Thursday, February 28, 2013

The "Ayn Rand idolized a child killer" smear

[Note: This outrageous smear has been addressed in numerous other blog entries elsewhere on the interwebs.  This smear may eventually go down as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the so-called intellectual Left.  It's such a slam-dunk case that it's a wonder that anyone would accord Leftist polemics any degree of intellectual credibility whatsoever anymore.  And it's far from an isolated incident, no less!  What's even more disgusting and downright chilling is how this shameful behavior goes all the way to the top in the hallowed halls of higher "learning."]

I've discussed the subject of Rand's comments about William Edward Hickman in this blog a couple times before.  I have some things to add here.

First off, I want to point out the fact that the anti-Rand smear artists don't get to lift Rand's comments on Hickman from her journals while ignoring the rest of the contents in the book from which those comments came - not if they still expect to maintain a shred of intellectual moral credibility.  One doesn't get to do that while ignoring her later (as in decades later), mature journal entries chewing the principle of "the role of the mind in man's existence" (her stated theme of Atlas Shrugged, as any actual scholar with a clue would know).  The principle is the same when it came to Rand's decision to accept old-age government benefits (which is consistent with her published comments about accepting government benefits); the smear-artists cannot claim credibility when calling attention to this while ignoring everything else in the book from which this information came.

But that's the nature of these smear-artists, see.  Usually they're leftist scum who put political sabotage-activism above moral and intellectual scruples, and who mistake Ayn Rand for their usual easy targets on the political "right."  As I've noted elsewhere (see the link immediately below), I don't think that the Left knows how to handle an opponent like Ayn Rand.  (It makes a massive difference that she is an Aristotelian and they decidedly are not - and it's a certainty that Aristotle himself would not resort to the moral level of the sewer that these smear-artists inhabit.)

In that context, I'd like to reproduce my comments from a reddit thread from a few weeks back in which the subject of Rand's "idolization of Hickman" came up - namely, I'd like to present a much fuller context, which the scummy smear-artists typically choose to ignore.  Here are a number of key passages from Rand's journals concerning Hickman, followed by the first part of my commentary that appeared in the original thread comment:

p. 22: "[My hero is] very far from him, of course. The outside of Hickman, but not the inside. Much deeper and much more. A Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me."
p. 37: "[the reaction to] this case is not a moral indignation at a terrible crime. It is the mob's murderous desire to revenge its hurt vanity against a man who dared to be alone. It is a case of 'we' against 'him.'"
p. 38: "Yes, he is a monster - now. But the worse he is, the worst must be the cause that drove him to this. Isn't it significant that a society was not able to fill the life of an exceptional, intelligent boy, to give him anything to out-balance crime in his eyes? If society is horrified at his crime, it should be horrified at the crime's ultimate cause: itself. The worse the crime - the greater its guilt. What could society answer, if that boy were to say: 'Yes, I'm a monstrous criminal, but what are you?'
"This is what I think of the case. I am afraid that I idealize Hickman and that he might not be this at all. In fact, he probably isn't. But it does not make any difference. If he isn't, he could be, and that's enough. The reaction of society would be the same, if not worse, toward the Hickman I have in mind. The case showed me how society can wreck an exceptional being, and then murder him for being the wreck that it itself has created. This will be the story of the boy in my book."
P. 42: "[The] claim that Hickman's greatest crime is his anti-socialness confirmed my idea of the public's attitude in this case - and explains my involuntary, irresistible sympathy for him, which I cannot help feeling just because of this and in spite of everything else."
p. 43: "There is a lot that is purposely, senselessly horrible about him. But that does not interest me. I want to remember his actions and characteristics that will be useful for the boy in my story. His limitless daring and his frightful sense of humor...."
p. 44: "All the dirty stories about Hickman. In this case they are probably true, but how easily they could have been manufactured to throw dirt at the object of the public's hatred (which will be the case in my book)."
UP comments: To begin with, this last one carries such irony: the scummy leftist smear-machine manufactures all kinds of dirt to throw at the object of their hatred.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Peikoff's The DIM Hypothesis: a review

This posting probably wouldn't fit the usual formal standards of a book review, but that's not my concern.  I want to get my comments out there, in whatever order they come out.

(Some context for newbies: Leonard Peikoff is heir to Ayn Rand's estate and her foremost interpreter.  If people understood Objectivism as well as he and Rand did, the world would be a heck of a better place.  The DIM Hypothesis (2012) is the latest of his books.)

First off, it's an important book to read if only because it's very much thought-provoking in its basic thesis, i.e., that modal inquiry helps us to figure out large-scale historical trends.  Dr. Peikoff actually makes some rather modest claims on behalf of this work in the preface/intro part of the book, apparently under the (correct) belief that his hypothesis at the very least needs to be put out there and mentally chewed however much it need be chewed.  I think it would be hard to come away from this book not having one's thinking forever altered in regard to understanding history in terms of modal change.  This is not to say that Peikoff gets it right in his analyses as to all the specific modes - what they are, when and how they apply to a given culture - but one almost surely cannot help thinking that there is contained in his analyses significant germs of truth.

So what is this talk of modal inquiry all about?  As you might have guessed or already know, Peikoff divides modes or methods of integration into three main categories: I for integration, a process which seeks a (conceptual) One in the (perceptual) Many, based purely on secular sense evidence, a mode for which Aristotle is the prime exponent; M for mis-integration, a mental process that leads ultimately in essence to a focus on the (supernatural) One at the expense of the (natural, perceptual) Many, a mode for which Plato, with his Form of the Good, is the prime exponent; finally, there is D for disintegration, a modal opposite (if you will) of M, which is a secularized approach to knowledge focusing on (perceptual) concretes at the expense of any unifying theory, which Peikoff says was brought about as a distinctively modern approach by one Immanuel Kant.  D would be the flipside of the religionist coin which holds that if God is dead, everything is permitted, only the D mode in its extreme or pure form would reject God or the supernatural in favor of "everything goes."

Peikoff makes further distinctions within the two "bad" modal types, the M1 and D1 versions being unstable mixtures of I and M and I and D, respectively, and the M2 and D2 modes being the "pure" variant which would be brought about by consistent application or implementation of the Platonic/M or Kantian/D modes, respectively.  The Renaissance, for instance, was characterized by M1, a mixture of secular and supernaturalist modes, following the Middle Ages which was a pure M2 period and preceding the early modern (still M1) and Enlightenment (I) periods.  There's a handy table on the very back page of the book that provides the "standing on one foot" version of the DIM hypothesis as applied to nine different major epochs of human history.  Only ancient Greece and the Enlightenment receive the I designation.

Peikoff spends the first half of the book explaining how, in a few of the major epochs (Greece, Rome, Middle Ages, Modern), the mode dominant in each culture translates into representative cultural products, namely literature, education, science or physics, and politics.  Here is where I began to get wary because many of the examples he offers as indicative of a culturally dominant mode have such a contrived flavor to them.  Okay, just for instance: totalitarianism is said to emphasize a One (the state, the ruler, the Volk) taking precedence over or dominating the many (the individuals).  What's more, not only does Peikoff say that modern eastern and central Europe was characterized by an M2 mode (associated with Communist ideals - socialist realism in literature, dialectical teleology in science, and "instilling communism" in education) and was "therefore" totalitarianism in politics, but he also says that the Middle Ages, also M2, was politically totalitarian (the One societally being the Church as God's representative, with a One politically being a King).  Now, maybe Peikoff has it correct and the mainstream historians have it wrong, but nowhere else (except perhaps in New Atheist-type literature) have I seen the western Middle Ages as being characterized by totalitarianism politically.  Now, sure, the culture was authoritarian and repressive but . . . is this splitting hairs?  I suppose we could look to the socio-cultural structure of modern-day Islamist theocracies as examples of the M2 approach; are they totalitarian, or something else?  Are they importantly different from western medieval theocracies, which had a more "Greek" relative to "Abrahamic" influence?  Does the person of Jesus vis a vis the person of Mohammed make a crucial difference to the overall flavor of their (measurements-omitted) respective authoritarian cultures?

Anyway, that's kind of a side note.  What I really want to object to is the continuation of very bad "Objectivist polemics" against Immanuel Kant.  How right (or wrong) Peikoff gets things about Kant plays a significant role in Peikoff's modal analysis as applied to the post-Kant modern world.  Looking at the book's index under the entry for Kant, we get "father of nihilism, [pp.] 38-39, 174-175, 350n15" and then "in ethics, self-sacrifice for its own sake, [p.] 37".  Now, perhaps there is some historical narrative that points to a Kantian influence leading to the nihilism that Nietzsche takes up the challenge of overcoming, but I doubt that it's a narrative you'd see coming from Objectivist circles who insist on buying into the anti-Kant polemics that bear little to no resemblance to interpretations of such Kant scholars as Paul Guyer, Christine Korsgaard, or Allen Wood.  Getting from Kant as arguer for how the categories are employed in uniting the world of sense into an orderly Nature, or as arguer for reason as the source of the Categorical Imperative in its two formulations, to Kant as father of nihilism, would be so convoluted on its face as to invite derision.  Kant's influence did indeed spawn a number of different philosophical traditions or schools, be they German idealism, or Nietzsche-as-foil, or Pragmatism, or Rawlsian contractualism, or post-modernism and its offshoots (definitely not a good thing, IMHO; if you want D2 in concrete manifestation, it's a prime candidate), . . . or sensible and straightorward scholars like Guyer et al.  What's more, once the analytic-synthetic dichotomy was widely (though not universally) abandoned in philosophy in the wake of Quine's "Two Dogmas," and when Aristotle and others have made a resurgence in the academy, Kant has ended up being - while still greatly influential on modern philosophizing - more like a foil if not punching-bag for many.

Peikoff is careful to point out that there are a lot of contributing factors to historical change, not merely the presence of a dominant mode.  The modal analysis might suggest something on the order of a necessity between an underlying dominant mode and historical cultural shifts, but to take the example of the Greeks, the dominance of the Aristotelian-style approach was ended by historically-contingent displacement brought about by military conquest.  (That left M1 to assert its dominance in the West over the next few hundreds years, which paved the way for M2 Christianity.)  The modal analysis can generate "prediction" only in terms of probabilities, as Peikoff reminds the reader in the last chapter (which I'll get to in a moment).  Anyway, the notion that Kant's philosophy paved the way for late-modern culture almost surely ends up being complicated by a significant number of factors, enough to render it close to implausible.  It carries with it about as much plausibility as the leftist notion that Ayn Rand's ideas have had a significant impact on the culture in Washington D.C. (i.e., District of Cynicism) much less on Wall Street.  How much attention does the general public (in America especially) pay the intellectuals?  Okay, so a better question to ask would be: how has the intellectual culture indirectly impacted on the general culture?  But what is that intellectual culture?  Is it really so Kant-influenced as to be D1-ish?

As perhaps the most glaring instance of clumsy fact-handling amidst an otherwise intriguing presentation of theory, we get this on p. 304: "Today, however, the ideas of Aristotle are absent from Western culture and have been so for well over a century."  Good lord now, really?  I mean, a lot really does stand or fall on the truth-status of that claim, so we'd want to be damn sure to get it right in pursuit of non-shoddy analysis and prediction.  There are enough dubious claims like this throughout the book that one would have to do a lot of independent fact-checking and study and general observation of concretes to integrate into an explanatory whole, and that's what it ultimately comes down to in thinking about whether Peikoff's translation of modes into cultural manifestations (literature, science, politics, education) really lines up with the best explanation of the facts.  The virtue of this is the food-for-thought element; how much Peikoff's specific analysis throws us off the scent of perfectionistic correctness is another matter.

Peikoff's analysis leads him to a (probabilistic) prediction in favor of an M2 religious totalitarianism in America sometime in the coming decades.  (Not if I have anything to say about it!)  The signs of this are the apparent revival of religion in America in reaction to an intellectually-weak (because disintegrative?) secularism.  People do need a sense of all-encompassing order and explanation as a requirement of cognitive efficacy, yes, and since they're not getting that from the "progressive" establishment or agenda, the only supposed alternative is M of some variant.  (His relating of the "material-prosperity-eschewing" New Christian movement to the "anti-material-prosperity" environmental movement, as a potential or actual alliance, is extra-dubious; it certainly doesn't correspond to the universe of facts I've been integrating.)  He does bring up Ayn Rand's philosophy as the I antidote to this trend, but - given our divergent perspective of the facts of the matter - I think he way underestimates the potential of Rand's ideas to help effect a reintroduction of the I ethos to the west.  I mean, what else does $10 per Peikoff lecture course (a 95+% markdown from before) mean for the future?  Does he not fully realize just how many aspiring Randian-Aristotelian grad students will be generated and fortified by these courses?

I also find it highly dubious that late-modern science/physics (physics being the most abstract, all-encompassing and fundamental of the sciences) is predominantly a D phenomenon, but unfortunately I haven't (yet) all the conceptual tools on hand necessary to effectively counter Peikoff's characterization in this regard.

I'd like to propose an alternative explanation for historical trends.  The theme of Atlas Shrugged is "the role of the mind in man's existence."  Peikoff and I both accept this fundamental, but we probably differ in its application to historical analysis.  Let's say that broad historical and cultural change is effected by a uni-dimensional analysis, namely in terms of this criterion: just how well and to what extent has the potential that is the human intellect been actualized at any given point in history?  Let's take Peikoff's proposed M2 mode as an example to reinterpret in these terms: M2 represents a compartmentalized integration: if you look at the mode of integration of the medieval scholars, it's all very vigorous and intellectually-adept . . . within its restricted domain.  Being that it was restricted so, it served as an impediment to a more full actualization of intellectual potentialities.  With the introduction of Aristotle's secular mode of analysis (via Thomas Aquinas), we had an opening-up of the realms of "permissible" inquiry.  Peikoff would characterize Thomism as M1 - as a mixture (of some sort) of religious and secular modes of thought, but let's say that an unambiguously perfected Thomism adopts the key Aristotelian principle that the key to human flourishing is the maximal perfection of the intellectual capacity.

Peikoff is of the belief that an I mode has to be purely secular or else it's some variant of M, i.e., mis-integration.  It's highly doubtful a Thomist intellectual would buy into that (and especially not on the basis presented in the Objectivist literature), but does or should a Thomist intellectual accept the key Aristotelian-intellectualist (what I call perfectivist) principle?  (At the least, the Thomist should.)  That would make the Thomist essentially an ally on behalf of what Peikoff calls the I mode.  If both Jefferson (a deist) and Franklin (a Christian) exemplify (as I believe they both do) the same key intellectualist-perfectivist principle, and if they both clearly exemplify what Peikoff called the healthy I mode of the Enlightenment, then the fundamental division here isn't a secular/religious one, but an intellectualist/nonintellectualist one.  Perhaps in terms of this fundamental division, we can understand various non-I modes as shortcomings in some way or other, perhaps even as I modes just waiting to be lured out.  (I'm reminded of this line from Full Metal Jacket: "Inside every gook is an American waiting to get out.")

Besides, with some exceptions, religious intellectuals who've come up against Aristotle have performed the proper integration as Aquinas did.  There's also the secular aspect of the key American Framers that the right-wing religious propaganda surely cannot succeed at blinding a critical mass of Americans to.  And doesn't someone like Glenn Beck represent a significant non-M2 (non-totalitarian) cultural force in America today?  Peikoff's doom-and-gloom scenario, based on extrapolation from the conglomeration of facts he cites about today's religious right, looks (to me) to be quite incomplete and selective (likely unknowingly on his part).  If we interpret human history in light of the intellectualist analysis I suggest, and therefore in terms of a not-always-steady progress from the primitive hunter-gatherer days, and in conjunction with the actual and growing presence of Aristotelian ideas in American culture, then there is much cause to be optimistic about the future.  I suppose we can use the coming decades as a testing grounds for these respective explanatory hypotheses.  (If I were a betting person, I'd bet things will end up more Aristotelian than religious-totalitarian, compared to the present.)

Overall I'd give Peikoff's book a B- grade, a 6.5 out of 10.  In sum, the shortcomings have to do not with the concept, but with the execution.  There will continue to be shortcomings in any Objectivist literature that adopts the polemical style practiced by Rand and Peikoff.  As long as one can mentally abstract this and other weaknesses from the thoughtful and thought-provoking stuff, then I'd give this book a solid recommendation.  But since I think this sort of project could be carried out quite a bit better than in its current manifestation, I can give it only a lukewarm recommendation.

Given the potential significance of this book and my curiosity as to what I may have missed in it, I've enabled comments (with minimal common-sense moderation) for this posting.  Thoughtful comments a big plus. ;-)  I'm figuring out how to enable comments on this posting.  It appears not to be so simple as changing blog settings.  (I've also been trying to change the stylization of this blog - or at the very minimum experiment with stylization, preview changes, etc. - with little luck there as well.  I guess that goes with the territory of a free blogging platform....)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Today's items: Hospers on Rand; Rand on IQ; drug policy

(Your task: mentally integrate, i.e., draw the connections between, these items.)

Item 1:

A real philosopher assesses Ayn Rand based on extensive first-hand interaction:

John Hospers: Conversations with Ayn Rand, Part 1.  Part 2.

Now, a portrait emerges of Rand that is . . . not so simple to sum up briefly.  ("It's complicated.")  On the one hand, Hospers speaks of her as having a wealth of insight ("life-changing") while at the same time being, um, difficult to explain many concepts in "academic-analytic philosophy" to.  It's most apparent that Rand's temperament and style of "doing philosophy" was at variance with those "in the mainstream."

So much the worse for the other, each might say.  Actually, how much does Rand differ from the "continental" tradition in this regard?  Rand was big on the whole meaning-of-life part of philosophy; she had a theory of aesthetics, for example, to which Hospers, an aesthetician par excellance (Exhibit A: see the Music section here), was quite receptive to.  In this regard, she was much more in line with the continental tradition of that time; the (academic) "mainstream" of American philosophy was grappling with its own problems, still in the process of recovering from positivism while at the same time doing hardly any grappling with Aristotle.

(Keep in mind that Anscombe's "Modern Moral Philosophy," which urged a return to Aristotle to remedy the ills of modern moral philosophy, had come out at the same time as Atlas.  Besides, the name "Anscombe" was more likely to prompt associations with Wittgenstein at the time, thereby helping to nudge those paying attention to Anscombe off the Aristotelian scent.  Only ca. 1960 did a new wave of Aristotle literature - Randall; Veatch - begin to hit the scene, which had hardly given the "mainstream philosophers" of the period a chance to assess it within their own [ahem] context.)  Rand's discussions with Hospers also occurred right around the time that Peikoff was finishing up his Ph.D. in Philosophy (under NYU's Sidney Hook), and Peikoff in The Art of Thinking (1992 lecture course) recounts in lecture 1 how he grappled tortuously with shuffling back and forth between the "pragmatist" academic context and the neo-Aristotelian context he was getting via Rand.  (He describes this as a problem of "clashing contexts" and it ties in with the phenomenon of mental automatization.)  So this is the context of the period.  Looking back, and armed with all the relevant integrated-information, there were ways in which Rand was well ahead of her academic competition; for example, the essential thrust of her ethics, irrespective of the logic-chopping treatment her argument receives at the hands of academic critics, gets it as right as the most extensive academic treatment to date of her normative ethics shows it to be right.  This doesn't even get us to the subject of Randian methodology, which may contain her most revolutionary insights of all.  (The search results in this link are a bit of evidence that I'm way ahead of the curve on at least some crucial issues in philosophy.  How long before a critical mass of others catch up?  Months?  Years?  Decades?)  And we also have a forthcoming volume on Rand's epistemology, edited by another serious philosopher, which is sure to have the neo-Aristotelian take on the epistemological issues Hospers discusses in Part 2 of "Conversations.")

Anyway, to cut to the chase: How is it that the one "outsider" professional philosopher who had extensive interaction with Ayn Rand managed not to come away thinking of her as a hack, or a lightweight, or a pea-brain, or a narcissistic megalomaniac, or a cunt, or a hypocrite, or a childish imbecile, or a worshipper of murderers, or an opponent of empathy, or a cult-leader, or . . . (fill in alternet/thinkprogress/salon smear of the day here, approvingly linked to by Prof. Bozo at the University of Chicago while being cheered on by his nasty little crony-type intellectual thugs who somehow "educate" the young'uns, who in turn blindly spread the smears around, mob-rule-like, on - all of which exemplifies, needlessly-tragically, today's mainstream intellectual state).

Supplemental links re Hospers and Rand:

Binswanger on Rand's break with Hospers

The Maverick Philosopher with a slanted, not-very-wise take on the entire contents of Hospers's two-part article.  Seems that the essential, to him, was the second part, out of context from the first.  This may be "maverick" philosophizing, but it ain't no ultimate philosophizing that I ever heard of.

Item 2:

Rand on IQ.  First, a link.  Damn, would you look at the first result there?!  Anyway, it's the quote of the day to chew on:  Wait, hold up again.  Would you look at the fourth result there?!  Does Google in conjunction with adept blogging facilitate the integration of information into knowledge, or what?  Okay, the quote:

In response to the question posed at the 1967 Ford Hall Forum, "Could you write a revised edition of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology for people with an IQ of 110, or will it remain available [accessible? -UP] only to people with an IQ of 150?"

Rand responds: "I'd prefer that people raise their IQ from 110 to 150.  It can be done."

Gee, I wonder how?  Anyone have any promising, uh, leads?

Leads?  Yeah.  Let me just check with the boys down at the psych lab.

Item 3:

(R-rated language to follow.  Proceed at your own risk of being entertained.)

The coward-in-chief hides behind his drug czar.  This drug-policy situation has gotten completely insane.  You can quote me on that.  "Ultimate Philosopher, ultra-careful assessor of evidence, says U.S. drug policy situation is completely insane."  I'll say again what I said in a recent posting: There is no intellectually-credible case whatsoever even so much as on offer at this point in time for keeping drug policy the way it is.  This leaves only three possible explanations for why the status quo is at it is: (1) ignorance; (2) malice (including willful ignorance); (3) some combination of (1) and (2).  The coward-in-chief-who-hides-behind-his-drug-czar isn't ignorant (well, he does take pride in being ignorant of some things, the cocksucker), so that tells you about that entity's case.  That still leaves a bunch of other entities who are complicit in the drug-war insanity.  At least some elected House representatives have been coming to their senses with bills that should pass yesterday at the very latest.

Note the parallels between the state of the drug-war debate and the state of the marriage-equality debate.  One side totally wiping the floor with the other.  Actually, the parallel ends there: there's a basic minimum of a debate going on regarding marriage equality, happening in the courts; there's not even a debate going on about the need to radically dismantle the current drug policy.  It's one honest, well-informed side with all the supportable-by-reason ideas, up against a pro-status-quo monolith of ignorance and/or malice that has defaulted in the realm of ideas, with no arguments on offer at all.  There's no other explanation for this present status quo, there's no excuse for it, and Jefferson would be so disgusted at this outright insanity, as to fucking puke his guts out.

What about you, reader?  Are you, too, disgusted at this state of affairs enough to fucking puke your guts out?

(How, I wonder, did this situation come to exemplify, needlessly-tragically, today's mainstream intellectual state?  Whatever you do, Private Pyle, don't fail to integrate, that would break my fucking heart!  Oh that's right, Private Pyle, don't make any fucking effort to get to the top of the fucking obstacle.  If God would have wanted you up there he would have miracled your ass up there by now, wouldn't he?  Come on, Pyle, move it!  Up and over, up and over!  Are you quitting on me?  Well, are you?  Then quit, you slimy fucking walrus-looking piece of shit!  Get the fuck off of my obstacle!  Get the fuck down off of my obstacle!)

Also, as UP-blog-regulars know, the clock's ticking on that 4/20 thingy.

How does one declare "Checkmate, asshole," when the opponent has left the table, or never came to play at all?  How can one even say that it isn't worthy fucking adversaries we're up against, when no adversary has even shown up?  I declare for any and all with wisdom-loving ears to hear: This is fucking ridiculous!

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Oscars: a cinephile's thoughts

(If you don't know what "cinephile" means and entails, then you're probably much too out of your element to be reading this posting.)

Perhaps the most appropriate response to anyone asking me what I think of this coming Sunday's Academy Awards would be, "I don't think of them."  To explain the basis for this, in full, would involve a systematized presentation best reserved for non-blog publication.  Anyway, I have some rather simple criteria for assessing the merits of a film with an eye to the long-run and history.  The first and most important is, "How likely am I to watch this film again, in the not-distant future?"  That necessarily includes a question: "Is this film useful for purposes of formulating future philosophical and cultural commentaries?"  That automatically cuts way down on the number of films that I think can stand the test of time, in this year's (or any other years') Academy Awards contest.  Another criterion, this mainly for assessing the greatness of past films, is how many times I've actually watched a film.  Having seen Taxi Driver half a dozen times or so, I'm not as likely to watch that again before I watch P.T. Anderson's The Master again (which I intend to do as soon as it comes out on Blu-Ray).  To say I've seen a movie half a dozen times or so would suggest (though not confirm) that I've familiarized myself with it enough not to need to see it again soon.  Point being, that I've seen Taxi Driver that many times and The Master so few, means an adjustment needs to be made for viewing opportunities.  I'll need more time and opportunity to tell for sure whether The Master belongs in the pantheon of great films along with Taxi Driver.

(Speaking of the motion picture pantheon: having just re-watched Michael Mann's Heat, I would place it right up there.  An effing masterpiece of plot-theme-characterization-style integration in which every major character gets more or less what's coming to her/him.  Even better, heroism is evident there.  I had seen it twice or thrice before, but it gets better with additional viewings.  Never mind the cheesy-ish '80s-ish soundtrack; actually, embrace it: it's part of the mastery.  The Pacino/De Niro coupling alone almost certainly makes it a must-see for anyone interested in movies.  I mean, like, duhhh!  [This looks promising.])

Out of the ten nominated films this year, I have seen three of them so far - Django Unchained, Lincoln, and Silver Linings Playbook.  To weed these out: I got the point of Lincoln the first time around; don't need to see it again.  (This is the case for a great many historical or bio-pics.)  Also, it's Spielberg, and I usually don't need to see a Spielberg film more than once these days (if I even see it - amazingly enough, I missed out on War of the Worlds!).  Silver Linings Playbook was good, but certainly not worthy of the Oscar-buzzy 8 nominations.  I'd see it again, but I don't know when.  Its director, David O. Russell, doesn't have a particularly distinguished film-directing career.  Among his other films, I'd be most likely to give I (Heart) Huckabees one more chance before deciding whether or not it's worth a damn.  This leaves Django, which is recycled Tarantino, which does tell me this: I could see it again before all that long, just as I've seen Basterds twice, which was just about the right fill for me (and Django is basically Basterds pt. 2).

Indeed, at an unlikely online resource for movies which carries more credibility with me than any other (and which I'd rather not reveal here, in order to help keep it as exclusive as possible), the top three movies of 2012 are Django, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Master.  I'll take the combination of these three over the three nominees that I've seen, without the slightest hesitation.  (I haven't seen the odds-on front-runner, Argo, but I will on home video; would I ever need to see it more than once?  I have my doubts....)

My approach to these things is rather director-centric, which is natural for a cinephile who accepts more or less an 'auteur' theory of filmmaking - that a film succeeds best as art (as distinguished from entertainment) when it reflects an integral directorial vision, and succeeds even better when it reflects a comprehensive or completist (or perfectionist/perfectivist) approach to the craft, which works out best in proportion to how intellectual the director is.  By that standard, the un-nominated The Master easily outdoes these other three nominated pictures, in terms of value for future cultural and philosophical commentary.  (I envision it being to the Academy's 2012 performance what 2001 is to the Academy's 1968 farce.)  If that doesn't tell you a good deal about the true value of a film (vs. what's popular among the general public or in the academy), then I don't know what does.

Anyway, who are the greatest living English-language directors, by that standard?  To get into a full explanation would, again, require a systematized treatment.  Here's the rough list, followed by key films and the approximate number of times I've watched them:

Scorsese - Taxi Driver (6+), Casino (3+), Gangs of New York (3), Goodfellas (3), Raging Bull (3), Mean Streets (2)

Coppola - Godfather (3+), G2 (3+), Apocalypse Now (3+), The Conversation (2)

Malick - Tree of Life (1), The Thin Red Line (2), The New World (2), Days of Heaven (2+), Badlands (2)

Coens - Lebowski (10+), Miller's Crossing (3+), Fargo (3+), The Man Who Wasn't There (3+), A Serious Man (2), No Country for Old Men (2; more Cormac McCarthy than Coen?)

Lynch - Eraserhead (3), Blue Velvet (2 or 3), Mulholland Dr. (4-ish), The Elephant Man (2), The Straight Story (2)

P.T. Anderson - The Master (1), Punch-Drunk Love (3), There Will Be Blood (3), Magnolia (2), Boogie Nights (2)

Woody Allen - Annie Hall (3), Manhattan (2), Crimes and Misdemeanors (2), Bullets over Broadway (2), Match Point (1), Love and Death (1)

Tarantino - Pulp Fiction (4+), Reservoir Dogs (2+), Jackie Brown (2)

Clint Eastwood - Unforgiven (2), Million Dollar Baby (1), A Perfect World (1), Gran Torino (1)

Terry Gilliam - Brazil (2, and more to come), The Fisher King (2-ish, ditto), Twelve Monkeys (2), Fear and Loathing (1; more Hunter S. Thompson than Gilliam?)

Wes Anderson - The Royal Tenenbaums (2, and more to come), Rushmore (ditto), Moonrise Kingdom (1), Life Aquatic (2)

Polanski - Chinatown (3), Repulsion (2-ish) The Tenant (2), The Pianist (1)

Ridley Scott - The Duellists (3-ish), Blade Runner (3-ish), Alien (1 or 2), Thelma & Louise (1?) Gladiator (1?), Matchstick Men (1; would see again)

Spielberg - Schindler's List (3), Saving Private Ryan (2), Empire of the Sun (1), The Color Purple (1)

Peter Weir - Picnic at Hanging Rock (3+), Dead Poets Society (2), Fearless (2), The Truman Show (2)

Nicolas Roeg - Don't Look Now (3-ish), Walkabout (2), The Man Who Fell to Earth (2)

Rob Reiner - Princess Bride (3+), Spinal Tap (2; will watch again), Stand by Me (2; more S. King than Reiner?)

Hal Hartley - Henry Fool (3+), Trust (1; will watch again), Simple Men (ditto), The Unbelievable Truth (ditto)

Alexander Payne - Election (5-ish), About Schmidt (1 so far), Sideways (ditto), The Descendants (1)

David Fincher - Fight Club (3+; more Chuck P. than Fincher?), Se7en (2 or 3)

That's twenty directors, anyway.  The likes of Christopher Nolan are marginal at best for inclusion here.

For comparison: I've seen the seven Kubrick films from Strangelove onward between 4 and 8 times apiece.

Anyway, that's what I think of this year's Oscars.  And you'll probably learn more of serious relevance about them right here than just about anywhere else you look.
"Checkmate, assholes." - Stanley Kubrick to the Academy
P.S. "Never pay any attention to what critics say. Remember, a statue has never been set up in honor of a critic." - Jean Sibelius
(take that, Ms. Kael, ya effing philistine)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The "Ayn Rand is for children" meme

It is truer than any of her clueless leftist player-haters could barely begin to realize at this point; they are supremely foolish(ly ignorant) as to the why.

I mean, Kira Peikoff didn't turn out that bad, did she?

Peikoff's Philosophy of Education course (1985, according to the Russian Radical bibliography I have right here, and around the time daughter Kira is born).  Integrate with observable concrete outcome of such an approach, 27ish years later.  (Additional exercise: integrate Understanding Objectivism and The Romantic Manifesto with observable concrete outcome of the UO and TRM approach, namely: this here blog.  Integrate; assign A+ grade, a.k.a.: "Perfective." [Further exercise: Integrate the foregoing with The DIM Hypothesis.  Earn perfectivist medal badge.  Await further instruction, from self, of course.])  Compare/contrast to the Comprachico alternative, which pretty much exemplifies what the educational Left has to offer to the young - and, in turn, the caliber of minds emerging from our current, non-Jefferstotelian public school system.

Check, and mate.

(About the only thing that the Chicago Bozo and I agree on is the need for a philosophically-educated citizenry and - in generic terms - about the current cultural bankruptcy in America.  But I "get" Rand and he clearly doesn't, while I also know when to keep my own yap shut about Nietzsche.  The Reginster book (Affirming Life) was quite helpful, BTW, for understanding Nietzsche.  Why won't the Chicago Bozo even bother to read secondary Rand literature that has a clue about Rand?  It's and hit pieces, when it could be Russian RadicalOPARVirtuous Egoist, and Gotthelf.  Vice of one-sidedness, I declare for all with wisdom-loving ears to hear!  My knowledge of Nietzsche could totally kick the ass of his "knowledge" of Rand (which amounts to: jack shit), and my study so far has been secondary literature only - Kaufmann and Reginster - in addition to that Fountainhead intro describing the author's sense-of-life similarities to Nietzsche, which ties in with a Kaufmann editorial footnote to a key aphorism, referencing Aristotle and the noble soul as a lover of self, which sheds crucial light on the egoist character of Rand's perfectivist eudaimonism.  All of a sudden, Rand looks like an Aristotelianized post-Nietzschean, which sounds way cooler than what Bozo-Boy evidently has to offer, which reeks of a politicized, Us-vs.-Them, pathologically elitist, mean-spirited, and - worst of all - malevolent-universe-ish mindset.  Consider: Is it some kind of effing accident that the American cultural dialectic is evidently converging on Ayn Rand, an avowed neo-Aristotelian?  No, it is not.  Ayn Rand is for children, and adults, all of whom have a vital need to integrate mentally.  I mean, duhhhh!  Also, my knowledge of the film canon vastly exceeds the Chicago Bozo's, and aesthetics is central to philosophy (just like Nietzsche would have said, Bozo-Boy).  So clearly I'm a vastly superior philosopher than he, at this time.  Also, Aristotle is the obvious perfectivist trump card in philosophical debate, and I'm definitely more Aristotelian than he!  And also much more capitalist in ethos, as anyone with a clue ought to be.  I blog about individualism (and in connection with eudaimonism, a moral theory with uniquely deep meaning-of-life resonance); he does not.  Strike three, the Bozo's out!)

"Checkmate, asshole."

Two more months of checkmating guaranteed!  And then what?  ;-)


A Real-Life Heroine, in Perfectivist Terms

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Today (2/20/2013)

That date could mean only one thing - the two-month mark on the countdown to the 4/20 Ultimate Cliff. Yes, for any newbies reading this, that's the date I've set for going "on strike," withdrawing the products of my mind from public circulation, unless a number of eminently reasonable demands are met by that date, including the legalization of cannabis for all adults 21 and over in all jurisdictions in the United States (preferably coupled with a solid program of public education on the effects of cannabis, to go along with education in tons of other subjects the totality of which form an integrated conceptual whole very much needed by the youth, who naturally yearn for cognitive integrity in their most intellectually-formative years).  The right to toke is there in the Ninth Amendment, and it's what Jefferson would support in a heartbeat.  It's a right Bob Marley would get up and stand up for.  It's a cognitive Saganizer for many, and potentially many more.  (So who are the effing idiots standing in the way, exactly?  They should be pushovers.)  Put that material in your in your "primacy of intellect" pipe and smoke it.

Mental exchange of the day:

CRITICS OF AYN RAND: "You have no children in your novels."

AYN RAND TO CRITICS: "Those authors you like so much? They have no heroes in theirs."


AYN RAND TO CRITICS: "Checkmate, assholes."

Is this like shooting fish in a barrel, or what? :-D  Man, if only the Left (and its comically-ignorant reddiot spawn) could mount a remotely respectable criticism of Ayn Rand of all people, a full half-century after the publication of Atlas Shrugged....  Instead, what we get today from them is mostly intellectually-childish imbecility.  What we have here is a failure to integrate, and therefore a loss of great amounts of intellectual credibility for leftists.  Viz.:

"The political aspects of Atlas Shrugged are not its theme.  Its theme is primarily ethical-epistemological: the role of the mind in man's existence - and politics, necessarily, is one of the theme's consequences.  But the epistemological chaos of our age, fostered by modern philosophy, is such that many young readers find it difficult to translate abstractions into political principles and apply them to the evaluation of today's events.  This present book may help them.  It is a nonfiction footnote to Atlas Shrugged." -Ayn Rand, "Introduction," Capitalism the Unknown Ideal, p. ix (pb).

I dare anyone to go find and someone who's read through Rand's corpus of writings thoroughly (it couldn't exceed a dozen or so volumes, could it?  how effing hard can that be to do?), and engaged the secondary literature (including the spoken canon - in other words, the infamously excruciating mind-numbing drudgery of Leonard Peikoff lecture courses), and still come out talking the same shit - or anything remotely like that shit - about her.  I effing double and triple dog dare anyone to do it.  I think if there were such an individual, I'm pretty sure I'd have heard about her/him by now.  (I consider myself to be pretty thorough/perfectivist about this kind of shit.)  The only thing that the Left has got her on is her bad polemics, and the Left ain't no sweetie-pie itself in that department, all the academic resources at its avail notwithstanding.  Anyway, the role of the mind in man's existence is key for Rand, and absolute independence of the mind (given the nature of the mind and its functioning) is thereby also key.  None but poorly-trained intellectual imbeciles - like Donny, out of his element, like a little child wandering into the middle of a movie - would have a problem with that, right?

So.  Where does that put our cultural discourse, going forward?  Is it more intellectually-childish imbecility from leftist player-haters, or more in the way of heroes, the benevolent universe premise, sense of life, and such?  Does this here blog more or less become Ground Zero for that cultural discourse in the near future?  If so, why?  If not, why not?  Something to think about.  Glenn Beck is already outdoing you leftist fools in the intellectual department, for crying out loud, and he's yet to even take a Peikoff course, or read Norton's Personal Destinies, or log thousands of hours of Howard Stern show listening, or Saganize his cognition, or memorize much of the film canon and then work to integrate it into a functioning mental unit for later processing.  And yet, while Beck discusses Ray Kurzweil ("The Singularity Guy"), the media "progressives" focus instead on the latest cabinet nominee filibustering; do you see some effed-up priorities on someone's part here?  If these fools can't tell by now that the theme of Atlas Shrugged is not empathy-disregarding capitalist ubermensch-ism (a chicken-shit strawman in any event), but the role of the mind in man's existence, that's Exhibit A right there that they're doomed as an intellectual and political movement.  Exhibit B would be when they claim that the fundamental virtue for Rand is "selfishness" instead of the correct answer as to the chief Randian virtue: (Aristotelian) rationality.  Such piss-poor comprehension of ideas!  Whence does this pathology emerge and fester?  By golly, I put it in the most extreme terms applicable and it's still 100% spot-on, as any objective truth-observant light of history shall document.  Not too bad, huh?)

Also, you can't separate aesthetics from the rest of the philosophy.  Just thought I'd throw that out there off the cuff for consideration.  (Benevolent universe premise and heroism and sense of life - they being as much at the core of Rand's philosophy as her method of intellectual integration and her advocacy of reason as human beings' only absolute.  Why does the Left hate all that so efffing much, or so it would appear?)  Also, how does that principle integrate with the film canon, anyway?  Anyway, the goal remains: a neo-Aristotelian utopia.  Aristotle and Jefferson rolled into one, minus the slavery stuff and other imperfections.  Doable.  But how quickly?  Keep in mind that Jefferstotle doesn't suffer fools gladly.  Checkmate in 3...2...1...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The primacy of the intellect

[I was originally going to title this posting "America's healthcare affordability crisis," but I just kept integrating to wider and wider principles as I proceeded; the progression unfolds below.]

By this point, regular readers of this blog are most likely used to an inductively-established pattern I'm big on, namely that a great many human existential problems are primarily intellectual problems at their source.  That the intellect - how (well) it is used or misused - has more primacy in human affairs than any other human characteristic, is at the very core of the doctrine I have named P/perfectivism.  I think the distinction between "primary" and "only" is also well-known to Rand-influenced readers; that the intellect is the prime mover in human affairs, doesn't make it the only mover.  But in terms of a correct mode of analysis of human affairs, at the greatest level of fundamentality (and that which is fundamental in any context being what philosophers are supposed to discover), I don't know of anything more fundamental for purposes of explanation than the characteristically human mode of consciousness, i.e., a conceptual or abstractive one (the key faculty of abstraction being the intellect).

And so it is by this mode of analysis that one can only truly get to the root of such a concrete issue as the USA's healthcare affordability situation.

The connection between these two things would probably be met with incomprehension or incredulity among many of today's political observers.  How can something so (seemingly) abstract as the human mode of consciousness come to affect something so concretely-impacting as one's (or one's neighbors) healthcare situation?

I figured I would address this concrete issue in particular after having just had a discussion with Canadians about the qualities of its healthcare system.  The basic message I took from this discussion is that Americans are very ill-informed about the ways in which their own healthcare payment and delivery system compares with others in the industrially-advanced world.  Here in America a cancer diagnosis can wipe out people's life savings; that sort of thing is unheard of in a country like Canada.  (How Obamacare is supposed to address that concern is not clearly spelled out as far as I know.)  But to hear the American national discourse on the healthcare issue, the average American simply does not have the information (or an adequate grasp of it) to make well-considered decisions regarding policy (through direct support or indirectly through voting for leaders), even when some medical situations can be financially devastating to them under current policy.  It sounds like playing with fire, doesn't it?

The way that the issue and the debates about it get framed is all too easily corrupted as long as the polity remains in the dark; we cannot expect to have an integral exchange of ideas about causes and solutions under such conditions.  The healthcare affordability crisis is bad enough; this corruption of the discourse - and it has deadly consequences - is disgusting in its own right.  I mean, if Americans were well-informed about the various alternative healthcare payment and delivery frameworks in place around the world, and still made the determination that, on balance, all things considered, this system is still the one to have in place, that would presumably reflect epistemically-responsible behavior.  (Without some extensive analysis, it isn't all cut-and-dried, as leftist reddiots would have you believe, that transitioning over to a more "social-democratic" model would be a net improvement.)  But that's not what we have here; we have a healthcare affordability crisis coupled with widespread (and deadly) ignorance as to its causes and possible solutions.  That should make one pretty fucking angry, I would think.

Now, just in case this claim (as to Americans' massive ignorance in regard to healthcare systems and causes and solutions) meets with skepticism, we must take into account a wider context: Americans are demonstrably very-ill-informed about a whole range of issues.  From that standpoint, that the healthcare issue falls within this range is the to-be-expected, not something that should come as any surprise.  And from that standpoint, we have an all-encompassing, inductively-established pattern concerning the average American's state of knowledge and awareness.  And from that standpoint, it's virtually a clear path, right on through the levels of abstraction involved in drawing wider and wider inductively-established conclusions, to the most broad, all-encompassing, abstract conclusion we can reach in this context, i.e., that the average American's state of knowledge and awareness stems from the average American's state of intellectual knowledge and awareness.  That is, the average American's state of knowledge and awareness concerning things like current pop-culture (e.g., knowing precisely the differences between American Idol and America's Got Talent) is a selective and compartmentalized knowledge that can still leave the average American oblivious to other issues (e.g., politics) impacting their lives.  That problem - compartmentalization - is also symptomatic of the problem for which the primary diagnosis has already been made: a lack of intellectual awareness, such as the awareness of the cognitive need to integrate the seemingly disparate areas of knowledge concerning matters that affect their lives.

In fact, I do quite firmly believe that many of the various cognitive maladies one could identify as a leading underlying cause for various observed problems can all be inductively-grouped on the basis of the primary underlying cause of all those underlying maladies, that is, the widest integration possible in this context which I have formulated in essence as: a crisis of intellectual awareness.

You'll find many amateur intellectually-minded folks on places such as reddit trying to come up with the most sense-making and at the same time the widest, most all-encompassing, most abstract causal explanation for America's existential trends.  Some of them (many of them, on reddit) locate the primary problem in a corporate plutocracy's stranglehold on the political system.  Stopping short of an underlying explanation for that would indicate the amateur explanation-giver's ascription of primacy to material economic factors.  In the meantime, many a religious right-winger would trace the nation's existential trends to a supposedly growing secularism - a "departure from God" - and then proceed, unsurprisingly, to point to all kinds of data points purporting to support this explanatory hypothesis.

For those familiar with Miss Rand's "Censorship: Local and Express", these dueling modes of analysis can be understood in terms of a more fundamental mode of analysis which she offers: a material/spiritual dichotomy, with each side - the "liberals" on one and the "conservatives" on the other - giving primacy of emphasis to what they respectively consider to be the most metaphysically important.  Miss Rand sums up the essence of this dichotomy as applied to politics here, and - now just as then - it packs lots of explanatory punch, and that being the case within the context of the yet-wider inductively-observed pattern providing a shit-ton of explanatory punch for America's - or any nation's - existential trends, that is, the pattern having to do with the prevalence of reason vis-a-vis unreason in a given culture.  Consistent with Miss Rand's pattern of expertise at identifying the issues of most fundamental explanatory importance - a pattern of expertise that must characterize the philosopher qua philosopher above all else - it is the efficacy and supremacy of reason which Rand explicitly stated was the primary concern of her work, and "the essence of Objectivism."

The primacy-of-something-else amateurs are usually unaware of Rand's core emphasis on the primacy of reason because their standpoint assigns primacy-of-explanation to other things, and so their (lack of understanding) of Rand is filtered through that perspective.  (That's their problem, not hers.)  And so - as a slam-dunk standing-on-one-foot test of someone's level of understanding of Rand - if a person has led her/himself to believe that the primary, fundamental virtue in Rand's ethics is "selfishness," that tells you about that person's frame of reference, but not much about Rand's.  "Selfishness" is, of course, not a primary - it can't be, not without some framework that tells a person what to be selfish about, or what selfishness consists in.  If Rand holds - as she did - that the standard of a person's moral perfection is unbreached rationality, then that makes a good 95% of the usual interwebbed hit-pieces on Rand's egoistic ethics quite entirely worthless as facilitators of understanding.  But what if these intellectually-incompetent hit-pieces are merely symptoms of the wider, more fundamental causal explanation I've offered for the nation's existential direction?  Where else would the chain of explanation end?  What could Rand herself provide as a more fundamental terminus qua "the essence of Objectivism" than the supremacy of reason?  Rand saw that the primary key to addressing human existential challenges - the endeavor which she would call a selfish one - was to be found in how efficaciously human beings employed their reasoning capacity.  Where else would the primacy of emphasis for this existential task be found?

Wouldn't Jefferson agree on that, for sure?

(The right-wing religionists who "explain" the USA's existential path in terms of a "departure from God" tend almost uniformly to speak of the country having been founded "on Judeo-Christian principles," that it was the Framers' alleged (right-wing style?) religiosity that informed the nation's founding documents.  What context has to be dropped to claim such a thing?  Right-wing religiosity had been abundant throughout the ages prior to the founding of America, and never managed to generate a constitutional republic founded on individual rights.  That was a historical constant; did it just suddenly work out that right-wing-style religiosity in the minds of the Framers is what made the Declaration, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, Common Sense, the American Philosophical Society, and so on a practical reality?  What's a better fundamental-level explanation for all that: ages-old, right-wing-style religiosity or the very-new Enlightenment culture of learning and boundless intellectual curiosity?  What's the variable of primary or greatest importance in this context?  The economistic Left doesn't fare any better; their mode of explanation comes down to the economic interests that the Framers had in gaining independence from the British Crown: rather than the King exploiting these rich white land-owners, the Framers sought the political framework in which to do (capitalistic) exploiting themselves.  Apparently, all the Left sees as fundamental about America is a history of conquest of economically-underprivileged and non-white peoples, and only after FDR's reforms was the Great American Middle Class made possible.  Seriously.  The GOP party base offers theocracy as the way to go; the Democrat party base offers FDR-style interventionism as the basic alternative.  The pragmatists in both parties are at a loss as to what to do, other than to succumb to mentality prevailing in the District of Cynicism.)

The true explanation and solution - for the nation's healthcare challenges and for everything else - are right under our noses.  There's one public intellectual from the last half-century that has been shouting this from the rooftops to a greater and more potent extent than anyone else.  To the clueless, it would seem outright crazy that some blogger self-identifying as The Ultimate Philosopher would be touting this particular public intellectual, over and over again.  But what other reasonable conclusion is there to draw?  One would presume that the professional philosophical community would be all on board with this true explanation and solution and, as a consequence, go out of its way to shout the very same thing from every available rooftoop, lectern, op-ed page, manifesto, and what have you - to identify, along with Aristotle and Ayn Rand - the primacy of intellectual flourishing to human and cultural flourishing. I mean, isn't that supposed to be the very spirit animating their own profession, for crying out loud?

What we have here is a failure to integrate.  It would be quite the fucking shame if this failure stemmed in significant part from the (by and large politically left-leaning) intellectual community's reactionary attitude toward the politically capitalistic nature of this leading contemporary source of the intellectualist eudaimonism staring them right in the face, now would it not.  But is there some other plausible explanation for this reaction, aside from its being a politically-motivated one?  Sure, their jobs might well be in jeopardy were this thinker's ideas carried out (for one thing, many would lose a lot of credibility for having failed to be Aristotelian intellectualist eudaimonists), but then job-security-motivated behavior wouldn't credibly qualify as philosophical behavior, now would it.  Anyway, this is just some stuff to think about when tying our current healthcare affordability crisis to fundamental intellectual factors.  Much as the intellectuals profess to hate that very crisis, whom else, exactly, do we have to thank for it, in the end analysis?

A subject to which I have been giving some thought (well, more in the way of questioning) is: In a hypothetical world populated (to a considerably greater extent than at present) by learned Aristotelian-Jeffersonian agents, just what would the general attitude toward "social welfare" issues such as healthcare payment and provision be like?  If you listen to the mainstream of academic political philosophy, a majority of well-informed agents would be (tah dah!) a lot like them: leftish Rawlsy social democrats who assign a crucial role to the coercive state in matters of provision of goods - in ensuring the provision of goods, as a matter of right and social-political justice - that would foster in individuals the capability to flourish.  If, on the other hand, these agents are eudaimonist libertarians, the provision of these goods would be left up to private institutions - indeed, that were we to come to such an enlightened state of affairs whereby communities were very much concerned with the cultivation of individuals' self-actualization capabilities, they would already have quality institutions in place for that very purpose, without the need for a coercive state apparatus in fulfilling that goal.  What would be the dialectical resolution in debates between the eudaimonist libertarians and advocates of Rawlsy social justice?  We have to assume of course that each side is amply familiar with the mindset behind the other side's views, as Aristotelian-Jeffersonian agents would be.  I'm thinking that it resolves toward eudaimonist libertarianism in practice (de facto), while the Rawlsies would assert a theoretical trump card in the form of a question: However provision of these self-actualization-capabilities goods is carried out, wouldn't the enlightened agents of our hypothetical society affirm a de jure right to such goods - i.e., that provision of these goods would be guaranteed as a basic "safety net" condition of such a society?  They would supplement this question with a hypothetical: If private institutions didn't prove fully sufficient at providing these goods, wouldn't the state have the rightful authority to assert coercive powers to make up the difference?

That would move the dialectic up the ladder to another level: Without begging questions, how do we determine the content of a set of compossible rights upon a eudaimonist foundation, where rights are understood to be enforceable claims based on the requirements of human flourishing?  Freedom to exercise one's independent judgment is such a requirement, but so is the effective possession and use of such Maslow-hierarchical goods as food, clothing, and shelter.  A Rawlsy argument would hold that the structure of a set of compossible rights is determined through a conception of moral reason presented via the "Original Position" and "veil of ignorance" devices, which would derive rights to such things as food, clothing, and shelter.  The eudaimonist libertarian would object that the coercion necessary to implement this Rawlsy framework of supposed rights constitutes an unacceptable deprivation of the freedom of the talented creators, the "men of the mind," based on the principle that the freedom to exercise one's intellect in the pursuit of one's chosen ends is, in effect, morally axiomatic.  The Rawlsy response might be in effect to re-assert that a conception of moral reason represented by the Rawlsy argumentative devices is a superior conception at least insofar as it better tracks pretheoretical intuitions and makes for a more satisfactory reflective equilibrium.  The eudaimonist libertarian in effect (quite plausibly!) re-asserts the same thing about the freedom to exercise one's own judgment using one's own intellect.  Where does the dialectic go from there?

Keep in mind that in this hypothetical enlightened society, not all the agents are sitting around in the academic classrooms; some of them have businesses to run and, besides, short of a "pure" moral rationality devoid of economic incentives, the business community has to more or less be on board with any transition to some social order or other, practically speaking, right?  And, besides, what burdens are the business folk supposed to shoulder over and above doing a lot of heavy lifting, involving maximal use of their intellect, of course (remember, this is an Aristotelian-Jeffersonian dialectic we're talking about here), in making available goods and services on the market, under a rule of law that has a "socially conscious" dimension (pertaining to acts, not outcomes), etc.  And, for that matter, if we are talking about some point in a hypothetical future in which the adoption of Aristotelian-Jeffersonian principles of living has snowballed in positive effect over the course of generations, just how self-sufficient would people end up being, anyway?  And, for that matter, if we're going to hypothesize a dialectic between very-well-informed agents (given the presumed informational benefits made possible by advanced information-age technology), maybe the terms of any dialectic to be had at all will already be advanced well beyond our current ability to predict.  Keep in mind that a hypothetical society built upon the primacy of the intellect would bring with it all-encompassing effects on people's ways of living - more all-encompassing than debates (and their existential effects) within political philosophy.  Keep in mind that change in that direction occurs at the margins, but with snowballing effects at the newer and newer margins until, eventually, the whole of society is engulfed in the new intellectualist ethos (since there's no coherent opposition to be had against intellectualism, and only abundant benefit to be had by its adoption).

Such a line of hypothetical questioning ends up placing the current healthcare affordability crisis in quite a different perspective, doesn't it?  I mean, whatever the hypothetical enlightened society comes up with as a solution, it's sure bound to be a lot more effective and all-encompassing than what we would be able to come up with now, wouldn't it?  (This of course should not be taken as any sort of argument for not putting our best efforts into doing what we can do now, or for waiting around for everyone to be Aristotelianized/Jeffersonianized before we can solve the big problems.  The whole idea is to get better and better at the margins at addressing these problems as time goes on, and actualizing a snowballing effect.  If we have a deficient vision for how fallible humans could make this happen, we just use our noggins to think up a better and more workable vision and make necessary adjustments as we proceed, is all.  Yes we can.)

The somewhat strange thing here is that, given my context, the very activity of discussing this subject matter is no-brainer stuff, because for me the primacy of the intellect in human affairs is no-brainer stuff (and it keeps being confirmed by observations, to the point that the novelty has begun to wear off for me); and yet, it seems no one else out there is saying it - and it's not because it's such common wisdom that it goes without saying.  (How could it be, given the way the culture is right now?)  I even have to ask why Rand herself didn't make the sorts of futuristic extrapolations that I have - because that's what these hypothetical discussions are: extrapolations from the initial no-brainer (to me) inductively-certain principle.  And these discussions also bump up against some inherent limitations; how much further can I even go?  What possibilities do I think of next, from the philosopher's armchair more or less, for how an "ultimate culture" might play out?  I think I really might be speaking of an intellectual-cultural singularity here, with all that such a concept entails.  There's the increasingly-well-known concept of the technological singularity, a point in the not-distant future beyond which we can make no extrapolations beyond foreseeable nearer-future trends.  The futurists talking about the tech-singularity may be tech-centric enough not to be ideas-centric, else they'd be philosophers first and foremost.  What do I do as a philosopher in regard to the idea of a technological singularity?  I think up other possible singularities pertaining to some number of key avenues of human endeavor.  The cultural singularity would, I think, take the form of a widely-adopted intellectualist eudaimonism (what other form would it take if not that?) extrapolated into the currently-unknown.  Now we have two abstract-concretes, if you will, awaiting an inductive treatment: will there be a science singularity, an economic singularity, a political singularity (what would that be if not subsumed under a cultural singularity?), a media singularity, or others in addition to the technological and cultural ones?  And to extrapolate, how would all these intertwine?  Doesn't an accelerated intellectual progression speed up the technological one yet further, with a positive-feedback loop?  What happens if/when all "sub-"singularities converge into a Big Singularity?

And that's not even factoring in the effects of people maximally Saganizing their cognition by way of optimal use of cognitive-performance-enhancing substances....

And where does the discussion even proceed from here?  What are the current limits on the widest-possible, most all-encompassing philosophical abstractions?  What's there left to talk about once you identify the primacy-of-intellect principle and extrapolate?  My best answer right now: under consideration here is a Big conceptual file-folder which contains a whole hierarchy of sub-folders (and sub-sub-folders, etc.), all of the folders considered as (mental) units which ultimately reduce to perceptual units.  And there's plenty of stuff in the sub-folders to inquire about in the meantime, before everyone has gotten on board with the primacy of intellectual principle and run with it.  And I do have in mind what I want to post about next, but that'll remain a private possession for now. ;-)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What would Jefferson think?

What might be the cause of the intellectual corruption that leads to the culture of corruption discussed here?

Some antidote to that.

Were he around today, I think that the one-time president of the American Philosophical Society would be a big Ayn Rand fan.  Actually, I'm certain of it.

Why the fuck does no one else get this (or so it would seem)?

Thanks a lot, professional "educators"....

(Here's the spawn of the professional "educators," with the standard primacy-of-politics orientation we UP blog regulars have naturally come to be disgusted by; it's philistine-level crap.  Isn't a primacy-of-politics mentality the sort of thing that got us into the situation where the U.S. government can torture innocent people without accountability, all the while being brazenly hypocritical about it?  Well?  Being that philosophy is more all-encompassing cognitively than politics, wouldn't getting our nation's philosophical shit together generate more all-encompassing solutions to whatever problems that afflict it, than trying to fix its hierarchically-derivative political shit atop a crumbling foundation?  [Are you listening, "bleeding heart libertarians"?]  What would Jefferson think about all this?  I mean, like, duhhh!)

More antidote.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The scummy Left

Political partisanship, ain't it corrosive to the soul? :-(

Yesterday, 'Good Guy Glenn' Greenwald highlighted glaring "progressive" hypocrisy with respect to the head of state's executive powers.  One need only integrate those observations with those I've made regarding the political Left's absolutely terrible track record at mounting anything remotely resembling an intellectually credible case against their chief ideological nemesis - instead of resorting to politically-motivated, malicious, or cheap misrepresentations, distortions, and outright smears, that is - in order for an observer to identify a common, corrosive element or pattern.  (Need I point out the common link between the term "integrate" and the term "integrity," as in wholeness, or completeness, or (ahem) perfection)?

That's the basic point of this posting.  Some supplementary stuff probably quite familiar by now to regular readers of this blog:

How is it that Good Guy Glenn - an independent columnist and litigator - is all up in arms about the screaming hypocrisy of the "progressives," while we just don't seem to hear much of an outcry from (supposedly? potentially?) the most intellectually-potent faction of them all out there - the professional educators?  I don't mean scattered voices of ho-hum protest here and there, I'm talking widespread, concerted, robust, impassioned screams of protest (assuming they're not too busy whining about the injustices of capitalism, that is).  Where are they?  What would Jefferson think about all this?

How is it that "progressives" could be so regressive?  Is all their talk of right-wing neanderthals little more than psychological projection, a well-known defense mechanism (the sort of thing of which these smug little shits accuse those very right-wingers)?

(Is it any mistake that Yours Truly, just the other day, pointed to ("right-winger") Glenn Beck as perhaps the most intellectually-challenging figure in today's political mass media?  At least GB extols the virtues of intellectual curiosity and of emulating the country's Framers (notably Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Paine, Washington) as a way out of the current cluster-fuck.  Seems to me that if everyone adopted a mentality and attitude in this general vicinity (without all having to agree with GB in particular about everything), this country would shape up in no time.  What does MSNBC offer by comparison?  Hell, is there any effective left-wing counterpart even to columnist Charles Krauthammer these days?  Sure, the Right is still suffering from the disease that has manifested in such symptoms as the Bush presidency and the Palin VP nod (and birtherism and science-denigrating and . . .), but if Paul Krugman (an economist) is the best they can come up with as a mass-media voice, they're done for as well.  Intellectual credibility just doesn't appear to be a highly-valued currency in politics these days.)

Political partisanship, ain't it corrosive to the soul? :-(

Dan Ariely has more.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Poor Sully (poor America!)

[Okay, so America isn't quite as poor as Sully's place in the current discourse would indicate.  But if that status quo were to continue, with the likes of Sully giving away the case for what made America great, we might well end up in deep poop.]

So I was doing an Ayn Rand search in the "Blogs" tab of Google search, and this link by Sully appears, which references Boston U. Professor of Political Science Alan Wolfe's piece-of-shit article in the online Chronicle of Higher Education last year (which I briefly touch upon here).

(Just for once, will there ever be an interwebbed critical article on Rand by a professor of philosophy, conversant with the other side?  There is critical discussion by Swanton and Cullyer in that recent book on Rand's ethics and in the brand-new book by James P. Sterba, long-time proponent of a "from liberty to welfare" argument which I've somehow managed not to address in this blog - yet.  From the available "preview" feature, Sterba correctly identifies Rand's ethics as a version of Aristotelianism [Chapter 5] - now that's progress! - and given all the pages left out of the Amazon preview feature I can't yet adequately assess his arguments there regarding Rand or much of anything else.  Anyway, the Ayn Rand being discussed by these philosophical critics in these hard-copy books bears next to no resemblance to the "Ayn Rand" that Sully and many other fools on the interwebs speak of.  Okay, okay, so there are webbed articles criticizing Rand available here, including from Profs. Bass, Huemer, and Vallicella, which partly answers my question . . . and guess what, that Rand bears hardly any resemblance to the incompetently-depicted Rand appearing all over elsewhere on the interwebs, either.  There are other relevant distinctions pertaining to these articles to make as well, for another blog entry; one of them has to do with whether Randian egoism is indeed correctly interpreted as a version of Aristotelianism - i.e., of perfectivism. ;-) )

Anyway, this blog entry isn't (directly) about Rand, it's about the sad state of the political blogosphere as reflected by arguably its most representative figure, Andrew Sullivan.  (For the positive, the antidote to this sad state, try here for starters.)  The aforementioned Google search brought be to Sullivan's "Dish" (which I hardly read otherwise).

Speaking of sad states, how about The Dish's masthead, taking  pride (however ironically or humorously) in being "biased and balanced"?  The whole idea among philosophers, of course, is to fight like hell against any biasing influences - hence the whole goddamn enterprise of philosophy, to weed out bullshit and fallacies and wishful thinking and inexactness, so as to differentiate mere opinion from knowledge.  (The success of that very enterprise - reflected most smashingly by the success of modern science - gives lie to whatever thrust there might have been behind Plantinga's "evolutionary argument against naturalism," discussed here.  We can reason past initial biases which were selected for survival value, and that's all there is to it.  Also, how does Plantinga's free will theodicy account for the suffering of non-human animals?  Is their undeserved and morally-pointless suffering justified by the "greater good" of human freedom?  Is God a utilitarian?  Have I misunderstood the argument?  Have I seen anything by Plantinga to be all that impressed by?  Does the notion of a maximally excellent or perfect being, which is at the root of his modal-ontological argument, make any more sense than Anselm's original notion?  And why is it that, seemingly, the best philosophy of religion nowadays is associated with panentheism, of which Plantinga is not a known proponent?  How did I get off on this tangent?  Oh.  Bias.  It's like Sully takes pride in being a fool.)

So, Sully's "latest keepers" include these items:

Um, Sully is about five years late to asking this question.  Glenn Greenwald - one of the major redeeming figures of the blogosphere - asked this question at the time that Obama voted on the 2008 FISA bill to grant retroactive immunity to telecoms complicit in illegal eavesdropping.  One might well rationalize that breach of integrity as a necessary maneuver to secure establishment support so that the charismatic and very-ambitious ("Yes we can!") future head of state could then reform the establishment from within.  (Was it naivete to buy into that, or was it a last gasp of idealism in an age of cynicism?  Keep in mind that the only reason this asshole got re-elected was because the opposition party is half-nuts, the only viable candidate it offered being an out-of-touch, no-ideals-having, culturally-reactionary, personally-boring, retroactively-retiring plutocrat.)  Even then, the signs of unraveling were already there - as Greenwald was pointing out - in the presidential transition season between Nov. 2008 and Jan. 2009 when the future head of state brought onto his team scores of members of the very cynical, hypocritical establishment he had (fraudulently) rhetoricized against.  It was then that lingering sentiments of idealism about this future "leader" should have been seriously called into question or abandoned outright.  This "leader" is never going to do anything to seriously address the coming $107 trillion Social Security and Medicare cluster-fuck, is he.  None of the "leaders" in the District of Cynicism wants to even mention it.

The story of this "leader's" initial appeal - his stated vision in 2008 - and of his cowardly betrayal of that vision is told in summary essence in this NPR interview with Harvard Law (the irony!) professor Lawrence Lessig.

Sully pleads:
"Come back, Mr Obama. The nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

Joe DiMaggio had a 56-game hitting streak (and 72 games out of 73) and hit 361 career home runs with a homer-killing deep left field in Yankee stadium, along with three prime ballplaying years away for military service.  What's-his-face was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for doing nothing, and then later killed U.S. citizens with no judicial oversight.  What the fuck is the comparison supposed to be here?  I mean, Joe D. wasn't the hitter that Ted Williams was, and neither does the current head of state merit mention in the same breath as the guys depicted on Mt. Rushmore, but c'mon.  Joe D.'s highest similarity score through age 27 was Hank Aaron, for crying out loud.  Who tops the current hypocrite-in-chief's similarity score chart?  I'll let you, the reader, guess who the Babe Ruth of American presidents was.  Babe Ruth was on his way to the Hall of Fame as a pitcher, keep in mind, before going on to slug .690 lifetime.

There are various gems from Sully in that exchange; a sampling:

A: But the kind of Christianity that Jefferson espoused—
A: No, because philosophy doesn’t help you live.
A: Religion is the practical impulse, it is how do we live, how do we get through the day knowing that we could die tomorrow, knowing that we are mortally—
H: But how does the belief that Jesus was born of a virgin help you to do that?
A: That particular belief may not.
Sully, of course, has no idea just how embarrassing his performance in that debate really is.

Oh.  Enhancing the blog in the cosmetic dept., not in the dept. it needs real enhancing ("philosophy doesn't help you live" - this sonofabitch taught at Harvard for Prof. Sandel????).  Gee, thanks.

For insight and edification on the nature of today's political-cultural scene, read Greenwald and the other blogs listed in the column to your right, instead.
"Checkmate, asshole."