Well, I made it to California, and after settling into my new place, spending too much money on furnishings, and trying to get used to living in a place where all the clocks run three hours too slow, I decided to jump into the California Objectivist world head first.
I began by spending my morning at the VanDamme Academy, which of course is run by the delightful Lisa VanDamme. I sat in on the elementary school history lesson and the middle school grammar class. All I can say is that I was absolutely amazed by what Lisa and her staff have accomplished. Her students demonstrated more mastery of their subjects than most college students I’ve met, and just as important, they showed more enthusiasm for learning than any students I have EVER met. There is no question about it: my kids (once they exist) will attend the VanDamme Academy.
After that, whilst still on my cloud, I drove up to UCLA for the free speech event sponsered by the UCLA Objectivist club and the Ayn Rand Institute. It was a round table discussion of the Danish cartoons depicting the “prophet” Mohammed. The round table featured Yaron Brook and three other individuals (Avi Davis and Kevin James, who supported the publishing of the cartoons, and Khaleel Mohammed who…can you guess???…opposed it). Ed Locke moderated.
There was a pretty good turnout (at least 100, maybe 200 people), the majority of whom I suspect were Objectivists (based on the applause). There were no disruptions, and thanks to the VERY heavy security presence, no Muslims blew themselves up, which was nice.
Yaron did a wonderful job, although I wish he had been able to develop some of the points he made as I think some of them could have come across wrong or unclear.
What was most interesting to me was trying to decipher the psycho-epistemologies of the other presenters.
Avi Davis sounded like most modern op-ed writers (which makes sense since he is one): no principles, a thorough empiricist, and therefore difficult to follow, and guilty of the evening’s worst statement when he suggested that ‘perhaps liberal democracies have progressed enough that it’s time to start placing limits on some of our freedoms.’ (That’s a paraphrase, but pretty accurate…he was advocating throwing Holocaust deniers in prison.)
Khaleel Mohammed was defending the Muslims. His basic argument was that the West is hypocritical in claiming the cartoons fall under free speech, because we allegedly only allow free speech when it offends Muslims, not Christians or Jews. He said some very awful things and some less awful things, and I would classify him as a rationalist (or, if you’ve listened to DIM, I’d say he was an M1 coming very very close to an M2).
Kevin James was your average conservative radio talk show host. Completely non-intellectual, and more interested in getting laughs than changing minds.
In sum, I had a great time at the event. The UCLA Objectivist club (L.O.G.I.C.) was handing out lots of Objectivist literature (including FREE copies of Atlas Shrugged), and I saw at least a few members of the media there, so I’m hopeful this helped Objectivism reach some people. Events like this are always a mixed — you can’t develop your own position as fully but you reach more people. My hope is that at least a few of them at least found the ideas interesting enough to read Atlas Shrugged. If even a few of them are convinced that Objectivism has something important to say, perhaps they will become ARI contributers…and thereby help pay my bills.