Greg Perkins

Unbeatable Concentration?

 Posted by on 17 January 2007 at 3:40 pm  Uncategorized
Jan 172007

With the movie of Atlas Shrugged edging toward production, it is natural that we’ll see articles about Rand and the book and its adaptation — like the recent one that appeared in the NY Times and other rags, talking about the many abortive attempts at bringing Atlas to the big and small screen. What jumped out in that one was the writer pinning a lot of the trouble on Rand’s supposedly conspiracy-tinged outlook.

Not so good, but that was a veritable puff-piece compared to the most recent article I’ve seen float by. The sneering potshots are nonstop, beginning with the paranoia thing, moving to a hit on The Fountainhead’s famous sex scene and “ironies” of the book’s movie production, and then switching directions to launch into an extended riff on the Standard Litany of ugly, uninformed smears of Rand, Objectivism, and even O’Connor — you know, the mythology spawned and tremendously reinforced by the Brandens, then uncritically swallowed and passed on by so many like this writer. (But please, let’s all remember that the Brandens’ viciously dishonest accounts are marginal and old news and aren’t doing any any real damage. Not.) Oh, and along the way there was the routine condescension with a cute connection-by-nonessentials to Scientology: “Her essays and her novels appeal to people who might like to be intellectuals but lack the necessary curiosity and energy. My observation suggests that she attracts devotees who are also candidates for Scientology — which, like Objectivism, was a novelist’s creation.”

He wraps it up with another smirking bit of intimidation combined with a slap that contradicts Rand’s enduring success: “Even the failures of Ayn Rand (such as her prose) have their own foolish charm. There’s something persistently funny about Rand and Randians, though no Randian will ever quite see the joke. It is not possible to have a sense of humour and take Ayn Rand seriously.”

Wow, to pack so much ignorant garbage and content-free disagreement into so few words is quite an achievement. Now I’m morbidly curious to see if any piece on the way to the movie’s release will somehow manage worse.

Socrates and the Triple Filter Test

 Posted by on 14 January 2007 at 8:45 pm  Uncategorized
Jan 142007

(Sent my way by a mysterious stranger. :^)

In ancient Greece (469 – 399 BC) Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said, “Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?”

“Wait a moment,” Socrates replied. “Before you tell me, I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Triple Filter Test.”

“Triple filter?”

“That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my student let’s take a moment to filter what you’re going to say. The first filter is truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“No,” the man said, “actually I just heard about it and…”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?”

“No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, even though you’re not certain it’s true?”

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed. Socrates continued. “You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter – the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really.”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor Useful, why tell it to me at all?”

The man was defeated and ashamed.

This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem. It also explains why he never found out that Plato was banging his wife.

How Integrated are You?

 Posted by on 4 January 2007 at 7:51 am  Uncategorized
Jan 042007

Which are you more interested in: what is actual or what is possible? In approaching others, is your inclination to be objective, or personal? Do you go more by facts, or by principles? Are you more comfortable in making logical judgments, or value judgments? Which rules you more: heart or head? Do facts speak for themselves, or illustrate principles? Is it a greater error to be too passionate, or too objective?

Those are from a Myers-Briggs test for programmers that a friend sent my way. This is my second such test: maybe fifteen years ago, the head of the little company I was working at gave me the Myers-Briggs test he’d picked up at some management training program (I’m not sure why, maybe out of curiosity to see how I might contrast with him). I began taking it and was soon jammed up because of choices like the above. Impatient, he insisted that I nonetheless pick whatever answer was even a smidge better for me and just get through it without so darned much analysis. Pressing on, my concern grew as I noted an accumulation of basically arbitrary choices. After finishing, I explained that the more of those that went by, the less meaningful the results had to be for my case. Further, since many of the problematic choices seemed to be based in philosophically-unsound alternatives, I was a bit suspicious of the overall methodology (heck, anyone with a little exposure to Objectivism would have seen it like that). He was aghast that I would presume to second-guess the psychological authorities and their scientific techniques, and it seemed to boggle him the most to find a young know-nothing upstart like me saying there were obvious and flawed philosophical premises behind the carefully-designed questions of those experts. Throwing up his hands, he headed back to the management end of the building and I turned back to my work with a shrug.

Fast-forward to now. Going through this test I noticed that a significantly higher percentage of the questions were unanswerable (as before, by being meaningless for lack of context, or for presenting a false alternative, etc.). Naturally, this leaves me with the even stronger impression that Myers-Briggs tests simply aren’t worth much, at least for Objectivists.

Well, I take that back: the formal results don’t seem to be worth much, but a cool metric for Objectivists may lie in how many of the questions are honestly unanswerable and invite an arbitrary selection — the higher the percentage, the better your level of integration! Way back when, I couldn’t answer maybe 15% of the questions, but this time I genuinely couldn’t answer 66%+ of them! Sweet, it looks like I’m growing. :^)

Hence the question: How integrated are you?

Dear Virginia in the 21st Century

 Posted by on 22 December 2006 at 5:59 pm  Uncategorized
Dec 222006

[My own response to the Dear Virginia in the 19th Century challenge.]

In 1897, Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the editor of The New York Sun:

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in the Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

Dear Virginia,

Your eagerness to know is wonderful! Have you ever scooped up a lost nickel, only to discover that it is a quarter? Santa is like that, a thousand times over. No, there is no Santa outside imagination, but learning about him is greater than any gift he would bring were he really real.

Santa is a playful fantasy full of hope and happiness, inviting you down the challenging path to true adulthood. Yes, he embodies good will and generosity and inspires children everywhere to appreciate the difference between Naughty and Nice. But there is so much more that you and your friends are just now glimpsing, hidden behind the tale’s knowing wink.

Santa helps us to learn the crucial lesson that sometimes what we are told just isn’t so, no matter how splendid it sounds, who says it, or how tightly we might cling to the idea. He invites us to push through the veil of a child’s blind acceptance to join the grown-up world of facts, thought, and independent understanding. Just as nobody can breathe for us, nobody can think for us — not even The New York Sun. You have to see the truth of something to really know.

Now, do not let slip fantasy and imagination, for even grown-ups love to play! There will always be costumes and paintings and stories to delight. But we have to distinguish between make-believe and reality, and use our intelligence and creativity to understand the world and make our place in it. This is how we sustain all those things that motivate and fulfill us: love, art, play, hope, romance, achievement, joy.

The most exciting thing you can discover is that reality itself is infinitely more rich and interesting than our wildest fantasies. And Santa brings each of us a priceless gift: help in learning to face the vast wonder and glory of the universe like a hero, seeing by a light that is brighter than the brightest star, shaping and reshaping our world with a boundless engine of creation.

No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. But important lessons and a sweet tale that makes glad the heart of childhood live on, at least until our imagination creates something even better. So celebrate the flowering of your intellect and pass Santa forward to the next generation with love — and a wink.

Dear Virginia in the 19th Century

 Posted by on 18 December 2006 at 7:18 am  Uncategorized
Dec 182006

In 1897, Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the editor of The New York Sun:

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, “If you see it in the Sun, it’s so.”
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

Frank P. Church wrote The Sun‘s famous, oft-reprinted answer:

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be that is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.

Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We would have no enjoyment, except in the sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside the curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Church’s popular answer represents and advocates an utterly mystical worldview — one where man is low, little, helpless — one where the universe of science is barren, while what is really real and truly valuable is hidden behind the veil of the supernatural, accessible only by faith and feelings. It is a sustained attack on reality and reason, including the genuine spiritual values important to human life.

Understandably, those lacking a mystical bent (like me!) do not smile on this answer to Virginia. Several years back, after seeing Church’s response printed yet again, I thought about my young nieces and nephews and I wondered what better answer to Virginia I might send their way if the issue ever arose. Looking around the web, nothing I found fit the bill. Everything was either not focusing on the positive orientation to reason and reality that would be healthy, or was downright mean-spirited, and sometimes even destructive (as with those that urge Virginia to nurture thoughts of Santa as a vicious myth and sue her lying parents for deep psychic wounds caused by such child abuse).

So I decided to try my hand at an answer: same length, similar style and language, equivalent unapologetic advocacy of a worldview (but a healthy one this time) — ostensibly directed to a child in that age, but really designed to spark adult understanding in any age.

How would you answer Virginia? (I’ll share what I wrote next time.)

Doonesbury’s Hypocritical Warmongers

 Posted by on 29 November 2006 at 6:54 am  Uncategorized
Nov 292006

A friend pointed me to the Doonesbury comic strip, where Trudeau has been exploring the phenomenon of those advocating war while not being willing to serve in the military:

What struck me is that Trudeau actually has a point, as long as people conceive of and prosecute war in a sacrificial way. It is indeed hypocritical to advocate that someone else go to war and be sacrificed for your own interests, and it’s positively evil to advocate something like the draft to make them do so. On the other, “moral” hand, there are those who volunteer to be sacrificed for the sake of their countrymen, and there are pacifists who urge that we not fight at all. The premise of war-as-sacrifice seems unfortunately widespread, so back and forth people argue with charges of impracticality against charges of immorality (the “warmongers” on one side and the pacifists on the other, with the martyrs enjoying a status as tragic but respected cannon-fodder).

Of course, Objectivists don’t accept any necessary conflict between morality and practicality, and I wince at the idea that we must prosecute war by either sacrificing ourselves or our countrymen, or resigning our country to an enemy’s aggressive ambitions. We can and should develop a foreign policy of self-interest with a non-sacrificial military.

Americans would then be able to relate to the military and its services just as they do with any other higher-risk profession like coal mining, high-rise construction, test piloting, or whatever. Americans are not hypocrites for advocating and enjoying reading at night, living in condos, and flying to visit Grandma. And even when there is a significant chance of serious injury or death, the companies who bring us these things do not do it by calling for martyrs or seeking to sacrifice their employees. The same should be true of our military: tremendously risky work, yes, but only undertaken in defense of our rights, and never dependent on calls for sacrifice at any level.

The Greatest Superhero

 Posted by on 21 November 2006 at 9:39 am  Uncategorized
Nov 212006

The comic strip Frazz was exploring costumes and superheroes for Halloween, and managed to touch on something really fundamental. As long as we’re getting magical, what power would make someone the greatest of all superheroes from an Objectivist perspective?

Not that they would frame it quite this way, but I thought it was pretty cool because they’ve hit upon disabling the source of evil by preventing the self-deception inherent in bad guys evading what they are really up to.

A friend who is working through OPAR bounced these comics to me, probably because he recently saw Peikoff’s discussion of focus, evasion vs. drift, etc. The section, “The Primary Choice as the Choice to Focus or Not” closes by naming the stakes regarding evasion:

The process of evasion, as we will see, is profoundly destructive. Epistemologically, it invalidates a mental process. Morally, it is the essence of evil. According to Objectivism, evasion is the vice that underlies all other vices. In the present era, it is leading to the collapse of the world.

Superman and Batman would be wusses in comparison to Introspection Man, a superhero able to wipe out the world’s evil at its very root!

Flying the Unfriendly Skies

 Posted by on 25 October 2006 at 6:24 am  Uncategorized
Oct 252006

Returning from the awesome Jihad conference in Boston this last weekend, I had a brush with the brilliance of TSA and a testy Little Dictator who works for them.

I had heard that the current rules permitted carryon liquids only in containers of three ounces or less, so I transferred shampoo, gel, and so on from my slightly larger bottles to even smaller travel bottles. Not too big a deal: I’m able to play my little part in our nation’s ever-more-epic Security Theater (a term for wasting time, resources, and goodwill on things which make us feel more secure, but which in fact do little or nothing to actually make us more secure).

I guess I should have read my script a little closer. It turns out all of those containers must be carried in a clear, plastic, one-quart, Ziploc bag rather than the opaque, cloth, normal-zippered toiletries bag that I bought some time back for that purpose. But what kills me is that even retarded seventh-century barbarian Jihadists aren’t so stupid that they would be stopped by this: they could simply aggregate several bottles to have more than three ounces of whatever. And while the TSA won’t allow larger containers that are only holding three-or-fewer ounces (presumably to make such aggregation harder), the bad guys could still use something like the bag itself for that. And if the one-quart upper limit that the bag imposes is a problem for their nefarious ends, they could even borrow their buddies’ bags to put together more volume.

Feel safer yet? Yeah, bring on the security! But wait, there’s more because we haven’t gotten to the TSA employees who enforce those brilliant rules. The guy who screened me on the way out of Boise simply explained the one-quart-baggie hoop I should have jumped through, decided to cut me some slack, and sent me on my way — maybe he had a nice breakfast or something. Not so with the TSA employee on the way out of Boston. Damn, I’m thinking maybe someone pissed in her Cheerios.

Clearly testy at my not following these latest rules, she pulled my toiletries bag out of my suitcase while I explained that I didn’t know about the baggie thing until this trip. Picking out all my little bottles, she angrily observed that some didn’t have labels, so she didn’t know what was in them and she would have to test them. Struggling to stay neutral and maybe escape a little quicker for coffee, I decided not to mention that even with labels she still couldn’t know the contents without testing. And of course their being given to her in the requisite baggie instead of my toiletries bag would not have changed that fact, either. She tested all of them, including the labeled ones, and I was so pleased with my body soap not being deemed a munition that I shrugged off her inconsistency in testing the labeled bottles after her lecture.

Along the way she’d found the now-empty sandwich-sized baggie I used for vitamins, and at this point she told me that I got to keep only those bottles I could fit in it. It wasn’t an Official Quart-Sized Bag, so I’m guessing this was her version of being nice to the customer. Enjoying her generosity, I politely avoided mentioning how my being able to stuff these (tested) bottles into a sandwich baggie couldn’t possibly affect the safety of my flight. But then she stopped me while I was packing them all in there (it was going to be a tight fit), saying that I had to be able to seal the bag. Seriously, I could feel my brain shutting down with the silliness of it all, and it took genuine effort to repress the comment that allowing me to pick which ones to keep was a clear indication that she didn’t consider any of them a threat.

Instead, I selected my keepers and fled while she went to dispose of the threatening remainder. Paul also seemed to sense she wasn’t the dialoging type and said he was just waiting for me to give them an excuse to escalate to a body-cavity search.

I Laughed, I Cried, It Changed My Life!

 Posted by on 23 September 2006 at 6:41 pm  Uncategorized
Sep 232006

Craig Biddle, editor of The Objective Standard, sent out this announcement:

The print version of the Fall issue of TOS has been mailed, and the online version has been posted to our website. The contents are:
From the Editor

Letters and RepliesThe Decline and Fall of American Conservatism by C. Bradley Thompson

19th-Century French Painting and Philosophy by Dianne Durante

The Jihad on America by Elan Journo

For promotional purposes, the online version of “The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism” is accessible to all.

If you’ve not yet subscribed to TOS, now is the time to act. While supplies last, you can still begin your subscription with the inaugural issue. Subscribe today and we’ll mail the first three issues to you right away.

Remembering rave reviews of C. Bradley Thompson’s lecture at the last OCON, I was eager to see what he would say in his TOS article, “The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism.” I read it just now. Wow.

Wait, let me try that again: freakin’ wow!

It is eye-opening and jaw-dropping, a stunning analysis that gathers up the oddities we have been seeing in the rise of the Republicans, explains them with some wonderful philosophical detective work, and frames it all in terms of fundamental principles having life and death importance to us all. C. Bradley Thompson brings the goods, and I now understand the cryptic, stammered, rave reviews of his lecture — along the lines of, “It was amazing: I kept thinking it couldn’t get any worse, and then he would reveal a whole new level of badness!” But don’t take my word for it: go see for yourself.

If this doesn’t cement TOS’s place on the map, I don’t know what will. Thanks and kudos, guys!

Update from Diana: Brad Thompson will be speaking in Boulder on October 5th and in Denver (Arvada) on October 7th. Both talks will be on education. For more information, see this page and/or e-mail Lin Zinser.

Great News: California Sues Global Warmers

 Posted by on 22 September 2006 at 4:45 am  Uncategorized
Sep 222006

A Reuters article reports that, “California sued six of the world’s largest automakers over global warming on Wednesday, charging that greenhouse gases from their vehicles have caused billions of dollars in damages.”

“The injuries have caused the people to suffer billions of dollars in damages, including millions of dollars of funds expended to determine the extent, location and nature of future harm and to prepare for and mitigate those harms, and billions of dollars of current harm to the value of flood control infrastructure and natural resources,” it said.

[California Attorney General] Lockyer — a Democratic candidate for state treasurer in the November election — said the lawsuit states that under federal and state common law the automakers have created a public nuisance by producing “millions of vehicles that collectively emit massive quantities of carbon dioxide.”

Carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases have been linked to global warming.

This lawsuit is the first of its kind, and I was dismayed to see environmentalist nutballs press to do damage on yet another front. Even on a superficial level, it is so arbitrary: why not sue the car owners for driving them, or the car dealers for selling them, or the gas stations for fueling them, or the oil companies for supplying them. And if it is about carbon dioxide, then why are they picking on cars rather than other sources, such as all the people, pets, and animals we raise for food? What legal or moral principle drives California to pick this particular target vs. any of those others?

But of course this is really driven by the science (or lack thereof) behind the Global Warming movement, which is why we may well end up thanking them for this move.

Remember the recent lawsuit regarding Intelligent Design in the science classroom (a.k.a., “Scopes II” or the “Dover Panda Trial”)? The top theorists and proponents from the ID movement were put on the stand and under oath, where they were definitively exposed as dishonest, fraudulent, creationist pseudo-scientists with a religious agenda. Dover was a crushing blow to the ID movement: confident and influential from long taking epistemological liberties in the court of public opinion, they were finally brought into a context where obfuscation, shoddy reasoning, and populist appeals carry no weight. (I highly recommend reading that decision. Written by a Bush-appointed judge, I didn’t expect much and ended up impressed with his ability to grasp and relate the scientific and philosophical issues. His obvious anger at their mendacity was icing on the cake.)

So the Church of Global Warming wants to be put on the stand? I say that’s great! Prepare for another Dover.

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