After many years of using David Allen’s Getting Things Done method of managing life, I cannot imagine living without it. So I was delighted to find, via Gus, a 45 minute talk he gave to Google introducing GTD. In the video, Allen doesn’t talk about the details of how the system works. (For that, you’ll have to buy the book. Given its power to transform your whole approach to purposeful endeavors for the better, it’s well the few bucks.) Instead, he’s giving a broad overview of why GTD works — unlike any other system of “getting yourself organized.”
The basic lesson: The mind has identity, and if you want your mind work superbly well in your pursuit of values, then you’d better develop a system of managing information, goals, and actions that respects its capacities and limitations. That system is GTD.
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Despite heroic opposition, irrationality made headway in Louisiana with the passage of the impressive-sounding, Science Education Act.
This law will allow teachers to use “supplemental materials” to promote the “open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
That might sound pretty good, given the deplorable state of science education in the public schools, but it’s not. The purpose of this bill is to allow schools to teach Creationism in the science classrooms, a blatant violation of the separation of church and state.
People who believe in Creationism–the biblical explanation for the origins of the earth and life–are fighting against Darwin’s theory of evolution, a brilliantly-discovered thesis which ignores God in favor of actual facts.
There is no credible scientific debate against evolution. It is the unifying theory in all biology, and has been proven over and over again. The mere act of denouncing it in favor of “what the bible says” does not constitute a valid competing theory.
The bill’s stated goal of teaching “critical thinking” is a sickening offense to the human mind. It will critically shut off all rational thinking, exhorting young minds to accept on faith alone ancient mythical tales of our beginnings.
The Discovery Institute, a big promoter of teaching Creationism, deeply criticized the opponents of Louisiana’s law. They had the nauseating audacity to equate Galileo’s struggle against the church with their struggle against what they call, the “antichurch.” The author states: “But a funny thing about the truth is that no one can control it because sooner or later it reveals itself.”
This statement is a direct repudiation of our essence as humans: that we are beings who must discover the truths of reality by a process of reason in order to survive. The faithful have no more choice about this fact of our existence than the non-faithful.
Teaching the myth of Creationism, which requires faith, alongside the science of evolution, which requires reason, will cause confusion in students’ minds about what science is and why it’s important. It will impair–not enhance–the development of their ability to think.
Learning about evolution is a wondrous and fascinating experience. And it’s a crime that evangelicals are basically telling the next generation: “learning how to reason is irrelevant.”
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Those who are interested in the future of free speech in Europe might find this article from the July 12, 2008 Wall Street Journal noteworthy. It documents the contrasting responses of Denmark and Holland to cartoonists accused of insulting Islam. Here are a few excerpts:
“Denmark protects its cartoonists. We arrest them,” says Geert Wilders, a populist member of the Dutch Parliament…
The contrasting Danish and Dutch responses “show that there is a serious struggle of ideas going on for the future of Europe,” says Flemming Rose, a Danish newspaper editor who commissioned the drawings of Muhammad in Jyllands-Posten. At stake, he says, is whether democracy protects the right to offend or embraces religious taboos so that “citizens have a right not to be offended.”
As Arts & Letters Daily notes, “The Netherlands once sheltered Jews and other refugees from the Inquisition. Now it runs its own Inquisition…”
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The following letter appeared in the online edition of the July 13, 2008 Denver Post, with negative reference to individualism and Ayn Rand. Since her name doesn’t frequently appear in our local paper, I took this as an opportunity to set the record straight.
Here is the original letter:
It wasn’t individualism that settled the West
Re: “The Cowboy Myth,” July 6 Perspective article.
There are two problems with Jeffrey Lockwood’s support of the Cowboy Myth. First, we are constantly told that it was reality, that cowboys were the essential ingredient in the winning of the West. Truth is, the average cowboy was about as significant as today’s parking lot attendant.
Perpetuating the Hollywood/dime fiction image of the cowboy propagates the false belief that Ayn Rand individualism was the historical way and will be the best future way to solve our nation’s problems. Truth is, the sodbusters were the key, the heroes: risking all, sticking determinedly in their forlorn shacks to raise their crops and banding together to raise their barns, build their schools and defend their homes.
The key to our nation’s past successes was Americans joining together in common cause, not individualism. Working together will also be the key to our future.
My response was as follows:
America was made by great individuals working under a system which (albeit imperfectly) protected their right to use their rational minds to create value and advance their lives. Where would we be without the likes of Thomas Edison, Westinghouse, and Henry Ford? This was a key insight of Ayn Rand and she deserves tremendous credit for promoting a philosophy that celebrates individual achievement — the philosophy that underlies the positive and optimistic “can do” American sense of life.
Of course individuals can and should band together voluntarily when it suits their purposes. I have no problem with “working together” with others for mutual benefit as a voluntary arrangement, as many did in the Old West.
However, this notion is too-often corrupted into a vicious morality which preaches that the collective should take precedence over the individual, that individuals should be coerced to help one other, and that therefore we need massive government intrusions into the economy (such as “universal health care”) to automatically provide for everyone’s needs at taxpayer expense.
This approach will destroy the sorts of individuals who made America great, and will eventually destroy America. We need to celebrate and support the individuals who embody the American spirit and work-ethic, not punish them.
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I’ve made a few noteworthy additions to the blogroll lately:
This blog contains excessive amounts of positive parenting stories. Non-parents may experience sudden urges to procreate and should be advised that THIS IS NOT REALITY. Please read with caution. You are advised to consult with your partner before making any life-altering decisions.
I’m surprised that I didn’t have some of those on the blogroll already! On a less philosophical note, my parents have travel blogs:
And last but not least, the Coalition for Secular Government’s Politics without God.
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Dear Miss Manners:
A conflict of values: I have always been committed to the practice of sending handwritten expressions of thanks for kindnesses in an appropriate and timely manner, and have valued receiving the same from others.
However, I am also committed to doing my small part to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases on our precious environment. I recycle, take canvas bags when I shop, receive and pay bills electronically, and send electronic greeting cards to friends. I have canceled all catalogues and magazine subscriptions, carefully managed the use of electricity and gas in my home, and am careful about fuel consumption in my auto.
I find myself feeling guilty when I write a thank-you note, as each note uses resources in the form of both the paper on which it is written and the fuel required to send it from place to place. I would like to replace these notes with similarly appropriate expressions of thanks via e-mail to those of my friends who I know use e-mail. I would value your thoughts on this dilemma.
Wow. Gaia forbid that a person use and transport a wee bit of paper!
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Yesterday, I got the following FaceBook message from Tom Stevens. (I’m reproducing it because it’s a form letter from someone wholly unknown to me.) It said:
I am the Objectivist Party Presidential Candidate and we need 9 registered Colorado voters to list as Presidential Electors. There is no obligation but if we do not get said registered voters, we will not be on the ballot.
If you could help by letting us list you, it would be appreciated.
Dr. Tom Stevens
I wrote up a quick reply, then realized that my comments might be of interest to NoodleFood readers. So I put a bit more work into it, so that I could post it here. (Be forewarned, I wrote the comments below before I realized that this guy is a Libertarian. More on that below.) Here’s my response:
I can’t grant your request. While I am a strong advocate of cultural and political activism, I think that attempting to change American culture via a third party is not just ineffective but downright counterproductive.
The problem with American politics today is not that Americans are looking for an Objectivist candidate but the major parties will only run statists. The majority of voters are reasonably satisfied with their choice between left-wing and right-wing statists on Election Day. Objectivists must work to change the culture toward secularism, reason, egoism, and individual rights. Only then can we expect better politicians to mount a credible campaign, let alone win elections.
That cultural change will be felt within the major parties — so long as Objectivists don’t sequester themselves into political irrelevance in their own unelectable political party. If Objectivists (and sympathizers) demand that the major parties court their vote, then political change for the better is possible.
The history of the political influence of the abolitionist movement bears out this analysis. Abolitionists created new political parties, some focused on the single issue of abolition and others broadly pro-liberty. All such parties failed to gather any significant votes; they had no positive impact. If anything, they had a negative impact, in that they siphoned off strong abolitionist voters that the fledgling Republican Party would have otherwise had to woo. Eventually, the Republican Party did adopt abolitionism — due to effective cultural activism, not those minor abolitionist parties. By uncompromising moral arguments, a small band of committed abolitionists changed American hearts and minds about the evils of slavery in just a few decades. (Brad Thompson discusses this fascinating political history in his excellent lecture course, American Slavery, American Freedom. Hopefully I’ve remembered it reasonably accurately.)
Today, if the small but growing number of Objectivists and sympathizers gravitate to an Objectivist political party, the Republicans and Democrats could safely ignore us for decades to come, knowing that they’ve already lost our vote. That’s a license for more statism, not less.
Objectivists should follow the same model as the abolitionists: change American hearts and minds, and the politicians will follow. Political advocacy can and should be a large part of those efforts to change the culture, as seen in the activities of the Ayn Rand Institute and Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine (FIRM). Unlike running wholly unelectable candidates for office, that kind of activism works. And that’s where Objectivists ought to be focusing their time and efforts.
After writing most of the above, I examined the web site of this proposed Objectivist Party in more detail. In my first look, I’d noticed a strongly anti-libertarian statement in the platform itself, in the form of this quote from Harry Binswanger:
The “libertarians”…plagiarize Ayn Rand’s principle that no man may initiate the use of physical force, and treat it as a mystically revealed, out-of-context absolute…In the philosophical battle for a free society, the one crucial connection to be upheld is that between capitalism and reason. The religious conservatives are seeking to tie capitalism to mysticism; the “libertarians” are tying capitalism to the whim-worshipping subjectivsim and chaos of anarchy. To cooperate with either group is to betray capitalism, reason, and one’s own future. (Harry Binswanger: “Q & A Department: Anarchism,” TOF, Aug. 1981, 12.)
So, I thought, however counterproductive the endeavor, it didn’t seem to be corrupt. That’s one reason why I was willing to write such a detailed reply to the request. However, on reading the biographical information on Tom Stevens, the founder and 2008 presidential candidate, it became perfectly clear that he’s a Big-L Libertarian in Objectivist clothing. See for yourself:
Dr. [Tom] Stevens is the Founder of the Objectivist Party. He was elected to the Judiciary Committee of the Libertarian Party in 2006 and re-elected in 2008. He served as a New York State Delegate to the Libertarian Party’s National Convention in Atlanta in 2004, Portland in 2006, and Denver in 2008. He currently serves as President of the Libertarian Freedom Council, a national organization of students, young professionals and entrepreneurs and also serves as a member of the LPNY State Committee. In the Republican Presidential Primary, he was a supporter of Ron Paul and served as Political Consultant and New York State Coordinator for the Paul For President Coalition.
(I might add that I find other aspects of the biography, particularly the range of college-level courses that he’s taught somewhere unspecified “during the past few years,” as suspect.)
So that makes clear to me the value of this endeavor so-called “Objectivist Party.” Libertarians are not allies in the struggle for liberty. So while I think that my comments above are worthwhile as general points about political and cultural activism, this request was not worth so many electrons.
Update: July 3rd, 2009: For all that you need to know about Tom Stevens’ view of Ayn Rand and Objectivism, see his blog post Farrah Fawcett’s E-Mail Reveals Ayn Rand Thought Their Sharing The Same Birth Date Had Significance. First, you’ve got to be kidding — only he’s not. And second, UGH.
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Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate’s three fantastic lectures on “Cultural Movements: Creating Change” — given at OCON less than a month ago — are already available for free in the “Activism” section of the new Ayn Rand Center web site. All three lectures are available in full. (You can navigate to the various parts via the scrolling list that’s just below the video box.)
Here’s the description from the OCON brochure:
Among the cultural forces in ascendancy over the last few decades are “free” markets and the resulting globalization; environmentalism; and religion. These three lectures examine the rise of global markets, environmentalism and religion in the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries. The lectures address questions such as: What steps did these movements take to gain their success? How were they organized? What did they count on? What do they seem to be planning for the future?
Having examined these movements, Dr. Brook and Dr. Ghate extract what we can learn from them in regard to changing a culture. How can we as a movement organize and work most effectively to bring about the kind of world Ayn Rand’s philosophy equips us to create?
Roughly one lecture will be devoted to globalization, one to environmentalism and religion, and one to strategies for the present and future.
Did I mention that these fantastic lectures are free? Probably, but it’s worth repeating.
If you’re interested in working to change the culture for the better — rather than just sitting on your ass, whining and complaining while it goes to hell — then I strongly recommend these lectures. Go watch them now.