Godwin’s law, the Rand Version

Do you know that my personal crusade in life (in the philosophical sense) is not merely to fight collectivism, nor to fight altruism? These are only consequences, effects, not causes. I am out after the real cause, the real root of evil on earth — the irrational.

Ayn Rand

So this image showed up on my Facebook feed today. What followed the image in the comments was the predictable feeding frenzy that you witness when your throw bloody meat to sharks. Today’s cleaner, nicer internet breed of human doesn’t seem to understand the dirty nature of real life as it was before the internet made it possible to live and never leave your house.

For the record, she said these words, at least according to Wikiquote (couldn’t find it in the Lexicon, but I remember reading them) although I prefer the quote that follows it, the one I started this post with.  There you have it, Rand gives us all permission to steal from native peoples. That is, if you just blindly do what someone who lived before you and wrote influential works tells you to do.

Blaming Ayn Rand for the plight of native peoples around the world is no different than ending every observation of fascistic tendencies with the phrase “like Hitler”.  In reading her works it’s easy to see how her ideas can be turned to evil, how they could be seen as evil when they are brought up out of context in an image like this. It’s no mystery why people like Paul Ryan and others cite her writings when they want to punish the poor and reward the rich. I myself, as someone who still (provisionally) self-identifies as objectivist, cringe at the words above, and wondered at Rand’s blindness to the fascistic applications her ideas could give credence to.

But then we’ve moved a very long way along the knowledge curve since Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum immigrated to the US in 1926.  Rand herself didn’t even understand what it meant to be “objective”, or rather, the barriers to objectivity that stand in the way of even the most clear-headed observer, something we’ve discovered and proven in the last score of years or so. Motivated numeracy alone can lead one to deny proven science if it conflicts with your political views, so consequently most of the people who adhere to Ayn Rand’s labels and words have even less of a clue about the pitfalls of thinking oneself perfectly objective on a subject.

What she was trying to express about primitives and their rights to continue the nomadic lives they had lead, can’t be illustrated simplistically with concepts like property and profit; it makes her look mean and cheap, which may or may not be an accurate description of Rand the person. You certainly can’t explain the process of national expansion to people who accept the natural fallacy without question, even if you really, really try.

It pays to reflect that the followers of the dominant philosophical ideal of the time, state socialists, had no problem taking life and land from anybody for any reason that they deemed suited the cause of the people (which in state socialist terms meant the body politic) the defense that Rand is offering is at least logical, if bereft of emotion.

Better to ask the people encroaching on tribal lands without negotiating in good faith with the natives what their goals were beyond profiting themselves. Too bad none of them are around to ask anymore.

You might well ask well how should I interpret those words, then? As I’ve done previously when people ask about Ayn Rand (unlike other Objectivists) I point them towards The Passion of Ayn Rand; Book or The Passion of Ayn Rand; Movie (Helen Mirren is great in the latter) because that is what someone who knew her but was kicked out of the inner circle really thought about her and her life.  If you want to see what the most negative parts of her life look like from outside, there is no starker image than these.

On The Other Hand, if you really want to understand what she was trying for with her work, I recommend the documentary Sense of Life rather than her fictional works themselves. You can’t get an overview from them. You certainly can’t get a feel for her at all, from either the detractors who have always hated her, or the mindless randroids who take her name in vain these days.

It is worth observing (hindsight being 20/20) that without people like Rand, people willing to state that it was OK to not sacrifice yourself for the good of the many, that you could lead a worthy life without being poverty stricken and suffering, that we wouldn’t be living in a world that is rapidly seeing the decline of dictatorships as vehicles of social change; that dictatorship is now almost a quaint historical artifact, like feudalism. Social change is once again in the hands of the people.  Right or wrong, where it belongs; with individuals willing to work for change.

Portions of this were cribbed from an earlier work of mine

The Lucifer Effect

I can’t recommend the CATO event on Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect. I wish I could, but the audio presentation is full of blanks where the presenter relies on video to make his point; and the video is flawed with missing color as well as being an extremely poor quality Real media stream (why they still rely on outdated technology like Real media streams at CATO is beyond me) whose soundtrack bounces like a poorly inflated basketball.

So I’ll just say the genius of Dr. Zimbardo’s work comes across in spite of the transmission problems, and I think I’ll have to put another book on my wish list. About three quarters of the way through the presentation, this slide appears in the video (actually it’s the slide combined with the speech he’s giving. I think this flows better)

One day you will be in a new situation with 3 paths

  • Path one: You become a perpetrator of evil.
  • Path two: You become guilty of passive inaction
  • Path three: You go straight ahead and become a hero.

And as I said, all that matters is, these heroes don’t have anything special about them. Ordinary heroes, waiting for the right situation to put our heroic imagination into action.

For those who don’t recognize the name, Philip Zimbardo is the professor who conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment, as well as several other studies into group psychology. Like the previous Milgram Experiment, the results of the study were quite shocking. Here’s to the notion that we are shaping superior barrels with the spread of liberal cultural norms. Liberal capitalism is slowly ridding the world of evil.

So, why did I feel the need to share this bit of insight? When discussing these types of evil, and resistance to evil, I’m generally reminded of the Star Trek episode Space Seed. Gene’s subtle understanding of the need for societal evolution is on rare display in that episode. Khan fails in his bid to retake power because the human creature has evolved in the hundreds of years he has been in hypersleep. The crew of the Enterprise not only will not cooperate with him, starting down that slippery slope towards doing evil oneself; but they can not cooperate with him even in the face of personal destruction. Resisting Influence. This is a facet of ourselves that we have to grow if we are going to see an end to dictatorship, totalitarianism, and genocide.

This was another instance where, when listening to or watching a program I find myself biting my lip and trying to resist the urge to scream “Altruism is not the same as Charity!”

Discover Your Inner Economist & Mind of the Market

A couple of CATO events that struck a cord with me lately.

Tyler Cowen discussed his new Book Discover your Inner Economist in a recent CATO event. I haven’t read the book, but I found the event discussion quite engaging. The objections that I’ve had to beancounters for all of my life were touched on numerous times. They miss the portions of human interaction that can’t be quantified with numbers in a ledger, and consequently make wrong decisions when it comes to directing business expenses.

He’s in a CATO weekly video here discussing incentives within a family setting:

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Then there’s Micheal Shermer’s CATO event where he is discussing his new book The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics. I didn’t find his presentation as compelling, but he presented several observations that I found thought provoking.

[My major beef with Shermer is a common problem that I’ve observed over time. He mistakenly uses the word ‘Altruism’ when he means ‘charity’ (“reciprocal altruism” should be “reciprocal charity”; as in a transaction where there is no profit outside the charitable benefit. Altruism is not charity]

Here’s the CATO video With Shermer:

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They’re both on CATO daily podcasts as well.

This discussion is related to the discussion of health care and private markets, believe it or not. The average American is letting his desire for security override his common sense on this (and other) issues. Just figured I’d point out some resources for those who can’t wrap their heads around the idea of free markets.

DownsizeDC Manifesto

Why I bother spending time and energy supporting DownsizeDC:

Invest your time and money to change minds directly, and you will gain the world. The votes may even follow. But be under no illusions, the votes will merely follow, they will never lead. Electoral success will be the last thing that happens in the process of change, not the first. Grasp this fact, or you will groan forever in futile effort and constant despair.

This is our manifesto

DownsizeDC, Manifesto

Something I’ve pointed out to many people over the years.

To change minds you have to convince others to modify their philosophy. Philosophy dictates how you see your world, and the philosophy of the average American is Altruism, which is the same philosophy that Marx derived Socialism from. Most Americans are susceptible to socialist promises (like government run single payer health care) because they come clothed in Altruist ideals; but they are socialist all the same, mandatory group solutions to individual problems.

If we hope to regain our freedom, if we hope to avoid being drug deeper into a socialist nightmare, we have to convince others that their philosophy is flawed, that their views need to be revised. Like the recent events in Britain; the British government has decided to no longer talk about a “war on terror.”

So I threw in my two cents when I wrote my congresscritters about not being afraid and ending the War on Terror on our side of the pond:

Immediately following the attacks on 9/11 I was ready to take the fight to the Saudis, ready to volunteer to fight, because it was quickly apparent that Saudis formed the majority of the terrorists who attacked our country.

The President, in his folly, decided to declare war on a tactic, instead of declaring war on a government or a people. In that instant, the chance for a meaningful end to the events of 9/11 was taken from us.

A war on a tactic cannot be won, Just as a war on a substance or market (drugs) can’t be won. Anyone, including members of our own government, can employ this tactic; thusly creating a never ending stream of enemies we must fight in order to engage in a war on terror.

Fifty or 100 years makes no difference, it is a war without end from the perspective of victory; and we will bankrupt or ourselves long before we reach the 50 year mark.

End the War on Terror (End the Drug War while you’re at it) before it ends us.

Will it change any minds? I doubt it. But it’s much more likely to change minds than doing nothing at all, or wasting a vote on a mainstream candidate.

Liable for Compulsive Gambling?

A Pathologist is suing a drug manufacturer, and the casinos that he lost his 14 million dollar Fortune to, because the drug that he was given causes compulsive gambling. I think that not only the drug manufacturer, but the casinos could loose that lawsuit, despite the objections about “where is the justice in this” that I’ve heard.

The lawsuit has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with philosophy. In the dominant philosophy in the US right now (Kantian Altruism) it is accepted that “we are our brothers keeper” which means that the casinos have the responsibility to tell someone who is hurting himself by loosing too much “you’ve had enough now brother, time to stop”. It doesn’t matter that this introduces a whole new mess of problems for the gambling industry. Just like the can o’ worms that bars now face (and that McDonald’s et al narrowly dodged by adding ‘healthy’ items to their menus) in having to be “brother’s keeper”, the casinos have a responsibility to do likewise.

The only way this can be corrected is to change the dominant philosophy in the world today; a daunting task.

As a Capitalist/Objectivist, I’m not going to bother trying to defend the argument that the casinos should be liable; I’m just stating for the record, that based on Altruist values and reasoning, they are.