Quick Roundup 546

Monday, July 05, 2010

Happy (Belated) Independence Day!

John Adams wouldn't have it any other way.

Socialism's Second-Guessers

Amit Ghate, in a Pajamas Media piece, notes that a consequence of socialism is a society-wide cacophony of kibitzing:

Socialism's failings are well known. Yet the New York Times regularly advocates policies which lead to it, most recently with its unabashed support for socialized medicine. As a result, we'll all soon be playing backseat drivers to doctors -- debating whether their professional decisions are appropriate or, in the Times' words, "a squandering of taxpayer's" funds. It's a disaster in the making.
This is the flip side to the equally ludicrous notion that every voter needs to be an expert on everything. Omniscience is impossible, and pretending we can act on it will fail.

Of course, some government officials see that voters aren't omniscient and, rather than distinguishing themselves by questioning statism, use this as an excuse to assert themselves as cognitive authorities, and hold themselves above public scrutiny.

Objectivism as Self-Discovery

As with Friday, I have encountered another excellent post from about a month ago.

Roderick Fitts writes a lengthy debunking of Nathaniel Branden's absurd charge that Objectivism as such is dangerous. The piece is solid from beginning to end, but what I enjoyed most about it is what it has to say, positively, about Objectivism.
[Branden] accuses the characters of repressing emotions and "self-disowning," but [Rand's] novels present the most difficult journeys of self-discoveries, of soul-searching, that I've ever read, and I'm sure that I'm not alone in this sentiment. The entire plot of The Fountainhead is based on Roark's uncertainty about a difference between himself and certain kinds of other people, resulting in his discovery of "second-handers," thus learning more about himself and the independent mind as a result. The plot-theme of Atlas Shrugged culminated in the entire world being faced with the need to discover the power of their own minds, to discover their rational selves--if humanity was to survive. In The Fountainhead, Roark only lets his pain and suffering go down "to a certain point," but that didn't mean that he repressed even his negative emotions, such as his pity for Peter Keating. (It should be remembered that he felt bad for the pity he felt, that Peter's life had come to what it did, and that he had to evaluate him accordingly.) Perhaps the characters didn't feel the emotions Branden wanted them to, or when he wanted them to, or to the extent that he wanted, but it's absurd to claim that they were "dis-owning" themselves, or trying to block out certain aspects of themselves, something which can be attributed to the villains of the novels. If Roark had been a repressor, for instance, he wouldn't have done any of a number of things, such as pursuing his strong feelings for a career in architecture; maintaining hope even when his mentor died or when he had to find work elsewhere to survive; staying in love with Dominique, even when she had married Keating; or staying friends with Gail Wynand even after realizing how corrupt the man truly was (or possibly leaving Wynand after the climax's court case). All of these actions (and many more) flowed from a person in tune and at peace with himself, not a person conflicted with blocks and with a hidden "true self."
That's just the tip of the iceberg, too. Fitts makes constructive points throughout his argument. For another example, his discussion of the phrase, "moral breach" is thought-provoking. Take some time out to read the whole thing. Yes, you will find yourself better able to address unjust smears of Objectivism after doing so, but more important, you'll gain a better appreciation for Ayn Rand as a thinker.

Inspiration from the Founding Fathers

Via Paul Hsieh
: "Motivational Posters: Founding Fathers Edition"! Following a link from there, I also found two similar collections of posters based on quotations of Winston Churchill. My favorite of these comes from the first set: "If you are going through hell, keep going."

-- CAV


Amit Ghate said...

Thanks for the plug, Gus!

Gus Van Horn said...

And thanks for that outstanding piece. I only regret that I didn't get around to reading it much sooner.

Grant said...

Regarding Roderick Fitts' passage:

Isn't the point of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged to encourage self-creation - as opposed to self-discovery? The characters are fictional, after all - and I can think of a number of instances where Ayn Rand says that those who hold irrational ideas (and emotions) as lacking a self.

The Objectivist theory of art does say that art doesn't teach, it shows, but no one can honestly deny that there's plenty of flat, theoretical teaching going on in those novels in addition to the drama

Gus Van Horn said...

"Isn't the point of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged to encourage self-creation - as opposed to self-discovery?"

Since when were self-creation and self-discovery are mutually exclusive? In fact, given Fitts's point about the nature of Roark's self-discovery, one could argue that the two processes are complimentary.

"The Objectivist theory of art does say that art doesn't teach, it shows, but no one can honestly deny that there's plenty of flat, theoretical teaching going on in those novels in addition to the drama"

Yes. There are speeches, and there's no denying that they teach, but so what? They directly pertain to what has been shown before and make sense given the logic of the events in the novels.

A speech that had nothing to do with the action would compromise one of these novels as art, and for there NOT to be any explanation of the events that unfold (when such isn't common knowledge among the readers) would make the art less able to show.

Grant said...

Well, logic says that in order to discover something it has to exist (ie: be "created"). It also says that in order to create something you have to first discover it - in the sense that you have to have a thorough understanding of something if you're to have any hope of implementing it. But I think I understand what you mean when you say that self-discovery and self-creation aren't mutually exclusive. It doesn't matter how rational the philosophy presented to you is, unless your sense of life meets a minimum threshold of health, you won't fully appreciate and embrace it. Similarly, it doesn't how healthy your sense of life is, unless your philosophy meets a minimum threshold of rationality, you won't sustain it.

But I think that only strengthens my point. Ayn Rand's fictional heroes had senses of life that sustained them for a very long time. Far longer than what the sense of life of a real person could ever provide. Think about what it would mean for a Roark or a Galt to actually live, in our culture, without Objectivism: It would mean that the emotions produced by the simple rational actions they performed as toddlers could defend them against all of the theoretical irrationality they received from educators, parents, et cetera, as well as sustain them throughout a couple of decades of adulthood while they focused on particular professional problems and were oblivious to philosophical issues; or even the need to consider them.

Do not confuse the independent mind with the omnipotent mind. Ayn Rand herself discussed numerous times, in print, the phenomenon of a bright, psychologically healthy youth becoming a victim of an irrational culture. It must have been very real to her. He also claimed that she could have never developed Objectivism if not for the accumulated wisdom of centuries of Western thought and if she hadn't been living in the 20th Century for the inspiration it's achievements and atmosphere provided her. Furthermore, if she really believed that a Roark or a Galt were just ready made by a few early childhood experiences - that need only to be connected using only the his own (mysteriously embraced) motive power and intelligence - then she wouldn't have ever bothered to write anything theoretical anyways. It would have been pointless. The people who could understand it wouldn't need it, and the people who needed it couldn't understand it.

Incidentally, the reason why I like Ayn Rand's novels so much is because not only do they show, but they also teach. Perhaps later novels won't have to, but because hers were the first to show the value of certain characteristics, she had to explain why they were valuable. If she had simply presented these alien characteristics - which actual people hold only as "a sense, not as firm as a memory, but diffused, like the pain of hopeless longing" - and not given words to explicitly identify that sense, then they would have been regarded at best as a forgettable curiosity particular to her and at worst as a study in evil.

Gus Van Horn said...

I think the resolution to this problem of self-creation vs. self-discovery is simple: Even if we ignore all negative cultural influences, each person starts out existing and thus, as a rational being, having a self. What one does with that self (i.e., makes it into, whether in a process of creation or destruction) will depend on his honesty and effort, as well as how well he does at correctly identifying the facts of reality he must work with. These facts include those pertinent to his nature.

It sounds circular to say that to create yourself, you need to know yourself, but there's no real paradox.