Question: Is it right or wrong to condemn people for being obese? Obviously, obese and morbidly obese people have made mistakes in their lives. Are they morally culpable for those mistakes? How should other people judge their characters? If I see an obese person on the street, should I infer that he is lazy and unmotivated? Should I refuse to hire an obese person because I suspect he won't work as hard as a non-obese person? Is obesity a moral failing – or are there other considerations?
Question: Is "gay marriage" a valid form of marriage? Many people oppose gay marriage on the grounds that marriage is essentially religious, that procreation is central to marriage, or "traditional marriage" should be respected. Should gay unions be considered a valid form of marriage, legally or socially? Might civil unions be an acceptable alternative?
Question: How might social conservatives be convinced to support gay marriage? Rob Portman, a Republican Senator from Ohio, recently decided to openly support gay marriage after his son came out to him and his wife. What can be done to help other conservatives see gay marriage in a new light – as a matter of liberty and individual identity?
Subjects Discussed: * The current state of Chinese politics, particularly the change of leadership * The anti-corruption campaign and lowering interest rates * The problem of corruption in China: the floating pigs scandal * Central control and its effects * The state of the economy in China * The shaky housing market * The flight of the wealthy * The government's move away from capitalism * New regulations on foreign teachers * China as a military threat * Anti-Japanese sentiment in China * China's military competence * Military spending * Corruption and training in the military * Soft power * Assessment of China, overall.
Question: Can Objectivism save the culture? Advocates of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism often claim that the philosophy is necessary for substantially changing the culture for the better. That seems presumptuous to me. Is it true? Also, is the philosophy sufficient for saving the culture? Or is more needed?
Question: What's wrong with anti-discrimination laws? Most people support anti-discrimination laws, even though such laws violate the freedom of association. Have such laws done genuine good by making racism, sexism, and homophobia unacceptable in the culture? Have such laws had negative side-effects? Should they be abolished – and if so, why?
Question: Should the government intervene when widespread racism makes life impossible for some people? Given that the effect of strictly respecting the rights of private property owners in the South was that blacks could not find accommodations, health care, transportation, food, and other basic necessities of life, shouldn't the government have intervened? Didn't civil rights legislation help eliminate racism – and wasn't that a good thing – even if that meant violating the right to property of racists?
Question: Is it wrong to have children in an increasingly irrational and statist culture? People should think about the long-range effects of their actions, and act based on principles. So if a person thinks that our culture is in decline – and perhaps even slipping into dictatorship – is it wrong for that person to have children? Is such an assessment accurate? Along similar lines, were people wrong to have children in the Soviet Union and other dictatorships?
Question: How is American culture better today better than people think? I've heard lots of depressing claims about the abysmal state of American culture lately, particularly since Obama won the election. You've disputed that, arguing that America is better in its fundamentals that many people think. What are some of those overlooked but positive American values? How can they be leveraged for cultural and political change?
Question: Is it wrong to root for antiheroes in movies? I often root for characters like Daniel Ocean (of Ocean's 11, 12, etc.), Erik Draven (of The Crow), Harry Callahan (a.k.a. Dirty Harry), and "Mad" Max. Should I instead seek out movies with more consistently good heroes?
Question: Is it wrong to refuse to share lecture notes with a lazy student? A classmate of mine is nice enough but a bit odd. She's always at least 30 minutes late for lecture, and she doesn't come to lab sometimes. In lecture, she does not take notes but instead usually draws the whole class period. Today, she asked to borrow some of my lecture notes. I told her that I noticed that she was always late and that she didn't take notes, and she denied that. Still, I told her that lending her my notes would be inconvenient, then I suggested that she ask someone else. Normally, I'd be happy to share my notes, but in this case, I didn't want to share the results of my efforts in attending this class on time, every day, and paying attention. Was that wrong?
Subjects Discussed: * The educational background of Chinese university students * Differences between American and Chinese students * How the Chinese university experience differs from the American university experience * Government propaganda in the classroom * Chinese students' awareness of American-style education * Communist ideology in the university * The culture shock of teaching in China * Teaching Ayn Rand's novella "Anthem" * Nationalism and cultural pride in America and China * The possibility of China overtaking America economically * Robert's life in China, on the whole.
Subjects Discussed: * Evaluating the past * What life was like in early America * Cultural changes in America, including for women and marriage * Federal versus state and local governments now and then * The 14th Amendment * Improvements in the law, including marriage law, morality regulations and cultural mores, blasphemy law, and obscenity law * The American north versus south * Andrew Jackson's duel * The caning of Charles Sumner * Today's Republicans and Democrats * The value (or lack thereof) of voting.
Question: Are sex-selective abortions wrong? In Canada, some hospitals refuse to tell prospective parents the sex of their fetus when discovered in a second-trimester ultrasound, because the members of many immigrant groups will selectively abort girls. Apparently, such sex-selective abortions are common enough that the birth demographics in some areas are clearly skewed. Are such abortions wrong? Should doctors withhold information about the sex of a fetus in an effort to stop the practice? Could a doctor legitimately choose to perform abortions for any reason at 8 weeks, but refuse to do so at 21 weeks simply because the parents don't want a girl? If so, what's the moral difference between those two situations?
Question: What's wrong with multiculturalism? Many people think that "multiculturalism" just means being tolerant of people with different cultural practices than your own. Is that right? What is multiculturalism? What are some examples of it? What's wrong with it, if anything?
Question: Should I keep up with current affairs? As we know, most reporting is pretty bad. In print, and especially on the rolling 24-hour news channels. It's myopic, biased, and lacking in any principled coverage. The reporters are just clueless, and are like children pointing at all the pretty, crazy colors. But there must be some value in reading the paper, right? Or is it only for people in certain intellectual occupations, whose work involves commentary on the world today? I've not followed current affairs for the last few years myself, and I'm happy for it, but do just worry that I'm missing something.
Question: What other countries besides America have a relatively healthy sense of life? Suppose America takes a bad turn politically and I need to relocate to another country. What other countries still have a relatively healthy "sense of life" and decent culture – in that they respect reason, accomplishment, and productiveness – even if their politics are left-leaning? Over the past few months, I've heard various people discuss Canada, New Zealand, Costa Rica, China, and India as possible places to relocate to. What do you think of the cultures of those countries?
Question: Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the culture? What do you think will happen to the culture in the next 20 to 50 years? Are you optimistic or pessimistic – and why? What do you think the value and certainty of such predictions based on philosophy are?
Question: Should women adopt the last names of their husbands? In today's culture, some newly-married women adopt the family name of their husbands. Some keep their own last name. Some hyphenate their names together. Some use their maiden name for work, but their married name in their personal life. Some couples adopt a wholly new name for themselves. What do you think of these various options? Should the possibility of divorce affect a woman's decision? Should the husband have a say in the woman's decision? Should men be more willing to change their own last name to that of their new wife?
Question: How should I judge my college-age peers, given the upbringing they've had? I know that we are ultimately responsible for our actions and our character, yet character is also heavily influenced by our culture, education, and upbringing. I was raised roughly the same way as my peers were, and I went through the same standardized, state-school educational system. Yet I did not end up like them – largely due to the fact that I read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I got to see an alternative to the ideas offered to me, unlike most of my peers. Without that, I could have ended up just like anyone else. Knowing that, I try to treat my peers gently – meaning not taking the bad ideas they hold seriously, showing a benevolent warmth to them, and not focusing too hard on negatively judging their characters. But am I doing right, or should I be harsher in my judgment and treatment of them?
Question: Should every person engage in some kind of political or cultural activism? Given the current abysmal state of the culture, might a moral person choose to live his own life based on rational principles, without advocating those principles? Is it moral to overlook the ever-increasing rights-violations by our government, rather than speaking out? Is it enough to offer moral support and/or financial support to other activists?
Question: Is it wrong to not keep up with current news and politics? Every time I open a newspaper's website I feel overwhelmed by all the crap going on in the world and disheartened by the bad politics. It feels like a soul-draining activity and a waste of time. I feel better not reading the news, but I also feel a tad guilty for not being aware of the pending laws and current events that affect me. So should I try to keep up with the news more or not?
Question: What do you think of people using pejorative terms for themselves, such as gays referring to themselves as "faggots" or Objectivists calling themselves "Randroids"? The term "Randroid" is supposed to imply that Objectivists are unthinking, mindless drones. However, I happily use this term to describe myself – after first calling myself an Objectivist, of course – because I think it squashes a lot of the negativity behind the pejorative when I adopt it willingly. Do you think it's for good Objectivists to adopt this term – and more generally, for people to use insults as badges of honor?
Question: How can I be optimistic when society seems doomed? I am beginning to see the United States as the oak tree at the beginning of Atlas Shrugged, an empty shell whose heart rotted away long ago. Ayn Rand writes often of the failure of our age, of seeing corruption rewarded and honesty becoming self-sacrifice, and of seeing these as evidence of our society being doomed. Given the recent, and increased, interest in Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand, I should be hopeful for the future. But is it too little, too late? I have small children, and I never thought it would become generally accepted that America's best days are behind us. How do I cope with the destruction going on today? How can I be optimistic for my children's future? As an Objectivist it seems as though I must be missing the obvious answer.
Question: How should one promote Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism? What are some right and wrong ways to do that? What are some good methods and target audiences?
Question: How do you objectively define manners? Is that even possible? What makes some action rude or polite? Is it purely subjective or based on personal values? For example, some people think that guests ought to take off their shoes in another person's house, while others don't care or even prefer shoes to remain on the feet. And some people think that putting elbows on the dinner table or feet on the coffee table is barbaric, while others regard that as fine. Since manners vary from person to person, how do you "mind your manners" when interacting with other people? Or should you not bother with that, and instead do what you please?
Question: Is it morally obligatory to engage in activism? I want to fight for a better, more rational culture. But I know that I'm not a good writer or speaker. If I instead give my money to those who are, isn't that a good division of labor? Is it obligatory that I myself attempt to engage in such activism or can I pay others who are better at it (and would like to earn money doing so)?
Question: Is it wrong to be proud of or obtain your pride from your culture, family and ancestors? Is it correct to have pride in one's culture, family and ancestors? For example in Samoan society a Pe'a is a traditional male Samoan tattoo. According to my friend the pe'a tells him that the wearer has pride in their culture, their family and their ancestors. It is not just a physical marking but an indicator of his/her soul according to him.
Question: Would you recommend your fellow Objectivists to celebrate Festivus? If so, how should we celebrate it?
Question: Are Objectivists obliged to work to change the culture? Do you think that it is morally necessary (most of the time, in most cases) for an Objectivist to do something to enact cultural change?
Question: Are all cultures equal? How can you prohibit or restrict anyone's cultural norms or say they're better or worse than our culture? Is there an objective barometer by which this can be achieved?