Question: Can a rational atheist extract any value from studying theology? Theology includes a mix of arguments for the existence of God, plus views on ethics, and more. It's the earliest form of philosophy. Can a person benefit by cherry picking ideas from theological teachings or does the mysticism and other faults outweigh any benefits?
Summary: What is rhetoric? Why does it matter? How can the basic concepts of rhetoric help us write more effectively, understand advertising better, or speak more persuasively?
Summary: Is "big government" the fundamental problem of American politics? Historian Eric Daniels will explain why this common formulation is misleading, wrong, and even dangerous to liberty.
Question: How should I respond to friends who fanatically hate President Obama? As a free-market advocate, I'm distressed about President Obama's policies. However, I'm increasingly worried about some of my friends in the free-market movement exhibiting an alarming level of hatred for President Obama. I have seen my friends latch on to every "juicy"-sounding accusation against the President, which they spread all over Facebook, such as spurious claims that the administration violently threatened Bob Woodward, or that the President conspires to grant himself a third term. I think a reasonable discourse on Obama's faults is necessary, but the conspiracy theories and outright hatred cloud people's judgments. I want to ask my pro-free-market, Obama-hating friends that they not bring up their dubious accusations in conversation, but I don't know how to do that without offending them. Is there a solution to this dilemma?
Question: How should the feminist movement be judged? Do today's feminist causes have any merit? Or is the feminist movement merely seeking special favors for women at the expense of men – perhaps even via violations of the rights of men? If the movement is mixed, how should it be judged, overall? Should better feminists eschew the movement due to its flaws – or attempt to change it from within? Can advocates of reason, egoism, and capitalism ally themselves with selected feminist causes without promoting the worse elements thereof?
Question: Are Objectivism and libertarianism allies in the struggle for liberty? Libertarians have long claimed that Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism (or just its politics) is a form of libertarianism, but Objectivists rejected that. More recently, however, notable Objectivist John Allison assumed the presidency of the thoroughly libertarian Cato Institute with the support of the Ayn Rand Institute, and he claimed that "all objectivists are libertarians, but not all libertarians are objectivists." Is that true? What is the essence of libertarianism? When, if ever, should Objectivists ally or collaborate with libertarians?
Question: Will Obama's second term further damage American culture and values? I'm not as worried about the tax hikes, foreign policy, and other concrete policies of Obama's second term as I am about the cultural change that his administration will instill in society over the next four years, just as it did over the last four years. The next generation of liberals – college age kids, that is – are little socialists who repeat the phrases like "social justice" and "fair share." Is such cultural change a genuine problem? If so, what can be done to combat it?
Summary: The Free Objectivist Books for Students web site aims to help more students read Ayn Rand. It does that by enabling donors to send books by Ayn Rand or about her philosophy of Objectivism to students eager to read them. Jason Crawford explained how the project works – including the unusual way it connects donors and recipients – and why he thinks students should read Ayn Rand.
Question: Are high taxes comparable to slavery? On Facebook, some friends suggest that America is becoming more like Nazi Germany. Others share images comparing Americans workers to slaves picking cotton in the antebellum south due to our ever-higher taxes. I think these comparisons go way too far: Americans are still some of the freest people the world has ever known. No doubt, our freedom is being chipped away, but are we really like slaves?
Question: Is it wrong to be indifferent to the rights-violations of people who advocate rights-violations? Some celebrities actively promote the violation of rights by lending their support to political groups. For example, former American Idol contestant Krista Branch has actively campaigned against gay marriage on behalf of Focus on the Family. However, in a recent interview, Branch complained that people were pirating her songs. I know that Branch's intellectual property rights should be respected, and I would never pirate her music. Yet I can't feel any sympathy for her, given that she advocates violating other people's rights. I'm of the opinion that people who advocate for the use of force against others should not be spared from the consequences of the kind of culture that creates. Is that wrong? Am I being malevolent? Should I defend her rights, even though she advocates violating my rights?
Summary: Many people assume that college campuses are – and should be – gun free zones. Jim Manley explains why concealed carry permit holders should be permitted to carry on campus.
Question: How can a person deal with overzealous ideologues? Suppose that an overzealous follower of a particular belief system constantly monitors and polices the behavior of other followers. When he sees what he believes to be a failure by someone to live up to their ideals, he attacks that person publicly, trying to shame him into proper behavior. What is the proper response if I am attacked by this overzealous follower in public? What if the attacks are private? Should I respond if my friends and acquaintances are attacked?
Question: How might social conservatives be convinced to support gay marriage? Rob Portman, a Republican Senator from Ohio, recently decided to openly support gay marriage after his son came out to him and his wife. What can be done to help other conservatives see gay marriage in a new light – as a matter of liberty and individual identity?
Summary: Could an amendment to the US Contitution provide an effective check on government power? Stephen Bailey, a Republican congressional candidate in 2010, has a proposal for a constitutional amendment that deserves consideration.
Question: Is the welfare state a good reason to restrict immigration? Conservatives – and even some Objectivists – claim that immigrants are flocking to the United States for our welfare benefits. They claim that immigration must be restricted until the welfare state is curtailed. Doesn't this view amount to punishing would-be immigrants for our own welfare state?
Question: When would creating a political party advance the cause of liberty? At the moment, creating a new political party might not make sense in the United States because the Republicans and Democrats dominate the elections and the media. But when would be the right time to do so, if ever? In other countries, even tiny parties are discussed in the news, and they can win a few seats. Under those circumstances, does it make sense to create a political party advocating for individual rights? If so, what would be a good name for such a party?
Summary: The government heavily regulates food and drinks commonly regarded as dangerous or unhealthy. What motivates such regulations? Why are they so widespread? How can they be fought?
Question: Can Objectivism save the culture? Advocates of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism often claim that the philosophy is necessary for substantially changing the culture for the better. That seems presumptuous to me. Is it true? Also, is the philosophy sufficient for saving the culture? Or is more needed?
Question: Should the government intervene when widespread racism makes life impossible for some people? Given that the effect of strictly respecting the rights of private property owners in the South was that blacks could not find accommodations, health care, transportation, food, and other basic necessities of life, shouldn't the government have intervened? Didn't civil rights legislation help eliminate racism – and wasn't that a good thing – even if that meant violating the right to property of racists?
Summary: Many people support restrictions on spending in elections, particularly by corporations, in the name of "transparency" and "accountability." Institute for Justice attorney Paul Sherman takes a very different view. He argues persuasively that any restrictions on campaign spending are violations of freedom of speech. He has successfully argued that view in courts across the country.
Question: How is American culture better today better than people think? I've heard lots of depressing claims about the abysmal state of American culture lately, particularly since Obama won the election. You've disputed that, arguing that America is better in its fundamentals that many people think. What are some of those overlooked but positive American values? How can they be leveraged for cultural and political change?
Question: Do right-to-work laws violate or protect rights? Some states are attempting to pass "right to work" laws, despite massive union opposition. Under such laws, employers cannot require employees to be a member of a union – as often happens due to federal law. These laws aim to empower employees against unwelcome unions. Are these laws legitimate – perhaps as defense against unjust federal law or a step toward freedom of contract? Or are they indefensible because they violate the rights of employers to dictate the terms of employment?
Question: Given the terrible state of the economy and culture, is it wrong to pursue your own personal values? Shouldn't we all be working full time at counteracting the terrible ideas that run rampant in our culture? Is time taken away from "the good fight" in pursuit of other activities merely a useless distraction, counterproductive, and possibly immoral – as some people claim? Or is the pursuit of your own values a moral way to enjoy one's life in spite of the grim state of the culture, politics, and the economy?
Summary: Does the energy industry – particularly coal and oil – harm humans and destroy the environment? Are they necessary evils? Or are they positive goods?
Summary: Questions on any and all topics were welcome!
Question: Why do so many cultural commentaries condemn the evil rather than praise the good? The virtue of justice, properly understood, means that praising good is more important than condemning evil. As Leonard Peikoff says in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand: "The conventional view is that justice consists primarily in punishing the wicked. This view stems from the idea that evil is metaphysically powerful, while virtue is merely 'impractical idealism.' In the Objectivist philosophy, however, vice is the attribute to be scorned as impractical. For [Objectivists], therefore, the order of priority is reversed. Justice consists first not in condemning, but in admiring – and then in expressing one's admiration explicitly and in fighting for those one admires..." (pg 284). Despite that, the majority of cultural commentaries, including those written by Objectivists, focus on exposing and condemning evil, rather than praising the good. Why is that? Is it a mistake?
Question: Should a person contribute to animal welfare organizations? Animal shelters find good homes for abandoned and abused pets. They also offer assistance to pet owners during emergencies, such as the recent wildfires in Colorado. That work seems laudable to me – and something that a rational person might support and even contribute to. Yet such groups often advocate wrong views (such as veganism) and support rights-violations (such as animal welfare laws). So are such groups worthy of support or not?
Question: What should you do when your allies are exposed as hypocrites? Just because a person advocates good ideas doesn't mean that he practices them. For example, a defender of free markets might use zoning laws to prevent the construction of a new building on land adjacent to his home to preserve his view. Or an advocate of justice and independence as virtues might condemn and ostracize people who disagree with him on trivial matters. Or an advocate of productive work might sponge off friends and relatives. When you discover such behavior in your allies, what should you do? Should you attempt to defend them? Should you try to keep the hypocrisy quiet? Should you condemn them? Should you say that "nobody's perfect"? What's fair – and what's best for your cause?
Question: Should I keep up with current affairs? As we know, most reporting is pretty bad. In print, and especially on the rolling 24-hour news channels. It's myopic, biased, and lacking in any principled coverage. The reporters are just clueless, and are like children pointing at all the pretty, crazy colors. But there must be some value in reading the paper, right? Or is it only for people in certain intellectual occupations, whose work involves commentary on the world today? I've not followed current affairs for the last few years myself, and I'm happy for it, but do just worry that I'm missing something.
Summary: On December 15th, 2011, Ari Armstrong, Paul Hsieh, and I testified at the Secretary of State's hearing on the proposed changes to Colorado's campaign finance rules. This podcast includes all our testimony.
Question: Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the culture? What do you think will happen to the culture in the next 20 to 50 years? Are you optimistic or pessimistic – and why? What do you think the value and certainty of such predictions based on philosophy are?
Question: Should every person engage in some kind of political or cultural activism? Given the current abysmal state of the culture, might a moral person choose to live his own life based on rational principles, without advocating those principles? Is it moral to overlook the ever-increasing rights-violations by our government, rather than speaking out? Is it enough to offer moral support and/or financial support to other activists?
Question: Is it wrong to not keep up with current news and politics? Every time I open a newspaper's website I feel overwhelmed by all the crap going on in the world and disheartened by the bad politics. It feels like a soul-draining activity and a waste of time. I feel better not reading the news, but I also feel a tad guilty for not being aware of the pending laws and current events that affect me. So should I try to keep up with the news more or not?
Question: Are people in real life as evil as in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged? In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand presents almost every bad person as very evil. I understand the purpose of that in the novel, but are their equivalents in real life (meaning the legislators passing similar laws nowadays) as evil as that – or are some of them just misguided or even stupid? In other words, do real-life people act on the death premise and hate the good for being the good? I just can't imagine that. Am I being too optimistic?
Question: How can I be optimistic when society seems doomed? I am beginning to see the United States as the oak tree at the beginning of Atlas Shrugged, an empty shell whose heart rotted away long ago. Ayn Rand writes often of the failure of our age, of seeing corruption rewarded and honesty becoming self-sacrifice, and of seeing these as evidence of our society being doomed. Given the recent, and increased, interest in Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand, I should be hopeful for the future. But is it too little, too late? I have small children, and I never thought it would become generally accepted that America's best days are behind us. How do I cope with the destruction going on today? How can I be optimistic for my children's future? As an Objectivist it seems as though I must be missing the obvious answer.
Summary: On May 3rd, 2011, I testified in a hearing before Colorado's Secretary of State about the burdens of Colorado's campaign finance regulations. This podcast contains the full audio from my testimony, plus my answers to questions from the panel.
Question: How should one promote Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism? What are some right and wrong ways to do that? What are some good methods and target audiences?
Question: Is it morally obligatory to engage in activism? I want to fight for a better, more rational culture. But I know that I'm not a good writer or speaker. If I instead give my money to those who are, isn't that a good division of labor? Is it obligatory that I myself attempt to engage in such activism or can I pay others who are better at it (and would like to earn money doing so)?
Question: Are Objectivists obliged to work to change the culture? Do you think that it is morally necessary (most of the time, in most cases) for an Objectivist to do something to enact cultural change?
Summary: This short talk was given to Liberty Toastmasters on May 15th, 2010. It offers some practical advice for dealing with luck in life.
Summary: I introduce myself, discuss the new Atlas Shrugged Reading Groups sponsored by Front Range Objectivism, and offer my advice on an ethical question about a no-show at a wedding.