Monday, May 30, 2005

Fighting for Change

As mentioned in previous posts, I agree with the Objectivist position that to change a culture, one has to change its underlying ideas. Therefore I think the projects which ARI has launched, particularly the Objectivist Academic Center (OAC) and the high school book project, are the most important activities which one should support. However, many good, but less philosophical, people either don't see the long term importance of philosophy, or they want to fight for changes which will have more immediate effects. To those people, I would say that the two best things to fight for are legalization of drugs and privatization of the public schools. I think the latter is pretty self-explanatory, but let me add a few words about the former.

Now please don't get me wrong, I think it is immoral to do drugs, since they subvert and destroy one's mind (i.e. one's means of survival), but it is a personal choice which people must make on their own. Preventing people from acting on their choices, when such choices don't involve initiating force against others, is a violation of individual rights, and should be combated on that basis. And from a societal point of view, so many terrible and far-ranging effects come from criminalizing drugs that I think it is one of the most pressing issues extant. Among these effects are: the impetus, creation and funding of organized crime (here and in many third world countries); the distraction of law enforcement and judiciary from pursuing real crimes; the enormous cost of law enforcement, prosecution and detainment; and the ever-increasing size of the paternalistic police-state. On this last point, see the article "Spy vs. Spy" (hat tip: The Secular Foxhole).

Unfortunately, in today's climate, de-criminalizing drugs seems to be an exclusively libertarian issue (and to be clear: I don't support libertarians in any way, shape or form), so if anyone knows of a non-libertarian site dedicated to advocating the de-criminalization of drugs, please share the URL in the comments.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Viagra for Sex Offenders

If you want more ammunition for why welfare, medicaid and every other re-distribution of wealth is immoral, check out this story from the Washington Post entitled: States May Deny Sex Offenders Funds for Viagra.

The story begins:

ALBANY, N.Y., May 23 -- A federal agency began notifying states Monday that they do not have to pay for Viagra for convicted rapists and other high-risk sex offenders.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services acted one day after the New York comptroller's office said audits from 2000 through March found that 198 sex offenders in the state received Medicaid-reimbursed Viagra after their convictions. Their crimes included offenses against children as young as 2, Comptroller Alan Hevesi said.
Hat tip: Powerline

Monday, May 23, 2005

International Agencies

Articles like this strengthen my conviction that the US should pull out of all international organizations until such organizations adopt, and abide by, charters which will consistently and exclusively further American interests in the world. (Any organization which advocated true individual rights would fit this bill.)

Culture and the Media

Many people maintain that the media sets and controls the course of a culture by deciding what viewers should and shouldn't see. Objectivists, on the other hand, hold that ultimately the dominant ideas and philosophy during a given period determine its culture, and that the media is not a first cause, but merely a reflection (albeit an important one) of the dominant ideas.

While I agree with the Objectivist view on the subject, it is not fully "real" to me, so I'm always on the lookout for additional facts and evidence to support (or perhaps deny) the view. Here is one example from the Wall St. Journal entitled "TV Gets Religion" which I think clearly supports the Objectivist position.

In particular, this quote identifies the causal chain:

"We try in the entertainment business to find veins of interest to tap, and religion is a huge one that is currently very underserved," says Kevin Reilly, president of entertainment at NBC ...
Hat tip: Rob.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Greek Honor

I’ve been reading some of the Greek historians, and am struck by how different the general attitude of the Greeks was compared to that of the modern world’s. What stands out most is the pride they show in living morally. I suppose the contrast is so stark because, while not perfect, their morality was one which was aimed at each individual achieving his own happiness here on earth, and successful life was seen as something both possible and worthy of great respect.
Today, after two millennia of Christianity’s influence, our culture is built on the opposite idea: that to act morally is to act against one’s (“selfish”) life on earth, and hence one must choose between being successful or being moral. A feeling of genuine pride, which comes from achieving one’s physical and spiritual values here on earth, is impossible under Christianity’s ethics (in fact it is a great vice) so one must choose between pursuing material success, at the expense of feeling moral worth; or of living a Christian life, at the expense of being successful here on earth.

I think the following short excerpt from Herodotus’ Persian Wars captures the Greeks’ moral pride and how it differs both from the Persians of their time, and more importantly, from our modern culture:

A few Greek deserters (Arcadians) are brought in front of the Persian King and asked what the Greeks are doing while preparing for war. The Arcadians answered: “They are holding the Olympic games, seeing the athletic sports and the chariot races.” “And what” asked the King’s spokesman, “is the prize for which they contend?” “An olive wreath which is given to the man that wins.”

Hearing the men say that the prize was not money but a wreath of olives, provoked Tritantaechmus, a commander of the infantry, to exclaim: “Good heavens! Mardonius, what manner of men are these against whom you have brought us to fight – men who contend with one another, not for money, but for honor?”

Herodotus, The Persian Wars, VIII, 26
Now obviously the point isn’t that money is bad, but that one’s self esteem is of paramount importance. Fighting for honor, if one has a proper morality, is fighting for all of one’s values, not just a specific (material) one. That the Greeks understood this, and lived by it, is a monumental achievement, and helps explain the success and fertility of their culture.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Ayn Rand Centenary Coverage

This is one of the better coverages of Ayn Rand that I've ever seen in the MSM (also printed here). It actually describes the philosophy and the goals of the Institute accurately. And you have to laugh at the critics cited in the article .... if they represent the level of the opposition, then all that stands in our way is getting the message out there accurately and uncompromisingly.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

ARI Book Project

ARI's book project aimed at putting the Fountainhead and Anthem in the hands of high school students is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to spread Ayn Rand's ideas and eventually change our culture for the better. Unfortunately though, many of us don't have the means to sponsor a whole city, county or state. In her blog (which I read regularly), Diana Hsieh has a good post showing how Colorado State Objectivists have gotten together to jointly sponsor their state. I think this is a great model for other groups to emulate.

(As an aside I wasn't able to find a direct link to the project on ARI's web site. I've had other problems with their site, including failed searches and auto-responses, and really hope that they will upgrade the whole thing someday soon.)

Friday, May 13, 2005

Social Classes

BotWT had a good post today on one of the essential differences between America and Europe. Of course the post wasn't written by Taranto, but by one of his readers, a Mr. Jonathan Kahnoski. And though I disagree with the (implicit) idea that egalitarianism is something good or desirable, I think it's worth sharing Mr. Kahnoski's observations here:

When the American intelligentsia bought the whole Marxist-Leninist vocabulary back in the 1920s and 1930s, they bought into the idea of social classes. Marxism-Leninism is a product of the European experience, with its long history of often rigid social classes (royalty, nobility, bourgeoisie, etc.). This vocabulary has had great appeal to Europeans, especially on the Continent. Today, Europeans claim their societies are more egalitarian than America's because of their social welfare programs, while completely overlooking how stationary their citizens are both geographically (what Frenchman will leave his birthplace to take a better job?) and socially (can a "working class" German aspire to a university education or obtain a bachelor's or master's later in life?).

The American experience has been quite different. From the colonial period on, the ideal of America was to free the individual from the artificial constraints of social class. In America, so the pitch went, every person was able to pursue his dreams, whatever they might be, without regard to family or place of birth. It is true that America's fulfillment of that dream has been imperfect, but not nearly as imperfect as the American intelligentsia would have us believe. Indeed, it might be that more Americans would strive and succeed if there was less talk about class barriers and more talk about freedom.

This is not to argue that every plumber mistakes his wrench for a scepter. The same working stiff who takes offense at being called "working class" is quite comfortable being called "blue collar." It is easy to understand why. A class is something you are born into, and trapped in--concepts completely antithetical to the American self-image. A collar, blue or white, is something a person chooses for himself--a concept congruent with the American ideal.

It is puzzling that so many American academics do not understand the great gulf between the European experience and the American experience. It is as if they say: Americans mostly are the descendants of white Europeans, therefore most Americans must think and feel and perceive themselves the same way Europeans do. The simplicity of this line of thought is tempting, but it demonstrates how little these otherwise highly educated and well-traveled people know about their fellow Americans. Perhaps they would feel more at home in Europe?

Thus, as you say, some janitors and secretaries and carpenters are insulted when they are referred to as "working class." However, perhaps most ignore the term because they don't associate themselves with "working class" or any other "class." They may agree they wear a white collar or a blue collar, practice a trade or a profession, but these they do by choice. They also will insist they are born-free, "jen-u-ine" Grade A, USDA Choice Americans and they don't know what class you are talking about. Bully for them!

Iranian Student Reform Movement

While researching a forthcoming post on trading with Iran, I came across this article and site.

The authors claim to be "students inside and outside of Iran, as well as Iranian professionals who share the students’ vision of a free, independent, democratic, secular and industrialized Iran."

Based on these excerpts from their charter, they seem like a group worthy of Western support:
"Our objective at the "Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran" (SMCCDI) is to help create an environment for all Iranians regardless of ethnicity, religion, ideology or gender to be able to pursue their dreams to their god given talents and determination - based on the ideals of peace, democracy and free markets. By being free to pursue their dreams, the Iranian people will once again realize our country’s historical greatness, and contribute to the world’s peace and prosperity."

"Virtually every major technological, scientific, medical, etc… discovery has come from democratic countries. This, of course, is no coincidence. These advancements are made possible because democracies guarantee their citizens certain rights under the law and have the relevant institutions to protect these rights. That is also why their living standards are so much higher than ours."

(Now they're not perfect, as they talk about a "right to a better standard of living", but overall their charter and goals seem much better than what 99% of today's college students advocate, so I would not hesitate to support them.)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Individual Responsibility

I enjoyed this article by Walter Williams. It's too bad though, that in our current culture only blacks (such as Williams or Bill Cosby) can make such observations without being branded racists....

Monday, May 09, 2005

Taranto's Straw Man

In today's BotWT, Taranto takes a gratuitous swipe at Ayn Rand. Now this is not surprising, since it's part of his style, but what makes it remarkable is the straw man he uses to discredit her. Instead of linking to her book, The Virtue of Selfishness, or to the organization which bears her name, he picks some random course notes from an introductory philosophy course -- notes which completely misrepresent her position -- and somehow expects his readers to be swayed by this. He must have a pretty low opinion of his audience to employ such tactics, and I bet that this disdain will be his eventual downfall.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

German Locusts

Recent news stories illustrate why I maintain that we must battle for a return to capitalism here in the US - there simply is no hope for it elsewhere. The articles indicate that Germany's ruling party keeps a "secret locust list" of "companies considered guilty of anti-social business practices" (i.e. of making a profit) and accuses them of "undermining democracy" and arousing "helpless anger" among Germans.

It's sad enough that the majority of Germans apparently haven't figured out that life on earth requires work and production -- that goods don't just spring out of nothingness for the "socially-minded" to hand-out. But in terms of a cultural barometer, the real telling sign is that German politicians feel free to publically equate producers with locusts, while revering those who consume unearned goods. I'm hard-pressed to think of a metaphor which could be more inverted, yet German politicians are comfortable enough to use it as though it's self-evident.