Posted by on 31 July 2004 at 7:15 pm  Uncategorized
Jul 312004

Since I’ve enjoyed Firefly so very much, I decided to test out an episode of Angel, one of Joss Whedon’s earlier series. Just by chance, I happened to TiVo the pilot (“City Of“) . I’m not even finished with the episode yet, but I already like it immensely. Angel is dark, emotionally conflicted, repressed, and violent — i.e. just my kind of fictional hero. He’ll fit right in with two of my other favorites: Batman and Wolverine.

Speaking of which, isn’t there a new Batman animated series that’s supposed to start up in August?

Death Wish

 Posted by on 30 July 2004 at 1:48 pm  Uncategorized
Jul 302004

Back in 1989, Ozzy Osbourne apparently attempted to strangle his wife Sharon. And that incident is why she’s adamantly opposed to weapons of all kinds. She’s opposed to them not because Ozzy might have used one against her if accessible, but rather because she might have used one against him to save her own life.

Really, I’m not making this up.

Here’s what she said, as quoted in the article:

He [Ozzy] was drinking and he was taking drugs and it got to the point where he got violent with me, and he nearly choked me to death and I called the police on him.

He’s a gift from God but if I’d have had a gun I would have used it.

Thank God I didn’t have a gun, that’s why I’m so against guns or knives or anything like that, because I know if I’d have had one I’d have probably tried to defend myself.

Yup folks, that’s what is means not to value your own life. Wow.

A Silly Joke

 Posted by on 30 July 2004 at 12:38 pm  Funny
Jul 302004

Since Paul and I are currently listening to Robert Mayhew’s course Ayn Rand on Humor while we run, a silly joke seems to be in order today:

There was a tradesman, a painter named Jack, who was very interested in making a dollar where he could. So he often would thin down his paint to make it go a wee bit further. As it happened, he got away with this for some time.

Eventually the local church decided to do a big restoration project. Jack put in a painting bid and, because his price was so competitive, he got the job. And so he started, erecting the trestles and putting up the planks, and buying the paint and thinning it down with turpentine.

Jack was up on the scaffolding, painting away, the job nearly done, when suddenly there was a horrendous clap of thunder. The sky opened and the rain poured down, washing the thin paint from all over the church and knocking Jack off the scaffold to land on the lawn. Jack was no fool. He knew this was a judgment from the Almighty, so he fell on his knees and cried, “Oh, God! Forgive me! What should I do?” And from the thunder, a mighty Voice spoke, “Repaint! Repaint! And thin no more!”

God as the metaphysically insignificant… Heh.

Good News from India

 Posted by on 28 July 2004 at 4:33 pm  Uncategorized
Jul 282004

Heh. Apparently Ayn Rand is “bewilderingly popular” in India. The article concerns the declining quality of business communications in India. Here’s the relevant passage:

A well-known Indian writer had an interesting take on why the quality of the communication we produce was falling rapidly. He felt that the whole societal trend of glorifying the sciences and treating humanities as secondary has taken its toll. Certainly, a generation that has swiftly adopted and benefited from technology has but a nodding acquaintance with literature of any quality. Reading is critical for any writer, regardless of what he/she writes. We always ask prospective employees to name an author or book that’s touched their lives. Most find it hard to come up with any — of those who do, the majority say John Grisham or the bewilderingly popular Ayn Rand.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the author does not regard Ayn Rand’s fiction as “literature of any quality.” So much the worse for him!

Clarifying My View of TOC

 Posted by on 28 July 2004 at 12:16 pm  Uncategorized
Jul 282004

I thought this comment, written in response to Shannon’s report on possible reforms at TOC, was worth posting as a blog entry. I do have more of substance to say on all of these issues; I will post on them as time permits. This comment is really just a clarification of my basic view of TOC:


Just to make my position clear, I do not regard TOC as capable of anything but superficial, short-term reforms. Thus your news doesn’t change my basic view of or hopes for TOC, both of which are entirely and deeply negative.

As you might know, my unhappiness with TOC began to grow and fester with practical frustrations about the lack of support and training for students, the embarrassingly bad public advocacy, and so on. But I did not depart the organization over such frustrations. After seeing the success of ARI firsthand at last summer’s OCON, I resolved to review the original documents surrounding Kelley’s split, to see if TOC’s failures could be traced back to its founding philosophy. A few months later, when I finally re-read T&T, it quickly became clear to me that TOC’s founding philosophy was wrong, confused, disastrous, and responsible for many of the longstanding and baffling failures of the organization. Since then, as I’ve thought about and discussed the issues further, my perspective has become more informed, more radical, more integrated — and thus more fundamentally opposed to all that TOC is, does, and represents.

Whatever reforms TOC makes, it will continue to be a disaster for Objectivism and Objectivists. The only good news is that it’s too ineffective to do all that much damage.

I know that you don’t agree with all that, but I wanted to make my own position crystal clear. Too many supporters of TOC do not understand my deep philosophic opposition to the organization, but instead regard me as merely unhappy about the way the organization was run. As nothing could be further from the truth, I’m trying to stress my full philosophic opposition whenever the issue arises.

I hope that makes my basic view of TOC a bit more clear.

Abbreviated Movie Reviews

 Posted by on 23 July 2004 at 3:45 pm  Funny
Jul 232004

Paul recently sent me to this huge collection of ultra-short movie reviews, all four words or less. A few struck my fancy:

  • Kramer Versus Kramer: “I bet Kramer wins.”
  • Dead Poets Society: Fate: verse, then death.
  • Braveheart: Resistance is feudal.


Worthy of Notice

 Posted by on 23 July 2004 at 2:49 pm  Uncategorized
Jul 232004

Sometimes, vicious and twisted ideological attacks can be underhanded compliments. After all, at least it means that you’ve annoyed the opposition enough to warrant their public attention. That certainly seems to be the case with this column devoted to almost nothing but slamming Ayn Rand and her ideas. Here’s a taste:

Ayn Rand was a third-rate novelist pretending to be a first-rate philosopher. She wrote Harlequin Romances for intellectually pretentious adolescent boys. I know. I was one of those boys.

Is that a bit too tepid for you? Then try this lovely summary of an argument against unions which Ayn Rand never made:

As I say, I liked Ayn Rand’s books when I was an adolescent. Her comic-book superheroes appealed to me, and of course there was the sex (almost always outside of marriage–ooh la la). But even at the time, I knew she was a fool when it came to the way laissez-faire capitalism worked and the way people behaved in it. The telling issue for me was workers’ unions. Rand hated them. Her logic about unions went like this: 1) Unions harbor some workers who are lazy and shiftless. 2) Therefore all unions are evil. 3) Therefore anyone who joins a union is lazy, shiftless, and evil. In her books, all union members are weak, stupid, and good for nothing, or else they are the ignorant dupes of union leaders who are simply exploiting them for their own purposes. To refute this view of the world in 1959, all I had to do was look across the kitchen table each night at my own father, who was a union activist for the Communication Workers of America and was the hardest-working man I knew, and one of the smartest and nicest. At work, he received anonymous notes from people calling him a “red” and a “commie” for his union work. No doubt some of these notes came from Ayn Rand disciples; Rand was a notorious commie-hater. (She had been born, Alisa Rosenbaum, in pre-revolutionary Russia.) In Rand’s utopian capitalist world, no such thing as a company store or scrip or a sweat shop had ever existed. The Rockefellers and Vanderbilts and Carnegies were, in her world, saints.

The whole article is just astonishing. It’s so bad that it seems like a good sign.

Smooshed Flight

 Posted by on 22 July 2004 at 7:57 pm  Uncategorized
Jul 222004

Today, I flew home from Dulles after an excellent week at OCON. (Perhaps more on the conference later.) Much to my consternation, I was smooshed up against the window, as the man next to me was about 100 pounds too large for his own middle seat. Given the hour delay before departure, the flight was pretty much five hours of discomfort and annoyance. So I was quite amused by the start of this post by Cathy Seipp: “As someone who believes your right to overeat ends where my airplane seat begins…” Amen!

The Collectivization of Architecture

 Posted by on 20 July 2004 at 2:19 pm  Uncategorized
Jul 202004

On occasion, I hear Ayn Rand criticized for creating unrealistic villains in her novels. “Oh, no one is really like that!” they object. Yet real life examples, often worse than the fiction created by Ayn Rand, are not too hard to find. Luke Milner was good enough to alert me to the present example, in the form of a open letter to the NY Times from the folks at the Project for Public Spaces. It could have come straight from the mouths of a slightly more modern version of Ellsworth Toohey’s “Council of American Builders” from The Fountainhead — particularly given the obligatory swipe at Howard Roark.

The letter concerns the Project for Public Spaces’s hopes for the new architecture critic of the NY Times. They want someone who “could push the boundaries of what design is and, even more boldly, explore its deepest purpose.” But what does that mean? After a bit of sucking up to the Times, we are blessed with some hints of philosophy:

Both inside and outside the formal boundaries of architecture there is today a tremendous energy being devoted to rethinking how buildings, streets, and green spaces shape our lives, our communities, our economy, our democracy, and our sense of ourselves. The distinguishing feature of this new direction in design is the subtle but significant shift from the “project” to the “place.” This small recalibration in focus delivers an enormous change in results. When creating a place becomes the goal, then important questions about what happens all around and throughout the building or development move to the forefront. It’s a step away from the 20th Century vision of the architect’s work as an isolated triumph of aesthetic devotion (even fetishism) to a more inclusive 21st Century idea of the designer as part of a vibrant, messy, exhilarating process of creating a living, breathing community.

Notice the implicit and false accusation that traditional architects are, by virtue of their devotion to aesthetics, insensible to the needs of the people who will inhabit their buildings. It’s a nice example of a subtle false alternative: either form or function. The theme of the “messy” community is continued in the next paragraph:

In many ways this is more akin to the beginning of a social movement than an architectural movement, but its influence is being felt and reacted to by designers all over the country. There is a trickle-up effect at work here. So far, this new current of thought has been outside the range of most architecture critics. The brand-name architects doing big-ticket projects probably comprehend the escalating impact of these ideas to a much smaller degree than their less-insulated colleagues on the frontlines of the field — those trying to create comfortable but affordable inner city housing or suburban developments that enhance the integrity of nature and the spirit of community at the same time as fulfilling market needs.

The claim that the shift is more of “a social movement than an architectural movement” is quite apt, given what the letter says next about the sheer number of people that ought to have a say in the process of building:

Making this leap from project to place has profound implications for the profession. Architects lose the Howard Roark supremacy in setting out how things shall be. Ideas, decisions, and even inspiration will come from a wider assortment of sources, including people who live there, work there, or visit there. And a number of disciplines must be drawn upon to create places that meet the various needs of people using them. Architects, landscape designers, traffic engineers, community development advocates, and economic development authorities, among others, will be in the mix, jostling and debating about how to best make a place where people will want to be.

Ah yes, the state of architecture will be so very much improved when casual visitors to a place can make lasting decisions about the buildings in it! And adding “community development advocates” and “economic development authorities” to “the mix” will surely result in great leaps forward!

More seriously, anyone with half a brain knows how inefficient and stupefying committees are. But, as with so much else emanating from the left, the achievement of the apparent goal is not the point. The point is rather that everyone will participate, that everyone will have a say, that feelings will be expressed. In practice, all that means is that control will rest with the Ellsworth Tooheys.

Perhaps the most infuriating and pernicious section of the letter is the last, in which the opponents of the collectivization of architecture are discussed:

This is different. This is unprecedented. And it’s scary to some. It’s a new world, and the Times deserves a critic happy to let go of old idea formations in order to wade into the middle of it. Many critics today, however, take just the opposite tack–clinging to the heroic ideal of the architect as the master, and holding on for dear life to the traditional view of the architectural masterpiece as a triumph of abstract ideas and ideals.

Ah yes, any opposition to their grand and wonderful plans can only be reactionary conservativism! After all, they are in favor of progress and innovation! And what reasonable person could be opposed to that?!?

Frankly, I’m beginning to think that one very revealing indicator of intellectual honesty is fairness to the opposition. By “fairness,” I don’t mean charity, respect, or politeness to the opposition, but rather something far more narrow and minimal. I mean that the opposition is presented as having some particular view and arguments, even if bad and wrong, rather than merely some kind of emotional ejaculation. In this example, to use such sophistry in an obviously carefully written letter to the NY Times is quite revealing.

Mocking Analytic Philosophy

 Posted by on 19 July 2004 at 10:59 am  Uncategorized
Jul 192004

A few months ago, Paul sent me this funny advice on how to be a philosopher. Or rather, I should say that it’s funny right up to the last line of the note, which is designed to placate the annoyance of those who don’t find the advice to be funny.

Technique 1

Begin by making a spurious distinction. Befuddle the reader with your analytic wizardry. The reader will enter a logical trance, from which she will be unable to recall the initial spurious distinction and will feel strangely compelled to accept your conclusions.

Technique 2

Think of a matter of great importance to life. Reduce it unequivocally to three concepts. Enumerate them. Analyze each concept by distinguishing two independent notions in each. Continue with further analysis (preferably speculative) until you have developed a maze of distinctions that bear no resemblance to any topic of any importance to life at all. The use of logical notation at this point will evoke deep feelings of insecurity and uncertainty in the reader – use this to your advantage. Use the word reductio at least once. Conclude by congratulating yourself on having advanced our collective human understanding of a topic of great importance by making it completely unrecognisable as such.

Technique 3 (Advanced)

Sit in front of a computer. Have a thesaurus nearby. Smoke up. Proceed to pronounce on anything that happens to come to mind. Use a tone that is urgent and highfalutin. Avoid the use of punctuation and use periods as infrequently as possible. French and German phrases should appear with regularity. When in doubt, make hasty references to Foucault, Heidegger, or Derrida. Take great pains not to explain what you mean. Abandon all reason.

Technique 4

Single-handedly develop your own jargon. It should include an exceedingly hard-to-follow extended metaphor of dubious relation to the topic under discussion. Persist in using the metaphor to ground your arguments. Stick to it at all costs, even if it seems to run your argument into blatant dead-ends or outrageous contradictions. To give the appearance of profundity, insert paragraph breaks at random. Then number every paragraph. (The reader will simply divine the appropriate relations between paragraphs, sub-paragraphs, and sub-sub-paragraphs.)

Technique 5

Think of a famous example from a twentieth-century philosopher. Think of a pun based on that example. (e.g., What is it like to be a rat? zit? phat?) Use the pun to develop a catchy new example of your own. Explain your example at length. Say nothing of genuine importance. By all means, do not advance philosophical discussion one iota. Conclude with more puns.

Technique 6

Respond to an article or book that you have not read. Be relentless.

Technique 7

Read an enormous mass of empirical data. Cite all of it and conclude that it is right. Overlook statistical ambiguities and incongruities. By all means, do not deign to interpret the data. Continue on like this for as long as you can (it may require stamina). The goal is to bore the reader into submission before the flood of facts. Try not to problematise anything (that only makes it harder).

Technique 8

Do some serious research. Do not rest until you have found a really obscure text. Reject this text. Continue to search until you find something truly obscure and completely unknown. In your first paragraph, state something of interest that you have discovered from reading this obscure text. Go on for many, many pages detailing the seemingly trivial and inconsequential insights of the obscure text. Repeatedly affirm what you said was interesting in the first paragraph, taking care not to expand upon what you said there. Conclude by reminding the reader that the point is so terribly obscure and so minimally interesting that if you had not written about it, no one would have.

Technique 9

Discuss a controversial and extremely interesting topic. Show great skill in handling the complexities of the topic, treating the arguments with care and subtle attention to important details and distinctions. Carefully trace out the implications of the different positions. But (and this is the hard part) refuse to be identified with any of the available philosophical positions. In fact, it is best never to let on that you have an opinion of your own. Always seek to evade the possibility that someone might reference your argument as your actual view. Use the elusive phrase ‘One might argue’ as often as possible to escape detection as a philosopher who is committed to something … to anything.

Technique 10

Spend some time – one or two seconds – concocting the most outrageous ethical conundrum possible. It should involve Nazis in some way. For example: What should person B do if confronted by person A, disguised as a Nazi, but not really currently a Nazi, but who used to be a Nazi, and who is threatening to kill B, who does not know whether A is or ever was a Nazi, and who is known as having a penchant for torturing small children, though only Nazi children, just for fun, but who has a special relationship with A’s child, who is not a Nazi, but who will enlist in the Nazi party if A harms B in any way or if B lies about his/her penchant for torturing Nazi children? Just when you think that the conundrum is complete, add in the possibility of saving one’s wife from a dire predicament, just to throw off the reader’s intuitions.

Technique 11

Using a style that is lively and congenial, make a promissory note. Say a bit. Make another promissory note. Say a bit more. Make another promissory note. Say a bit less. (You should be getting tired about now.) Say something – anything at all. Don’t worry about relevance – that’s overrated. Make a point about something wholly beside the point. Promise to return to the initial topic. Do not fulfill any of the promissory notes. End with a promise to take up another topic in a future paper. (An existent unpublished paper will do at a pinch.)

Technique 12

Set out not to solve any problems. Do this in spades.


Naturally, these techniques are not recommended for amateur use and should not be attempted without the supervision of a full professor. These philosophical techniques are for use only by professional philosophers who have had years of specialised training. The author is not responsible for any non-sequiturs, invalid arguments, fallacies, digressions, existential malaise, mid-life crises, or career changes that may result from the use of these techniques. Anyone who feels chest pain, constriction in the throat, reddening of the face, or clenching of the fists upon reading these techniques should be treated immediately for anautoscopsis (an inability to laugh at oneself), a potentially lethal condition.

The satire in this article works precisely because the techniques proposed are essentialized and exaggerated descriptions of worst of the real-life philosophic practices of analytic philosophers. Presumably, those irritated by that satire rather than amused by it are philosophers who endorse and practice such bad methodology — to some extent. Such philosophers may be justly faulted for practicing such bad methodology. But they ought not be faulted, as the last sentence of the note does, for failing to laugh at their own philosophic methodology, i.e. for taking their life’s work seriously.

I haven’t ever delved into Ayn Rand’s view of humor, although I did recently purchase Robert Mayhew’s tape course on the subject. Nonetheless, the above seems to be an obvious and paradigm example of the Objectivist idea that to laugh at oneself is vicious and ugly. (As far as I understand, the “self” of that principle concerns deeply-held values and virtues, not any aspect or action of a person. The former are metaphysically significant, while the latter are not.)

It’s rather disturbing to think of someone devoting his life to work which he regards as worthy of mockery.

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