Mysterious Notes

 Posted by on 11 June 2014 at 10:00 am  Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
Jun 112014

Every once in a while, I find some set of notes floating around the house that, although well-organized, now make not the slightest bit of sense to me. To wit:

Any ideas?

… Oh oh oh! I just figured out what they’re in reference to! 10 points to anyone who can guess!

Nov 062013

PJ Media has posted my snarky column, “Obamacare and the Wages of Spin“.

The basic theme: Don’t piss on my back and tell me it’s raining.

Here is the opening:

Many years ago, the writer Ayn Rand noticed a curious kind of backpedalling from the political Left. First, they’d claim that socialism would provide enough shoes for the whole world. But when economic reality caught up with them, and they failed to deliver on their promises, they’d turn around and claim that going barefoot was superior to wearing shoes. In modern parlance, those broken promises weren’t a bug, but a feature!

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen precisely this pattern coming from defenders of ObamaCare. For example…

Read the full text at: “Obamacare and the Wages of Spin“.

Disabled People in the Public Eye

 Posted by on 17 May 2013 at 10:00 am  Ayn Rand, Disability, Ethics
May 172013

On Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I’ll answer a question on whether disabled kids be kept out of the public eye. The question was inspired by this story of a waiter who refused to serve a table of customers due to their unpleasant remarks about a five-year-old child with Down’s Syndrome at another table. The child was not being loud or disruptive, and he was known and liked by the waiter. The people at the other table reportedly said that “special needs kids should be kept in special places.”

Apparently, that view has some currency among Objectivists, starting with Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand Answers includes the following Q&A:

OY. I’m not a fan of mainstreaming disabled children in schools, except on a case-by-case basis, when everyone benefits thereby. However, the idea that disabled children ought to be kept away from normal children just flabbergasts me.

It’s simply a fact that some people in this world of ours suffer from mental and/or physical disabilities. Even otherwise normal people suffer from disabilities on occasion — not just injuries and illness, but the effects of aging too.

Disabled people are morally entitled to live their lives, pursuing their values to the best of their ability — just like everyone else. That means they’ll be out in the world, where children might see and/or interact with them. Hence, parents should speak to their children about disabilities, including how to interact with disabled people in a morally decent way. That’s an important part of a child’s moral education — if you don’t want little Johnny to push Grandma down the stairs because she was walking too slowly for his tastes, that is.

The moral education required here isn’t rocket science. Disabled people should be treated with civility and respect — just like everyone else. They might merit the effort of a bit of kindness, such as holding open a door or speaking slowly — just like everyone else. Of course, disabled people can be rude or disruptive or offensive or bothersome too. That’s pretty standard behavior for normal people too, albeit with less excuse. The sensible response is not to demand that disabled people be hidden from sight, but rather to put some distance between yourself and the bothersome person. See? Not rocket science!

Well… I’d better stop there, before I dive into a full-blown rant. I have plenty more to say on this topic on Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio… so I hope that you join us!

Update of 19 May 2013:

The podcast of Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio, including the question on the visibility of disabled children is now available.

Download or Listen to My Full Answer:

Tags: Ayn Rand, Benevolence, Children, Disability, Egoism, Ethics, Individualism, Parenting, Respect, Rights


On Ayn Rand’s Style of Writing

 Posted by on 12 November 2012 at 10:00 am  Ayn Rand, Literature, Objectivism
Nov 122012

A while back, someone asked me about a blog post on Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged by Aaron Ross Powell — Atlas Shrugged: Initial Impressions. The post begins:

Sans its message, sans its historical significance, sans its ability to turn young people into libertarians, the first thing one picks up on when starting Atlas Shrugged is the poverty of the prose. Ayn Rand, no matter her or her followers’ opinion otherwise, just isn’t a very good writer. The language is plodding, non-lyrical, and often often awkward. For example, in one scene she writes, “He stood slouching against the bar.” To my knowledge, one stands against a bar or one slouches against a bar-but one does not stand slouching.

The only other bit of substance is the following:

What else comes to mind, a mere 200 pages into this monstrous novel? Well, I can’t imagine wanting to hang out with any of these people. Her good guys are, without exception, awful human beings. They display no compassion and evidence no empathy. A world filled with such super men would be a terrible place, indeed. Her bad guys, on the other hand-her collectivists and leftists and academics-are ugly little toads who snivel and beg from the arch-capitalists we’re all supposed to look up to when we aren’t looking for an excuse to leave. Objectivism, at least as presented in this seminal text, affords no nuance.

So, what did I say about that criticism of Atlas Shrugged to my correspondent? Let’s see:

That post was rather offensive, but very typical of some libertarians, unfortunately. It stuck me as little more than a series of snide, cutting remarks without any real substance.

Here’s my view: Ayn Rand’s style is definitely different from standard American novelists, as well as from classic English literature. It has much more in common with the stronger style of the Russian and French classics that Ayn Rand read and loved as a child and young woman. But even relatively well-educated Americans are less familiar with those, if familiar at all, so her style can seem a bit foreign. However, I cannot dislike it.

Moreover, many of the standard charges made — including in that post — are just strange. About the “slouching,” the actual sentence is “Bertram Scudder stood slouched against the bar.” That’s perfectly sensible: a person can slouch while sitting or standing, and in doing so the person might be leaning against a bar. So her sentence seems like a precise and economical description to me.

Moreover, contrary to the blogger, Ayn Rand’s characters are filled with nuance. Francisco seems to be a worthless playboy, yet also so much like his old self; Hank Rearden struggles with his view of sex as depraved; Dagny knows that she is helping the looters yet she will not join the strike; Dr. Stadler betrays his values time and again, with ever-worse results; the “wet nurse” slowly rejects all that he has been taught; Cherryl Taggart sees Jim clearly for what he really is after much painful struggle. Even the villains grow worse over the course of the novel: they work out the logic of their premises.

Oh, and notice the implicit moral standard in the post: Ayn Rand’s good guys aren’t good because “they display no compassion and evidence no empathy.” But that’s exactly part of Ayn Rand’s point: Jim Taggart is plenty empathetic: he’s definitely tuned in to people’s emotions. Yet he’s still downright evil due to his systematic refusal to think. In contrast, Dagny, the woman supposedly without feeling, displays profound depths of emotions. She loves her work passionately. She is beloved by her employees because she is just to them. In fact, due to that concern for justice, she displays the utmost kindness toward Cherryl in her desperate flight from Jim’s evil. Emotion is not what makes a person moral or not; it’s not a primary but an effect of a person’s basic adherence to facts or not.

If you’re interested in studying Atlas Shrugged in greater detail, check out my Explore Atlas Shrugged series of podcasts and discussion questions. (Yes, I have a major update of that site to do, but I make no promises as to when that will happen!)

Nathaniel Branden Institute Fashion Show

 Posted by on 1 August 2012 at 8:00 am  Ayn Rand, Culture, History
Aug 012012

Wow, it’s a Nathaniel Branden Institute Fashion Show. I kid you not!

It’s rather amazing to watch now, given what happened between these people later. (Also, I’m rather amazed by the fancy stay-at-home wear.)

Ayn Rand on Johnny Carson

 Posted by on 30 July 2012 at 11:00 am  Ayn Rand, Objectivism
Jul 302012

For many years, I’d heard that the video of Johnny Carson’s interview of Ayn Rand was utterly lost. Yet… here it is! It’s a great interview.

Part One:

Part Two:


In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed the depth of Ayn Rand’s fictional characters. The question was:

Are the characters in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged flat due to philosophic consistency? I’m reading the novel currently, and rather enjoying it. However, I’ve heard many people claim her characters are flat, one-dimensional, etc. I usually respond to this by saying that Ayn Rand’s characters are the incarnation of her ideas, the physical embodiment of her ideas: an individual is consumed with this philosophy, so much so that they are entirely logically consistent (or at least as much as humanly possible, they are human, and do make mistakes, e.g. Rearden’s marriage), thus, because of their abnormally extensive logical consistency within their philosophy, these characters merely appear to be ‘one-dimensional’. Is this an accurate understanding of Rand’s characters?

My answer, in brief:

The criticism that Ayn Rand’s characters are flat is dead wrong, as is the response that they embody ideas.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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Attention, students!

The Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism is happy to announce its sixth annual Summer Conference for Students, titled Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and the Moral Foundations of Capitalism. We’re accepting applications now. The conference will feature an in-depth analysis of Rand’s magnum opus and explore the following questions:
  • What is the moral basis for a free market?
  • How to individual rights function in a capitalist society?
  • What does the history of capitalism teach us about its moral basis?
  • How is Ayn Rand’s view of capitalism unique?

The conference features lectures by Craig Biddle, Eric Daniels, Richard Ebeling, and Andrew Bernstein as well as special guest to be announced soon.

The conference will take place on the Clemson University campus from May 24 – 28th. Scholarships are available to qualified undergraduate and graduate students, including housing, meals, and a travel stipend. For more information and to apply, visit the 2012 conference website or use the contact form. Testimony from conference alumni, video highlights, and an FAQ are also available.

The deadline to apply is March 1, 2012.

Here is the web site for the conference and the form to apply. It’s free, and travel stipends are available.

How To Celebrate Randsday in Three Easy Steps

 Posted by on 2 February 2012 at 4:10 pm  Ayn Rand, Food, Fun
Feb 022012

How to Celebrate Randsday in Three Easy Steps:

Step 1: Buy up all the delicious uncured bacon at the grocery store.
Step 2: Take it home.
Step 3: Go wild. (This may take a few days.)

Happily, Steps 1 and 2 eased the pain of seven (!!) hours of errands today! (Due to the impending blizzard, I had to mush all my errands into one day.) Plus, the bacon was on sale! Score!


In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed Ayn Rand alleged admiration for William Hickman. The question was:

Did Ayn Rand draw inspiration from the serial-killer William Hickman? I ask due to this article by Mark Ames on Alternet: “Ayn Rand, Hugely Popular Author and Inspiration to Right-Wing Leaders, Was a Big Admirer of Serial Killer.” According to the article, Rand idolized the serial killer William Hickman and used him as inspiration for the leads male characters in her books, notably Howard Roark. Also, Rand is said to seek an environment in which sociopaths like Hickman can thrive. Are these claims true or not? If so, would they affect the validity of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism?

Due to a hiccup in the internet, the beginning of the webcast recording for this question was missing. So I decided to re-record it. After a few painful trials, I was able to do so in one take, and then add some slides with the quotes in them. That took me a few extra hours, so if you think the video worthwhile, I’d be most grateful if you’d throw a bit of extra love in our tip jar.

Without further ado, here’s the video:

If you enjoy the video, please “like” it on YouTube and share it with friends in e-mail and social media! Also, all my webcast and other videos can be found on my YouTube channel.

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