlies the thesis does not entail such an absolute right -- as it didn’t for Locke -- then we might in some sense own ourselves, but withouttherefore having the right to take heroin, or unilaterally to divorce a spouse, or whatever.  Again, the idea of self-ownership by itselfwon’t tell you either way.  You have to look to the underlying theory of rights to find out -- in which case the thesis of self-ownership isn’t doing a whole lot of work.
The word "absolute" shows up five times in this paragraph, and as a means of dispensing with the idea of "self-ownership" as an absolute right or principle.  Feser's framing of the issue isn't so much about the absoluteness of a purported right of self-ownership, but about having to appeal to some other moral principles to make the principle determinate.  Do we have the right to sell ourselves into slavery?  That question can lead us in one of (at least) two directions: We can ask whether understanding the principle of self-ownership as an absolute leads us to accept the legal propriety of selling oneself into slavery; or, we can ask whether we need to appeal to other moral principles to determine whether a usefully determinate right of self-ownership entails the right to sell oneself into slavery.  Feser treats both of these in perhaps a significantly-related way.  My focus here, though, is on the way in which the term "absolute" is being used.  This need not even concern specifically the right of self-ownership under question, for early in the paragraph he discusses the idea of absolute property rights (over non-bodily resources) in conjunction with whether or not we have the right to store nuclear waste on our property, which raises intuitive concerns not altogether different than those raised by questions about a right to sell oneself into slavery.

That being clarified, let us now ask: Does your having an absolute right with respect to your duly-acquired property entail that you have the right to store nuclear waste there, right in the middle of a neighborhood, say?

This ties in with recent public debate over the Second Amendment individual right to bear arms.  Some people in the debate claim that the individual right to bear arms isn't absolute because we aren't rightfully permitted as individuals to bear nuclear arms.  This claim must be distinguished from a similar-sounding familiar claim, which says that the Second Amendment individual right to bear arms doesn't extend in scope to an individual right to bear nuclear arms - that such a restriction bearing on one's legal rights does not run afoul of the Second Amendment.  If someone makes this latter claim, they may or may not also mean to say that the Second Amendment isn't an absolute.  And that's the crux of the matter.

What I would advocate is the view that the Second Amendment, viewed as an absolute, doesn't extend in scope to an individual right to bear nuclear arms.  This, in short, as an example, illustrates the (absolute!) principle that there are absolutes, when those absolutes are properly formulated.  A not-so-serious "philosopher" might infer that the "when those absolutes..." qualification, by virtue of being a qualification or a condition, rules out the principle understood as an absolute.  In this person's mind, the concept of a conditional or qualified absolute doesn't compute.  The problem is, I think many folks out there suffer from this very problem when considering the subject of absolutes (assuming they ever actually consider them beyond brief dismissals of the very idea).  Now, Feser by all appearances is a serious philosopher but he engages in a not-so-serious approach to discussing absolutes in the way he does as quoted above.  It is pernicious to clear and cogent understanding of what is meant by "absolute," and as pernicious things go, "the least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold." (Aristotle)

So in analogy to the Second Amendment example, I return to Feser's commentary about absolute property rights and storing nuclear waste.  The whole issue concerns not whether the rights in question are absolutes - they are - but what the correctly specified contours and scope of those rights are.  We have an abstract principle of what I and Locke and Jefferson would term natural rights, which has a number of formulations all of which amount more or less to the same idea: that individuals are rightly the sovereigns over their personal domain - over their physical person and their duly acquired property - and that their personal domains must be capable of peacefully coexisting with the personal domains of others.  And what does that mean, in practice?  Here we need to be careful, in our transition from the abstract formulation to the practical implementation, not to erect a pernicious dichotomy between the two.  If in practical implementation, we end up with (say) a prohibition on storing nuclear waste in a neighborhood setting, we don't get to then say, "Oh, that abstract statement isn't so absolute after all," or, more perniciously, "That abstract statement of an absolute isn't helpful for practical application."  After all, storing nuclear waste in a neighborhood setting imposes an unreasonable risk or threat to the personal domains of one's neighbors.

But there is something to be said for not rationalistically dabbling in abstractions without the ability to formulate good, workable, concretely-detailed laws governing people's domain-regarding interactions.

(And to circumvent pernicious "cultural conservative" mischief, we distinguish domain-regarding interactions from interactions regarding all the other areas of life; we are concerned here only with how boundaries ought to be set.  Within those boundaries, people have every natural right to do things the "cultural conservatives" find so horribly objectionable that boundary-invading force needs to be employed - you know, to keep teh gayz from doing gay stuff, for instance.  Let us dismiss without serious consideration the question of whether "natural right of personal domain" doesn't extend to or encompass the right to engage in "victimless crimes."  Calling Lysander Spooner for the knock-down, drag-out, no-brainer argument-stopper on that one...)

So how do we figure out what is domain-respecting and what is domain-disrespecting?  Well, through practice.  That institution known as the common law wasn't deduced from abstractions in a vacuum or in a philosopher's armchair; the laws pertaining to personal domains had to evolve - or, arguably, better yet - be discovered (through trial-and-error) over a long period of time.  This would be a sort of "natural rights/natural law" variant upon a familiar Hayekian theme, stressing said discovery as the "telos" of the legal process while giving neither constructivist rationalism nor slavish adherence to tradition any respect.

(Hayek's formulation of the spontaneously evolved legal order is in terms of being "between instinct and reason," which I think eventually approaches in concept that which we usually refer to as "tradition." Someone of such Randian sensibilities as yours truly cannot accept that formulation; the evolution of common law happens in the correctly-defined "middle ground" between tradition and rationalism, which is a general cognitive malady of which Hayek's diagnosis of constructivist rationalism is a variety, and rationalism is not, ever, in any way, to be confused with reason.  The sense of the term "reason" that Rand endorses (the appropriate aforementioned "middle ground") involves experience, trial-and-error, historical data, and so on, which makes legal evolution not so much "spontaneous" as a process of experience-based reasoning in progressive/perfective discovery of the correct implementation of correct abstract principle (i.e., natural rights).  Indeed, the idea of natural rights itself wasn't always around, and had to be discovered through that very same sort of process.  For the extended Objectivist treatment of the cognitive malady that is rationalism (which is treating reason in effect as a process of deduction with floating abstractions), there is the indispensable Understanding Objectivism.  For an(other) extensive study of the Objectivist opposition to all kinds of false dichotomies, including the theoretical and the practical, there's Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.)

I make mention of Hayek in large part because that's where Feser's non-Randian, conservative political sensibilities are (keeping in mind that Hayek wrote this).  That might help to explain the pernicious language regarding absolute rights.  (Feser's more primary/fundamental philosophical sensibilities are closer to the Randian track, so that's good.  Being that he is of the theistic persuasion, one would very much expect a high regard for absolutes from him, but that doesn't mean that his paragraph quoted above isn't a slip into perniciousness.)  Hayek's approach to defending (classical) liberalism is a "pragmatic" one, and I'm not clear on whether this version of pragmatism isn't vulnerable to the standard objections to the pernicious sorts of pragmatism that eschew absolutism, or that it isn't at the very core of what Rand found so bad about Hayek qua defender of capitalism upon reading The Road to Serfdom.  It helps to keep in mind that the approach to defending classical liberal (and especially individualist) ideals among American theorists (Jefferson, Thoreau, Spooner, Tucker, Mencken, Rand, Rothbard, Nozick, Mack) tends to have a more extreme or robust flavor than that of the English ones (Hume, Smith, Bentham, Mill . . . hell, Mill ended up a socialist, and have the Brits ever really recovered since?); Hayek's approach coincides much more with the latter, and it's even reflected in his rather dull prose.

(EDIT: This parenthetical become something of a diversion, but it all integrates in the end, of course.  Herbert Spencer, a Brit, was more of a radical, and boy has he paid the price in the form of vicious smears as a "social Darwinist."  And such a familiar-sounding vicious smear, innit? . . . and wouldn't you know it, Sully the Fool strikes again!  Why is it that when I keep integrating, Sully keeps showing up as a useless fool?  Why, I ask, why?  Let me guess, he's probably totally bogged down these days in cabinet-nominee discussions, the sort of thing no serious, long-term-focused intellectuals get bogged down in.  And OMG, wouldn't you know it, I'm right.  That's his most recent posting.  Integration/induction works yet again.  Checkmate, dickweed.   Here, how 'bout you do this (assuming you're keeping up on what's of real importance, i.e., blogs like this one, and this one's just getting warmed up): direct your readers to reddit for all the "useful" articles you post to the Dish, condense every twenty "opinion" postings into one unit apiece instead, use the rest of your time to study philosophy, and you might actually end up a historically-influential public intellectual.  Note that Hitchens won't be remembered all that much in the long run (except perhaps as a well-spoken leading figure of the intellectually-juvenile and hence short-lived New Atheist movement of the very early 21st century), and you're headed right in the same direction.  I just have a sense for these sorts of things - for example, like how P.T. Anderson's non-Oscar-nominated The Master will far outlast many of the films that got Oscar nominations this year.  Clearly PTA has a higher similarity-score with Kubrick qua filmmaker than do Bigelow, Russell, Spielberg, and even Tarantino, and that pretty much tells the story, does it not.  Ayn Rand: now there's someone with lasting influence, for reasons all too obvious to folks like me.  Get a fucking clue, Sully!  Also, for those who don't know: Sully, of Brit origins, is much more in line with the Brits in his reverence for the boring, "reason"-downplaying and overly-conciliatory-sounding Hayek in preference to the robust, reason-celebrating and uncompromising Rand.  It all integrates and makes sense just as I said, dunnit?)

So I think that about does 'er.  Wraps 'er all up.  Was it a meticulously lengthy proving of the obvious, old wine in new bottles, or a genuinely valuable insight unfamiliar to many?  It gets harder and harder for me to tell these days.  And does it even meet my river-of-gold standards of late?  Shouldn't I be, like, abstractly theorizing about the Singularity of singularities - you know, the coming Big Integration, whatever (awesome thing) that turns out to be?  (How do we make it past this problem though?  Urgency, do you feel it?)  Aw heck, I'm rambling again.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Chomsky, Dershowitz, and Taba

In 2005, notable adversaries on the Israel-Palestinian situation, Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz, debated the subject at Harvard. (TRANSCRIPT)  These are perhaps the most formidable opponents from each side on the issue, and once you cut through Dershowitz's abusive "Planet Chomsky" B.S. in the debate, they end up essentially in agreement on one thing: The Taba Summit was a laudable basis for a two-state mideast peace solution.

So . . . if these two adversaries can agree on that, then what the fuck is the holdup?  Huh?  I don't know what's more ridiculous, the stalling here or the stalling on the legalization of bud.  They're both obviously no-brainers.  If you will it, it is no dream; am I wrong?
"Checkmate, asshole."
"Checkmate, Israeli right wing; you're even more of an asshole than me."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A conflict of visions

Not exactly the same conflict of visions of which Thomas Sowell spoke, but it is closely related....

One opinion piece below appears at a section called The Stone at the New York Times website; the sidebar describes The Stone as follows: "The Stone features the writing of contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless."  We can safely take the opinion pages of the Times as representative of "left-liberal" opinion in the United States.  The other opinion piece below would find a home in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, which is fairly representative of right/conservative and libertarianish opinion in the USA.  The first is dated August 18 of 2012; the second, as if responding to the first retroactively, is dated August 13 2012.

(1) Deluded Individualism

(2) Obama's Assault on the Institutions of Civil Society

Regular readers of this blog could readily tell which article I think better represents (a) reality and (b) traditionally and distinctively 'American' attitudes concerning the relation between the individual, civil society, and the state.  As I have pointed out in two separate blog entries in the past couple years, the interest among academic moral and political philosophers as a group in the whole idea of individualism appears almost nonexistent.  (There are two academically-published books I know of from within the past forty years that deal to a great extent with the concept of individualism: David L. Norton's Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (Princeton, 1976), which can be found at many a good university library; and Leslie Paul Thiele's Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul: A Study of Heroic Individualism (Princeton, 1990), which can be found hardly anywhere, it would seem.  [EDIT: Upon further search, there are volumes by Tibor Machan that cover individualism in a positive light.  It also turns out that there are a few academic volumes scattered about here and there which tackle individualism, including a couple significant-looking ones by philosophy professors; they appear to aim at debunking individualist 'myths' such as the view - held by whom, I'm not sure - that the atomized individual is prior to or independent of society.  Perhaps this conception of individualism exists mainly in the fevered imaginations of authors like that of the first opinion piece above and not among actual proponents of individualism?])

(As the first opinion piece would have it, the content and direction of here blog is not due to autonomous or self-directing intellectually-virtuous/perfective activity; that would be a "delusion."  The credit for all this is due to society, or the welfare state, or other external factors.  That being the case, why isn't society all perfectivst already?  What contribution did I personally make to perfectivism?  Jack shit?)

I've said on this blog numerous times that, as the intellectuals go, so goes the nation.  To ward off a potential misunderstanding here among those who might go out of their way to misunderstand: The professional intellectual "class" is certainly filled to a great extent with people who are very bright, and very virtuous intellectually: they adhere to rigorous standards of truth-seeking inquiry.  If the People as a whole practiced such intellectual virtue in their own lives in their own ways and endeavors, we'd be in a vastly improved situation compared to what we have now.  This is the goal I would like to see accomplished.  So why isn't the nation going that way per my dictum?  Well, the chief problem is how the intellectuals make (or fail to make) their work relevant to the People.

It's not like the American people are inherently anti-intellectual.  Rather, what you see in this country is a widespread attitude, more on the Right than on the Left I should think, of hostility or indifference to what "higher learning" is or has become these days.  I'll enter as exhibit B (exhibit A being Scumbag Leiter & Co.) the first opinion piece above.  When this is the kind of thing that shows up on the opinion pages of "the liberal media's" flagship publication, accessible from page 3 of a google search on "individualism philosophy" no less, what else are the People - especially those right-of-center - to think about the "liberal" intelligentsia?  What use are such authors to the People?  Are they fulfilling their highest professional responsibility to serve as the guardians and integrators of human knowledge?

The feeling among many of the "higher ed" intelligentsia is mutual: a contempt for the unwashed masses.  There's a gulf separating what's going on up there in the ivory towers and what's going on out there in flyover country (where the folks cling bitterly to guns and bibles).  Whereas a genuine philosophical mindset and temperament would seek to facilitate a dialogue between the two groups, what we have here is a failure to integrate.  What's more, the intellectuals are in the position, as professional full-time thinkers, where they're supposed to understand the causes and solutions to this problem, and act accordingly.  (Or are they not really in control of this, per the first opinion piece above?)  So that's the short-short explanation for how the course of the country is dictated by the way the intellectuals conduct themselves.

What would Aristotle and/or Jefferson think about all this?
"Checkmate, asshole."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Maverick Philosopher vs. Ayn Rand

The Maverick Philosopher, who elects to identify himself at his blog under real-nym Bill Vallicella, doesn't think all that highly of Ayn Rand.

That is unfortunate, but understandable, given his context.

What's more, when he bashes Rand as being a "hack" and whatnot, he goes through the trouble of presenting evidence and argument.  So he presents something of a formidable foe to those who would take Rand seriously as a philosopher.  (He does allow that she is a philosopher, but just not a good one.)  As one could quite readily discern from his blog, he is an honorable fucking adversary, even if mistaken in his general assessment of Rand.  (Plus he has a better (more perfect) overall command of the written word than I.)  He provides a very refreshing alternative to the anti-philosophizing attitude represented by the ignoble Leiters.  Perhaps one day I should have the pleasure of meeting him and collaborating, as all mutual philosophizing should be about.  Here I want to take issue with his overall assessment while acknowledging, in the spirit of dialectic, what he gets right.

First, the "bad stuff" about Rand (and Peikoff) . . .

Maverick pretty much nails Rand on the issues he has decided to cover when discussing her.  Pretty much, though not all the way.  Rand's very simple approach to metaphysics on neo-Aristotelian lines either hardly adds to what Aristotle already accomplished, or gets things wrong when applying understanding of the axioms to various substantive issues, including perhaps The Most Substantive Issue of Metaphysics: Does God Exist?  Going back to Nathaniel Branden's "intellectual ammunition department" response to the God-as-First-Cause question in The Objectivist Newsletter, the official Objectivist position is, in essence, that God cannot exist because, as Branden put it, the universe is the totality of that which exists.  God is not part of the universe, therefore, God does not exist.  Q.E.D.  It's pretty much that bad, and Maverick will fill you in on the details.  It also makes Peikoff's own position very muddled in light of his statement that "existence exists" does not specify that a physical world exists (and how could it, given its trivially-true character?).

The Objectivist rendering of the law of causality as a corollary of the law of identity (stated as "A is A" although expanded upon by direct quotation from Aristotle in the last pages of Atlas) is at best a simplistic restatement of Aristotelian ideas about causes, while Peikoff's treatment of the issue in light of what he subsequently says about free will is muddled.  The standard Rand/Peikoff/(Binswanger?) claim is that since under a given set of circumstances, only one "action" (behavior?) is available to a given entity, this rules out  (as "irrational" or something) indeterministic interpretations of Quantum Mechanics.  The Objectivist interpretation  of causality as (correctly!) applied to free will is that the "only" action open to a volitional being is that which follows from its nature: to act freely, to choose.  The problem for the orthodox Objectivist is that this, in turn, allows for indeterministic causation (yes, you read that right) not just in the subatomic realm studied by QM, but universally.  What we are left with is the inductive epistemological task of discovering which phenomena are (mechanistically) determined and which are not.  (Indeterminism must not be equated with volition; if subatomic particles don't behave as classical mechanics would dictate, that hardly at all implies their exhibiting volition, as you might hear many an amateur student of Objectivism claim.)

Rand/Peikoff's "refutations" of idealism and materialism are similarly, and hopelessly, muddled.  The Objectivist axiom of consciousness dictates most reasonably that a consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms; that in order for it to be conscious, it had to be conscious of something (which exists).  The problem is, this doesn't do anything to refute idealism, since standard idealisms hold that, in Berkeley's formulation, "to be is to be perceived."  Consciousness still remains the faculty of perceiving that which exists, in such a formulation.  This cannot be rejected on the basis of "the primacy of existence" (if that is read as implied by the [I hate to put it this way, but I have to] trivially-true axioms).  This would amount to metaphysics-by-fiat, that "existence exists" means something substantive to the effect that Berkeley's formulation is automatically ruled out.  I think had Rand been surrounded by expert metaphysicians during her intellectual career, she'd have done a much better job at this sort of thing; however, had the mainstream of academic analytic philosophy at the time not been bogged down in anti-metaphysical practices while Aristotle was going relatively neglected, she might have found such experts where they around.  This gives rise to the question: Why did she not integrate/dialecticize with Henry Veatch, or him with her?  What we have here is a failure to integrate.

The Objectivist "refutation" of materialism is little better, since it amounts to a strawman equation of materialism with a vulgar, uber-reductive materialism.  In OPAR, Peikoff mentions four supposedly paradigmatic materialists in his sense: Democritus, Hobbes, Marx, and Skinner.  In one indication that Peikoff was behind the times at the time of OPAR's 1991 publication, he appears unaware that Skinner had long been a non-issue by then, particularly in wake of Chomsky's demolition job some two decades before.  Not only that, he hadn't been influential in mainstream philosophy.  Skinner might plausibly be an example of vulgar reductive materialism but since mainstream philosophers didn't take him seriously, what's the idea of bringing him into a discussion of what allegedly went wrong in metaphysics at the hands of philosophers?  The case of Marx doesn't work well here, either, because Marx as a vulgar reductionist reeks of a strawman.  But the real kicker here is: how does Objectivism escape charges of materialism when (contrary to Peikoff's earlier admission that the existence axiom doesn't specify the existence of a physical world) it rules out the existence of God on the grounds that only the physical universe exists?  Objectivism turns out to be a substantive naturalism, which isn't (as John W. Robbins's incompetent critique of Objectivism would have it) synonymous with materialism, at least not as Peikoff describes it (the vulgar-reductive kind which denies the reality of consciousness), but that leaves the question: who of significance in the history of philosophy does hold that latter view?  I won't hold my breath for an answer.

So, getting back to the Maverick, when he's bashing the substantive Rand/Peikoff arguments in metaphysics, he's shooting fish in a barrel.  It's no surprise to me that inasmuch as Rand scholars write on metaphysics they go back to Aristotle and sometimes Aquinas for beefing-up.  (For instance, Chapter 1 of Den Uyl and Rasmussen's The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand seems to contain more discussion about the Aristotelian tradition than about Rand in particular.)

When Maverick attacks Rand's views on abortion, he rightly points out where her views are sorely lacking, although I would not consider her views obviously stupid considering the time at which she wrote them, a time when Judith Thomson's flawed article defending abortion was not so obviously flawed according to the understanding of many readers then.  (The violinist example . . . whoo boy!  I mean, if a fetus could be easily transferred from the mother's body to some other nutritive environment - just as the violinist could be hooked up to someone else - then the violinist example is a great, knock-down defense of a woman's unlimited "right to choose what happens to and in her body."  Not to mention that whole thing about volitional activity bringing about the (special) relation of fetal dependence, in marked contrast to the involuntary hooking-up to the violinist.  And why a violinist, anyway?)  I would also take issue with one subtle but significant point.  When Rand wrote, "The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn)," Maverick interprets this as follows: "Rand equates the unborn with the not-yet living."  The "or" here might suggest a logical equivalence, but the rhetorical context does not make that at all clear and, being accustomed as I am to Rand's writing style, I read it as the different kind of "or," as in presenting two distinct cases.  In any case, I think needless to  say, the abortion debate has gotten more sophisticated in the nearly-forty years since, with Don Marquis's anti-abortion argument making a most potent case for how abortion is, at minimum, extremely morally problematic; the standard "woman's right over her body" arguments advanced by so many intellectually-lazy defenders of abortion rights have to fully confront Marquis's argument.

Maverick's coverage of Rand's intellectual relationship with John Hospers sorely mischaracterizes the reasons for their parting of ways.  It was not over Hospers having "dared criticize" Rand, but the style in which he did so.  Binswanger has the scoop on what precipitated their break, and if that is an accurate portrayal, then Hospers's behavior cries out for a reasoned explanation, which (due to Hospers's passing) we may never get.

Speaking of Binswanger, Maverick is to be commended for his respectful interchange with Binswanger at his blog.  It's too bad all these one-sided cheap-shot artists around the online world don't have the guts or the decency to do likewise.

Before continuing, I do want to mention that I'm lukewarm about Maverick's seemingly blanket characterizations of "liberals" as decadent libertines on moral and cultural matters and freedom-stomping statists on political and economic ones.  (Maverick self-identifies as a conservative.)  If one were to pin him down to specifics, I'm fairly sure he would distinguish the thoughtful liberals from the not-so-thoughtful ones, in which case the former aren't the ones giving liberalism such a bad name.  But doesn't that go for pretty much any "school" of thought, be it liberalism, libertarianism, Objectivism, or . . . conservatism?  If we're going to criticize "the liberals" for their faults, then "the conservatives" are fair game . . . and have you seen how "the conservatives" have done a piss-poor job, since roughly around the time of their adoption of the Southern Strategy, at presenting an intellectually-fortified defense of conservative ideals?  There was Barry Goldwater back in the '60s penning The Conscience of a Conservative, and then later coming to identify as a libertarian and to decry the religious fundamentalism taking over the GOP.  There was William F. Buckley (by the way, did he get calmly and methodically destroyed by Chomsky on his "Firing Line" show, or what?) who came to identify as a libertarian as well as conservative.  (I read somewhere that, to his credit, Buckley smoked a little bud; also, he proved in his eloquent style how the Drug War is a moral and practical disaster.) You had Reagan playing up to the il(classical)liberal Moral Majority, and things continued downhill from there: the Dan Quayle VP nod, the illiberal declaration of "culture war" at the '92 GOP convention, Clinton Derangement Syndrome, the Bush torture regime, FOX's credibility-destroying partisanship, Limbaugh's descent into intellectual dementia, Hannity's blatant partisanship and anti-intellectualism, Savage's paranoid hysteria, O'Reilly's anti-intellectual streak, the ridiculous '08 Dingbat VP nod, "refudiate," Obama Derangement Syndrome, demise-is-always-around-the-corner paranoia, End Times-ism, many Tea Partiers' selective attention/memory/knowledge, seeming GOP indifference to the healthcare affordability crisis, Moneybags as the lone credible (sic) '12 candidate, birtherism, intellectually vacant opposition to marriage equality, evolution denial, climate change denial (coupled by projections onto scientists as allegedly politicizing the issue), and, now, out-and-out morons running the House Science (sic) Committee.  If "the conservatives" would address these problems as much as "the liberals" should address theirs (starting perhaps with their pathological inability or unwillingness to seriously and honestly confront what they imagine to be impossible: a formidable Aristotelian-individualist-capitalist intellectual juggernaut spearheaded by a fiery novelist), we might well have neo-Aristotelian/perfectivist nirvana, would we not.

Okay.  Now.  Where does the Maverick get it wrong about Rand?

First, let me point out that his shooting-fish-in-a-barrel routine is directed almost exclusively at Rand's lousy substantive metaphysical arguments.  What he does not cover is her ethics, her politics, or - most crucially, most fundamentally, most signficantly - her prescribed (neo-Aristotelian) methodology for dealing with ideas.  (Method pertains primarily with epistemology, not metaphysics.)  Outside of what Peikoff, Sciabarra, and a few others have done, this never gets addressed those writing about Rand, her critics most of all.  One might claim that Peikoff's lecture courses, in which this central topic is most extensively worked out, are too inaccessible a format (the complaint about their being too expensive - as in the hundreds of dollars - no longer holds, by any remotely plausible stretch), but that still leaves Sciabarra's Russian Radical, which has been in print for nearly two decades now, and which Rand critics either brazenly evade or remain blazingly ignorant about.  Peikoff's Understanding Objectivism course has been in print for almost a year now (and if you aren't deeply familiar, directly or inderectly, with the contents of this course, then your understanding of Rand's philosophy is probably for shit, given the crucial, fundamental, supremely significant role of method in it; this is not even to speak of Peikoff's later courses, such as The Art of Thinking or Objectivism Through Induction) and so far the critics have remained completely silent about the book version of Understanding, through either ignorance/cluelessness or evasion.  (Right on bad-faith cue, the haters did manage, just around the same time Understanding was released, to heap attention upon Gary Weiss's Ayn Rand Nation which, from what I can tell, is as clueless as any of the secondary literature out there.  This disparity of response right here says pretty much all you need to know about the haters' total lack of scruples.)

(I mean, if staunch adherents/admirers of Thinker X's ideas uniformly tell you that such-and-such resource is absolutely essential to grasping Thinker X's ideas properly, the intellectually curious person would very much want to obtain that resource if the person wanted to speak competently and persuasively about the merits of Thinker X's ideas, rather than to run around like a random thug taking pot-shots at Thinker X and the adherents of Thinker X's ideas.  This is only common sense; this only stands to reason.  Oh, did I mention that Peikoff lecture courses available at $10 a pop, for undergrads to snatch up and integrate en masse, spells Game Over for the intellectual Establishment?  If not, I'll say it again: Peikoff lecture courses available at $10 a pop, for undergrads to snatch up and integrate en masse, spells Game Over for the intellectual Establishment.  Done deal.  I've never been more certain of anything in my life.  The fuck you think Russian Radical was all about, anyway, fun and games?   You've been spermjacked, Leiter & Co.  Checkmate, assholes.  You can't refute perfectivism. :-)

Second, the intellectually responsible thing to do is to see in what areas Rand's ideas have been carefully analyzed and developed by subsequent thinkers, if one wants to know where her strengths were.  I've already touched upon method (Peikoff and Sciabarra).  In ethics, there's Tara Smith's Cambridge-published book on Randian-egoistic normative virtue-ethics, along with the recent Ayn Rand Society volume.  In politics, Rand's "What is Capitalism?" is a hugely important essay with respect to a central theme of hers: the role of the mind in human existence.  The essential substance of her political ideas has reached its latest academic development in Sciabarra's Total Freedom and Rasmussen and Den Uyl's Norms of Liberty.  As for her aesthetics: first off, not to understand her aesthetics is not to understand her views about sense of life, which is not to understand Rand's own sense of life, which is not to understand the benevolent universe premise, which is not to understand Rand the person; it is to not understand her views on psycho-epistemology, which is to not understand her theory about method, which is to not understand her philosophy, period.  Second, when a scholar of aesthetics such as John Hospers says that Rand's novels carry much aesthetic importance, the intellectually responsible reaction is to perk up one's ears.  Finally, in regard to epistemology "proper," the forthcoming (2013) Ayn Rand Society volume continues and develops Rand's work on the nature of concepts and their role in knowledge.

It is a fascinating psychological and sociological dynamic to observe, how people's views on a thinker or topic can vary so much depending not only on their individual contexts of knowledge, but also on what data points they cull into making their observations and judgments.  If you focus exclusively on things like Rand's terrible polemics and lousy substantive arguments in metaphysics, one is bound to think little or negatively of her.  If one focuses exclusively on (to put it in briefest essence) the perfectivist aspects of Rand's philosophy and personality, one is bound to see her as the second coming of Aristotle.  The perfective dialectical reconciliation of these two seemingly disparate data sets - the act of objectively and comprehensively establishing the full context - involves doing as I do right here and in dozens of other blog entries on Rand.  And to his great credit Maverick, being staunchly anti-intellectual-bigotry and perfectivist in his sensibilities, wrote: "Rand's ideas ought to be discussed, not dismissed."  A shit-ton better than the closed-minded sneers and ultra-politicized "gatekeeping" of Leiter and his ilk, innit?  (A search on the term "nietzsche" at Maverick's Rand page (which I linked at the outset of today's discussion) is apropos.  Further, I have it on authority of a well-established Nietzsche scholar that Rand was more disciplined a thinker than Nietzsche was.  She did select the Aristotelian route from Alasdair MacIntyre's (dialectically inadequate?) Aristotle/Nietzsche alternative, if that tells you anything.  But what if Nietzsche had been productive another thirty years?...)

The unquestionable fact is, there is a fast-growing academic literature on Rand that didn't exist before.  Combined with the effect of those now-way-inexpensive Peikoff courses, and the publication of Understanding Objectivism, and the neo-Aristotelian resurgence in general gathering steam in the academy, the effect should be exponential: an explosion in interest in Rand among the intellectually curious.  The deniers - inside the academy and out - have two options: (1) keep evading and behaving like thugs, or (2) get a clue.  To wit:
"Checkmate, asshole."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Brian Leiter and Ayn Rand

This oughtta show up plenty high in the relevant Google search results.  Ain't the budding information age fun? :-D

(It's a bit unfortunate that I have to push yesterday's inauguration day / Ultimate Cliff countdown post downward in order to undertake today's trash-disposal responsibilities, but that's life.)

For those of you possibly out of the loop: Brian LeiterKarl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the Center for Law, Philosophy & Human Values at the University of Chicago, blogs at Leiter Reports, the most widely-viewed philosophy blog on the internets.  (He bragged recently about getting some 11,000 hits a day there - a total that well exceeds what this here measly blog gets, although the audience for this one has been growing at a very fast exponential pace in recent months.  Gee, I wonder why?)  More than any other philosophy blog on the internet, Prof. Leiter's blog propagates news, information and opinion of interest to the nation's (and the world's) ideas-merchants and their students, which impacts the future course of the intelligentsia, which in turn impacts the direction of society-at-large.  How well does Prof. Leiter fulfill his obligations in this regard, as a public-intellectual figure?

For those who follow his blog - for me, it's a necessary part of keeping tabs on the goings-on in the intellectual world, although more on the order of janitorial duty (cleaning out the toilet, say) - he has only nasty things to say about Ayn Rand, a figure who - 30 years after her passing - continues to exercise a growing influence on American public life.  The latest incident, posted earlier today, continues that pattern, this time linking to that amateurish Salon piece which I discussed a couple days ago.  Now, I don't really know how much Prof. Leiter keeps up on this here blog if at all (although if he doesn't, that would indicate a failure to fulfill his intellectual obligations, given that the highest responsibility of philosophers is to serve as the guardians and integrators of human knowledge).  His one public acknowledgment of this here philosopher was nearly two years ago in the comments section of another philosophy blog, referring to this here philosopher as "a deranged Ayn Rand fanatic," with no supporting evidence or argument - just a flat one-sentence assertion.  I say all this because I am in no position to divine whether or not Prof. Leiter is trolling yours truly with the latest bit of anti-Rand nastiness.  Whether he is or not, he only digs himself deeper in the eyes of history.

Prof. Leiter already has a well-earned reputation for conducting himself in arrogant, abusive, bullying ways in his blog and perhaps elsewhere, but his treatment of Ayn Rand in particular is well beyond the pale of minimally decent discourse.  This is part and parcel of his characteristically nasty treatment of almost anything and anyone right-of-center politically, including conservatives, libertarians, the capitalist economic system, or proponents of Americanism.  (It's abundantly clear to regular watchers of his blog that Prof. Leiter does not particularly care for this country.)  In this respect, he's a virtual self-parody of the leftist, anti-American, anti-capitalist, young-mind-polluting academic of right-of-center lore.  Were this nation's right-wing media aware of this Leiter entity (as they should be, out of a commitment to journalistic excellence and responsibility to the viewer/listener), and of how he so clearly epitomizes such odious perspectives, they would not only be appalled but you'd probably never hear the end of it.  (As it is, not being all that well clued in to the role of the mind in human existence, they have been focusing on a chief symptom of the nation's ills - our head of state - rather than the root cause: the nature of the intellectuals.)

There is something about Ayn Rand that has the political Left in this country running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off.  It's like they simply cannot bring themselves to treat her ideas with the respect it in fact deserves, or with the fundamental fairness that ought to be accorded any thinker's ideas.  Their bad-faith (to put it lightly) smearing of Rand over her youthful "admiration" (if it could even be called that) for a certain facet of a murderer's personality, completely divorced from the context of her lifelong intellectual progression, should be a tip-off right there that not all is well in the intellectually-inclined ranks of the political Left when it comes to characterizing those they perceive to be on "the other side."  But that is only one incident among many.  It is a constant, pathological pattern of smears, outright lies, malice, bad faith, evasion, fear, hysteria, incomprehension (often obstinate), ignorance (often willful), mean-spiritedness, mockery, bigotry, hatred, disrespect, abuse, guilt-by-association, context-flouting, selective focus, and what have you.  And it appears to be Ayn Rand that brings out the worst in these people, in inverse proportion to the true value of the unknown ideal that resides within the grotesquely disfigured strawman they create.

If you want to get into something like the hermeneutics of suspicion here, to uncover the cognitive and psychological biases that underlie this despicable behavior even among "leading intellectuals," my best guess is that it is a subconscious defense mechanism against a perceived enemy who poses the most potent threat to their leftist paradigm.  (And they would be right about that.)  They might - and often do - consciously deny that Ayn Rand is much of a real threat in her own right - Leiter has referred to Ayn Rand on numerous occasions as "an intellectual lightweight" and "a pea-brain" - and instead focus on the threat that her influence on millions of readers poses to their leftist paradigm.  To rationalize away the merits behind her influence, they have to dig their heels in deeper and attribute that influence to intellectual shortcomings on the part of those millions of readers.  "It's a youthful phase" or "it's a justification for selfishness and feelings of superiority that the assholes in society find appealing," and other such worthless ad hominem attacks.  In typical partisan and psychologically-projective fashion, the leftists might try to justify their reaction to Rand on the grounds of her admittedly piss-poor attacks on the great majority of historically-significant philosophers (Kant especially).  This simply won't fly, because it's glass-house-dwellers hurling stones at a house that is only partially adorned by windows.  Polemics is a major blind spot in Rand's case (though the underlying causes of this can be understood if you look at her context - whom she had the opportunity to engage in discussions, the intellectual atmosphere of her time, and so forth; what's their excuse?).  But there's nothing in her polemics, save arguably for her analysis of Kant's alleged psychological techniques, that comes close to the outright viciousness that these leftist "intellectuals" engage in.  It's suspicious enough when so-called intellectuals ignore or casually dismiss Rand as not being worth their time, but otherwise have the good sense and decency to keep their yaps shut; it's a different level altogether when they behave exactly as hired partisan political goons do, and engage in the lowest of cheap shots and smear tactics.  I'm not talking gutter-low here, I'm talking sewer-low.  And these thugs have the nerve to call themselves philosophers?

I want to propose a thought experiment of a certain kind, as I conduct for myself on a regular basis.  It involves a hypothetical situation (not altogether different from Rawls's Original Position, although it involves actual historical figures) in which this or that set of historically-influential philosophers all gather in the same room (or on the same parapet) and hash things out.  The group could be as small or as large as imagination permits.  It could be limited only to philosophy's "Big Three" - Plato, Aristotle, and Kant - and the emerging consensus among them would be quite amazing, I should think - perfectivist, even.  (Did I mention that you can't refute perfectivism?  It would have to be invoked or implicitly relied upon in any attempt to trump it argumentatively.  It's no accident that this here philosopher is the one to discover this principle (inductively, of course, as you see by reviewing the array of contextually-fundamentally-similar individuals whom I list in my brief "Perfectivism: An Introduction" article.).  This here philosopher is not one to be fucked with, as the likes of Prof. Leiter will come to learn the hard way, in due course.)  Another thought experiment involves all those depicted in The School of Athens, although an updated version of that scenario would almost certainly include some ladies (Ayn Rand, for example).

Now, for this particular thought experiment, imagine Brian Leiter showing up at an annual meeting of the Ayn Rand Society.  He goes right up to Allan Gotthelf, James Lennox and Fred Miller - three leading scholars of Aristotle, two of them published by the top university press, Oxford (one of them by the ultimate in academic prestige, Oxford's Clarendon Press), and one of them on the faculty of the #2-ranked graduate philosophy program in America (#3 in the world when you include Oxford's) - and he says right to their faces, "Rand is such a lightweight who can't possibly compare to Aristotle, so why do you even bother with her?"  He'd be making fucking fool out of himself, would he not?  If he had a sense of honor, integrity, decency, and courage, he'd go up to such people (online or in person) and engage them in a mutually-respectful and truth-seeking dialogue.  But would he dare?  He'd have to clean his act way up first, else he'd look like a fucking fool.

Except that he makes himself a fucking fool doing what he's doing now, on his widely-disseminated blog, by belittling and bashing Ayn Rand in terms that would get him squashed like a cockroach at an Ayn Rand Society meeting, by people who actually know what Ayn Rand really advocated - people who understand Rand in terms she herself would recognize, the way Brian Leiter presumably understands Nietzsche in terms Nietzsche himself would recognize, as against so many ignorant caricatures.  (For a sizable list of such Rand scholars, see the literature I list here.)

Brian Leiter is a coward, not a worthy fucking adversary.  He might be all great when it comes to Nietzsche or philosophy of law or what have you, but he shits his credibility away when he doesn't consistently integrate his careful scholarly interpretative methods into all his "philosophic" endeavors.  A self-styled "philosopher" bashing that which he's too lazy to even try to understand, is a fool.  The only question now is who among his professional colleagues has the guts and the wisdom to call him out on his cognitive vice.  Who out there does care about her or his intellectual reputation and is willing to do the right thing by speaking up?
"Checkmate, asshole."

Sunday, January 20, 2013


January 20, 2013.  This marks the three-month point on the countdown to The Ultimate Cliff.  Woohoo! :-D

On a related point, what is the newly-inaugurated head of state going to do about legalizing cannabis for all American adults?  Question: given our head of state's racially-diverse cosmetic makeup, how can he continue to just sit by silently while the openly and unapologetically racist drug war continues unabated?  Where's Yeezy?  Shouldn't he be calling out the head of state on this crucial matter on behalf of all his niggas?  (SPIRITED WARRIOR SOUL: "This is what happens, Barry, when you fuck your own constituency in the ass!" smash smash smash)

A brief recap of the no-brainer items for avoiding the 4/20 Ultimatum set by yours truly:

(1) Legalization on Lockean-Jeffersonian-Paineist grounds (necessarily coupled with a comprehensive program to responsibly inform people on the benefits and risks of cannabinoid intake), or an 'Occupy 4/20' deal involving mass public possession or consumption of cannabis in nonviolent protest of prohibitionist insanity.

(2) A good-faith move toward a process of accountability for CIA acts of torture, sodomy and killing of detainees.  Many of these activities are so beyond the pale of human decency, so disgusting, that they'd make Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson puke their fucking guts out if they knew it was done under the auspices of the stars and stripes; no question about it.

[At the end of his article linked above discussing the killing of CIA detainees, Greenwald mentions that the night before, Clint Eastwood had a spectacular stream-of-consciousness episode at the Republic National Convention.  Guess which story the mainstream cable-news media devoted shit-tons of time to covering in the following day(s), and which story they made every effort to sweep under the rug.  Mother. FUCKERS.]

(3) Marriage equality.

(Speaking of which, why did it take the head of state more than two years after the appearance of Olson's un-rebutted Newsweek article for him to "evolve" toward common sense on the issue?  What's the hold-up?  Quit stalling, motherfucker!  Olson's case is the reason the anti-equality side has been ground into the dirt in the courts, venues in which solid argument and evidence - as opposed to Santorumesque idiocy - are the decisive factors.  I'd venture to guess that support for marriage equality among philosophers is somewhere north of 99%.)

(4) A good-faith move by our elected national leaders toward facilitating a mideast peace process in the spirit of Taba.  There's no fucking reason why mideast carpet-pissers should continue to run the show they way they've been doing.

(5) A good-faith move by elected leaders to work toward implementing an age-appropriate philosophically-grounded education for students K-12 in the nation's schools.  Jefferson, Franklin, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and others (even today's educators themselves, I should think!) would be on board with that idea, so don't fuck the memories of these great people in the ass, elected leaders!

(6) A good-faith effort by our elected leaders to move toward outlawing grotesquely inhumane factory-farming processes.  At the very least they could stop using taxpayer dollars to subsidize it, for crying out fucking loud.

(7) Full and explicit repudiation by political and corporate (Dow 30 if not S&P 500) leaders of the all-too-familiar demoralizing and cynical culture of corporatism and cronyism stinking up the place in this country.  (BTW, "crony capitalism" is a term Ayn Rand wouldn't tolerate for a fucking second, for (EPISTEMOLOGICAL) reasons that everyone should know by now: anti-concept, frozen abstraction, package-dealing, concept-stealing, context-dropping, the art of smearing, anti-euphemism, you name it.  It's all there in the Lexicon.)

(8) Good faith effort by the national elected leaders and other culturally-significant standard-bearers to integrate leading minds such as Noam Chomsky into the mainstream national discourse.  Ideally, Chomsky would be offered a prime-time slot on one or more cable news networks, which would enhance most amazingly the intellectual credibility of their opinion programming, and even enhance their own bottom lines.  There's nothing for them or anyone to fear from an honest exchange of ideas - nothing.  Private capitalist ownership is too popular in this nation for Chomsky to pose any remotely plausible threat to that.  But he may well pose a threat to the perverse status quo that empowers, enriches and rewards the power-elites who engage in shitty, unaccountable behavior that victimizes and marginalizes people at home and around the world and needlessly tarnishes America's image and moral credibility.

(9) Serious effort underway to bring full fairness and accountability to the exchange of ideas among the nation's leading ideas-merchants in a way that is relevant and beneficial to the People, who depend on them as specialists to do their fucking job for the benefit of society (which is, of course, not limited to teaching dues-paying students).  That most definitely means confronting the Randian challenge to the intellectual status quo; the people would like and deserve to know, in terms that would make Aristotle himself proud, why so many professional intellectuals have snubbed her.  Sgt. Hartmann's line about that head being so sanitary and squared-away that even the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in there and take a dump is apropos in its parallels.  (I'm the Sgt. Hartmann of this here show, of course.)

At least these items.  My other Ultimate Cliff demands I'll rescind for the time being but retain the prerogative to bring back, modify, amend, add to, etc (with amply fair warning prior to 4/20 of course).  My prerogative, because none of y'alls fucking owns me, stinky wishful anti-Jeffersonian myths wafting about notwithstanding.

I expect to have fun these next three months; how 'bout all you slimy little maggot-infested scumbags?  Perhaps by then you, too, will pack the gear to serve in my beloved corps.
"Hi folks, welcome to the party. What took you so long?"

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ayn Rand vs. ignorant "liberal" idiots

When it comes to Ayn Rand, the self-styled open-minded more-enlightened-than-thou "liberals" in the country today show their true colors, and they aren't pretty.

The latest case in point:
"Ayn Rand is for Children" at, dated today.

It's the usual (childish!) silliness passing for hard-hitting analysis, nothing that us veterans of internet culture-wars haven't seen recycled ignorantly thousands of times already and upvoted by the reddiotic circlejerk to the point of self-parody.  That link points to the /r/politics subreddit, which is filled to the brim with intellectually-lazy partisans who give not the slightest shit about truth or justice but about what's popular, and reddiot's social-metaphysical upvote/downvote format only encourages it.  But wait until you see the /r/"philosophy" subreddit, where there's no excuse whatsoever for this kind of ignoble/vicious behavior.  But it gets worse: Even the leading "philosophy" blogger in the academic profession, Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago, and scores of vile little like-minded leftist cronies in that very profession, get in on the disgraceful, shameful act.  I think of these particular academic-world assholes as the Lance Armstrongs of the philosophical profession: they have managed successfully to keep up the illusion of objectivity and integrity, but it won't last; it can't last, not as long as the truth can get out and justice prevails in this world.  (If they are forward-looking enough, as they're supposed to be as philosophers, they cannot fail to recognize that in the extra-advanced information age that is the coming generation, all their public evasions can and will be fully exposed and assessed, as is happening right here, a good deal ahead of the curve.  I can't think of any way around that eventuality short of species-wide technological collapse and/or extinction - and I've been giving this subject a reasonably good deal of thought.)

It's not even like these "liberal" intellectual thugs care about a fair fight.  Cowards!  Weaklings!  BUMS!  What psychological syndrome might explain this pathological pattern of behavior?  One libertarian philosophy professor with a great deal of affinity toward Rand once explained to me that it pretty much boils down to politics: if Rand had (incomprehensibly) somehow been on the left politically while everything else about her remained the same, the academy and the rest of the Left would have welcomed her with open arms, especially given her demonstrable intellectual prowess (to anyone who'll look with an open mind - the "workshop" appendix to Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology being a nice readily-accessible example if it in action).  I'm about 98% sure this professor has it right.  (Yet another instance highlighting the sorry state of affairs here appears in a 2012 piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Being the kind-hearted, take-no-prisoners, suffers-no-fools-gladly gentleman that I am, I contacted the author of this piece a few days back (under a real-nym) to correct him on his errors by providing abundant contrary evidence; the response so far has been, shall we say, unsatisfactory, yes? - to put it mildly.  Maybe he's too busy; I don't know.  But that published piece sucks swamp ass regardless.)

I mean, c'mon: Jimmy Wales is a child, as today's Salon article unequivocally implies?

That these kinds of articles continue to flow even to this day from supposedly enlightened liberal news-and-opinion websites, in light of the growing academic/professional literature on Rand (see the Ayn Rand Society for example - lots of adults there, some of them leading Aristotle scholars, several of them on the faculty of highly-ranked philosophy programs), says a lot more about these so-called liberals than they do about Rand.

About this author:

"David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future.""

Oh, he sounds like he's really got some philosophical chops.  Chances are 0% that he so much as emailed or called someone up at the Ayn Rand Institute for comment.  These "liberal" pieces of shit never do.

Such so-called liberals' constant hysterical strawman reactions to Rand have gotten to the point of being comical (among those with a clue, or among those who don't evade stone-cold facts). Do they really have nothing better to offer than what the university professors seriously studying Rand have been offering, which has been overwhelmingly positive?

It's too bad Ayn Rand isn't still around, because there's no way these people would would be getting away with this blatant idiocy.  How does it happen as it is?  It's because of the intellectuals.  As they go, so goes the nation.  No wonder the public discourse in this country is so fucked up.  I'll supplement this supremely judicious rant by quoting Rand from that link about the intellectuals, as it is way too good not to:
[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.
The intellectuals serve as guides, as trend-setters, as the transmission belts or middlemen between philosophy and the culture. If they adopt a philosophy of reason—if their goal is the development of man’s rational faculty and the pursuit of knowledge—they are a society’s most productive and most powerful group, because their work provides the base and the integration of all other human activities. If the intellectuals are dominated by a philosophy of irrationalism, they become a society’s unemployed and unemployable.
From the early nineteenth century on, American intellectuals—with very rare exceptions—were the humbly obedient followers of European philosophy, which had entered its age of decadence. Accepting its fundamentals, they were unable to deal with or even to grasp the nature of this country.

The intellectual Establishment of today isn't dominated by a philosophy of irrationalism, although it is dominated by a number of bad trends that undercut its usefulness to the society-at-large and its progress toward better conditions.  Aside from the ugly political aspect of things, there's that thing about the American intellectuals having been unduly influenced by European philosophy when Aristotelian philosophy has always been the best intellectual paradigm in terms of the health of societies (and home-grown pragmatism hasn't been cutting it - not when it fails to identify eudaimonic self-actualization as the primary aim of ethical conduct and intellectual excellence as the key to all of human virtues).  Added to that is the trend among intellectuals to oppose capitalism as if out psychological and sociological instinct.  That ties in with Rand's observation that this nation's so-called intellectuals were unable to deal with or grasp the nature of this country.  Hell, take a look at prevailing contemporary constitutional jurisprudence in contrast to a commonsense Jeffersonian-Paineist-Spoonerite-Barnettian natural-rights jurisprudence for a sign of the intellectual corruption involved.

(I mean, shit! - Congress could prohibit alcohol if it wanted to, on the very same grounds that the Supreme Court upheld cannabis prohibition in Gonzalez v. Raich (which built upon the bullshitty Wickard decision covering what's-not-interstate-commerce) - even though Prohibition was repealed once already (prior to Wickard, that is)!  That's ass-u-ming that SCOTUS wouldn't bullshit its way into some squaring of this screwy circle in order to keep Congress from doing that.  This absurd state of affairs could be cleared up quickly and easily on Jeffersonian grounds.  But wtf do I know, I'm not a lawyer, just a measly philosopher whose chief credential is a non-peer-reviewed blog.  Speaking of "peers," is Scumbag Leiter one of them?  Derek Parfit, perhaps?  Who "peer-reviewed" Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Spinoza, Kierkegaard, Marx, and Nietzsche, anyway?  I'm just asking questions here.)

Signs of health in the intellectual community would include the re-emergence of neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics in the academy (some decades after Rand had been on the cutting edge in this area, mind you) and the decline of Marxism into near-irrelevance.  These are no-brainers, however.  A chief indicator of dysfunction, on the other hand, I pointed to in a very recent posting: the most-unfortunate failure by the academy to connect with and make itself relevant to the People.  The People desperately need education in philosophy - in critical thinking, in intellectual curiosity, and not only Aristotelianism or Randism in particular (although Aristotle and Rand would be the first to do all in their power to mobilize the intellectuals into relevance) - else the populace becomes anti-intellectual and public discourse suffers accordingly.

And that is how widely-viewed websites like end up publishing idiotic commentaries on one of the nation's most influential and controversial thinkers of the day, and who knows what else.  It is also how our current Head of State comes not understand jack shit about Ayn Rand (although I'm sure he could recite Rawls chapter and verse based on what he absorbed there at Hahhhvuhd).   The people all across the fruited plain deserve a decent, fair, well-informed discussion among its leading ideas-merchants - especially those in academe - about societally-influential and controversial ideas that inform their lives and political trends.  When the academy fails miserably - and I mean miserably - to deliver on their implicit and explicit promises to fulfill their professional and human obligations in this regard, righteous anger on the People's behalf is a perfectly normal and completely justified response.

This stuff should be a no-brainer.  Scholars at the Ayn Rand Society have figured this stuff out.  (Rand had it figured out more than 50 years ago, for crying out loud!)  Why can't the rest of the intelligentsia?  The sooner they get their act together, the sooner we all reach the cultural, technological and whatever other Singularities.  Foot-dragging is not an acceptable option.  It's not some goddamn mistake that points right to this here expletive-filled blog, which has "ayn rand" and "integration" as the largest-lettered labels in the sidebar and a link to incestuous lesbians in the "about me" section, not to mention a treasure-trove of wisdom spread out over some 250ish blog entries now.  Now how about getting fucking clue, any of you professional intellectuals reading this - and that goes especially for you so-called high-minded liberals among you - and get your asses in gear for the sake of the future well-being of humanity.  At the very least, think of the children! ;-)

What would Aristotle do (aside from wiping the floor with Rand-bashing idiots and himself-point-missers)?  (Remember, kids: boundless intellectual curiosity as the root source of great-souledness.)

Now go, go, for the good of the city!

("Yes, UP, for the thousandth time, integration is fun. :-|")

P.S. For an example of an honorable leftish-liberal media figure, try Glenn Greenwald.  He's had the very good sense (as is standard for him) not to enter the Rand-criticism fray or to so much as mention Rand beyond his demolition of Paul Ryan, a politician (ew!) and Romney-sidekick (yuck!) who, as Greenwald correctly mentions, bears little resemblance to a Randian hero.  Greenwald was the primary draw, for me, to Salon's website on a regular basis, before he moved over to the UK Guardian.  For anyone who has observed Good Guy Glenn in action, he never loses an argument.  Why?  Because when he speaks on a subject, he knows what the fuck he's talking about.  There's a key rule for how to win arguments: know more about the issue than your opponent does.  It's worked for me: I've never lost an argument about Rand, for instance.  Something something impossible to refute perfectivism....

Friday, January 18, 2013

Adam Lanza = Randian Hero?

[In the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel department...]

Adam Lanza, heroic Randian-egoist?

It might appear so, according to result No. 2 here.[*]

Checkmate, asshole.

(Some of my commentary regarding the unbelievably malicious, way-beyond-the-pale "William Edward Hickman" smear can be found here.)

So, what's the over/under on when this Leiter fuck gets his comeuppance?  Not if, but when.  I suppose it depends on the degree of psychological evasion and malice of which even so-called philosophers are capable.  All that scholarly excellence and reputation means only so much when the scholar in question takes a big fat dump all over intellectual integrity.  I'll be ramping up, by a few hundred percent, my campaign to checkmate various and sundry progress-obstructing scumbags in the coming days/weeks/months.  This unjustice will not stand, man.  I'm the motherfucking Django of the philosophical world and these slimy bastards are going DOWN.

[*] Copied and pasted should it ever happen to disappear from publication at 'Leiter Reports':

Ayn Rand's Early Inspiration: A Child Killer

This certainly belongs in the "you can't make this stuff up" category.  As J. Brendan Ritchie, who flagged it for me, wrote:  "Apparently Ayn Rand was heavily inspired by (and admired) a psychopath. Incidently, objectivism now makes a lot more sense to me."

Also, the "J. Brendan Ritchie" character who flagged the item for Prof. Leiter can be found in the Department of Philosophy at University of Maryland, College Park (tied at #31 in the latest Philosophical Gourmet Report rankings of graduate philosophy programs).  Prof. Leiter's credentials can, of course, be found here.  Some pretty pathological shit going on here in "higher ed," huh?

(Here is an example of what Randian heroes actually believe.  A true scholar of Rand, Allan Gotthelf - also a leading scholar of Aristotle - can be found in the Rutgers University Philosophy Department, which is ranked at #2 in the latest Philosophical Gourmet Report; he also serves as chairman of the American Philosophical Society-affiliated Ayn Rand Society.  Let the evasion commence/continue/snowball?)