Washington Times Letter

 Posted by on 11 March 2008 at 11:01 pm  Activism, Politics
Mar 112008
 

Hooray! My letter to the editor in praise of Dick Armey’s moral defense of intellectual property was published in The Washington Times today:

Sing a song

Thanks to Dick Armey (“Airing on free use,” Commentary, Friday) for defending intellectual property in broadcast radio as a matter of justice to the creators.

Today’s producers of music–artists, management and record companies–offer consumers around the world a vast array of music for all tastes. Those producers deserve to be rewarded handsomely for their efforts, not cheated of royalties by legal loopholes for broadcast radio or online file sharing.

Without the producers of music, we’d be stuck listening to our own off-key shower singing.

DIANA HSIEH

Sedalia, Colo.

Normally, I prefer to focus my activism efforts on local papers, but that was too good an opportunity to pass by. Paul also published a letter to the editor on health care in The Christian Science Monitor last Friday. Hooray FIRM!

How OActivists Can Help ARI Promote Cultural Change

 Posted by on 10 March 2008 at 6:00 am  Activism
Mar 102008
 

How does the formal work of the Ayn Rand Institute fit in with the informal work of the OActivists list in their mutual goal of promoting Objectivist ideas? Although the two entities are separate and independent, I’d like to sketch out one possible way that both groups could work to their mutual benefit.

Yaron Brook mentioned in last year’s “State of the ARI” address that one of his eventual goals was to have Ayn Rand’s ideas circulating everywhere. Those ideas might not necessarily always be associated with her name or the name “Objectivism”, but they would become part of the background cultural climate.

So this would mean that an average thoughtful person would get exposed to Ayn Rand’s ideas if he walked into his local Starbucks and overheard other customers discussing foreign policy. Or if he started talking politics with his coworkers at lunch. If he opened the newspaper, he’d see a letter to the editor taking an Objectivist position. If he read a blog post about a current events topic, he would see someone in the comments section offering an Objectivist perspective.

Even if those ideas weren’t always associated with the names “Ayn Rand” or “Objectivism”, they would still have an effect. And of course, once an honest and open-minded person started doing some investigation, he would quickly find out where they came from.

For instance, if he asked his co-worker at lunch where he heard that interesting take on Middle East politics, his friend might say, “My cousin mentioned it to me last week, and he said it came from Ayn Rand”. Then he might read an OpEd in his local newspaper from the Ayn Rand Institute. Then his daughter might tell him that her high school English class was covering the theme of independence and individualism in their reading of the Ayn Rand novel, The Fountainhead. A leftist local politician whom he disliked might say something snarky about Ayn Rand while advocating another bad government program.

Each repetition of those ideas would continue to reinforce one another, and soon the average honest person would recognize that there was an interesting body of ideas out there, from Ayn Rand under the name of “Objectivism” — a body of ideas that had application to real-world issues that were important to him.

If we got to that stage, then we would be in pretty good shape. As Ayn Rand’s ideas became widely circulated in the culture and recognized as such, then they would be (correctly) regarded as part of the mainstream of public discussion. From there, it would be much easier for Objectivists (either at the Ayn Rand Institute or outside of it) to have opinion pieces published regularly in major outlets such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Investors Business Daily, etc., with an explicit affiliation to “Ayn Rand” and/or “Objectivism”. Similarly, Objectivsts would be appear regularly on television and radio programs. News editors would want to know the Objectivist position on important public issues, just as they currently seek out the environmentalist viewpoint or the feminist viewpoint or the religious conservative viewpoint on a variety of issues.

At that point, I believe that the quality and clarity of Objectivists ideas compared to those of the opposition would become increasingly apparent to all reasonable people, especially because it would resonate with the fairly good “sense of life” still held by many Americans. They would learn that there was an explicit philosophy that matched their implicit sense of life. And once we established a self-reinforcing “virtuous cycle” where the advocacy of our ideas inspired others (Objectivists and non-Objectivists alike) to express support for similar ideas, then we would be well on our way to victory.

So how does the OActivists project fit into all this? I believe that we can be very helpful throughout this process, but especially in this critical first phase of getting the ideas seeded and circulated in the culture. Everyone who has an interest in some sort of activism can proceed in whatever fashion suits his or her own goals, interests, and desires. This should not be a painful duty or chore, but something that one actively enjoys.

For instance, I like to write, but I don’t have much time for or interest in public speaking. Others might enjoy going to a high school class and presenting the basics of Ayn Rand’s ideas to students. Others might enjoy sending letters to public officials or speaking at community meetings. Others might be willing to leave a brief comment on a non-Objectivist blog post, even if it’s just a link to an ARI webpage that summarizes the Objectivist position on that topic or to a relevant The Objective Standard article. Others might enjoy informal discussions with co-workers, friends, and family. All of these efforts can have an impact.

No single bit of writing or speaking needs to be overly deep and profound. It just has to be clear and relevant. The constant repetition and exposure to these ideas will add up in the average readers’ and listeners’ minds faster than one might realize. In particular, repeated exposure to our ideas will have a good effect on two noteworthy target audiences — public officials and news editors. An editor might not print the first letter supporting free market health care or supporting America’s right to self-defense against Islamofascism, but if he gets 7 or 8 of them, then he’ll start thinking that this should be a legitimate part of the debate. The same is true with politicians. No single drop of water will wear a hole in a stone, but given enough time a steady drip of water will wear through any rock.

If only 15-20 active people could shape the course of the debate of an important political issue (health care) in the state of Colorado, think of what 500-1000 motivated Objectivists around the country could do, if they each pursued avenues for activism that they found satisfying and enjoyable.

Personally, I’m getting tired of hearing the same old garbage from the leftists, the environmentalists, the multiculturalists, and the religious mystics, and feeling that my ideas are always under attack. I think it’s about time for us to go on the offensive promoting our ideas in the culture, and let them start worrying if their ideas will become a beleaguered minority.

But to accomplish this, one thing needs to change: Ordinary Objectivists need to begin actively advocating their ideas publicly. There may be many reasons why this isn’t already happening to a greater extent. Some may want to do something, but not know what to do or how to do it. Others may think it’s hopeless, and hence not worth their time. Some may think that this is the job of the ARI. Others may be wasting time in fruitless online arguments with other Objectivists, rather than directing some of that energy towards the outside world where it could have a much greater payoff. (This is not meant as a criticism of online Objectivist discussion groups and mailing lists per se, but only of the sorts of endless back-and-forth internet debates that generate more heat than light.)

Of course, there is no self-sacrificial “duty” for anyone to engage in any sort of intellectual activism. But I believe that many (if not most) Objectivists would find that they would greatly enjoy this kind of activism, and that they would also recognize that it was in their self-interest. Some tangible benefits of engaging in this sort of activism include deepening one’s understanding of Objectivism, concretizing the ideas more firmly in one’s mind, watching others change their minds in response to one’s arguments, gaining a sense of efficacy and optimism by seeing one’s words have an impact in the culture, and meeting like-minded Objectivists. I personally have experienced all of these benefits because of my past year of involvement with the Colorado FIRM activists.

This sort of informal activism dovetails nicely with the formal efforts by the ARI to spread Objectivism through their “Education Funnel” of introducing high school kids to Ayn Rand through their Free Books Program, teaching the motivated college students more about Objectivism through the OAC (Objectivist Academic Center), and helping them get placed in influential positions as scholars, writers, teachers, journalists, politicians, and community/professional leaders after they’ve completed college and graduate school. In a few years, these writers and thinkers will help feed the growing demand for Objectivist ideas in the culture as well as create more demand.

The OActivists can play an important role by seeding the ground and “softening the culture” for these ideas, thus making people receptive towards and interested in learning more. And as the culture continues to become more friendly to Objectivist ideas, we’ll be able to build on our earlier success with even more grass-roots intellectual advocacy, thus feeding the virtuous cycle.

For those who are familiar with chemistry, the OActivists can function as the equivalent of a “catalyst”, i.e., an agent that helps speed up a chemical reaction. Of course, in chemistry a catalyst speeds up a chemical reaction that would have happened anyways, just more slowly. In intellectual affairs, there is no such guarantee that the ARI’s efforts to affect cultural change will automatically pay off; people have free will to accept or reject any idea. But the OActivists can help increase the likelihood that good intellectual change will happen, and we can help increase the speed with which it occurs.

Given that there are other powerful intellectual forces driving the culture in bad directions, we may not have much time to spare. Hence, the OActivists could save precious time and could conceivably even make the difference between victory or defeat.

If the ARI and the OActivists remain active and committed, then I predict that we will see significant cultural change for the better within 15-20 years. We have a legitimate and realistic shot of winning. But whether we do so depends on whether we have the willingness and courage to take tangible action to actually promote our ideas — in other words, whether we are willing to act to turn our goals into reality.

To join OActivists, visit: http://www.olist.com/oactivists.

Yaron Brook on Optimistim

 Posted by on 7 March 2008 at 7:28 am  Activism, Objectivism
Mar 072008
 

At a public Q&A session, Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute, was asked why he was optimistic that Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, will have political influence in the near future:

(Just remember that some people have trouble following Yaron’s “Brooklyn accent“…)

Update from Diana: If you wish to help ARI spread Objectivism in the culture, you might consider joining the OActivists list.

The Morality of Capitalism

 Posted by on 1 March 2008 at 5:18 pm  Activism, Politics
Mar 012008
 

WSJ’s blog “Deal Journal” posted the following inquiry under the title “Is Capitalism Immoral?” yesterday:

Here’s a question to think about over the weekend: Is capitalism immoral?

Stefan Theil seems to think that is what is being taught to European school kids. In an article in the January/February edition of Foreign Policy magazine, Stefan Theil concluded that Europe, particularly France and Germany, are teaching their children a “philosophy of failure,” based on the idea that capitalism is immoral, savage and unhealthy. Theil – whose day job is European economics editor for Newsweek – cites a 2005 poll in which only 36% of French citizens said they support the free enterprise system; 47% of Germans said in 2007 that they support socialist ideals. Theil mentions that anti-American attitudes may be, in part, anti-capitalist.

Theil, who studied French and German financial textbooks as a fellow for the German Marshall Fund, compiles a couple of quotes from the books that guide Europe’s impressionable young into what he calls a “deep anti-market bias.” One German textbook intones, “The worldwide call for…more deregulation in reality means a grab for the material lifeblood of the modern nation-state,” and a French one teaches, “Globalization implies ‘subjugation of the world to the market,’ which constitutes a true cultural danger.”

Well, now you know why foreign companies have such a hard time buying anything in Germany or France. (And why France’s Suez and Gaz de France were forced to merge with each other rather than accept foreign buyers, and why NYSE-Euronext has a big Paris base, as does Alcatel-Lucent.) But you knew that already.

In contrast, it would seem easy to conclude that “Western-style capitalism” is actually only practiced by the U.S. and Britain. Those two countries are the biggest sellers of their own homegrown assets, according to a report this week from Canada’s Secor Conseil.

But the U.S. is hardly immune to protecting its national borders, particularly when it comes to China, as CNOOC will tell you. Or how about the long to-do about China’s Huawei’s involvement in Bain Capital’s $2.2 billion bid for 3Com. It’s America that’s having trouble with the bid, and America’s not, as far as we can tell, anti-capitalist. (That’s why Ayn Rand lived here). And some of the policies that Thiel considers anti-capitalist, like a “rich-people tax,” are espoused not just by Germany’s Angela Merkel; they’re also supported by American Democrats, including Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

So Deal Journal Readers, what would be the ideal U.S. textbook entry addressing the morality or immorality of our globalized capitalist system?

My apologies for posting the entry in its entirety, but I wanted to include the mention of Ayn Rand, since that included the false claim that the US isn’t anti-capitalist.

Here’s what I posted in the comments:

“What would be the ideal U.S. textbook entry addressing the morality or immorality of our globalized capitalist system?”

I’d recommend Ayn Rand’s essay “What is Capitalism?” from _Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal_. Rand clearly and persuasively argues that capitalism is the only moral political/economic system. Only capitalism respects the inescapable metaphysical fact that a person must reason in order to live. By recognizing individual rights, particularly by banning force and fraud, capitalism protects each person’s capacity to act according to his own rational judgment in pursuit of his values. To varying degrees, every other economic system makes the pursuit of the values required for life impossible. (Today, that’s most dramatically illustrated by the starvation of North Korea under communism.)

However, America is not a capitalist nation: we have a mixed economy in which the government routinely violates individual rights with welfare programs, antitrust laws, environmental regulations, corporate subsidies, drug laws, and more. As much as Ayn Rand loved America, she would not defend the status quo.

The comments so far are mostly horrid: either openly anti-capitalist or pragmatist. So I’d encourage people to post something arguing for the morality of capitalism.

OActivists Subscriptions

 Posted by on 28 February 2008 at 8:34 am  Activism, Objectivism
Feb 282008
 

The new OActivists mailing list has been up and running — with a lovely flurry of posts — since Tuesday. If you tried to subscribe but you’ve not gotten any messages, that’s probably because a spam filter ate the confirmation e-mail from the list software. In that case, please send an e-mail to [email protected] requesting that I subscribe you. I’ll do so manually. The list has 130 members, but I want more!

A Quick Letter on Abortion

 Posted by on 27 February 2008 at 8:49 am  Activism, Politics
Feb 272008
 

Here’s a quick letter to my state representatives that I wrote in early February on a proposed bill to restrict abortion by requiring ultrasounds:

From: Diana Hsieh
Date: Fri, 08 Feb 2008 13:59:56 -0700
Subject: SB 95

Dear Senators,

It is my understanding that SB 95 will be heard in the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee on Monday. The bill would require “a physician to provide information regarding an ultrasound to a woman prior to the woman’s decision whether to have an abortion.”

I urge you to oppose this bill. Colorado ought not impose any such restrictions on abortion.

The purpose of the bill is not to require genuine informed consent. Every woman who chooses to have an abortion knows that she is destroying a potential (but not actual) human being — not a shoe, plant, or a hippo. She violates no rights in doing so. She ought not be forced to look at pictures.

So the sole purpose of the bill is be to make abortion more costly. It is part of an attempt by foes of abortion to regulate it out of existence, since they cannot ban it out right. All such attempts [are] morally wrong. They ought to be opposed.

Diana Hsieh
Ph.D Candidate, Philosophy
University of Colorado, Boulder
Diana.Hsieh(at)Colorado.edu

Ari Armstrong has more details in this blog post.

The Undercurrent

 Posted by on 24 February 2008 at 12:20 pm  Activism, Objectivism, The Undercurrent
Feb 242008
 

The Undercurrent now has a regularly updated blog. I’ve added it to my blogroll; it looks like it will be worth checking regularly. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t show the full post on the main page. I find that annoying, as it’s almost always easier to scroll past a long post that’s not of interest than to click through to posts that are of interest. But oh well.)

For those of you unfamiliar with The Undercurrent, here’s how they describe themselves:

The Undercurrent is a student-run newsletter. Its content is written primarily by (and for) college students across the country, with additional articles from the Ayn Rand Institute op-ed program and other writers.

We aim to release a print edition once a semester. The Undercurrent is distributed to college campuses nationally. If you’re interested in distributing on your campus (or anywhere else), more information can be found here.

The Undercurrent’s cultural commentary is based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand, a philosophy she named “Objectivism.” Objectivism animates Ayn Rand’s fiction, but it is first and foremost a systematic and comprehensive philosophy of life.

It holds that the universe is orderly, comprehensible, and conducive to human flourishing. It affirms that human beings are not only capable, but worthy of living on earth. The individual’s own life and happiness comprise his own highest moral purpose. Man flourishes only in a society that values science, technology, freedom and capitalism. And beauty, too.

In these pages we hope to defend these values where they are under attack in our culture. To learn more about the ideas behind these values, you can begin by reading Ayn Rand’s books, such as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, or by visiting the web site of the Ayn Rand Institute.

Just FYI, any regular blogger for The Undercurrent is more than welcome to join my OBloggers mailing list.

OActivists: An Easy Deal

 Posted by on 23 February 2008 at 8:00 am  Activism, Objectivism
Feb 232008
 

The new OActivists list — my informal private mailing list for Objectivists committed to fostering positive cultural change by effective advocacy of Objectivist ideas — will open for business on Tuesday. It already has over 80 subscribers, but I want to offer an easy deal for anyone interested in subscribing yet hesitant to make a commitment to engage in activism.

As you might recall from my original post, the list requires that subscribers meet two conditions.

First, subscribers must be Objectivists, meaning that they agree with and live by the principles of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. Subscribers should also support the mission and activities of the Ayn Rand Institute.

Second, subscribers must be committed to engaging in intellectual activism to promote Objectivist ideas in online or print forums on a semi-regular basis.

The first criterion is pretty straightforward. But what does satisfying the second require? I’m willing make that very, very easy. Basically, at least once every six months while you’re on the list, you must post at least one comment advocating the Objectivist view on some news article, op-ed, or non-Objectivist blog. That comment doesn’t have to be long: just a few sentences will do. You could even just link to or quote from an essay by Ayn Rand or an op-ed from ARI. You’ll be alerted to plenty of opportunities to engage in that kind of minimal activism via the OActivists list itself.

In fact, you could even get started by posting a friendly comment on this positive review of The Fountainhead by a blogger.

Of course, I will encourage subscribers to do more than just the minimum: they can write letters to the editor, publish op-eds, speak to local groups, write to their representatives, and so on. In fact, I hope that a person’s experience with a wee bit of activism will embolden more. However, that wee bit — just one comment in a public forum every six months — is all that’s required to subscribe to the OActivists list. Basically, that’s five minutes of time every six months. That’s not asking much in exchange for the value of subscribing to the list, I don’t think.

If that sounds like a fair deal to you, you are more than welcome to subscribe to OActivists via its web interface.

Opportunity for Comment

 Posted by on 20 February 2008 at 8:58 am  Activism
Feb 202008
 

Via my “Ayn Rand” Google News Alert, I found this lovely little opportunity to post a positive comment supporting ARI’s opposition to the proposed Mississippi law “that would revoke the business license of any restaurant that serves food to fat people.” It’s an OC Weekly blog post that explicitly mentions and quotes from this ARI press release.

In the future, I’ll be posting these kinds of opportunities for comment on the OActivists mailing list.

Update: Here’s my comment:

This proposed law is really too stupid for comment, but it’s exactly what opponents of blaming tobacco companies for smokers predicted.

Restaurants should not be charged with the chore of refusing food to fat people. It’s the job of the fat person to eat healthy food in moderate portions. Obviously, it’s just as possible to do that well or badly at a restaurant as at home.

What’s next, making sure that dorky people are well-dressed before allowing them to leave the house?!? Fat police, fashion police, it’s all the same nanny state inanity.

Comments do not appear immediately, by the way.

A New List: OActivists

 Posted by on 18 February 2008 at 8:38 am  Activism, Announcements, Objectivism, OList
Feb 182008
 

A message for Objectivists:

We Objectivists often lament the sorry state of the culture. Too often, faith and emotion are lauded as superior to reason, the individual is merely a means to some collective, service to others is deemed more noble than personal happiness, and rights are nearly forgotten in politics. Yet we’re also inspired by the unexpected inroads forged by the Ayn Rand Institute over the past few years, particularly by the wild success of their program offering “Free Books for Teachers.”

However, the Ayn Rand Institute cannot change the culture on its own, not even with our financial and moral support. It’s just too big a task for a few dozen professional intellectuals. Objectivists must effectively advocate their values in the forums open to them, if they want to see substantial and enduring change in the values of the culture.

Thanks to Lin Zinser’s FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine), I’m now convinced that so much more is possible than most people imagine when like-minded people join forces in a loose, ad hoc way. In those ongoing efforts, FIRM’s “Activists” mailing list for people committed to promoting freedom and individual rights in medicine in Colorado has been of surprising value. It enables us to quickly and easily alert each other to opportunities to advocate good ideas, to discuss effective methods of argument, to praise and encourage the work well done, to report on our own accomplishments, to marvel at our impact on the debate, to inform others of useful sources of information, to brainstorm about venues for advocacy, to announce upcoming events, and more.

I’ve realized that a mailing list modeled on similar lines — but specifically for Objectivists committed to fostering positive cultural change — could be of similar value. So I’ve created OActivists @ OList.com. Here’s the basic list description, including the requirements that all subscribers must satisfy:

OActivists is an informal private mailing list for Objectivists committed to fostering positive cultural change by effective advocacy of Objectivist ideas. Its basic purpose is to facilitate communication about matters of mutual interest to Objectivist activists, such as opportunities for advocacy, methods of persuasive argumentation, announcements of upcoming events, useful sources of information on issues, examples of advocacy, and the like.

To join the list, you must be an Objectivist, meaning that you agree with and live by the principles of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. You should support the mission and activities of the Ayn Rand Institute. You must also be committed to engaging in intellectual activism to promote Objectivist ideas in online or print forums on a semi-regular basis. (Notably, arguing with other Objectivists does not qualify as intellectual activism!)

If you meet those criteria, please subscribe via the web interface. If you have any questions about the list — including whether you qualify — please e-mail me, the list’s owner and administrator, at [email protected]. Subscribers will be expected to respect the purpose of the list. Those who prove themselves disruptive to its basic aims will be removed.

To give people time to subscribe, the list will not open for discussion until Tuesday, February 26th.

Finally: OActivists is not an Objectivist discussion list. Objectivists (including myself) have wasted far too much time and energy arguing amongst ourselves about minutia in far-off corners of the internet. We can do better. We can defend our values from attack in debates that matter. We can refute the standard strawmen of our philosophy. We can introduce people to rational, principled philosophic ideas. We can do all that more effectively if we communicate. That communication is what OActivists aims to make easy.

Update #1: OActivists has 55 members in just 24 hours. Excellent!

Update #2: Now it’s 72 members in 48 hours. Even better!

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