Jan 062014
 

So what did I do in 2013?  A whole heck of a lot, as it turns out.

First and foremost, I broadcast new episodes of Philosophy in Action Radio every Sunday and most Wednesdays — 80 episodes in total. 50 were Q&As, in which I answered 169 questions. 29 were interviews, and just one was a podcast. Happily, my listens and downloads increased by over 50% in 2013, to 371,621 in total. That’s pretty awesome, if I do say so myself! You can read more in my Quick Year-End Report on Philosophy in Action Radio. Also, I wrote regularly for NoodleFood, publishing 653 blog posts. Oh, and I did a whole lot of behind-the-scenes development for the web site, including changing podcast hosts in July.

Apart from my radio show, my work efforts in 2013 were largely consumed by the editing, publication, and promotion of my first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame. When I began working on it in late 2012, I never expected to do so much editing, but I’m very pleased with and proud of the results.

Now let’s look at some of the smaller events and projects, personal and professional.

The first quarter of 2013 was dominated by house repairs, mostly reconstructing the master bathroom and my office after the massive water leak discovered in December. That went well, with one notable and significant exception — namely, that the costly repairs done on the foundation to fix an occasional leak in the corner of my office didn’t work worth a damn. That’s a huge problem — not just because we wasted thousands of dollars on those repairs, but also because we installed new flooring, repaired drywall, painted walls, and re-installed baseboards on top of it. So fixing the problem again will require me to do repairs on all of that — yet again. Unfortunately, the company that did the work — Peak Basement Repair — has been nothing short of horrendous in response. They’ve attempted to wash their hands of any responsibility, and after going round and round with the owner’s wife, I don’t trust them one iota. I’m not willing to have them rip up my office, because goodness only knows whether they’ll fix the problem or just make a huge mess and cost me even more money. Hence, fixing that — with some better people — is on my list for 2014. But wow, I just wish that leak could magically go away. I hate having people working in my home with the passion of a thousand fiery suns.

Just before those repairs began in earnest, my parents visited. That was the first time that I’ve attended the National Western Stock Show… and wow, so much fun! It was a delightful — and exhausting — visit. My parents are very adept at running me ragged with fun!

In the midst of all the house repairs, I planned and prepared for SnowCon 2013. That happened in March, and the repairs were done just barely in time for us to have guests and host events at our home. (It was down to the wire!) You can read my report on SnowCon 2013 for more details.

In the spring, I travelled quite a bit too. Just before SnowCon, Paul and I travelled to South Carolina to attend the wedding of Eric Daniels and Rachael Griffin. That was lovely! In mid-April, Paul had a medical conference in Tucson, so I joined him for a few days of that. In early May, I attended my 25th high school reunion at Garrison Forest School. In late May, Paul and I travelled to Atlanta for ATLOSCon 2013. My lecture on “Moral Amplifiers” was new work, and I was glad that people were enthused about it. As always, I enjoyed spending time with my ATLOSCon peeps… and best of all, Greg and Tammy! That Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio was only the second time that Greg and I broadcasted together in person, and that’s always so much fun. In early June, I visited my sister Meredith, her husband, and their awesome son Clyde.

All that travelling was delightful, except that it interfered with my attempts to get Lila back in work and in shape. The weather was not helpful either: when I’d leave, we’d have delightful riding weather, and then I’d come home to cold and snow. I wasn’t able to work Lila consistently until May, in fact: my first lesson with Martha Deeds wasn’t until May 16th. BOO! This year, I’ve packed a good bit of my travelling into January — although dammit, I’m still running into the same problem!

Oh, and I was supposed to visit Paul’s family in late June, but the fire risk was too high for me to feel comfortable leaving the beasts. So I stayed home, and Paul visited without me. I’m visiting them now… finally!

On a sour note, the first half of 2013 featured some horrible behavior and ever-worse revelations from close in-town friends. My life improved dramatically when I cut ties with them after [events], although that was very hard for me to do for [reasons]. After that, I decided to be more self-protective. So I’m far less tolerant of creepy, dishonest, malicious, or otherwise uncalibrated behavior from people. Life is too precious to waste on crazy and/or awful people, just because they’re Objectivists.

By June, my work with Lila was in full swing — finally! Happily, I began riding regularly with my former instructor Cyndi Meredith. She’s an excellent western trainer: I’ve learned tons from her. She’s also become a good and trusted friend, for which I’m very grateful. At Martha’s suggestion, I bought a new jumping saddle — a barely used Jeffries Elite — to replace the saddle that I’d been riding in since middle school. That was much more comfortable for me, as well as for Lila.  (She was having problem with her hind end in my old saddle, which cropped up again later in the year.)

Also in June, Martha asked me whether I wanted to compete on Lila. I wasn’t sure, initially. However, I woke up in the middle of the night saying, “YES YES YES!” So we scheduled my first competition for the one-day trial at the Colorado Horse Park in early August. Suddenly — and to my surprise — I became so much more serious about my training. Also, I had so much to do to prepare, including equipment to buy.

Late in June, I attended one day of a Pat and Linda Parelli Tour. I learned quite a bit about horsemanship from that.

In July, I finally closed the OLists. They’d been very quiet for ages — partly due to the collapse of the Objectivist movement after repeated WTFery and partly due to the increased use of Facebook for such communications. Some of the OLists have become more-or-less active groups on Facebook, which makes me happy. July also featured a lovely visit from our good friends Kelly, Aaron, and Livy. I enjoyed teaching Livy to ride Lila, and I loved watching Paul geek out with Aaron. Kelly has been such a good friend to me, particularly this year; I always enjoy talking with her — not just lots, but positively too much.

As our first event approached, Lila and I made rapid progress. Still, I struggled with some bad habits, particularly that of dropping Lila just before fences, just when she needed me most. Those failures were often really difficult for me to manage psychologically, particularly in the lead-up to the competition. I had to learn to ease up the pressure on myself a bit, even while still working hard to do my best. In late July, I took Lila up to Longmont for a dressage schooling show. We did all three training level tests, and I was really proud of her (and me).

August featured my first three-phase event! The big surprise was that Lila was quite scared in the stadium jumping phase, refusing the first fence and sucking back at every one after that. We made it through, however, and she was great in cross-country. (Paul was very excited and supportive, which surprised and pleased me!)  As a result of that experience, I took Lila to two schooling jumper shows — one in late August and another in September — to get her used to jumping unfamiliar courses. By the second show, she was more calm and relaxed than me!

Later in August, I attended Clinton Anderson’s Walkabout Tour. I learned more about good horsemanship in that, but I was disappointed by his belligerent attitude and the too-long breaks between events.

Lila and I continued to work hard — until everything ground to halt in mid-September. In Colorado’s torrential rains and floods, we only got about four inches, but that was enough to do damage to Lila’s feet. They softened, and a small bit of gravel got stuck in her hoof under her shoe, and eventually worked its way out her heel after many, many days. She was very lame for about three weeks, and even after that, she wasn’t quite right. I was very stressed, mostly because our second (and last) event of the season was fast approaching!

In early October, the weekend before that event, Paul and I headed off to Atlanta for a small workshop among friends on personality theory that I’d organized. That was really interesting for me, both personally and professionally. Also, it was tons of fun! (Next year, I hope to do a similar workshop of the psychology of productivity.)

Lila seemed sound on returning home, thankfully. I had just four days to ride her before the event, which was not nearly enough time! Still, we managed. Lila and I did well — definitely better in all phases than our first event. Alas, the dressage judge noticed a “shimmy” in her hind end, so we scored badly. Still, we were allowed to continue after that, and Lila was excellent. My mother came into town for that event, and that was a huge treat for me. Her support of my riding — and her good example and knowledge — means so much to me. Paul attended the event too, and he was very enthused and supportive, which I loved!

After that event, I began foxhunting Lila with the Arapahoe Hunt, which I joined in November. It’s very different foxhunting than what I did as a junior with my mom. It’s wide-open territory, and we hunt coyote. So it’s often fast and hard hunting, with few stops. Still, I love it, and I’m so glad to be doing it again.

Even more exciting, Martha invited me to train in the warm weather with her and other students in the equestrian mecca of Aiken, South Carolina for the whole month of February. HOLY COW! I’m going, and I’m so excited!!

November featured a quick but fun visit from Rory, plus a quiet and lovely Thanksgiving with our friends Howard and Susan.

In November horse news, Lila’s hind-end shimmy showed up again — worse than ever. At Martha’s recommendation, I took her to Dr. Diane Wagner — a holistic vet. The problem seemed to be chronic pain, likely exacerbated by wearing a boot (and hence, being slightly uneven) to help her recover from that bit of gravel in her hoof. The first treatment went well, and the second treatment was the icing on the cake. However, in the three weeks in-between, Lila had to be on just light work. BOO!

So that I’d have a horse to foxhunt, I borrowed Dixie — a very quiet four-year-old paint mare — from my friend Cyndi. She was very quiet in the hunt field, and I started her over fences in some lessons with Martha too. She’s a good girl, and she did well. She’s been a fun project for me, although she’s not what I’d want in a horse. I still have her now, but I’ll give her back to Cyndi in late January, before I leave for Aiken.

In mid-December, I noticed that my favorite kitty, Elliot had become quite skinny. I took him to my vet, and he’d lost a pound, which is a big deal in a cat. My vet diagnosed him with kidney disease, and that makes me very sad. I can prolong his life by feeding him as much as he’s willing to eat of a modified diet. I’ve been doing that, and he’s already gained a bit of weight. Meanwhile, Mae decided to become “Houdini Dog,” and she’s been escaping from both the dog run and our property fence by various methods. She’s very smart and determined, and I hope to solve the problem soon… but we’ll see what happens!

For my birthday on December 13th, Paul bought me a wonderful dressage saddle! I’d been searching for it for quite some time, and I found it the day before my birthday, then tested it on Lila on my birthday. It’s wonderful to ride in: it’s already helped me get a better body position in my flatwork.

My parents visited again over Christmas. We went out to Breckenridge for a few days to downhill ski (me) and cross-country ski and snowshoe (Mom, Papa, and Paul). Also, Mom and I were able to ride twice. It was lovely to have two good quiet horses — Dixie and Lila — for her to ride. I feel really lucky to enjoy spending time with my parents as much as I do.  They’re fabulous people, and they set a great example by living life to the fullest!

In December, I began planning SnowCon 2014, as well as making definite plans for SnowCon Tahoe in late January. Fun times!

Did I mention that kitty Merlin was cute and naughty all year long? He’s now a big kitty, at least in body, if not in spirit.  Also, Paul was his usual awesome self all year long, working hard and publishing a slew of fabulous columns on health care and related topics.

That was my 2013! Holy cow, that was a big year!  I think it was my best year yet, and I’m looking forward to making the most of 2014 too!

 

Family meetings are an excellent way for people to smooth the rough edges of life together. And I love Rachel Miner’s suggestion of each person talking about a mistake they made and what they learned from it too:

We start our family meetings with compliments. Each person gives each of the other family members a compliment. Not only does this help us focus on the positive, it also helps us recall times during the week when we admired each other. About six months ago, I was thinking about the growth vs. fixed mentality* and decided to add one more thing to this intro, a mistake. So, each person also shares a mistake that they’ve made during the week and what they’ve learned from that experience. The goal here is to make mistakes OK and recognize them as part of the learning process. I want my kiddo especially to see how common it is for grown ups to make mistakes and how the important thing is how we respond to those opportunities.

It’s crucial for kids to learn that people of all ages make mistakes routinely — and that the sensible response is to recognize and correct those errors. Absent explicit training in that process, kids learn to “manage” their mistakes by dishonesty — meaning, by denying their mistakes, concealing their mistakes, ignoring their mistakes, and rationalizing their mistakes. That’s disastrous, not just for a person’s life but also for his character.

If you’re interested in more, I published a paper on this very topic in the Journal of Value Inquiry back in 2004: False Excuses: Honesty, Wrongdoing, and Moral Growth.

Report on My Moral Perfection Lecture

 Posted by on 8 March 2012 at 4:00 pm  Ethics, Pride
Mar 082012
 

I’m pleased to report that Tuesday’s “Think!” lecture on moral perfection at CU Boulder went… more or less perfectly! I was able to cover the major elements of Ayn Rand’s views on moral perfection — meaning: what it is, why it’s necessary, and how to achieve it. The Q&A went well too: I found the questions meaty and challenging. My only regret is that I didn’t have time to discuss Christianity or Aristotle in any depth, but I’ll save that for another time. Also, it was darn cool to be back at CU Boulder to speak for the awesome “Think!” lecture series that I helped produce for three years as a graduate student.

I will be releasing audio, video, and slides from the lecture in a few weeks, i.e. after SnowCon 2012. But… I’m only making it available to those super-awesome people who’ve contributed to Philosophy In Action. (You’ll alerted by e-mail when it’s posted!)

I closed my lecture with a quote from Ayn Rand’s journals that seems to be mostly unknown, but that really resonates with people. I post it here for your chewing enjoyment:

Man may be justly proud of his natural endowments (if they are there objectively, i.e., rationally), such as physical beauty, physical strength, a great mind, good health. But all of these are merely his material or his tools; his self-respect must be based, not on these attributes, but on what he does with them. His self-respect must be based on his actions — on that which proceeds from him. …

If a man says: “But I realize that my natural endowments are mediocre — shall I then suffer, be ashamed, have an inferiority complex?” The answer is: “In the basic, crucial sphere, the sphere of morality and action, it is not your endowments that matter, but what you do with them.” It is here that all men are free and equal, regardless of natural gifts. You can be, in your own modest sphere, as good morally as the genius is in his — if you live by the same rules.

Find your goal within yourself, in whatever work you are honestly capable of performing. Never make others your prime goal. Demand nothing from others as an unearned gift and grant them nothing unearned. Live by your own rational judgments. Be independent in whatever judgments you hold or actions you undertake, and do not venture beyond your own capacity, into spheres where you’ll have to become a parasite and a second-hander. You’ll be surprised how decent and wonderful a human being you’ll become, and how much honest, legitimate human affection and appreciation you’ll get from others.”

That’s from The Journals of Ayn Rand, starting on page 291.

 

I’m super-excited to announce that I’ll be giving a lecture for CU Boulder’s Think! philosophy lecture series on March 6th. The lecture will be held in the theater of Old Main, from 7:30 to 9:00 pm. The title of my lecture is: “Should You Try to Be Morally Perfect?” Here’s the abstract and my bio:

Most people dismiss any ideal of moral perfection as beyond their reach. “I’m only human,” they say. That view is a legacy of Christianity, which teaches that moral perfection is possible to God alone and that any attempt at moral perfection is the sin of pride. In sharp contrast, Ayn Rand argues that moral perfection is not only possible to ordinary people, but also necessary for anyone who wants to live a virtuous and happy life. Hence, pride, understood as moral ambitiousness, is one of her seven major virtues — as seen in the heroes of her novels “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged.”

This talk will explore Ayn Rand’s views of moral perfection, ambition, and pride. What does she think that morality demands? How can people achieve that? How should people respond to their own moral wrongs and errors? We will compare Rand’s answers to these questions to those of Aristotle. We will find that, despite some differences in each philosopher’s conception of virtue, they share the compelling view that seeking moral perfection is crucially important to a person’s life and happiness.

Diana Hsieh received her Ph.D in philosophy from the CU Boulder in 2009. Her dissertation argued that Thomas Nagel’s “problem of moral luck” can be solved by an Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility. She is the author of the Explore Atlas Shrugged series of podcasts and discussion questions. Every Sunday morning, she answers questions on practical ethics in her live Philosophy in Action Webcast.

These questions about moral perfection have long been of interest to me, and I’m really enthused to explore them in greater depth — particularly because I think that the comparison between Ayn Rand and Aristotle will be really quite illuminating.

If you’re a local, please attend in person! Bring a friend! Spread the word! If you can’t attend, I might be able to post a recording of the lecture afterwards.

Video: Overcoming Perfectionism

 Posted by on 8 February 2012 at 8:00 am  Ethics, Pride, Videocast
Feb 082012
 

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed overcoming perfectionism. The question was:

What is the problem with and solution to perfectionism? Lately, I’ve realized that I might have a problem with “perfectionism” – meaning that I hold myself to unrealistically high standards in some areas of my life. For example, I feel like I should be much more productive, to the point of being unrealistic about what I can do in a day. What’s the basic error of such perfectionism? And what can I do to overcome it?

My answer, in brief:

For a person to seek perfection, based on rational standards that take account of his particular context, is often good. Perfectionism, however, means doing so based on out-of-context or unrealistic standards of perfection. A person with perfectionist tendencies needs to identify them, then think and act consistently based on standards appropriate to his purpose – whether seeking perfection, good enough, or merely adequate.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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