Archive for July, 2014

Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature

July 7, 2014

I have had somewhat ambiguous feelings about Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism ever since I first discovered her in college. I agree with much of what she had to say: freedom, capitalism, and the use of reason are good; tyranny, socialism, and living off others are bad. Nevertheless, I have always felt vaguely repelled by her writings. Perhaps it is because I feel a slight malevolence underlying much of what she wrote. Ayn Rand was never one to forgive an enemy or maintain a friendship with someone of an opposing philosophy. Maybe the figures in her fiction are not much like real human beings. The heroes are completely good with no flaws, the villains completely evil with no redeeming characteristics. I am sure.

It is for that reason that I read Greg Nyquist’s Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature. Mr. Nyquist is a critic of Ayn Rand, but he takes a different approach than most of her critics. He does not spend much time examining the details of her philosophy, except to note where Objectivism is contradictory or incomplete. He does not refute Objectivism on a philosophical basis. In fact, at some points he concedes, for the sake of argument, that Objectivism is the most ideal philosophy imaginable. He also does not criticize Ayn Rand on a personal basis, except to show where her personality characteristics shaped Objectivism.

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What Greg Nyquist does instead is ask whether Ayn Rand and Objectivism actually works. Mr. Nyquist does not have much use for windy speculations about metaphysics or wordy conjectures about the way things ought to be. He is a practical man. He wants to know whether the assumptions about humanity and the world made by Ayn Rand that form the basis of Objectivism are actually in accordance with the observed facts. To this end, he has written Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.

This book is divided into eight chapters, each chapter dealing with some aspect of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, her theories of human nature, history, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. The final chapter considers the future of Objectivism. It should not be a surprise that Nyquist finds Ayn Rand’s theories wanting. In particular, he criticizes her ideas on human nature as being unrealistic. She was more concerned with human beings as she believes they ought to be rather than how they really are. She believed that human nature can be changed and that the widespread acceptance of Objectivism will cause people to think and act more rationally. Ayn Rand argued that people act according to the fundamental premises of their particular philosophy and if that philosophy is changed from one that accepts mysticism and collectivism to one that follows reason and individualism, then we can create a utopia of reason and capitalism. Nyquist disagrees, noting that human nature has changed little, if at all, throughout the centuries. People do not often follow a consistent philosophy. They act according to desires and interests and adapt their personal philosophy to justify their actions. He notes that history is less the result of various philosophical and ideological movements, as Ayn Rand asserted, but is more influenced by people’s desires and interests, particularly those of the ruling class. There is a lot more to his criticism, but the general idea is that Ayn Rand simply did not seek any sort of empirical verification of her ideas. She preferred to think about things rather than go out and see how things really are.

On the whole, I agree with Greg Nyquist’s criticism. I think that after some point, Ayn Rand lived in an imaginary world with John Galt and Howard Roarke. I have noticed in her nonfiction, she tended to refer to or quote her characters as if they were real people. She tends to make assertions that are completely reasonable and logical, but with she seldom presents actual evidence that these assumptions are true. I have also found her knowledge of history to be shallow.

While Greg Nyquist presents himself as a practical man, he sometimes crosses into cynicism. He seems to have a very negative opinion on human nature and regards politics as nothing more than the elite getting their way. While this is all true, it is not the whole truth. He believes that even if Ayn Rand’ s ideal of laissez-faire capitalism and the minimalist state is the best system possible, they will never come about into actuality because no political/economic elite will allow them to. Ayn Rand and her followers are idealists who fight for a cause no pragmatic politician would waste his time with.

In the end, I am going to side with the idealists. The idealist will sometimes bring about needed change because he doesn’t know it is impossible and even if he fails, he can at least push things in the right direction. The practical man knows it is impossible and so doesn’t bother to try.

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The Election of 1816

July 7, 2014

There is not much to say about the election of 1816. There was hardly any campaigning and with the collapse of the Federalist Party, there was little question that the Democratic-Republican candidate, James Monroe, would be elected.

The War of 1812 had ended the year before. The United States hadn’t exactly won the war, but we hadn’t exactly lost it either. The Treaty of Ghent had largely restored the relations between the United States and Great Britain as they had been before the war. Neither side had gained or lost any territory, so the war could be considered a draw. Actually, you might consider the US ahead on points since the last battle of the war, the Battle of New Orleans fought two weeks after the treaty was signed, was a resounding defeat for the British.

In any event, the War of 1812 turned out to be a “good war” and the Federalists who had opposed it were badly damaged by their opposition. The Federalist Party had been declining in numbers and influence for years and the War of 1812 finished them. It didn’t help that the Democratic-Republicans were stealing their better ideas. The trouble the United States had in financing the War of 1812 convinced many Jeffersonians that Alexander Hamilton’s ideas about a National Bank and encouraging American manufacturing weren’t so bad after all.

President Madison decided to follow the example of Washington and Jefferson and did not run for a third term. Instead, he supported the campaign of his Secretary of State, James Monroe. Monroe was yet another of the Virginia dynasty which had supplied the US with every president thus far, except for Adams. He had served in the Continental Army during the War of Independence and had been wounded at the Battle of Trenton. After the war, Monroe entered politics serving as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and the US Senate. He was also ambassador to France under Washington, governor of Virginia, and President Madison’s Secretary of State and War. He was an obvious successor to Jefferson and Madison.

Not everyone thought so. Many in the North were wary of another Virginia president and felt it was time to end the Virginia dynasty. There was some talk of nominating another of Madison’s Secretary of Wars, William H. Crawford, but he declined to run and it came to nothing. In the end the Democratic-Republican Congressional Caucus nominated James Monroe for president and New York governor Daniel D Tompkins for vice-president.

 

The Federalists didn’t even bother to have a formal caucus to nominate a candidate. Most Federalists supported Rufus King, the Federalist Vice Presidential candidate from the elections of 1808 and 1812. Former Maryland senator and governor John Eager Howard was the informal candidate for Vice-President.

 

There was hardly any campaigning or excitement in this election, except for a slight controversy about the status of Indiana. When the official count of the electoral votes took place in February of 1817, there were some objections made that since Indiana was not recognized by Congress until December 11,1816 while the Electoral College had cast its ballots on December 4, therefore the State of Indiana did not yet exist and its votes shouldn’t be counted. Others argued that Indiana had been organized as a state, with its constitution on June 29, and that Congress was merely acknowledging a state that already existed. The debate was postponed and since it made no difference to the results, it was never taken up again.

As for the results, it was a landslide for Monroe and the Democratic-Republicans. The popular vote was 76,592 or 68.2% for Monroe and 34,740 or 30.9% for King. At this time only ten of the nineteen states chose their electors by popular vote, while the electors of the remaining nine were chosen by their state legislatures. In the Electoral College, Monroe won all but three states, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Delaware for a total of 183 electoral votes. King, with those three states only won 34 votes. This was the end of the Federalist Party and the first party system of the United States.

The Election of 1816

The Election of 1816

 

 

 

Hobby Lobby Hullabaloo

July 6, 2014

 

The Democrats are milking the recent Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby for all it’s worth. Here is another e-mail from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Friend — The Supreme Court just RIPPED away women’s rights:

Five conservative men on our Supreme Court ruled that women must get their bosses’ permission to access birth control.

It is truly an outrage! Women should make their own health care decisions — NOT THEIR BOSSES!

If you support women’s access to health care, ADD YOUR NAME and denounce this disgusting Supreme Court decision.

Your Action History
Supporter Record: VN96C28FDA1
Last Petition Signed: October 24, 2013
Hobby Lobby Decision:Signature Pending >>

This is outrageous: Republicans are GLOATING in the wake of this revolting Supreme Court decision.

Their Tea Party candidates are fighting for EVEN MORE radical policies — a COMPLETE ban on some forms of birth control and EXTREME abortion restrictions.

We can’t stand by as the Republicans rip apart women’s rights. Let’s get 100,000 Democrats on board to oppose them!

Thanks for your support,
DSCC Action Alert

And Organizing for Action.

Friend —

When the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling came down on Monday, I was speechless.

All I could think about was what this ruling means for American families across the country whose employers now have a say in whether their birth control is covered by their insurance.

We’ve heard from countless OFA supporters who are fired up about it — if you’re angry, that’s because you should be. No one’s boss should be able to dictate their health care.

Right now, folks at the White House are working with champions in Congress to look for a solution to fix what this ruling broke. (There’s more to come on that soon.) The most important thing we can do right now is to keep making our voices heard — on social media, with friends at cookouts this weekend, everywhere.

What became crystal clear this week is exactly who’s willing to stand up for a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions — like Senate Majority Leader Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — who came forward to say they’re going to work to find a solution for the women affected.

It also painted a clear picture of who really couldn’t care less.

Contraception isn’t just a women’s issue — it’s part of millions of American families’ lives.

The court effectively said that some companies can choose which forms of birth control it wants to cover based on no other criteria than what the company’s owners personally feel is acceptable.

If you’re like me, this is pretty straightforward: No one should have their boss deciding which prescriptions are right for them.

Right now, it’s up to the people who are outraged to say so, and keep on doing it.

Thanks,

Kelly

Kelly Byrne
National Issue Campaigns Manager
Organizing for Action

I don’t know which is the more depressing possibility, that these people really believe this nonsense or that they are dishonest and cynical enough to take advantage of people’s ignorance to lie to them in order to raise funds and distract their base supporters from the disasters their policies have caused.

No, the Supreme Court decision does not rip away women’s rights. No, it does not limit access to contraception in any way. Neither Hobby Lobby nor any other employer is preparing to monitor their employees’ personal lives or prevent them from buying any form of contraceptive they wish to purchase with their own money. What the Supreme Court did say was that the owners of Hobby Lobby could not be forced to pay for a product or service that they have religious objections to. Hobby Lobby is not denying their employees all forms of contraceptives, just four out of twenty that could be considered abortifacients. If you do not believe your boss should decide on your health care decisions, then you should not ask him to pay for them. If it is his money, than he certainly ought to have some say on how it is spent.

Why is any of this even controversial? Well, it would hardly be controversial at all if the matter were stated honestly. Should a private company be required to purchase products or services they have a religious objection to, or should the government be permitted to override the religious scruples of private individuals and companies? The obvious answer is no. Few people would be willing to argue that government dictates should override religious beliefs. This is why the progressives are not putting the matter in that way. Instead, they are going into hysterics about employers preventing their employees from getting contraceptives and forcing their religion on their employees. One way to win an argument is to frame the issue in a way that favors your side, even if  this means emphasizing irrelevant side issues or outright lying about the true nature of the argument. Name calling and questioning your opponent’s motives is also useful. Thus abortion becomes women’s health and only sexist bigots would want to restrict it. Changing the fundamental nature of one of the most important institutions of human society by allowing members of the same sex to marry becomes marriage equality and only a homophobe would oppose it. Confiscating firearms is a sensible measure to reduce gun violence which only a right wing gun nut and the NRA would possibly be against. Placing crippling burdens on our economy by regulating carbon dioxide becomes reducing carbon pollution in order to prevent climate change, which only a science denier would oppose, and so on and on.

This is something the left has gotten to be very good at, and unfortunately, it is something the right isn’t very good with at all. I am not advising arguing dishonestly, but it would be better if conservatives knew better what was going on and not take for granted the left’s framing of the issues. As it is, too many times conservatives lose the argument before it starts by fighting on the opposition’s ground and defending themselves against the opposition’s attacks rather than going on the offensive. Let’s stop letting them change the subject. If they want to oppose freedom, hold them to it and don’t let them get away with adjusting the facts with clever wording.

 

Beyond the Redskins

July 3, 2014

Now that the US Patent and Trade office has, probably illegally but what does that matter in Obama’s America, cancelled the Washington Redskins trademark, what is the next step for Progressives who want to perform some symbolic action and push people around without actually helping anyone? If Simon Waxman of the Washington Post has his way, they will force the military to rename any weapons system named after an Indian tribe. Have any Native Americans come forward to demand such changes? For that matter, is renaming the Washington Redskins really a high priority among Native Americans? No, but Mr. Waxman believes such names are an insult and a slur and is offended on behalf of the Indians.

But even if the NFL and Redskins brass come to their senses and rename the team, a greater symbolic injustice would continue to afflict Indians — an injustice perpetuated not by a football club but by our federal government.

In the United States today, the names Apache, Comanche, Chinook, Lakota, Cheyenne and Kiowa apply not only to Indian tribes but also to military helicopters. Add in the Black Hawk, named for a leader of the Sauk tribe. Then there is the Tomahawk, a low-altitude missile, and a drone named for an Indian chief, Gray Eagle. Operation Geronimo was the end of Osama bin Laden.

Why do we name our battles and weapons after people we have vanquished? For the same reason the Washington team is the Redskins and my hometown Red Sox go to Cleveland to play the Indians and to Atlanta to play the Braves: because the myth of the worthy native adversary is more palatable than the reality — the conquered tribes of this land were not rivals but victims, cheated and impossibly outgunned.

The destruction of the Indians was asymmetric war, compounded by deviousness in the name of imperialist manifest destiny. White America shot, imprisoned, lied, swindled, preached, bought, built and voted its way to domination. Identifying our powerful weapons and victorious campaigns with those we subjugated serves to lighten the burden of our guilt. It confuses violation with a fair fight.

It is worse than denial; it is propaganda. The message carried by the word Apache emblazoned on one of history’s great fighting machines is that the Americans overcame an opponent so powerful and true that we are proud to adopt its name. They tested our mettle, and we proved stronger, so don’t mess with us. In whatever measure it is tribute to the dead, it is in greater measure a boost to our national sense of superiority. And this message of superiority is shared not just with U.S. citizens but with those of the 14 nations whose governments buy the Apache helicopters we sell. It is shared, too, with those who hear the whir of an Apache overhead or find its guns trained on them. Noam Chomsky has clarified the moral stakes in provocative, instructive terms: “We might react differently if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes ‘Jew’ and ‘Gypsy.’ ”

Noam Chomsky supported the Khmer Rouge and refused to believe the reports that they were massacring half of Cambodia’s population. I don’t think he should be respected for his (lack of) moral clarity. Waxman’s version of Indian history which casts the Native Americans as the hapless victims of the wicked White people, with no hope of defeating the White Man’s superior technology and cunning is actually rather insulting, and perhaps racist. If I were a Native American, I know which narrative I would prefer, the one which casts them as noble, heroic warriors. And, in fact, he is wrong.

The truth is that the Native Americans were quite capable of holding their own against the European invaders, at least until the industrial revolution. The Europeans did have guns and horses which gave them an advantage, but it was not really a insurmountable advantage, especially considering that the Native Americans far outnumbered the Europeans in the early stages of the conquest and settlement of the New World. The Europeans did, however, have a secret weapon, a weapon so secret that even they weren’t aware of it, disease. The European explorers who first discovered and explored the Americas carried within their bodies the germs which caused such diseases as smallpox, measles, cholera, and others. They had built up an immunity but the Indians had never been exposed to these diseases. The resulting plagues decimated the Native population. Had this not occurred, the earliest settlers would have had a much more difficult time establishing a foothold in the New World. When the first English settlers arrived at Jamestown and Plymouth Bay, they did not find a primeval wilderness. They found cultivated land where the cultivators had obligingly died off.

Another factor missing in Waxman’s narrative is the extent to which the Native Americans’ inability to come together to fight what turned out to be a common foe. The Indians were not unacquainted with savage war and deceit. When the French or English showed up, most Indian tribes were eager to trade with them for firearms, the better to fight their traditional enemies, and enlist them as allies to help destroy them. The French Jesuit missionaries were horrified by the near genocidal war between the Iroquois and Huron, touched off by trade with the French and Dutch.

The Spanish conquistadors may have had superior technology and were cruel and desperate men, but they could never have conquered and ruled large empires without the help of native allies, and, of course, disease. The Aztecs were hated throughout Mexico for their aggression and Cortes had little difficulty raising an Indian army with the hope of throwing off the Aztec yoke. That the Aztec yoke was quickly replaced with a Spanish one may seem to indicate that they chose poorly, but then the Spanish didn’t demand that they provide human sacrifices to their God. The Incas were still recovering from a devastating civil war and plague when Pizarro showed up. Their king, Atahualpa, was considered a usurper by the nobility. Most of the peoples that the Incas ruled had been conquered within the last century and didn’t see enough difference between the two sets of conquerors to care who won. They did choose poorly since the Spaniards were far more rapacious than the Incas.

The point of relating this history is to show that the American Indians do have a history to be proud of. They were not helpless, simple-minded victims, nor were they primitive, noble savages who lived in harmony with nature and each other. They were human beings who tried the best they could to preserve their lives and liberty. There is no question that the White man has treated the Red man shamefully. The fact that if the situation were reversed and the Native Americans discovered Europe they would have acted in the same way is no excuse. The least we can do to make amends is to honor them for their noble heritage and not to pity them or presume to speak for them.

Chief Sitting Bull

Not a victim or a child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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