Diana Hsieh

I'm a philosopher, radio host, blogger, paleo foodie, gardener, skier & boarder, horse rider, farm gal, entrepreneur, GTD'er, Objectivist, and lover of life!

John Allison to Step Down at Cato

 Posted by on 30 March 2015 at 2:00 pm  ARI, Objectivist Movement
Mar 302015
 

John Allison will retire from his position as president of the Cato Institute on April 1.

Now, one of the promises that he gave at OCON in 2012 to sell Ayn Rand Institute supporters on this radical about-face on libertarianism was that Allison would be succeeded by an Objectivist. He said, in fact, “I’ll stay a couple years at least and try to groom a good O[bjectiv]ist successor while bringing some positive change to the organization.”

As it happens, an investment banker with no known philosophic or political views — Peter Goettler — will take over as president of Cato.

Of course, I didn’t expect an Objectivist to succeed Allison, not after Allison caved so completely under pressure from libertarian intellectuals shortly after taking the job. Then, he said:

In fact, now that I have a deeper understanding about Cato, I believe almost all the name calling between libertarians and objectivists is irrational. I have come to appreciate that all objectivists are libertarians, but not all libertarians are objectivists. I respect this distinction, (although I consider anarchy to be dangerous).

Such a compromise on principles was inevitable, in my view, and why he never should have accepted the position. So, just as expected, Cato didn’t change one iota during Allison’s tenure, not even in its periodic advocacy of anarchism. It certainly didn’t change in the grand way that his most ardent defenders claimed would surely happen.

I’m so glad that these Objectivist leaders and luminaries are doing such a great job of transforming the culture. After all, if they don’t succeed, we’re toast!

*snort*

Update on Explore Atlas Shrugged

 Posted by on 30 March 2015 at 11:00 am  Atlas Shrugged, Explore Ayn Rand
Mar 302015
 

I want to give y’all a quick progress report on the book version of my course Explore Atlas Shrugged.

This book is a study guide to Ayn Rand’s epic novel. It consists of the study questions for each session (over 1400 in total), plus the plot outline, character inventory, questions for a three-session book club, and FAQ on running an Atlas Shrugged Reading Group. (Yes, turning the podcasts into a book is on my agenda, but that will be a huge project.)

Earlier this week, I finalized the PDF of the print-on-demand version of the the book. (It’s 187 pages!) I’ve uploaded that to Amazon’s CreateSpace, and they’ve approved it. A proof copy is on the way, and once I approve that, the book will be available in print and kindle formats.

Notably, the online version of Explore Atlas Shrugged is fully up-to-date with all my expansions and revisions, and you can purchase access to that for $20. That includes the 22 hours of awesome podcasts, plus everything else in this forthcoming book.

To promote the course, I plan to run weekly trivia contests on Atlas Shrugged, with prizes. I’ve been busy writing up questions, and MWHAHAHAHA, I’m going to have fun with this. :-)

 

On Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, I answered questions on claims of rights to food and shelter, extreme cases, being helpful to a disliked co-worker, and more with Greg Perkins. The podcast of that episode is now available for streaming or downloading. You’ll find it on the episode’s archive page, as well as below.

Remember, you can automatically download podcasts of Philosophy in Action Radio by subscribing to Philosophy in Action’s Podcast RSS Feed:

Podcast: Rights to Things, Extreme Cases, Being Helpful, and More

Listen or Download:

Remember, with every episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, we show how rational philosophy can help you find joy in your work, model virtue for your kids, pursue your goals effectively, communicate with respect, and advocate for a free society. We can’t do that without your support, so please remember to tip your philosopher!

You can download or listen to my answers to individual questions from this episode below.

Introduction (0:00)

My News of the Week: I’ve been very productive since SnowCon, particularly in getting the book version of Explore Atlas Shrugged ready for publication.

Question 1: Claims of Rights to Food and Shelter (4:04)

In this segment, I answered a question on claims of rights to food and shelter.

Do people have a right to food and shelter? I recently had a conversation with a Facebook friend who stated that food and shelter are more than necessities, they are rights. I posed the question, “How does one exercise their right to food and shelter?” No one answered the question, so I would like to pose it here. Most food in this country is grown by farmers and sold fresh, or processed in a factory for sale. If food is a “right,” does anyone without the means to buy these products have an inherent right to take what they need without any remuneration to the farmer or the manufacturer? The same applies to shelter. How does one exercise their “right” to shelter without a means to earn it? We have a right to free speech, and a right to vote. One is exercised by speaking your mind on a subject without fear of government reprisal, and the other is exercised by voting during elections. We have the right to practice whatever religion we want or none at all. The press has the right to print or say whatever they want. Any “right” to food or shelter would have to operate differently. So are food and shelter a “right”? What would that mean in practice?

My Answer, In Brief: The only “right to food and shelter” that people have is a right to pursue that, by their own efforts and voluntary trade with others. Government welfare programs violate those rights, and worse, do serious harm to the poor.

Listen or Download:

Links:

To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Question 2: Extreme Cases (39:05)

In this segment, I answered a question on extreme cases.

Do moral principles break down in extreme cases? When faced with bizarre hypotheticals, advocates of rational egoism often assert that such scenarios would never happen. This seems to be dodging the question. It’s said that conventional understandings of physics break down at microscopic and extremely grand-scale levels. Does morality follow a similar pattern? For example, what if a small society of people stranded on an island faced a shortage of clean water, and a single individual who owned all access to clean water refused to sell it? Is that really impossible? Doesn’t that show that the principle of individual rights breaks down in extreme cases?

My Answer, In Brief: Lifeboat scenarios are not particularly relevant to the core of ethics, yet many of the basic principles of ethics still apply, even in desperate circumstances.

Listen or Download:

Links:

To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Question 3: Being Helpful to a Disliked Co-Worker (54:15)

In this segment, I answered a question on being helpful to a disliked co-worker.

Should I do something nice for a coworker I dislike? There’s a lady at work that I dislike. My conflict with her is primarily merely a conflict of personality. I find her defensive, passive-aggressive, and awkward to the point of rudeness. I am also not very impressed with her work products, but that rarely has a direct impact on me – except when I’m asked to review them – as is the fact that she only seems to work for about six hours every day. Indirectly, of course, her eccentricities and poor work quality cast our team in a very poor light and could eventually serve as a reason to dissolve or lay off our team. It’s a mystery as to why she hasn’t been fired. But I’m not her manager. In a meeting earlier today, she made a remark that she thought she was being excluded from important meetings that are relevant to her work. The truth is that she’s not being actively excluded from these meetings, but rather everything is happening so fast and the meetings aren’t always planned, so it’s really just not possible to include her in those meetings. She would probably be heartened to understand better how these events take place in our company. (She’s rather new, and I am very tenured.) She might feel better about her position and she might become less defensive about things if she had a better understanding of the organizational mechanics here. But I strongly dislike her and would prefer that she seek other employment. Should I be kind and explain those mechanics or not?

My Answer, In Brief: While you have no duty to help this co-worker, you might err on the side of benevolence. Don’t speak to her directly, but instead speak to your manager (and hers, if necessary).

Listen or Download:

To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Rapid Fire Questions (59:42)

In this segment, I answered questions impromptu. The questions were:

  • Is it ever the case that someone who’s being really annoying just deserves to be socked in the face?

Listen or Download:

To comment on these questions or my answers, visit its comment thread.

Conclusion (1:02:46)

Be sure to check out the topics scheduled for upcoming episodes! Don’t forget to submit and vote on questions for future episodes too!


About Philosophy in Action Radio

Philosophy in Action Radio applies rational principles to the challenges of real life in live internet radio shows on Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings. For information on upcoming shows, visit the Episodes on Tap. For podcasts of past shows, visit the Show Archives.

Remember, with every episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, we show how rational philosophy can help you find joy in your work, model virtue for your kids, pursue your goals effectively, communicate with respect, and advocate for a free society. We can’t do that without your support, so please remember to tip your philosopher!

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Activism Recap

 Posted by on 29 March 2015 at 2:00 pm  Activism Recap
Mar 292015
 

This week on We Stand FIRM, the blog of FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine):

Follow FIRM on Facebook and Twitter.


This week on The Blog of The Objective Standard:

Follow The Objective Standard on Facebook and Twitter.


This week on The Blog of Modern Paleo:

Follow Modern Paleo on Facebook and Twitter.

Bjorn Lomborg on Earth Hour

 Posted by on 28 March 2015 at 3:00 pm  Energy, Environmentalism
Mar 282015
 

Hear, hear — Earth Hour Is a Colossal Waste of Time—and Energy by Bjørn Lomborg:

The organizers say that they are providing a way to demonstrate one’s desire to “do something” about global warming. But the reality is that Earth Hour teaches all the wrong lessens, and it actually increases CO2 emissions. Its vain symbolism reveals exactly what is wrong with today’s feel-good environmentalism.

And:

Electricity has given humanity huge benefits. Almost 3 billion people still burn dung, twigs, and other traditional fuels indoors to cook and keep warm, generating noxious fumes that kill an estimated 2 million people each year, mostly women and children. Likewise, just 100 years ago, the average American family spent six hours each week during cold months shoveling six tons of coal into the furnace (not to mention cleaning the coal dust from carpets, furniture, curtains, and bedclothes). In the developed world today, electric stoves and heaters have banished indoor air pollution.

Similarly, electricity has allowed us to mechanize much of our world, ending most backbreaking work. The washing machine liberated women from spending endless hours carrying water and beating clothing on scrub boards. The refrigerator made it possible for almost everyone to eat more fruits and vegetables, and to stop eating rotten food, which is the main reason why the most prevalent cancer for men in the United States in 1930, stomach cancer, is the least prevalent now.

Electricity has allowed us to irrigate fields and synthesize fertilizer from air. The light that it powers has enabled us to have active, productive lives past sunset. The electricity that people in rich countries consume is, on average, equivalent to the energy of 56 servants helping them. Even people in Sub-Saharan Africa have electricity equivalent to about three servants. They need more of it, not less.

Belief in Karma in Action

 Posted by on 27 March 2015 at 10:00 am  Ethics, Luck, Medicine
Mar 272015
 

Back in December, I answered a question about the reality of karma on Philosophy in Action Radio. If you’ve not yet heard it, you can listen to or download the relevant segment of the podcast here:

Then, some weeks ago, Robert Garmong sent me a tidbit from this article — Shock and Anger in Cambodian Village Struck With H.I.V. — relevant to karma:

The villagers’ affection for the doctor does not blunt their pain and bewilderment over the mass infection. Prum Em, Ms. Yao’s 84-year-old husband, stares with blank incomprehension when asked about the infections, which struck across three generations.

“I have done only good deeds my whole life,” he said. “It’s inconceivable that the family could have this much bad luck.”

Robert Garmong added:

There’s no specific evidence that this is what happened, but it could easily have been the case that this man’s family members intentionally took risky injections because “my family has only done good deeds, so surely the downside risk won’t happen to me.” I doubt that’s what happened, because there’s no evidence that the people even knew they were taking a risk. But the point remains. By messing with people’s rational calculations, the concept of “karma” leads in principle to self-destructive thinking.

Excellent example!

Link-O-Rama

 Posted by on 27 March 2015 at 8:00 am  Link-O-Rama
Mar 272015
 

 

On Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, Greg Perkins and I will answer questions on claims of rights to food and shelter, extreme cases, being helpful to a disliked co-worker, and more. This episode of internet radio airs at 8 am PT / 9 MT / 10 CT / 11 ET on Sunday, 29 March 2015, in our live studio. If you can’t listen live, you’ll find the podcast on the episode’s archive page.

This week’s questions are:

  • Question 1: Claims of Rights to Food and Shelter: Do people have a right to food and shelter? I recently had a conversation with a Facebook friend who stated that food and shelter are more than necessities, they are rights. I posed the question, “How does one exercise their right to food and shelter?” No one answered the question, so I would like to pose it here. Most food in this country is grown by farmers and sold fresh, or processed in a factory for sale. If food is a “right,” does anyone without the means to buy these products have an inherent right to take what they need without any remuneration to the farmer or the manufacturer? The same applies to shelter. How does one exercise their “right” to shelter without a means to earn it? We have a right to free speech, and a right to vote. One is exercised by speaking your mind on a subject without fear of government reprisal, and the other is exercised by voting during elections. We have the right to practice whatever religion we want or none at all. The press has the right to print or say whatever they want. Any “right” to food or shelter would have to operate differently. So are food and shelter a “right”? What would that mean in practice?
  • Question 2: Extreme Cases: Do moral principles break down in extreme cases? When faced with bizarre hypotheticals, advocates of rational egoism often assert that such scenarios would never happen. This seems to be dodging the question. It’s said that conventional understandings of physics break down at microscopic and extremely grand-scale levels. Does morality follow a similar pattern? For example, what if a small society of people stranded on an island faced a shortage of clean water, and a single individual who owned all access to clean water refused to sell it? Is that really impossible? Doesn’t that show that the principle of individual rights breaks down in extreme cases?
  • Question 3: Being Helpful to a Disliked Co-Worker: Should I do something nice for a coworker I dislike? There’s a lady at work that I dislike. My conflict with her is primarily merely a conflict of personality. I find her defensive, passive-aggressive, and awkward to the point of rudeness. I am also not very impressed with her work products, but that rarely has a direct impact on me – except when I’m asked to review them – as is the fact that she only seems to work for about six hours every day. Indirectly, of course, her eccentricities and poor work quality cast our team in a very poor light and could eventually serve as a reason to dissolve or lay off our team. It’s a mystery as to why she hasn’t been fired. But I’m not her manager. In a meeting earlier today, she made a remark that she thought she was being excluded from important meetings that are relevant to her work. The truth is that she’s not being actively excluded from these meetings, but rather everything is happening so fast and the meetings aren’t always planned, so it’s really just not possible to include her in those meetings. She would probably be heartened to understand better how these events take place in our company. (She’s rather new, and I am very tenured.) She might feel better about her position and she might become less defensive about things if she had a better understanding of the organizational mechanics here. But I strongly dislike her and would prefer that she seek other employment. Should I be kind and explain those mechanics or not?

After that, we’ll tackle some impromptu “Rapid Fire Questions.”

To join the live broadcast and its chat, just point your browser to Philosophy in Action’s Live Studio a few minutes before the show is scheduled to start. By listening live, you can share your thoughts with other listeners and ask us follow-up questions in the text chat.

The podcast of this episode will be available shortly after the live broadcast here: Radio Archive: Q&A: Rights to Things, Extreme Cases, Being Helpful, and More. You can automatically download that and other podcasts by subscribing to Philosophy in Action’s Podcast RSS Feed:

I hope you join us for the live show or enjoy the podcast later. Also, please share this announcement with any friends interested in these topics!

Philosophy in Action Radio applies rational principles to the challenges of real life in live internet radio shows on Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings. For information on upcoming shows, visit the Episodes on Tap. For podcasts of past shows, visit the Show Archives.

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New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 25 March 2015 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
Mar 252015
 

As you know, on Sunday morning’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I answer questions chosen in advance from the Question Queue. Here are the most recent additions to that queue. Please vote for the ones that you’re most interested in hearing me answer! You can also review and vote on all pending questions sorted by date or sorted by popularity.

Also, I’m perfectly willing to be bribed to answer a question of particular interest to you pronto. So if you’re a regular contributor to Philosophy in Action’s Tip Jar, I can answer your desired question as soon as possible. The question must already be in the queue, so if you’ve not done so already, please submit it. Then just e-mail me at diana@philosophyinaction.com to make your request.

Now, without further ado, the most recent questions added to The Queue:

What are the philosophical underpinnings of growth versus fixed mindsets?

At SnowCon, we discussed the negative impact of the doctrine of Original Sin on Western culture over breakfast one morning. We saw that this idea — which tells people that they are hopelessly flawed by nature — could encourage fixed mindsets. In contrast, an Aristotelian understanding of virtue and vice as dispositions cultivated by repeated action would seem to promote a growth mindset. What other philosophic ideas might tend to promote a fixed versus a growth mindset?

Should I respond to an “Earth Hour” company email?

Every year my company’s HR department sends out an email telling us to turn everything off and share stories about “the amazing things… (we)… get up to… saving the planet.” I feel like I should respond – to at least offer an alternative viewpoint. Silence seems like tacit endorsement. (After all, what kind of heretic would question this moral enlightenment?!?) These emails annoy me because we’re a computer software company. Everything we do relies on energy – consistent, reliable energy. Plus, there’s hypocrisy on multiple levels: you’re asked to turn your lights off for one hour. Try a week. Better yet, turn off your fridge/freezer for a few days and watch the abundance of life grow! Plus, while being asked to print less to reduce our footprint, our HR person has just returned from a world trip. We’re a 100 person company. I’m not sure if this email is company policy or just an arbitrary HR effort. I’ve heard that it is better to register a polite disavowal rather than surrender a value in silence. But I’m concerned that an emailed response to the same company distribution group would strike a sour note. So is it moral cowardice to stay silent, or is it common sense? What should I prioritize – smooth relationships with co-workers or the politicized pseudo-science of environmentalism? Or do I have other options?

When is a person obliged to report knowledge of a crime?

About ten years ago, as a nurse, I heard a patient planning to do something illegal – particularly, to lie to an insurance company about the relationship between her injuries and the car accident so that she could keep all the settlement money. At the time, I decided to disengage but not confront or report her. I opted for that due to concerns about patient privacy, the non-violence of the planned crime, and the fact that the insurance company could detect her lie from her medical records. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the situation. I’m trying to come up with a principle, and I’m getting all muddled. What is my moral responsibility to intervene or report when I know that another person is planning or has done something illegal – meaning, something that would violate someone’s rights? Does my responsibility change if it’s a friend (assumed in confidence) or stranger (overheard in public)? Does it matter if the crime has already taken place or is merely in the works? Where is the line regarding severity of the crime? (I’d obviously report if I even heard a stranger plotting murder.) Also, what if you might be harmed if you report, such as in the case of a gang murder? Is there some basic principle that can clarify when a person is obliged to report knowledge of a crime?

Should blackmail be illegal?

Recently, a UK man received seven years in prison after pleading guilty of blackmailing two men he had anonymous sex with at a park in Worcester, England. Is that just? In these cases, the blackmailed men were lying to their spouses, and laws against blackmail simply enables their ongoing deception. Putting aside cases of contractual breach, invention, and other sorts of fraud, should blackmail like this be illegal?

Does intuition have any validity?

Intuition is defined as “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” Assuming that we’re not talking about mystical insight, is this possible? When, if ever, should a person rely on such intuitions? How should he check them?

What are the signs of emotional repression?

It’s very important not to repress your emotions, especially if you are a person with rationalistic tendencies. But how might a person identify when he’s repressing some emotions? What are the signs? What can be done to avoid and overcome the tendency to repress, if such a tendency has become habitual?

Should it be illegal to smoke around children?

A recently introduced bill in New Mexico would forbid smoking with kids in the car. With all the research related to the dangers of second-hand smoke, does smoking with a child strapped in the back seat really amount to a form of child abuse or endangerment? If so, should the government forbid adults from smoking around kids everywhere?

What’s the value of hierarchical organizations?

One of the main goals of socialists is to abolish hierarchy. They seek to do this by abolishing capitalism, which they see as inherently hierarchical. Advocates of free markets have pointed out, however, that it is perfectly possible for a non-hierarchical organization to exist under a capitalist system, that socialists would have every right to form private co-operatives and such in a free society. Nevertheless, we have to admit that such is not common practice under modern capitalism (or quasi-capitalism): the vast majority of corporations, partnerships, and other private organisations have a strictly hierarchical structure with a boss at the top, administration below him, and rows and rows of employees of various rank below that. Why is this the case? What are the advantages of hierarchical organization? Would a free society be more or less hierarchical?

Are the religious freedoms of Christian bakers being infringed?

Over the past year, the news has been inundated with stories about Christian bakery owners refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings. These bakers are defended by the Christian right for exercising their “religious liberty” and decried by the secular left for discrimination. I am somewhat sympathetic to the bakers, though I am gay myself. However, it isn’t their religious liberty that’s been violated, but their right to their property. When I speak to people about this issue, they don’t understand where I’m coming from when I say the property rights of these bakers are important. Yes, their actions are motivated by a ridiculous moral code, but that isn’t the issue. What is the best way to respond to people who think that these Christian bakers should be forced to bake cakes for gay weddings? Given that businesses are already prohibited by law from discriminating against other minorities, would it be so wrong for the law to encompass sexuality-based discrimination too?

Is the existence of a prison system congruent with a free and just society?

Prisons are seen as a kind of “criminal holiday resort” by some and by others as a sort of criminal “training center.” Prisons help criminals network, harden their character, and learn new crime skills. In addition, the prison system has grown up as part of an overall trend within society towards what one might call the “management and correction of human beings.” Prison is not about punishing people for their actions, but about educating them—about moulding them into “better citizens.” It has been argued (mostly notably by Michel Foucault) that prisons are simply part of a general mechanism of government control, that includes institutions such as schools and mental asylums, all of which operate on a similar philosophy of government enforced correction and education. Should then a society based on opposite principles – on the principles of individualism, small government and personal responsibility – eschew the prison system? If so, what would it be replaced with, if anything? If not, what justifies the existence of the prison system in a free society?

Should I trust the medical profession more?

I suffer from a serious chronic disease. I have become extremely dismayed both at how limited medicine is in its ability to help me and how consistently wrong the doctors I’ve consulted have been about everything they’ve ever said. I have come to believe that doctors are poorly trained in medical school and that most people in the profession are basically second-handed. I attribute this situation to the extreme degree of government control over the medical profession, especially licensing laws and FDA controls. Is my attitude justified, or am I being overly negative?

Are people living in a free society obliged to contribute to its government?

Given that each person benefits hugely from the protection of his and others’ individual rights by the government of a free society, does each person have an obligation to contribute to that government in some fashion? If so, is that obligation just a moral obligation or might it be a legal obligation too? Would public scorn for “free riders” or benefits given to contributors be enough motivation for people to contribute what’s required to keep the government operational? Or is that unrealistic?

Is it hypocritical to manufacture products based on wrong ideas?

I work in CNC manufacturing (computer numerical control), and I recently purchased one of our machines in order to start a side business as a craftsman. Many immediate family members, for instance, would be interested in personalized home furniture goods like wall hangings, picture frames, jewelry boxes, and so on. Items with a Christian theme – like a cross with a Bible verse – are easy to make, customizable, and sell widely and well. Given that I’m an atheist, would manufacturing such goods be hypocritical? But what about other religious imagery, such as an engraved picture of the god Aries sleeping with Aphrodite and being caught her husband Hephaestus? After all, Greek mythology endorsed self-sacrifice, which I oppose. Also, what of historically-relevant symbols flags for Great Britain and Nazi Germany on a game board? I would refuse to print something like an ISIL flag but that seems different. So do these symbols have some intrinsic meaning that I would be promoting if I were to create them? Or are they merely given meaning by particular people in particular contexts, such that my producing and selling them isn’t of any moral significance?

To submit a question, use this form. I prefer questions focused on some concrete real-life problem, as opposed to merely theoretical or political questions. I review and edit all questions before they’re posted. (Alas, IdeaInformer doesn’t display any kind of confirmation page when you submit a question.)

A Bit of Crazy for Your Amusement

 Posted by on 16 March 2015 at 10:00 am  Crazy Emails
Mar 162015
 

Um, alrighty then.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha