Non-Appeasers in Poland

 Posted by on 28 February 2006 at 8:30 am  Funny, Religion
Feb 282006
 

This advertisement campaign in Poland is showing some of the real martyrs of Islamic violence.

As I read on one website, it’s funny how there are chronic violent Muslim-vs-Jewish conflicts in Israel, Muslim-vs-Hindu conflicts in India, Muslim-vs-Western conflicts in Europe, and Muslim-vs-Animist conflicts in Africa, etc. But according to the Muslim fundamentalists, the problem is always those other people. There’s no way that the cause is related to the obvious common denominator…

Overheard in New York

 Posted by on 28 February 2006 at 7:08 am  Uncategorized
Feb 282006
 

I recently discovered Overheard in New York, thanks to Trey Givens. It’s basically a blog of snippets of strange and/or stupid conversation overheard in New York City.
Some are philosophical:

Guy: Do you know what the word “ontological” means?
Chick: Yeah…I have seen it before…
Guy: Yeah. Me too.
Chick: Is it like an orange?
Guy: Yeah…Well, it’s something weird like that.
Chick: I know what you mean.
–Hungarian Pastry Shop, Amsterdam Avenue

Some are just funny:

Professor guy: I was going to give you all a quiz today. But then I realized that it was Valentine’s Day. You’re supposed to do something for the people you love on Valentine’s Day. And of course, I love all of you very much. So…I decided to give you the quiz on pink paper instead!

–Columbia University

Some reveal remarkable ignorance:

Woman #1: So I decided to celebrate turning 50 by traveling to Tibet.
Woman #2: Tibet? Where’s that? London?
Woman #1: …No, it’s near China and Russia.
Woman #2: Oh. It’s not like I don’t like to travel but I went to Mexico once and it was stupid.
–4 train

And:

Teen guy #1: Well, I’m French.
Teen girl: I’m German.
Teen guy #2: Well, I’m from Spain so I guess we’re all from Europe.
Teen guy #1: Spain isn’t in Europe.
Teen girl: Dude, yes it is. Europe is like its own continent.
Teen guy #1: I was talking about Europe the country, not that little
island with England on it.

–McDonalds, St. Marks & 3rd

Then there’s my personal favorite example of subjectivist stupidity:

Girl: I feel like if your vagina is wet enough, you won’t get AIDS.

–Kitchenette Uptown, Amsterdam Avenue

I’d say that nothing could possibly top that, but I’m sure that I’ll read worse soon enough.

Oops!

 Posted by on 28 February 2006 at 7:00 am  Uncategorized
Feb 282006
 

H&R Block messes up its own taxes.

Five Points

 Posted by on 27 February 2006 at 6:48 pm  Uncategorized
Feb 272006
 

Five points* to all who discern the trick of this fun little mind-reading game in one minute or less.

* Points have no cash value.

Platonic Conservatism

 Posted by on 27 February 2006 at 6:31 am  Conservatism, Philosophy, Politics
Feb 272006
 

A few weeks ago, Paul sent me to a lengthy TCS article by philosopher Edward Feser on “The Metaphysics of Conservatism.” The article consists of some downright disturbing discussion of the philosophical underpinnings of the various forms of modern conservatism. Feser clearly grounds the core of conservatism in Plato’s mystical metaphysics and intrinisicist epistemology. Since I’ve heard the critiques of neo-conservatism from Objectivist scholars like Yaron Brook and John Lewis, that’s not news to me. Still, I was pleased to hear those ideas from the horse’s mouth.

After some lengthy discussion of philosophy, the author distinguishes between three kinds of modern conservatism: Realist Conservatism, Reductionist Conservatism, and Anti-Realist Conservatism.

“Realist Conservatism” … affirms the existence of an objective order of forms or universals that define the natures of things, including human nature, and what it seeks to conserve are just those institutions reflecting a recognition and respect for this objective order. Since human nature is, on this view, objective and universal, long-standing moral and cultural traditions are bound to reflect it and thus have a presumption in their favor.

Reductionist Conservatism … might be defined as a variety of conservatism that agrees with Realist Conservatism in affirming that there is such a thing as human nature and that it is more or less fixed, but which would ground this affirmation, not in anything like an eternal realm of Forms, but rather in, say, certain contingent facts about human biology, or perhaps in the laws of economics or in a theory of cultural evolution. The Reductionist Conservative is, accordingly, more likely to look to empirical science for inspiration than to philosophy or theology. He is also bound to see grey in at least some areas where the Realist Conservative sees black and white, since facts about economics, human biology, and the like, while very stable, are not quite as fixed or implacable as the Forms. But he is less likely to see grey than is the Anti-Realist Conservative…
….
[The Anti-Realist Conservative] might be characterized as someone doubtful that any relatively fixed moral or political principles can be read off even from scientific or economic facts about the human condition. Whereas Realist and Reductionist Conservatives value tradition because there is at least a presumption that it reflects human nature, the Anti-Realist Conservative values it merely because it provides for stability and order.

As you might have noticed, this division of conservatives is itself highly Platonic, in that these three types of conservatism are defined in terms of Humean deviation from Platonism. Absolutism varies inversely with empiricism. Still, the categories do seem to capture the varieties of intrinsicism and subjectivism found in modern conservatism. Although I’m no expert on such matters, it does correspond to much of what I’ve seen from conservative intellectuals over the years.

As for the substance of his argument that modern conservatism is rooted in ancient thought, let me indicate just some of the mental gymnastics required to make that case.

For example, the article basically ignores the quasi-communist totalitarian dictatorship of The Republic, even though Plato regarded that state as the natural outgrowth of his mystical metaphysics and intuitionist epistemology — and rightly so. As otherworldly entities, the Forms will be distant from the thoughts of most people. Lacking the special training of philosophy, ordinary people are easily deceived by the imperfect, changing, and sordid appearances of this world — not to mention led astray by their passions. So a good society would have to be rule paternalistically by a special caste of those truly in touch with the Forms — conservative intellectuals, no doubt. Although the details of Plato’s ideal state — such as women, children, and property in common — would be rejected by modern conservatives, the basic ideal of a rigidly paternalistic state flows directly from Plato’s metaphysics and epistemology. Feser ignores that rather large element of Plato’s philosophy, perhaps unwilling to admit just how paternalistic his conservative ideal would be.

Even worse, Feser grossly misrepresents Aristotle’s philosophy so as to claim him as a source for modern theocratic politics. For example, he attempts to use Aristotle’s hylomorphism (i.e. the idea that substances are unions of form and matter) to justify a total ban on abortion, euthanasia, and the like. When he makes this argument, he’s already mentioned that “Aristotle also emphasized the idea that a substance — a statue, a tree, a human being — is a composite of matter and form… And the soul, on Aristotle’s view, is simply the form of a living body. A human person, therefore, is on his view a composite of soul (or form) and body (or living matter).” That’s accurate. Yet consider what he does with those ideas:

… a person, being on the view in question a composite of soul (or form) and body (or matter), cannot be identified with either his psychological characteristics alone or his bodily characteristics alone. Moreover, since the soul is just the form of a living human body, for a living human body to exist at all is for it to have a soul, so that there can be no such thing as a living human body — whether that of a fetus, an infant, a normal human adult or a severely brain damaged adult — which does not have a soul, and which does not count as a person. For while even a human being who is damaged or not fully formed might not perfectly exhibit the form of the human body (any more than a hastily drawn triangle perfectly manifests the form of triangularity), he nevertheless does exhibit it, otherwise his body wouldn’t count as a living human body at all (just as a hastily drawn triangle is still a triangle, however imperfect). One corollary of this is that every single living human body, within the womb or without, severely damaged or not, counts as the body of a person and as a being having all the rights of a person, including the right to life.

The first sentence and a half of that quote is accurate. The rest is a logical leap to Platonic and Christian garbage. Perhaps most obviously, the claims about damaged or immature humans “not perfectly exhibit[ing] the form of the human body” is a highly Platonic analysis — and quite inconsistent with Aristotle’s approach. Also, Aristotle would not even recognize all the talk about a fetus as a “person” with “all the rights of a person, including the right to life,” since he had no concept of “rights.” Yet even if we make some allowances on those scores, nothing in Aristotle’s views about the metaphysical nature of the human organism supports the notion that abortion and/or euthanasia are morally wrong. If anything, Aristotle’s discussions of these matters in De Anima (DA) or Generation of Animals (GA) suggests precisely the opposite view.

As already mentioned, Aristotle does regard the soul as the form of a living human body. Yet souls are not limited to human beings, as in Christian dogma and as implied in the above passage. Rather, the soul is the form of any living body, whether human, animal, or even plant. Different kinds of living organisms have different kinds of souls, differentiated by natural capacities. So plants have a “nutritive soul” of growth and reproduction. Animals have a “sensitive soul” also capable of perception and locomotion. Humans have even more, namely the “rational soul” required for abstract thought. (See DA 2:3)

Since souls are not uniquely human, the mere possession of a soul cannot confer any special moral standing upon all and only humans, as Feser implies. Moreover, nor can the rational soul possessed by only humans do so, since not all humans have the capacity to reason. Some humans will only have a sensitive soul. Others are limited to a nutritive soul. As pertains to abortion, Aristotle explicitly says the soul of a human must develop from nutritive to sensitive to rational, albeit with some subtleties about actual versus potential. (See GA 2:1.) As for euthanasia, clearly a person suffering from degenerative brain disease may regress from a rational to sensitive to nutritive soul. That’s why they’re called “vegetables”!

Given Aristotle’s analysis of the metaphysical nature of organisms, it’s hardly surprising that he was no opponent of abortion, but rather allowed it in the early stages of pregnancy due to his metaphysical views. In his discussion of the best state in the Politics, he writes:

As to the exposure and rearing of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live, but that on the ground of an excess in the number of children, if the established customs of the state forbid this (for in our state population has a limit), no child is to be exposed, but when couples have children in excess, let abortion be procured before sense and life have begun; what may or may not be lawfully done in these cases depends on the question of life and sensation. (Politics 7:16, emphasis added)

In contrast, Aristotle is opposed to suicide, but for reasons which have nothing to do with the nature of the human soul. (For more details on Aristotle on both abortion and euthanasia, including detailed textual references, see this helpful paper.)

In short, by leaping from hylomorphism about humans to moral and legal opposition to abortion and euthanasia, Edward Feser is engaged in that all-too-common practice in philosophy of “making stuff up.” (Yes, that’s technical terminology.) Even worse, he’s obviously relying upon the ignorance of his audience to do so: Although his claims about Aristotle are little more than logical leaps based upon gross misinterpretations, few of his readers are likely to know those technical details of Aristotle’s philosophy. Thus Edward Feser, like the philosopher-kings of Plato’s paternalistic totalitarianism, is perfectly willing to engage in whatever deceptions necessary to induce the rest of us lower beings to accept the rule of conservative intellectuals.

Lovely.

New Frontiers

 Posted by on 26 February 2006 at 7:20 am  Uncategorized
Feb 262006
 

I am very pleased to announce that I will soon be joining the staff of the Ayn Rand Institute as their Writer and Research Coordinator. I will be responsible for writing Impact, the newsletter distributed to ARI contributers, and helping fact check op-eds and other writings distributed through ARI.

I’m not sure I can effectively describe how excited I am by this opportunity. For the first time in my life, I will be making my living as a writer, which has always been my goal. And I will be doing so working at the place I’ve dreamed of working since I was fifteen and first became an Objectivist. The most I can say is that my benevolent universe premise has been confirmed in the most extraordinary way…this is life as it might be and ought to be.

This Thursday, I will be jumping in my car and leaving D.C., along with my best friend, David Rehm. We’re setting sail for Colorado, where I’ll be spending the weekend with Diana, enjoying the Objectivist law conference, after which I will be driving to Irvine. It reminds me of a book I started but never finished:

I leave a note. It’s the least I can do. It doesn’t say where I’m going. Just that I’m gone.

The cab driver is white – who knew white guys were even allowed to drive cabs? He shows up late. The sun is starting to rise by the time we leave, and I tell him to slam the gas so I will not miss my flight. Less than an hour later, I’m at BWI airport. It has to be a record.

“Twenty,” he says.

I open my backpack and throw him a fifty. “Keep the change.” He looks at the bag and eyes me suspiciously. “I didn’t steal it,” I say.

“Didn’t say you did.”

“Okay.”

“Just don’t think it’s a good idea to take a bag of cash to the airport.”

I shut the door without a word, check my suitcase, and hustle to my gate. I haven’t missed my flight – it’s been delayed. I buy a Coke, a copy of USA Today, and settle in beside a grumpy fat man who I’m sure has been sitting here for days.

“They won’t let you on the plane if you’re drunk,” he says, his breath reeking of rotten bourbon.

“Okay.”

“They got me once already. But this time I’m ready for them.” He smiles a dirty smile, looks around to make sure no one is watching, and pulls something out of his pocket. “I’ve got a mint.” He holds up a single Tic Tac.

“Good luck with that,” I say.

The flight is ready to board, which is good because another minute beside Mint Man and I’m going to be drunk. They call first class first. They always call first class first. I’m riding first class.

A skinny girl with a fake smile looks at my ticket and looks at me. I know what she’s thinking. I don’t look first class. Hell, I don’t look business class. Probably I look like cargo. “I don’t have a mint,” I say, thinking that might be the problem.

“Excuse me?” she says.

“Never mind.”

She waves me through and I sit down at the back of the first class section. When I was a kid, I always wanted the window seat. I’ve learned my lesson. My bladder is small and I always have to pee. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a window seat when the stranger next to you is asleep and you really have to pee. I guess you could use the vomit bags, but I get stage fright, so now I make sure to always get an aisle seat.

The seat is comfortable. It better be, right? I try to recline, but even in first class you don’t recline so much as tilt slightly. So I tilt. It helps.

“Eight C. Eight C. Oh, eight C.” A woman who’s probably thirty smiles at me and I stand up so she can take the window seat. I hope she won’t have to pee. “This is my first time in first class,” she says.

She looks like a bird. Not an ugly bird. I mean, she’s pretty. But still, she has bird-like features. Tight skin and a pointy nose and half a mouth. Good hair though.

“I’m Phoebe,” she says. “It means ‘shining one.’”

“I’m Ethan Allen,” I say.

“Like the revolutionary?”

“Like the furnishing store, I think.”

She laughs. It’s a good laugh. Light and airy. Too many girls have these weird giggles that make me squirm. I dated one girl who thought she sounded stupid when she laughed so she always tried to stifle it. It never worked – it would come out as an annoying snort. It’s a good thing I’m not funny. We wouldn’t have made it more than a week. Then again, we only lasted two weeks.

“Is this your first time in first class?” she says.

“Uh huh.”

“I guess it would be. You look young.”

“I’m twenty-two,” I say, a bit incredulous.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “That probably sounded condescending. I didn’t mean it that way.”

“Right.”

I wish she would shut up. I don’t mind being social, I really don’t. But I’m preoccupied. Everything is about to change and I want to be there when it does. Too many times I’ve missed out on important moments in my life. I don’t want to miss this one. When the wheels leave the ground, that’s when my life ends. I don’t need bird girl taking that away from me.

#

“You should see this,” Phoebe says, looking out the window. “The water looks so peaceful.”

“I hate water,” I say.

“It’s beautiful. Everything is so tiny.”

“Not really,” I say. “It just looks that way because we’re up so high.” It’s an hour into the flight so it’s okay Phoebe wants to talk.

“How long are you staying?” Phoebe says.

I shrug.

Her brow furrows. “You don’t know when you’re coming back?”

“Nope.”

“That’s interesting,” she says. Really I don’t think she thinks it’s interesting. Probably she thinks it’s weird. But she’s nice, even though she’s bird girl. She doesn’t want to offend me by saying anything.

“Are you single?” I say, thinking Phoebe is cute so it’s worth asking.

“Divorced.”

“So you’re single.”

She thinks for a second. “Yeah, I guess I am.” She laughs. “That’s funny. It’s been a year since my divorce and I haven’t thought about it that way. I just keep thinking ‘I’m divorced. I’m divorced.’”

“Do you always think it twice?”

She looks at me funny. “I’m not sure how to take that. Should I laugh or be offended?”

“You can laugh.” She doesn’t laugh.

The flight is almost over. I can tell because the captain says so. He tells us to buckle up. Phoebe ignores him. She must be suicidal.

We land and Phoebe and I get off the plane without saying goodbye.

Now it starts. Here begins my new life. As my foot touches down fromt he ladder to the runway, I sense the possibility of a new world – after this, things will never be the same.

“Hello,” a smiling man says. “Welcome to Cancun.”

Anyway, I’m headed west, and I couldn’t be more excited. However, I do want to stress one thing. Although I will be working for ARI, I do not speak for them. When I blog here, I will be speaking only for myself: not for ARI, for Objectivism, nor even for Diana.

That said, congrats to me. :)

Feel-Good Story of the Weekend

 Posted by on 25 February 2006 at 9:55 pm  Uncategorized
Feb 252006
 

This is an astounding story of an autistic high-school student who got to play a few minutes at the end of a basketball game.

Senior Jason McElwain had been the manager of the varsity basketball team of Greece Athena High School in Rochester, N.Y.

McElwain, who’s autistic, was added to the roster by coach Jim Johnson so he could be given a jersey and get to sit on the bench in the team’s last game of the year.

Johnson hoped the situation would even enable him to get McElwain onto the floor a little playing time.

He got the chance, with Greece Athena up by double-digits with four minutes go to.

And, in his first action of the year, McElwain missed his first two shots, but then sank six three-pointers and another shot, for a total of 20 points in three minutes.

Be sure to watch the video included in the news article. It would be interesting to know if his skill with the basketball is related in some fashion to his autism.

Another Fan Letter

 Posted by on 25 February 2006 at 10:18 am  Uncategorized
Feb 252006
 

Yesterday, in addition to this incomprehensible confusion about Marx, I also received yet another note from Mike Hardesty. You might recall that he declared me “Totally Ignorant Of The History Of The Middle East,” recommended some books from various hard leftists, and then told me that I would “have to pardon the tone” of his email but that he found me to be “a nasty, loudmouthed asshole.” So here’s the latest:

Date: Fri, 24 Feb 2006 10:42:18 -0800 (PST)
From: Michael Hardesty
To: diana@dianahsieh.com
Subject: Response

Just came across your response to my email of a month ago.

One does not have to like or respect the recipient of their email.

I am exercising the old American custom of setting the record straight.

I doubt you’ve ever read Robert Fisk and an intelligent person would not confuse criticism of US State policies with “hating America,” as if Bush and the shabby neocon liars represented all of America !!! Talk about epistemological collectivism !

[Various smears of Ayn Rand removed, since I do not wish to give them a forum.]

It’s not quite as bad as the first, but I really have no idea why he continues to write me. I’m clearly not listening, merely making fun.

Report on Invitation to History

 Posted by on 24 February 2006 at 8:52 am  Uncategorized
Feb 242006
 

Last night, Paul and I heard Scott Powell’s teleconference lecture on his new history course for adults, as blogged here. Although I’m not yet sure whether I can fit the course into my schedule, given all the oppressive demands of graduate school, the course definitely looks interesting. I’m enthused about the thought Scott has put into the teaching of history. In particular, I like his reverse chronological approach, since I’ve often found that studying later events first helps shed light upon the significance of earlier events. (Once that foundation is laid, you can then further study whatever most interests you, since the before-and-after context is well-established.) I’m also enthused by Scott’s enthusiasm for his subject, since I think that makes a world of difference in teaching.

Scott is repeating last night’s lecture, although the schedule has changed from the first announcement: The next and final session will be Sunday, Feb.26 at 12:00 p.m. (Pacific Time). E-mail powellhistory@powellhistory.com to sign up. If you’re interested in history, I’d certainly recommend giving it a hearing.

Update: After inquiring about the pace of the lectures, I’m confident that I can fit the course into my schedule. (I do prefer to be overwhelmed by the demands of work, after all!) So I’m signing up at this very moment.

An E-mail

 Posted by on 24 February 2006 at 8:29 am  Uncategorized
Feb 242006
 

I recently received the following e-mail, apparently a comment upon my undergraduate paper “The Problem of Self-Referentiality in Marx’s Historical Materialism”:

this sentence is circular, but to no ill effect, although the strong interpretation of historical materialism should not detract from the urgency of a necessary resistance at the time Marx and Engels wrote, as well as within the conflicts of today. All of the writings of Marx are not proto-anti-objectivist, as he recognized, in a Malthusian sense, that the teleological inevitability of historical transformation was, as you wrote, strictly a stage subject to the socio-economic pressures of the industry of intellectualism and the economy of production, which does not need to recognize the rights of people. Classic Communism in Russia was not the answer, but neither was its negation. The problem is simply in deeming a specific mode of economic life a historically bound mode. Now, these determinisms were not at all absolute; in fact, individual variation, or, more humanistically, creativity, was suppressed by the commodifications of human activity-production. The goal of this movement was not to destroy the heart of the Romantic, but to elevate the heart to an inviolable position within economic strata. Can we be capable of choices beyond or outside of materialistic accumulation-as-personal-identity? Is ther any incentive? Well, if we truly want to see a world of others, a world of unknowable contingency and illimitable communication (a human world), then a moral imperative must be shed in favor of a self-determining epistemological desire, especially in a world without god. People may desire power above us, but insistence on immortalization may not always prevail when one realizes that, no matter what we do, we will not be conscious of its final, or post-mortem, outcome.

Your sentence (in your undergraduate paper “The Problem of Self-Referentiality in Marx’s Historical Materialism”) ” This account of historical transformation is ultimately self-defeating, because any attempt to apply Marx’s historical materialism to his own theory leads to nothing but contradiction” is either circular (i.e. an intended meaning of the term “contradiction” as ‘self-contradiction’) or itself ambiguous, which may lead to one interpreting your use of your word “contradiction” to apply to Marx’s ideological opponents, but I am sure you were aware of this. then again, it is possible to admit, even as a Randian objectivist, that elements of the logic Marx employed to support himself are indeed also correct in relation to specific tendencies among the political, religious, philosophical, and cultural writers of his day and our own. This is true also of Marx’s urgency at his time, since real abuses of labor were prevalent. Without the paradigm established by socialists like Marx and Engels, reconciliation of many of these problems would have been deferred. I am including moderate reformists, anarchists, and syndicalists – who were instrumental in developing the libertarian view). Industrialists have ultimately benefited from adaptation to the (indirect) consciousness of labor of labor’s specific class conditions. Imagine what would happen if people would only have recourse to paroxysmal violence? After all, violence in most of the world now, just like in the 19th and early 20th centuries, nationalistically and religiously based.

-thaddeus Besedin

I see nothing rational about individualism in every situation, unless we may be guilty of ideological error simply by being dependent on our families in our formative pasts. Babies are all communists.

“Although being able to trace the development of history to one single cause would be convenient, such a simplistic model of history inevitably fails because it cannot possible capture all the complexity of the actual process of history.”

Do you mean processes? Singularizing history is just as simplistic as singular causality, which is indeed Hegelian. Poor Marx. Poor Rand. Can’t we have dialogue?

Uh, that would require some measure of comprehensibility, as opposed to the above sort of jibberish, I suspect.

Update: I just received the following note from this fellow, in response to my telling him via e-mail that dialogue would require him to “say something comprehensible.”

I guess editing my message would have been the first step toward this naive idealist’s fulfillment of a need for dialogue with opponents-who-are-not-truly-opponents. My point is that all elements of a philosophical system will never, in every context and in every predicament and especially when extended to practical things (as well as itself, as directly indicated only at the order of this particular 19th c. writer) be entirely self-consistent. Marx is a very easy target.

Ah yes, logical consistency — what a silly dream!

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