Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Why Don’t Facts Matter?

In several previous comments I have in one way or another attempted to answer the question that titles this post.

My first encounter with the issue occurred when I complained to a colleague about other associates whose selective memories seemed beyond the pale, because I had assumed it was impossible for the latter to have forgotten what was said in a meeting not too long before the immediate incident.

The colleague gave me a dead serious glare and said, “Facts don’t matter!” I briefly responded with an embarrassed “you can’t be serious” chuckle, but soon realized that the glare was not going away.

Naiveté aside—I am aware that there are dishonest people in the world—I nonetheless have a hard time understanding those who seem to be honest, yet clearly are not sticking to the facts.

In 2006 I wrote an academic paper about Harry Frankfurt’s little book On Bullshit, in which Frankfurt distinguishes liars from BS’ers. Liars care about facts in order to say the opposite. BS’ers, however, don’t care because their goal is to impress and sway whether or not what they are saying is true. Are BS’ers dishonest?*

In my paper I argue that there are a couple of continua operating here, the relevant one ranging from the deliberately dishonest to sloppy thinkers who are unware of their premises or where the premises came from.

This may somewhat account for those who seem to be decent people but at the same time are habitual hyperbolizers and habitually selective rememberers. But where do these habits come from?

In a 2008 blog post I make the not too original point that we learn—that is, pick up habits—from our parents, teachers, and significant others, which means our significant others learned from their significant others who learned from theirs, etc. In the absence of an infinite regress, however, someone somewhere along the line had to have chosen to embellish his or her statements and selectively ignore certain facts. Why?

Free will, of course, dictates that anyone in the present, or past, can choose to ignore facts. Is that it? Isn’t there more to the sloppy thinking that many seem to exhibit?

Consider the following cases.

1. Philosopher Sidney Hook describes two instances from his travels in the mid-twentieth century (Out of Step, pp. 585-88). In Japan, Hook relates, he was confronted by his academic hosts and the Japanese press with nothing but complaints about the US bombing of Hiroshima, yet not a single word was said about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In India, the conversation centered on US race discrimination—without mention of India’s caste system. Near the end of his stay, Hook invited an academic host to dine with him at his hotel, but the host, after several evasions, finally admitted that he could not accept—because the waiters at the hotel were Muslim and the host was Brahmin.

Hook does not provide an explanation for the stark logical disconnects in either instance, other than to imply differences between Eastern and Western cultures.

My conclusion would have to specify the lack of Aristotelian logic in the East and its presence in the West. Most westerners, however precariously they may do so, cling to the notions of non-contradiction and non-fallacious thinking, which means they maintain some respect for facts that apparently the educated in the East do not.

Respect for logic means respect for facts.

2. Anthony Watts, former television meteorologist and current climate change doubter (to use the Associated Press’s preferred moniker for global warming skeptics), blogs on, a site that enjoys three to four million page views per month. Several highly qualified guest climatologists also regularly post their thorough, technical analyses of “climate change” issues.

Last June, Watts reported the details of a meeting he had with journalist, ardent environmentalist, and staunch global warming supporter Bill McKibben. Instead of fireworks and hostility between the two, Watts described their discussion as civil and friendly. They discussed their respective agreement and disagreement on numerous climate and environmental issues.

Concluding his report, Watts said, apparently to challenge strong opinions within the denier community, “I don’t think Bill McKibben is an idiot.” He then added, “But I do think he perceives things more on a feeling or emotional level and translates that into words and actions. People that are more factual and pragmatic might see that as an unrealistic response.”

Why don’t facts matter according to the scientist Watts? Because emotion sometimes trumps facts.

3. Ayn Rand in her article “To Dream the Non-Commercial Dream” (The Ayn Rand Letter, January 1, 1973, reprinted in The Voice of Reason) emphasizes the significance of emotion trumping fact. She says this about “impassioned advocates” of altruism and collectivism:
They are not hypocrites; in their own way, they are “sincere”; they have to be. They need to believe that their work serves others, whether those others like it or not, and that the good of others is their only motivation; they do believe it—passionately, fiercely, militantly—in the sense in which a belief is distinguishable from a conviction: in the form of an emotion impervious to reality. (Emphasis in original.)
Deep down, in their psychologies, it is emotion that dictates to these “sincere” people what is true. Facts don’t matter because emotion says otherwise. Altruism and collectivism have become their entrenched beliefs.

Rand adds that this “depth”—the “deep down” part of these unexamined psychologies—can be “measured by distance from reality” and that there exists a continuum, based on the distance, that runs from “sincere” to totalitarian dictator.

Rand puts “sincere” in scare quotes, which probably means she is not entirely endorsing the term, but I still have to ask: are those on the “sincere” end of the continuum . . . sincere? And honest? Who, really, after all is a bad dude?

Rand goes so far as to acknowledge that the “butcher of the Ukraine,” Nikita Khrushchev, was compelled to believe the “truth” (my quotes) and magical ritual of dialectical materialism. He had to, she says, lest he “face something more frightening than death” (Rand’s quotes).

This comment on Khruschev takes me back to The Criminal Personality by Yochelson and Samenow. Criminals certainly are bad dudes. They lie (and BS) as a way of life and enjoy getting away with the forbidden. (“If rape were legalized today . . . I would do something else,” one offender told the researchers.)

And criminals, like Khrushchev, don’t have much deep down, that is, they are considerably deficient in self-esteem. What is there, as Rand puts it, is distant from reality. “I am a nothing, a zero,” several criminals confessed, but added that if they routinely thought that way, they would have to kill themselves. So they live by substitute thoughts, or rather rationalizations. Their accumulated mental habits have taught them to believe and say: “that guy deserved it” or “everything in the store belongs to me” or “she really wanted me.”

Khrushchev substituted the communist mantra.

So how can these bad dudes seem “sincere”? This brings me back to the liar and BS’er. The goal of the liar and BS’er is to sound good. Most criminals are con artists, which means they are consummate liars and BS’ers to make what they say sound good.

The same applies to dictators. Many have been charmers at cocktail parties. Hitler was.

So would I want to be friends with someone on the “sincere” end of Rand’s continuum?

Sidney Hook and Anthony Watts did not seem to find offensive the disagreements they had with their associates, but those associates were presumably not on the extreme end of Rand’s scale.

I would say that friendships, whether professional or personal, depend on how distant one’s contact is from reality. That is to say, on a scale of decency—by adapting Rand’s continuum—honest, fact-oriented people are at the top, scummy criminals and Khruschevs are at the bottom, but most decent people, the “sincere” ones Rand was talking about, fit into the middle to upper tiers.**

The difficulty in forming professional and personal friendships is in understanding the other person’s psychology and discovering that distance from reality.

Facts do matter.

*Frankfurt thinks BS’ers are worse than liars—and more likely to be found among the highly educated because of their facility with language.

**In Rand’s article she was talking about a retired editor of the New York Times.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Americanized Maoism, the “Narrative” of Political Correctness, and Racist Minimum Wage Legislation

Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal has referred to our current political correctness madness as “a kind of Americanized Maoism.” This is an interesting characterization.*

China did not have a proletariat of factory workers, so Mao chose peasants as the oppressed class we should worship and model our lives on and, of course, protect from the evil capitalists.

Today’s American leftists certainly would not seem to mind having us all wear Mao tunics, nor would they mind reducing our standard of living to the level of Mao’s peasants.

Note a few of the consumer products that have been banned by those who know what is best for us: phosphates in laundry and dish detergents, high-flow water valves, incandescent light bulbs, plastic shopping bags, and the vent hole in the lowly gasoline can.

Jeffrey Tucker (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) has examined a number of these civilization killers. On the light bulb ban, he writes, “It’s the plot of [Ayn Rand’s] Anthem lived in real time.”

The gasoline can? Apparently, wealthy leftists have never had to mow their own lawns and don’t care to remember their elementary physics. That second hole makes it easy and spillage-free to pour gas into the mower’s tank. Tucker’s conclusion: the bureaucrats in power want us to reduce our lives to the misery of pre-capitalist eras.

The Americanized part of “Americanized Maoism,” however, is just another import from Europe. It is the post-modern rejection of Enlightenment values and establishment of what I referred to in a previous post as a virulent absolutism in an age of epistemological and moral relativism. (Some terms were borrowed from Stephen Hicks. See 1, 2.)

This is what has given us the word “narrative.” When challenging the left, the dismissive response will often be, “That’s only your narrative.” Which is another way of saying what’s true for you is not necessarily true for me. And it’s also Marx’s polylogism dressed up in new garb.

So why should we listen to the left? The unspoken and sometimes not so unspoken reply is, “We have the power. You don’t. Our narrative is in charge.”

One current “narrative” taken as a given is that opposition to minimum wage is racist. Fortunately, a recent column by Professor Williams has taught us an important history lesson about who really is the racist.

The 1931 origin and design of minimum wage legislation was to prevent African Americans from getting work. Nearly every economist in the United States knows minimum wage laws prevent the least skilled—mostly African Americans at that time, and still today—from being hired. Similar motivation operated in South Africa’s 1925 Apartheid legislation to prevent the hiring of “Natives.”

The true racists are the advocates of minimum wage, and since capitalism is the cure for racism, anyone who opposes free markets should be labelled haters of the minority disadvantaged and oppressed.

Trigger warning for the poor babies on college campuses:

The left has it wrong.

Capitalism—free markets and free speech—are what you should be studying and supporting. It’s time to get your feelings hurt. You might learn something in the process.

*Henninger also argues that the popularity of certain “outsiders” in the 2016 Republican presidential circus is a revolt of the politically incorrect, meaning that Americans, probably through their “you can’t push me around” sense of life, are sick of being badgered by the left and told what to think, feel, and do.

A Note on Correctness. The term usually means free from error, accurate, or precise, but in the pejorative sense in which the word is used today, it means conformity to an orthodoxy with deviation calling for punishment.

Penalties for failure to conform range from expressions of disapproval, shock, contempt, and condemnation to the more serious excommunication, expulsion, or termination to the ultimate of imprisonment, and death.

Today’s radical Marxist left—in the form of political correctness—is not unique in insisting on such conformity.

Just ask Socrates about Athenian correctness in the fifth century BC or Galileo about the Inquisition’s Catholic correctness in 1633.

Throughout history, religious, ideological, and intellectual movements have produced their share of correctness zealots. Christian and Islamic correctness, as in “radical Christianity” and “radical Islam,” are not inappropriate designations.

Nor is Freudian correctness. See Jeffrey Masson on his expulsion from the Freud Archives and other psychoanalytic societies over his view of Freud’s seduction theory.

The motivation for correctness zealotry is intolerance of difference, especially as manifested in language and behavior that deviates from the orthodoxy. The goal is control, initially censorship of language but in the end total control of thought and behavior.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Crybullies, Non-Negotiable Demands, Micro-Totalitarianisms, Academic Fascism . . . and Cabaret

“It is nothing! Children on their way to school. Mischievous children! Nothing more!”—from the Broadway musical Cabaret.

The words are spoken by Herr Schultz, the Jewish fruit shop owner whose window has been smashed by a brick. The setting of the story is the eve of Hitler’s rise, 1931 Weimar Germany.

Too strong a comparison to make to the “children” on today’s college campuses?

Is it?

Roger Kimball, author of the 1990 book Tenured Radicals (2nd ed. 2008) has called protesting students crybullies. Those are the ones making non-negotiable demands for trigger warnings lest certain words or ideas they disagree with hurt their feelings.

The mothers of present-day crybullies apparently did not teach their children the familiar rhyme about sticks and stones . . . versus words.

Thomas Sowell prefers to call the new “micro-aggression” buzzword micro-totalitarianism. “Macro-aggression” supposedly means blatant physical force, including the battery of unwanted touching. But hurtful, offensive words are said to be small coercions that, if allowed, can accumulate to become just as bad as the macro ones.

More correctly, Sowell argues, the micro-censorships that the Marxist left is pushing are moving us “even if by small steps” more and more toward the macro silencing of dissent. This is the last step to dictatorship and total control.

The list of the left’s no-no’s that must be censored has now climbed to at least 80 and were it not such a serious issue would qualify for theater of the absurd. For example, “American is the land of opportunity,” “I believe the most qualified person should get the job,” and “Where are you from or where were you born?” are said to be racist micro-aggressions that should be banned from the home of academic freedom.

Violators of these prescriptions, the protesters demand, must be reprimanded, suspended, required to attend sensitivity training classes, or, preferably, forced to resign. Students at Emory University are demanding that course evaluations rate professorial micro-aggressions—the predictable ones that might offend (Marxist) class identities.

Walter Williams calls the current atmosphere on college campuses academic fascism.

From the Nazis to the Stalinists, tyrants have always started out supporting free speech, and why is easy to understand. Speech is vital for the realization of their goals of command, control and confiscation. Free speech is a basic tool for indoctrination, propagandizing, proselytization. Once the leftists gain control, as they have at many universities, free speech becomes a liability and must be suppressed. This is increasingly the case on university campuses.
Williams cites one English professor who in the process of expressing his opposition to what the left calls Israeli Apartheid (compare 1, 2) said we must “not be guided by cardboard notions of civility.”

The phrase means what it sounds like. Says Williams: “That professor's vision differs little from Adolf Hitler's brown-shirted thugs of the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party in their effort to crush dissent.”

The resurrection of 1960s-style intolerance is not lost on older professors, including Sowell: “Storm trooper tactics by bands of college students making ideological demands across the country, and immediate preemptive surrender by college administrators — such as at the University of Missouri recently—bring back memories of the 1960s . . . .”

That is to say, non-negotiable demands followed by administrator capitulation are not new.

Not every university administration from the 1960s era, however, gave in. The University of Chicago (and my alma mater, the University of Denver) expelled and suspended numerous students who staged sit-ins at campus buildings.

Just mischievous children?

Some are ignorant, but the leaders are neither ignorant nor mischievous.

One classmate circa 1968-69 gave an impromptu speech at a protest crowd on the steps of my alma mater’s administration building. His voice boomed about struggle and revolution and his fist pumped.

The chilling thought that went through my mind was this: in 1917 St. Petersburg this classmate would have been on the front lines of Bolshevism.

Today, please, let us not stick our heads in the sand as did Weimar culture in interwar Germany.

Not seeing, or wanting to see, what was on the horizon of Germany’s future is the theme of Cabaret. Go see it, or if you have seen it, see it again.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Further Comment on Galileo’s Middle Finger

My previous post did not do justice to the Alice Dreger book Galileo’s Middle Finger. Here are a few additional comments.

Intersex people. Intersex infants, children, and adults, formerly referred to by the pejorative “hermaphrodite,” are born with ambiguous genitalia—for example, with external penis and vagina, usually of different sizes, or with an external vagina and internal testes but no uterus or ovaries.

Dreger’s doctoral dissertation focused on late nineteenth and early twentieth century hermaphroditism. Because such sexual differences were seldom ever talked about, most intersex people in that period lived relatively normal lives, presumably because they assumed that everyone else was built the same way. As Dreger put it, perhaps a little surprise on the doctor’s face when examining the patient was the only awareness anyone had of the medical issue!

Sometime during the twentieth century, doctors decided they should do something about the “shameful” condition. They decided, usually only telling the parents that some infant surgery was necessary, to play God and change intersex infants into boys or girls, based entirely on their judgment of which way the infant should go.

In recent times, it seems doctors have become more transparent by telling parents what they are doing . . . but rarely, even today, have doctors or parents told their patients and children what was done to them as infants.

“Shame, secrecy, and lies” is how Dreger describes the attitudes and behavior of doctors and parents. And it is this shame, secrecy, and lying that has incensed the human sexual identity activists. Intersex people are individuals with rights just like everyone else, but they have been denied honesty, have been discriminated against, and even denied choice—over which way they want to go, or whether to go at all.

Several early chapters of Dreger’s book detail her own activism to get the medical profession to fess up and change its ways. The stone wall she hit is part of the reason she felt the depression mentioned in my previous post.*

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Another stone wall was hit and described in the latter chapters of Dreger’s book. A doctor in New York City has made a career of administering dexamethasone, a powerful steroid, to in utero fetuses to prevent the formation of ambiguous genitalia and other sexual anomalies that can result from this inherited disease.

Dreger tallied a number of problems with this medical practice and lobbied hard, but failed, to stop it. The off-label drug—many drugs are so used—must be administered before there is any evidence the fetus is developing in an anomalous manner.

Dreger’s math found that only one out of ten such treated fetuses stood to benefit from the drug. On the other hand, the risks? Only one study—and only one—has been conducted to discern long-term consequences. The findings of that study indicated a significant minority of the sample suffered retardation, memory difficulties, and growth disorders; as a result, the study was shut down.

The controversy centered around informed consent, much of which seems not to have been given, and bureaucratic approval to proceed with such a treatment.

At one point, charges of fraud for phantom research projects were brought up, but the whistleblower, like many operating in bureaucratic environments, was attacked and threatened with psychiatric treatment. The Feds, responsible for protecting the public from risky medical practice, did little to stop a prestigious and well-established doctor.

Dreger lost the battle.

Social justice. Dr. Dreger views herself as an activist fighting for social justice. This has pushed me to clarify in my mind the difference between social and individual justice. “Social justice” has a long history, so it is not unique to Karl Marx, but today’s advocates use it in a distinctively Marxian flavor.

Is Dreger an advocate of social justice? Not really, though I’m sure she would disagree with my interpretation of her work.

Social justice, as I define it using today’s Marxian flavor, is the virtue of fairly and accurately judging oppressed classes as underprivileged and granting them restitution in the form of additional wealth, education, employment, along with other favors that they otherwise have not been able to attain. The underprivileged include anyone who is deemed unsuccessful, but especially African Americans, women, and LGBTs. This is the collectivist definition.

Individual justice is the virtue of fairly and accurately judging individuals—oneself and others—according to the standards of honesty, integrity, courage, independence, and especially productiveness. This is the individualist definition.

I think Dr. Dreger, because of her uncompromising commitment to facts, is closer to practicing the latter form of justice than the former. This, I would say, is why she could not accept her Marxist colleagues’ epistemological relativism. Yes, African Americans, women, and LGBTs have been badly discriminated against, even enslaved, but each individual must be judged on his or her own merits. No “class,” to use Marx’s terminology, owes any other “class” anything, especially when restitution is made at the point of a gun.

To use a reductio argument against the Marxists one might say this: Ayn Rand wrote that the individual is the smallest minority on earth. Turning the thought around, can we not say that the group or “class” of individuals is the largest “class” on earth? And therefore the largest “class” on earth that has been discriminated against and oppressed??

Individuals of the world should unite! And fight off their oppressers!!

Marxists should be advocates of individualism if they are seriously concerned about justice for the oppressed.

Free speech at Northwestern. An unwavering defender of First Amendment rights, Dreger has, since the publication of her book, performed a little flipping off herself. She has resigned from the Northwestern University Medical School over her dean’s attempts to censor the content of a faculty magazine she edited. The content? About sex, of course, but also possibly “offensive” content—to the hospital’s brand name!

Sigh! As a marketing prof, I have to make one last comment. Bureaucrats, whether in academia or government, have no clue what sound marketing, including branding, means. They think the usual BS that marketing is just that and that a brand image is something made up and pawned off on the helpless, unsuspecting public. This is just good Marxist thinking about business.

Sound branding—that is, product identification—of a first class hospital should run something like this.

We use the latest, most advanced knowledge and techniques to treat and cure our patients. In the process we entertain and examine all ideas—the wilder and more offensive the better.

The better because we will then know that we have left no stone unturned in order to come up with treatments and cures to do justice [there’s that word again!] for our patients.

*To the sheltered, like yours truly, this was an eye-opening read. It also struck me as the perfect “borderline case” in the philosophical problem of universals. The existence of intersex people (and animals) demonstrates that there is no intrinsic maleness or femaleness “out there, in the thing” as the intrinsic theory of essences claims. It also took my teenage daughter to explain the difference between gender, which is social, and sex, which is biological. Now I understand!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Galilean Personality vs. Wall-to-Wall Marxism and Human Sexual Identity

Medical historian and bioethicist Alice Dreger, in her provocatively titled book Galileo’s Middle Finger, provides a variety of descriptions of what she calls the Galilean Personality:
It consists of “men and women who are smart, egotistical, innovative, and know they’re right” (p. 180), who “tend to believe that the truth will save them, and to insist on the truth even when giving up on it might reduce their suffering” (181). Such personalities are “pugnacious, articulate, [and] politically incorrect.” Like the namesake of their personalities, they believe they are “right in the fight but never infallible” (185).
Confidence, independence, integrity, and, above all, commitment to facts. These traits apply equally to Dreger, as to the several heroes she chronicles in her book.

The title, as some reviewers have noted, is a bit misleading, because the book is not a history of scientists from Galileo’s day to the present who rebelled against dogmatic authorities. Nor is it particularly about Galileo’s middle finger, though after observing the scientist’s mummified digit in a Florence museum Dreger did get inspired by the thought of Galileo flipping off the Pope.*

Galileo’s science that confirmed the Copernican revolution, as Dreger observes, asserts that human identity is not what we thought it was, because humans, as consequence of Galileo’s work, can no longer be understood as occupying the center of the universe. The Pope took exception.

Similarly, scientists today who assert their research outcomes on human sexual identity find themselves engaged in battles with the dogmatic authorities of sexual identity politics. This theme became central to Dreger’s book.

“Wall-to-wall Marxism”** refers to the activist intellectual context in which Dreger operated while researching and writing the book. Dreger would probably describe herself as a “moderate liberal,” but it was her Galilean commitment to facts that got her into hot water with the radical Marxist left. They didn’t like what she said and wrote, let alone what the scientists she wrote about had said and written.

In fact, in one depressed moment during her research—depressed because of the hostility and, at one point, threat, thrown at her—she captured the essence of her modern Marxist colleagues and reported her feeling in the book:

We have to use our privilege to advance the rights of the marginalized. We can’t let people [like two good guys] say what is true about the world. We have to give voice and power to the oppressed and let them say what is true. Science is as biased as all human endeavors, and so we have to empower the disempowered, and speak always with them. (p. 137)
These are Dreger’s words describing the way her Marxist colleagues think. The two good guys are J. Michael Bailey and Craig Palmer.

Bailey’s research reported that many men who have sex change operations do so for erotic reasons, not, as transgender political activists insist, because they are “born with the brain of one sex and the body of the other” (p. 9).

Palmer co-authored a book asserting that rape often includes a sexual component, meaning that rapists do not always rape solely for reasons of power and conquest, but also because they enjoy sex.

The activists fiercely attacked Bailey and Palmer, charging them, among other alleged crimes, with rights abuse of research subjects and falsifying data. One scientific journal, cited by Dreger, published an article saying Palmer and his co-author deserve to be hung (p. 116).

Dreger’s role in this, as a historian of fact, was to pore over everything relevant to the controversies, ranging from the works of the scientists involved to all of the various criticisms offered, some of them found in forgotten transcripts and archives.

Bailey and Palmer fought valiantly to defend themselves, which is why Dreger gave them the accolade of Galilean personality. Dreger’s work has cleared their names—at least, to anyone interested in reading the facts.

Bailey and Palmer are not the only ones profiled and defended in Dreger’s book. Napoleon Chagnon spent many years studying the Yanomamö tribe in Venezuela, describing them as a fierce, male dominated tribe that fought violently over females, practiced domestic brutality, used drugs ritualistically, and couldn’t care less about the environment.

This was not the right thing to say.

Chagnon’s enemies unleashed a torrent of character assassinations, from the usual charges of cooked data to hints and not-so-subtle hints of beliefs in eugenics and intentional use of a bad vaccine that infected the whole tribe.

Dreger’s indefatigable efforts to dig for facts also cleared this Galilean personality.

So what is Dreger’s conclusion from these stories? Facts don’t matter—to today’s identity activists, as summed up in her depressed feeling quoted above.

In a somewhat understated way, she does acknowledge that the activists get their motivating ideology straight from Karl Marx, but I would add: Marxist polylogism is emboldened by our current atmosphere of post-modern epistemological relativism. Only the “oppressed classes” have changed.

The premise remains that opposition to dogma must be silenced. And Dreger’s book makes it clear that relativism results in the same authoritarianism as does religion.

* The book’s dust jacket shows half of an 1873 painting with Galileo sitting in front of a globe, his right hand obscured. A student to whom Galileo is lecturing was cut out of the picture and it is Galileo’s index—not middle—finger that is extended in the original painting.

**The phrase “wall-to-wall Marxism” is from the feisty and indefatigable Christopher Monckton, Viscount of Brenchley. Monckton was referring to the National Socialist Workers’ Party in Scotland and the Royal Society in England, but the words seem an appropriate description of our current cultural environment. Monckton is a prominent “climate change doubter,” as the Associated Press’s revised stylebook now prefers to call “climate deniers.”

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ayn Rand, of Course, Was Right

“It turns out, of course, that Mises was right.”

The quote is from that “worldly philosopher,” socialist Robert Heilbroner, in a New Yorker article in 1989 (see Skousen). It acknowledges that Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises correctly predicted the decline and collapse of the worker’s paradise known as the USSR.

Bureaucrats in planned economies, as Mises pointed out in 1920, have no God’s-eye view (that is, omniscience), capable of flawlessly determining who should produce what, in what quantities, at what price, and who should get what, in what quantities, at what price.

In other words, socialism is incapable of economic calculation.

Ayn Rand, unfortunately, has yet to find her Heilbroner. Someday, perhaps, a distinguished member of the philosophical profession will announce that “Ayn Rand, of course, was right . . . about many things, but especially altruism.”

Even a cursory reading of Rand’s writings makes it abundantly clear that she did not understand altruism to mean kindness and gentleness or, for that matter, that she did not think it altruistic—or wrong—to aid a deserving friend or relative or to help little old ladies across the street.

To Rand, altruism means self-sacrifice, the giving up a higher value for the sake of a lower- or non-value, the pursuit of a career to please one’s parents instead of the career one truly loves and wants. It means marrying a person one does not love—again, to please those “significant others” who may disapprove of your choice’s religion, social class, race, ethnicity, . . . or sexual orientation.

It means doing your job because it’s your duty, not because you enjoy it. It means giving birth to a child you do not want and enslaving yourself to a mistake or accident that occurred when you were young.

“Moral purification through suffering” is how the ascetic life is sometimes described. It is the motto of altruism.

Immanuel Kant did not not know the word “altruism,” but he did give us the essence of it: always act from duty, not inclination.

It was Auguste Comte who coined the word, and he meant every bit of the notion of self-sacrifice. For Comte, the golden rule is too selfish, as is Jesus’ prescription to love your neighbor as yourself. Suicide is selfish and so are rights.

Fortunately, George Smith at has read Comte’s “tiresome writings” that explain his theory in “excruciating detail.” In a five-part article, Smith demonstrates that Ayn Rand correctly understood the meaning of altruism.

Comte’s ethics, as quoted by Smith:

. . . never admits anything but duties, of all to all. For its persistently social point of view cannot tolerate the notion of rights, constantly based on individualism. We are born loaded with obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, and to our contemporaries. . . . All human rights then are as absurd as they are immoral.
The agnostic Comte developed a secular religion such that our duty, harkening back to the devout Kant, is to all of humanity. As Kant said, our duty is to humanity as an end in itself; humanity is never a means to our own ends. Comte put it this way: “To live for others affords the only means of freely developing the whole existence of man.”

Rights, therefore, are out. The collective is in.

Does the individual even exist? No, says Comte. “Man . . . as an individual, cannot properly be said to exist, except in the too abstract brain of modern metaphysicians. Existence in the true sense can only be predicated of Humanity.”

So sacrifice the individual to the collective. On this, too, of course, Ayn Rand was right: altruism and collectivism go hand in hand.

And she was right that the unprecedented devastation of the twentieth century—between 100 and 300 million war deaths, depending on source—was caused by the two doctrines.

Kindness and gentleness are not what altruism is all about. Self-sacrifice is.

Postscript: The 1988 book The Altruistic Personality by Oliner and Oliner is sometimes taken to be the epitome of altruistic behavior. The book consists of a myriad of reflections by rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. Fascinating reading, the book shows that there were many Anne Franks throughout the occupied countries and several Schindlers. The authors correctly identify Comte as coiner of the word “altruism,” meaning duty, selflessness, and not acting on inclination, but then they redefine it for purposes of their study as “rescue behavior,” which means anyone who has the courage to act in the face of considerable risk.

Ayn Rand said she would take a bullet for her husband. This did not make her an altruist, nor does the behavior of these heroic rescuers make them altruists!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Trigger Warnings

Jonathan Rauch, strong supporter of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and author of Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought argues sarcastically—but also seriously—that the following “trigger warning” should be put on the first page of every college catalogue:

At this university, students could be exposed, at any moment, without warning, to ideas, comments, readings, or other materials that they find shocking, offensive, absurd, annoying, racist, sexist, homophobic, discriminatory, or generally obnoxious.

We call this education.
I can think of a couple of other sarcastic warnings: “Most of the ideas you will hear at this university are 100-plus-year-old dusty variants of Marxism that have been well-demonstrated to be hazardous to your health, and, especially, to civilization’s health.”

And in my fantasies: “What you will hear and learn at this university will likely upset your foundational ideas, that is, everything you have been taught about the nature of knowledge, values, psychology, and political philosophy and economy. It will raise your consciousness in a way you never will have thought possible. You will be challenged to confront the ideas of such writers as Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises. Be forewarned!”

Trigger warnings are a new form of campus censorship in which professors are supposed to give notice to students, before anything is said, about possibly offensive or hurtful speech. In practice, this means ideas the students may not have heard before or, especially, ones they might consider to be a cause of pain.

They are called “triggers” because the ploy is packaged with post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD can be produced or triggered by specific words, memories, or incidents.

Thus, if a professor states in class that the average wages of men and women are virtually the same when adjusted for marriage and motherhood, or that several African American intellectuals have decried affirmative action because of its effect on self-esteem, he or she must let the poor babies—the students—know that their feelings might get hurt by what is going to be said!

Fortunately, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has nailed the issue: “The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual.” The chilling effect on freedom of speech in the ivory tower is unmistakable, as the professors’ thought process becomes, “Maybe I shouldn’t discuss this issue or idea because it might be offensive to some students.”

Concerning the red herring of traumatic reaction, “The classroom is not the appropriate venue to treat PTSD, which is a medical condition that requires serious medical treatment. Trigger warnings are an inadequate and diversionary response.”

And, finally, the American Library Association has called the labeling and rating of ideas or speech, such as “hurtful” and “offensive,” “an attempt to prejudice attitudes” and “a censor’s tool” (quoted in AAUP).

“Trigger warnings” are the radical Marxist left’s latest ruse to silence discussion of anything that does not fit its manifesto. The proletariat in the industrialized world are no longer an oppressed class; today, they all drive SUV’s and live in four-bedroom homes.

The good campus Marxists, as a result, must now find other oppressed groups to exploit: women, African Americans, and the LGBT community.*

These “classes” constitute the new proletariat. Marxist ideology marches on!

*Though, of course, many in these groups—classes?—are not exactly downtrodden and oppressed, since they, too, drive SUV’s and live in four-bedroom homes.

Follow-up: Five studies on trigger warnings

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Not-So-Visible Gun: Government Is Not Our Friend

A relative in years past would frequently tell his children, when coming upon a representative of law enforcement, “See that policeman? He is our friend!”

The militarization of police forces in recent years notwithstanding, and trigger happiness of some cops aside, the police by and large are our protectors against the bad guys. They use self-defensive force to protect us from those who initiate its use.

But government per se? The 22 million or so elected and unelected members of federal, state, and local governments still hold the legal monopoly on the use of physical force. They can initiate coercion against the rest of us to do what they say, or what the law says, we ought to do, supposedly for our own good or to protect us from presumed bad guys.

Some writers have contrasted Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the marketplace with an alternative metaphor: the visible fist of government. While fists can do damage, the symbol of the fist usually indicates intimidation.

Governmental coercion is much more than intimidation.

 “Who Are We Going to Coerce Today?” is how I recently retitled a previous post, because coercion is the essence of governing in our mixed economy. A gun—initiated coercion—backs up every decision of the bureaucrats and law that they enforce.

The problem today is that not many citizens see or acknowledge the presence of the gun.

Special interest groups—and by that I mean not just “crony capitalists” but most significantly leftist intellectual organizations and their leaders—lobby hard to pass laws in the name of the “public good.” In fact, however, they are unabashed rent-seekers whose laws benefit the lobby at the expense of everyone else, often to the detriment of the very groups they claim to benefit.

There are too many examples to cite, but the supposed Robin Hood (redistributionist) principle of taking from the rich to give to the poor usually enriches the better off at the expense of the less well off. Wage controls cause unemployment and enhance the incomes of those who manage to keep their jobs. Price controls of the ceiling type cause shortages and price floors cause surpluses; they benefit the first dwellers, such as existing renters and farmers.

“But we are the government and we can change it,” the naïve might say. No, only the army of 22 million, mostly unelected bureaucrats constitute the government. And change? Maybe a tiny bit can be changed every two, four, or six years when we vote, but that often is for the worse.

Fight City Hall? Not easily, and with extremely rare success. Government prosecutors (1, 2) are often powerful and unaccountable.

The attitude and battle cry of many bureaucrats, unfortunately, seems to be: “We have the power. You don’t. So Get lost!”

That is the gun talking. And that is why government is not our friend.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Polylogism, the Right to Lie, and Serial Embellishers

The subjectivist belief that each class has its own logic, that is, that there is no universal logic that applies to all human beings, is an essential tenet of Marxism (1, 2, 3). Capitalists have their logic; proletarians have theirs. Communication between the two is not possible. Therefore, the capitalist bourgeois exploiters must be controlled and, in some cases, liquidated.

This is why, in reference to the House Un-American Activities Committee, Ayn Rand said, “What those goddamned communists wanted was the right to lie!”*

If you’re an enemy, facts don’t matter.

Today, polylogism is rampant and assumes that all kinds of groups based on race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, physical ability, etc., ad nauseam, have a unique logic that is consequently beyond rational understanding. White males in particular are typically targeted as enemies, but groups in a position of power can and do declare any other opposing group persona non grata and, as a result, conclude that they owe the other groups nothing but ad hominem attacks.

One moderate liberal, Jonathan Chait, recently acknowledged that his more radically left colleagues “borrowed” Marx’s polylogism to establish our current virulently absolutist climate of political correctness. However, Mr. Chait is mistaken. Political correctness is rooted deeply in Marxism and its proponents are the tenured radicals of the 1960’s!

This means moderate liberals, as well as conservatives—most people today, in other words—have uncritically and probably unwittingly swallowed the Marxist agenda of their professors. Have they bought into the “right to lie” part of the agenda?

Probably not, though there are plenty of “serial embellishers” in all areas of our present culture.

“Serial embellishment” is an interesting new phrase that has popped up to describe repeat BS’ers, such as the now less-than-esteemed NBC News anchor.

When facts don’t matter, fiction and fabrication become primary. The trouble with serial embellishment is that the embellishers intend listeners to take their words as true. And most listeners assume they are.

When the words turn out not to be true and the speakers are obviously not novelists or screenwriters, listeners will draw one conclusion: embellishers have adopted the right to lie.

Criminal psychologies are those that lie as a way of life. How should we classify serial embellishers?

*I am quoting from memory here, from the 1970’s. Rand was answering questions of a small group of students after a lecture in New York.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Defending Hate Speech and Satire against the Criminal Mind

Because the criminal suffers a far greater deficiency of self-esteem than anyone else—“I am a nothing, a zero” was a frequent confession to criminal personality researchers Yochelson and Samenow—and because the criminal cannot tolerate the thought of being injured or maimed . . .
A not uncommon fantasy is that of a grand flourish in which the criminal shoots everyone in sight and is then killed himself. (p. 260)
When criminals actualize their fantasies, they produce Columbine, Sandy Hook, and now Charlie.

The enemies of free speech are criminals who just happen to latch on to some ideology as a front, cover, or alleged justification.

Je suis Charlie.

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