Monday, July 30, 2007
My Blogging Month: Touch and Go
My day job, which I blog about vaguely when I do at all, has just gotten a lot more interesting. Good long-term news for the blogger, potentially bad short-term news for the blog.
Basically, I find myself having to refocus my efforts at work in addition to some re-tooling I'd already planned. And, at the insistence of my "other boss" (i.e., Mrs. Van Horn), I will be traveling out of town three times over the next month. And then I have a couple of interesting non-blogging writing assignments I need to get underway....
It should be realistic for me to post at least once a day on weekdays over the next month, except on some days that I am out of town. I may even maintain close to my normal schedule once I have made some adjustments.
But if not, you know why.
Noumenal Self is Back
There has been quite a bit of blogging activity over at Noumenal Self lately, including a couple of pieces on some recent war commentary by Robert Tracinski. I found the following line from the first of these choice:
I haven't paid much attention to Robert Tracinski lately. I guess I never finished the critique of his "What Went Wrong?" series, but then again, Tracinski never finished the series himself.This reminds me that back in January, Joe Kellard and I had a very interesting conversation in the comments on Tracinski's commentary in general, in which I made what I think is, in retrospect, a very good point:
There is a certain amount of merit to Tracinski's position, which I would distill into the following question: "What are the chances of an Objectivist being elected President of the United States today?"Those who think that putting forth strong philosophical arguments isn't "doing something" grossly underestimate the power of philosophical ideas to shape the course of history.
Obviously, the answer is, "Not a snowball's chance in hell." The next obvious question the becomes, "What do we Objectivists do to affect the political debate?"
Tracinski's answer is "Take what you can get." This seems an acceptable answer, except that what he seems to mean is "Gauge what concrete measures you can 'get away with' advocating and base your arguments on that."
This is, in fact, not enough, for it leaves too many bad premises unchallenged and, in the case of Tracinski's war arguments, makes it appear that what Bush is doing instead of fighting ruthlessly is acceptable. (Actually, I may be overly generous here. Tracinski and company seem to actually believe this.) This is a grave mistake, for it allows the "welfare-state 'warriors'" to retain credibility for longer than they deserve and forestalls the debate about whether we as individuals and as a nation have the absolute right to defend ourselves -- a debate that will be the inevitable alternative to our ultimate defeat.
Conversely, I suspect that Tracinski would regard advocacy like that of John Lewis as futile. What concrete guidance does it offer us now, after all? This is more or less the kind of question I used to ask all the time when I encountered Lewis and others, such as Craig Biddle. This is, indeed, why I sided with Tracinski until very recently.
But Lewis et al. are doing what intellectuals do. In Lewis's case, a recent example of this is: compare the present war to a past one we fought and show how we once knew how to fight (and win) a war. Point out how and why we are failing now. At least get the rationale and the blueprint for the right approach "out there" so when the public is prepared for a real debate, the right approach might finally get some consideration.
I would even add that those in charge of military strategy -- if Lewis's argument got even wider currency today and they accepted it -- would understand that we would have to endure a period of strategic adjustment before we could really fight the war. But they would understand that we couldn't magically and instantaneously begin aping the our old, World War II selves.
And yet it it is Tracinski who faulted the other Objectivists generally and Leonard Peikoff in particular for being pessimists! Pardon me, but whose whole approach seems premised on the notion that Americans can't grasp arguments beyond the concrete level here, anyway? [some minor edits]
Craig Biddle is Back
Well, that formulation is halfway accurate only if you count being editor of the best Objectivist periodical out there as some sort of sabbatical!
All I really mean here is that he signed on to the OList recently to say that he plans on blogging more regularly now that a particularly busy period for him is over.
He kicks off with a very interesting post about an article in Slate that comments on the misuse of the term "loophole":
Jack Shafer of Slate has written a superb article on the notion of "loophole" ... [where he] point[s] out that the word "loophole" is used to make perfectly legal and morally legitimate practices seem illegal or bad.On the one hand, once you read this, the point seems obvious. On the other, you find yourself wondering why nobody else had come up with this until now. To cut through the fog like Shafer has and make it seem obvious is something I really admire -- on top of my being grateful he noticed this in the first place!
To what facts of reality does the word "loophole" refer as used by the media in this context? It denotes various means by which people are still free to act on their own judgment; it specifies aspects of life in which individual rights are not yet being thoroughly violated by the government. In other words, it names a wonderful yet rapidly diminishing thing called freedom -- which users of the term "loophole" seek to smear as corrupt. [bold added]
Good Blogger Schools Mediocre Philosopher
I enjoyed reading Ergo's commentary on a philosopher's smearing of Ayn Rand's crucial work in the field of ethics:
[M]ediocre philosopher [Steve Gimbel] commits a fallacy that Rand termed as the "fallacy of the frozen abstraction." The fallacy is in substituting a particular concrete or concept in the place of a wider class to which it belongs.Read the whole thing.
Gimbel says that an Objectivist who embraces rational self-interest does so as a justification for "not being an empathetic individual." Further, Gimbel asserts that an Objectivist believes that it would be "immoral" of him to help anyone and therefore decides to be "a jerk who never helps anyone."
The frozen abstraction here is the concept of altruism; the only kind of act that Gimbel considers "moral" is the altruistic type of action -- empathy and helping behavior. In other words, only an altruist could be empathetic and exhibit helping behavior, and altruism is substituted for morality when in fact altruism is only one type of moral code just as egoism, hedonism, and rational self-interest are all different types of moral codes.
Ralston: A Must-Read on Sicko
Via HBL, I learned that "What Michael Moore Left out of 'Sicko'", a column by Richard Ralston, of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine, has appeared in the Orange County Register. He lands the following knockout punch at the end:
Most importantly, when Mr. Moore mentioned that "every industrial country" except the United States has adopted medical socialism, he did not mention why that means that we should. Many of those countries still have monarchies. Should the United States? Many of those countries have established state religions. Should the United States? Many of those countries have long waiting lists and severe rationing of health care.That last question is the perfect rejoinder to Moore's variant of the argument from intimidation, in which he implies that socialism is, somehow, more enlightened than capitalism and that "everyone else" agrees with him.
Should the United States?