By Jim May · January 25th, 2013 2:03 am · 7 Comments
“How should men best live together?” — Aristotle, The Politics
This is the basic question that Aristotle took to be the beginning of politics, the first and basic question which gives rise to the field. Until recently, I thought so as well — until I realized the error involved. There is another question that comes before this one, but which almost no one even knows is there to be asked.
By Jim May · November 9th, 2012 2:38 pm · 4 Comments
The men who are not interested in philosophy need it most urgently: they are most helplessly in its power.
The men who are not interested in philosophy absorb its principles from the cultural atmosphere around them—from schools, colleges, books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television, etc. Who sets the tone of a culture? A small handful of men: the philosophers. Others follow their lead, either by conviction or by default.
On September 27, I tweeted that Conor Friedersdorf “does not understand the Left, at any level”. I did so on the grounds of this article by Friedersdorf, which included this line:
I don’t see how anyone who confronts Obama’s record with clear eyes can enthusiastically support him. I do understand how they might concluded that he is the lesser of two evils, and back him reluctantly, but I’d have thought more people on the left would regard a sustained assault on civil liberties and the ongoing, needless killing of innocent kids as deal-breakers. (Emphasis mine.)
I, who do understand the Left, immediately thought: *Why* would anyone ever think that?
By Jim May · July 21st, 2012 11:10 am · 2 Comments
The goal of the “liberals”—as it emerges from the record of the past decades—was to smuggle this country into welfare statism by means of single, concrete, specific measures, enlarging the power of the government a step at a time, never permitting these steps to be summed up into principles, never permitting their direction to be identified or the basic issue to be named. Thus statism was to come, not by vote or by violence, but by slow rot—by a long process of evasion and epistemological corruption, leading to a fait accompli. (The goal of the “conservatives” was only to retard that process.)
Ayn Rand, “Extremism”, or the Art of Smearing
Blogger Ann Althouse comments on the knee-jerk Leftist response by E.J. Dionne to yet another mass “gun-free zone” shooting incident:
I’m fascinated by this notion that we do sometimes pass laws and therefore that means that we should pass laws. The resistance to passing laws is some nasty dysfunction caused by a nefarious interest group — here, the NRA — but good people want to do something.
My comment to her post follows:
By Jim May · April 30th, 2012 1:16 pm · 26 Comments
“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
– attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt
As many Objectivists, myself included, are the geeky sort, today’s XKCD has already become the subject of some discussion, particularly at Jenn Casey’s place. The following is a refined version of the comment I left there.
Randall Munroe is an extraordinarily sharp guy, whose geeky sense of humor I love. More than once he’s written about an idea or thought that I’ve had and never heard elsewhere; one of my favorites is the notion of using tranducers and a phase inverter to mess around with the idiots with big booming car stereos.
He has referenced Ayn Rand in the past here, in the mouseover text. I didn’t find that one particularly offensive; I saw that one as more of a good-natured sort of ribbing rather than the usual sort of gratuitous diss we normally get, in contrast to Trey Peden who was more offended. Disappointingly, Randall Munroe’s latest jab confirms that Trey’s call was right the first time.
However, in joining the cottage industry of garden variety Ayn Rand bashing, Munroe’s ultimate joke ends up on the others in that cottage.
By Jim May · January 6th, 2012 3:00 pm · 5 Comments
In my previous post fisking Jonathan Chait, commenter Michael asks:
“How do you reconcile individual rights with something like private discrimination?”
a : the act of discriminating b : the process by which two stimuli differing in some aspect are responded to differently
: the quality or power of finely distinguishing
Discrimination, in its original meaning, means to be carefully selective — to recognize and choose between “finely distinct” alternatives, e.g. a “discriminating” customer. We discriminate every day, as part of living — between food and poison, between the road and the shoulder, between good deals and bad ones, between the trustworthy and the untrustworthy.
Doesn’t it seem odd to you that *this* is the word has come to mean prejudicial choice, and highly evil prejudices at that — such as racism?
This isn’t an accident of semantics; it’s a clue to the ideological causality underlying and driving Leftist ideas like Jonathan Chait’s — and to the biggest “Trojan Horse” in American ideological history.
By Jim May · January 4th, 2012 4:39 pm · 73 Comments
“Take a look at them now, when you face your last choice—and if you choose to perish, do so with full knowledge of how cheaply how small an enemy has claimed your life.”
— John Galt, from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
At New York magazine, Jonathan Chait posts an example of the kind of tendentious, on-plantation tract that seems intended solely to reassure its denizens that it’s the right place to be. The logical fallacies present therein are sufficiently obvious that the reader will either spot them in just a few minutes — or see nothing on account of having his eyes closed.
The point of my critique is not the refuting of it, as formatting this text will take more brainpower. The point is to supply an illustrative example of a well-known and commonly used fallacy, but in a context where people usually fail to recognize it — unless one is armed with the principle of ideological causation.
Chait’s article is entitled “How Ron Paul’s Libertarian Principles Support Racism”. That’s a pretty big, unambiguous claim isn’t it? Chait’s going to show us how libertarian principles support racism. Chait is saying that he intends to establish causation between “libertarian principles” and racism. That would be huge, wouldn’t it? He’d be refuting the core of the Enlightenment in one fell swoop!
So let’s see what he actually does.
By Jim May · November 15th, 2011 1:37 pm · 19 Comments
Every hand’s a winner,
And every hand’s a loser.
–Kenny Rogers, The Gambler
Just this morning, the following items came across my radar. Can you detect the basic alternative that is common to all of them?
At the New York Times, Eddy Nahmias asks: “Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?” (A very good read in its own right, I’m not linking it just for the title!)
Via Twitter, Linda Cordair (@CordairGallery) tweets:
The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.
From Jennifer Casey, at her blog “Rational Jenn”:
Morgan said the most interesting thing to us the other day. It was something like this:
“There are three people who can invent me–you two [pointing at me and Brendan] and ME!”
That statement led to a fascinating conversation about how, yes, we created her, but she is primarily responsible for inventing herself.
Because she is. We gave her the raw materials, but she must learn and figure things out and integrate concepts and make decisions, all things which will shape her mind and sense of self and sense of life–each of which will in turn affect future decisions and her thinking (and even the decision to think).
Those of you who have read enough of my writings about ideological causation should already be able to suspect what’s coming, as I have touched on this connection before. The obvious form of the alternative, is free will versus determinism, yes — but I want to discuss a closely related expression of this alternative: ideological versus physical causation as the motor of human action.
By Jim May · November 9th, 2011 12:33 pm · 37 Comments
“Here is the tragedy of theology in its distilled essence: The employment of high-powered human intellect, of genius, of profoundly rigorous logical deduction—studying nothing. In the Middle Ages, the great minds capable of transforming the world did not study the world; and so, for most of a millennium, as human beings screamed in agony—decaying from starvation, eaten by leprosy and plague, dying in droves in their twenties—the men of the mind, who could have provided their earthly salvation, abandoned them for otherworldly fantasies.”
— from Dr. Andrew Bernstein’s “The Tragedy of Theology: How Religion Caused and Extended the Dark Ages” at The Objective Standard.
The Dark and Middle Ages are a gaping maw of a weak spot in the arguments of primitive religionists who seek to usurp the fruit of the secular Enlightenment — in particular, liberty and America — for themselves and their Judeo-Christian beliefs. For the most part in Internet fora, religious conservatives pushing this line will run like hell (or drop to schoolyard invective) from anyone with even a passing knowledge of Dark Ages history.
The only exceptions I’ve seen invariably revolved around some variant of the idea that the Dark Ages weren’t dark at all, but had merely been misrepresented as such by anti-clerical thinkers during the Enlightenment. If this claim could be solidified, then those fleeing religionists might finally have a card to play. In light of this demand, it should be no surprise that Rodney Stark’s book is exactly what the doctor of theology ordered: an attempt to give that weak evasion some intellectual traction.
It is telling that the only one so far that is equipped to recognize and call out this fraud, is an Objectivist like Dr. Bernstein. Thank you Dr. Bernstein for this ammunition; I’ll be putting it into my ideological holster, ready for use when the Dark Ages apologists start deploying Stark.
By Jim May · November 6th, 2011 11:15 pm · 5 Comments
Features distorted in the flickering light,
The faces are twisted and grotesque.
Silent and stern in the sweltering night,
The mob moves like demons possessed.
Quiet in conscience, calm in their right
Confident their ways are best.
The righteous rise
With burning eyes
Of hatred and ill-will.
Madmen fed on fear and lies
To beat and burn and kill.
— from “Witch Hunt” by Neil Peart for the band Rush
Uncle blogs a pithy, yet profound quote summarizing the difference between the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the Tea Party:
The Tea Party wants to remove the Crony from Crony Capitalism.
OWS wants to remove Capitalism from Crony Capitalism.
The profundity here lies in the fact that capitalism is liberty; notwithstanding the contradictions which may yet prove fatal to the Tea Party movement, liberty *is* the essential difference between that movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement.
What is of interest here, is the pattern of apologia I am seeing in and around the Occupation movement — not only in the movement itself and its historical parallels, but also in the response to it elsewhere in the culture.
The Occupation movement itself is easy to figure out; it is following the same pattern as all similar Leftist movements in history. The development of these movements always share the same stages. For now, we are concerned with the first stage, where the movement is at its most apparently benign.
By Jim May · October 20th, 2011 9:59 pm · Comments Off
Ideological causality usually operates over the span of years, in a man and in a society.
Usually. Sometimes, however it can cover ground damn fast.
From the source:
One Oakland police supervisor said that the participants first appeared to him as “freethinking activists” but have since devolved into something more sinister. He said it was “interesting for a group that claims to be against current civilization and rules to set up a far more oppressive society than our own.”
(Via Instapundit & American Glob.)
By Jim May · October 18th, 2011 9:32 pm · 6 Comments
When they turn the pages of history
When these days have passed long ago
Will they read of us with sadness
For the seeds that we let grow?
— from “A Farewell to Kings“, by Neil Peart of Rush.
In discussing conservatism’s peculiar emphasis on local and state-level power, often under the rubric of “federalism”, a member of HBL termed it “this democracy theory”. While this pernicious idea of “localism” is indeed usually advanced in democratic terms and in regard to (currently) democratic governments in the United States, in fact it finds its ultimate origins in a political context which is both anti-democratic *and* anti-liberty. As those of you who follow me (@jimm_eh) or Yaron Brook (@ybrook) on Twitter may have seen, I recently wrote:
“The idea that one fights tyranny by localizing it, is a long-standing conservative absurdity.”
In fact, it has stood far longer than most modern conservatives would admit, if they knew — much longer, in fact, than America. And when one shines the sharp light of ideological causality upon the context of ideas that underlie it, the roots of the absurdity are revealed to run deep.
By Jim May · October 18th, 2011 12:11 am · 70 Comments
On the OActivists list, Rick Kiessig linked this post at his blog 12 Know More, where he proposes a way to “fit” the idea of individual rights into the prevailing “Left-Right model” of politics. As readers of my posts will know, I do not believe this is possible, and would lead to the same sort of dead end as the well-known libertarian “diamond” graph, and for the same reason: it attempts to integrate valid knowledge and concepts with *invalid* ones. In writing my answer to Rick on the list, it became necessary for me to finally lock down and explain what precisely IS wrong with the “Left-Right model”. I’ve given pieces of that answer in many posts, but never put it all into one place. This is that place.
Before I begin, however, I would like to segue in via a slight detour first. Rick’s graphic reminded me of the visual aids to a joke I told to a teacher many years ago, to express my distaste for the conventional political “spectrum”:
I first drew the conventional spectrum on the blackboard, with fascism to the “right” and communism to the “left”, and then drew a dollar sign above it to make a triangle like Rick’s. I explained that in this view, I was neither Left nor Right, but “Top”. I then said that I didn’t care whether my opponents were “left wing nuts” or “right wing nuts”, because “they are all wingnuts, and they are all Bottom feeders!” and then circled the “bottom” to collapse it into a *point* on the vertical line. He got quite a laugh out of it, but I know he got my idea. (That was good ol’ Dr. Schlotzhauer. He is who I think of when I refer to “old guard liberals” whom I could respect — and like that style of American liberalism, he is likely no longer with us.)
OK, down to brass tacks.
By Jim May · August 3rd, 2011 9:00 pm · 4 Comments
At Noodlefood, Diana Hsieh asks the following question: “Does the Right to Life Trump Property Rights?”
Diana rejects the notion implicit[*] in that phrasing, that “trumps” implies a conflict between these two rights — a notion which Objectivism flatly rejects, for reasons explained by her and by Dr. Leonard Leikoff in quotes supplied by Diana. Taking the meaning of “trump” as “winning a conflict or fight”, I agree with her. Rights cannot logically conflict, simply because there can be no such thing as the right to violate a right.
The key concepts that I use to understand and explain rights in practice, are as follows.
By Jim May · July 23rd, 2011 7:18 pm · 30 Comments
A very common meme amongst religionists is the charge that atheism is itself a sort of faith, that the statement “there is no God” is as much an act of faith as the declaration that there is a God. I haven’t fisked it, largely because it’s pretty much self-fisking. In addition to its easy vulnerability to the fact that rational atheism is not a belief at all, but a rejection of a particular belief as arbitrary, that meme also contains a rather ironic confession; it accuses atheists of “faith” as if the accuser thinks it’s a bad thing (whoops!).
There is another interesting angle to it, however, in which this accusation contains a grain of truth: it’s when the “atheist” in question is a Leftist. The following is a comment I left on Ann Althouse’s recent post where she interviews the infamous “Skepchick” (of the now infamous complaint about being asked out on an elevator at 4AM). My response is worded to her question “Why don’t atheists just move on?”, but is mainly aimed at the dozens of religionist commenters deploying the “atheism = faith” charge.
By Jim May · June 25th, 2011 5:58 pm · 5 Comments
“Even though altruism declares that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” it does not work that way in practice. The givers are never blessed; the more they give, the more is demanded of them; complaints, reproaches and insults are the only response they get for practicing altruism’s virtues (or for their actual virtues). Altruism cannot permit a recognition of virtue; it cannot permit self-esteem or moral innocence. Guilt is altruism’s stock in trade, and the inducing of guilt is its only means of self-perpetuation. If the giver is not kept under a torrent of degrading, demeaning accusations, he might take a look around and put an end to the self-sacrificing. Altruists are concerned only with those who suffer—not with those who provide relief from suffering, not even enough to care whether they are able to survive. When no actual suffering can be found, the altruists are compelled to invent or manufacture it.”
— Ayn Rand, anticipating Art Uncut’s accusation that U2’s Bono isn’t sacrificing enough.
By Jim May · June 18th, 2011 12:20 pm · 3 Comments
“One of the methods used by statists to destroy capitalism consists in establishing controls that tie a given industry hand and foot, making it unable to solve its problems, then declaring that freedom has failed and stronger controls are necessary.” — Ayn Rand
At Pajamas Media, there is an appalling post declaring that “the American experiment has failed”. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to find that it was authored by a conservative — and one that I have already fisked before, here at The New Clarion.
Once again, Matt Patterson gives us another striking example of ideological causality. Here, Patterson demonstrates how conservatism plays off the Left in attacking their common enemy: America, and the Enlightenment ideals it concretizes.
Have you ever wondered why conservatives insist on ascribing the term “liberalism” to the Left, despite the clear contradictions between actual American liberalism and Leftism? Why would they aid and abet the Left’s co-opting of liberalism? The answer lies in conservatism’s essential anti-Americanism. The Left seeks to discredit and destroy liberalism — i.e. Americanism — from within, by passing off illiberal ideas in its name. When these ideas have their logical, destructive results, the conservatives point to the wreckage and declare “thus fails liberalism.”
Either way, it is genuine liberalism — Americanism — that is discredited, diluted, and floated away as if it never existed. This underlying, collusive synergy between the soi-disant “opposites” against their common target is itself a function of ideological causality; that is, most of the participants are unaware of the synergy. (I don’t envy you the unpleasantness should you ever encounter one of the few Leftists or religionists who DO know it). This is why Objectivists and all defenders of liberty must remember that at a certain, fundamental level, we are dealing with a single enemy.
I’m quite certain that Patterson would genuinely recoil from the accusation of moral treason that I direct against him in the comment I posted on his article, and which I reproduce below. It doesn’t matter. His terms of thought, his underlying premises, manifest themselves according to their own internal logic no matter what Patterson tells himself he believes…. and down that road he goes.
Ideological causality is a bear.
By Jim May · June 8th, 2011 10:10 pm · 1 Comment
A Portrait, in Links, of Philosophical Panic
(Built from Randex links, OActivists posts and a Google search, with apologies to Tennyson.)
By Jim May · May 30th, 2011 12:23 pm · 19 Comments
Today is different
And tomorrow the same
It’s hard to take the world
The way that it came
Too many rapids
Keep us sweeping along
Too many captains
Keep on steering us wrong
It’s hard to take the heat —
It’s hard to lay blame
To fight the fire —
Feeding the flames
— Neil Peart “Second Nature”, from the album “Hold your Fire”by Rush
Billy Beck is beating the drum over the murder of Jose Guerena in Arizona, and rightly so. What I wish to highlight here is the horrible spectacle of mainstream minds raising the alarm over the increasingly violent intrusions of the government into our lives, even as their underlying ideologies move them inexorably towards that end-of-road. To judge by the reaction around the blogosphere, both Left and Right are aghast and angry over Guerena’s death — but I will show how, in fact, both “sides” are, at root, complicit in it.
By Jim May · May 29th, 2011 12:06 am · 7 Comments
In my previous writings on the topic of ideological causality, I have emphasized the “end of road” of an idea and/or of ideologies, as determined not by one’s intentions, but by the logic and flow of these ideas. Even a completely passive-minded individual does not sit still; he will still drift slowly, “downhill”, towards its destination.
Today, I will sketch out the flow of ideas with a “triangle”, going both ways along the conservative road. I start with an article by one conservative and work backwards (or “uphill”) to its root premises — and then logically back “downhill” to another article, by another conservative, which is superficially unrelated, but fundamentally trapped within the same premises.
By Jim May · March 24th, 2011 10:55 pm · 18 Comments
At Cato Unbound, C. Bradley Thompson is in the middle of an unfair fight. He is defending the thesis of his book, “Neoconservatism: An Obituary” against multiple opponents, in a series of essays — and encountering no actual intellectual opposition (if “actuality” here is measured by reference to “dealing with ideas”) from the defender of neoconservatism. I can almost see Thompson wandering the intellectual battlefield wielding his book like Connor McLeod with his sword, asking “Why won’t they fight me?”