Highlights from OCON: Day 4

 Posted by on 2 July 2008 at 10:59 pm  ARI, OCON
Jul 022008

Here are highlights from the Ayn Rand Institute’s summer conference (a.k.a. OCON), Day Four:

Lin Zinser on “Health-Care Activism: Saving the Life Savers,” Class 3 of 3:

  • Lin discussed three broad topics today: coalitions, tactics, and politics and intellectual activism.

  • Many self-described advocates of free markets, politicians and advocates, are not genuine defenders of free markets at all. They are in favor of all kinds of regulations and entitlements. At best, they wish to reduce some regulations and limit some entitlements. By clearly advocating for fully free markets, FIRM has made clear what a free market in medicine really means.
  • Lin offered six points for effective intellectual activism at the end of the lecture:
    1. Do what you are comfortable with.
    2. Have clearly stated goals with measurable deadlines.
    3. Use moral arguments and communicate at the appropriate level.
    4. Get on a mailing list — create your own or join OActivists — for editing, moral support, and alerts.
    5. Develop credibility and expertise by studying the issues and stating your views in a well-reasoned manner.
    6. If you have a desire to change a group’s fundamental mission or platform, investigate the group and attend meetings. There may be a group where you could use moral philosophical arguments to formulate or change the policy for the entire group

Tara Smith on “The Menace of Pragmatism

  • Tara Smith delivered yet another fantastic lecture, particularly noteworthy for her passion on the subject.

  • Smith began with as clear a description of pragmatism as possible: the concept rather fuzzy by its very nature, by the design of its advocates. She identified four features of pragmatism as a common method of thought (as opposed to a system of philosophy):
    1. Range-of-the-moment thinking
    2. Refusal or inability to think in principle
    3. Resistance to identifying things by their fundamental nature
    4. All options are kept open in decision-making

  • Smith then sketched the pervasive influence of pragmatism in the culture. (That was compelling but depressing.)

  • Next, Smith discussed the appeal and error of pragmatism. Pragmatism is particularly dangerous, Smith argued, because it sells itself as reasonable, rational, and practical. Yet in fact, pragmatism rejects reality, it rejects rationality, and it rejects practicality. It does so by rejecting long-range, conceptual, principled thought, i.e. the basic means of human survival.
  • Finally, Smith offered some suggestions for combating pragmatism in others and in oneself. Here are her suggestions, in brief:
    1. Identity it. Call it when you see it, not just to yourself and others. Show that it’s not practical.
    2. Police the meaning of words. Don’t let yourself be spun by the labels of others that reinforce pragmatism. Don’t allow them to claim the mantle of being rational or practical. Don’t allow the term “reasonable” to be a fuzzy sort-of kind of non-rationality.
    3. Defend rational idealism. Stock up instances of idealism to show that they are practical. Also, don’t allow false idealism to go unchallenged.
    4. Don’t give up. Remind yourself of what’s at stake: to surrender to pragmatism is to surrender to the rule of irrationality.

  • To combat pragmatism in ourselves:
    1. Beware the pull of the present. The present can seem like the most important consideration. It takes deliberate effort to think long-range.
    2. Beware of the pull of the seemingly practical. Understand the practical necessity of rational principles. Adherence to principles is always the most practical, even if not always easy or convenient.
    3. Distinguish legitimate from illegitimate compromise. Be honest in your decision-making. Probe your own doubts. Listen for potential rationalization. Persevere in sorting through difficult cases. Go back to fundamentals, remind yourself of basic principles.
    4. Know thyself, and know thyself better. Identify your own vulnerabilities and blind-spots. Know what helps keep you on principle.
    5. Read and re-read Ayn Rand’s works.

  • My notes posted here only scratch the surface of this excellent lecture. I highly recommend buying it whenever it becomes available from the Ayn Rand Bookstore.

Pat Corvini: “Two, Three, Four, and All That: The Sequel,” Class 3 of 3:

  • Unfortunately, Pat Corvini was a bit rushed in her last lecture. So I’m clear on her view of generation of the irrational numbers, but I’m still a bit murky on the problems with the postulational method. (I can see the big picture, but not enough of the details. However, from what I do understand, the problems with attempting to generate irrational numbers via the postulational method seem hugely insurmountable.) I hope to review my notes with Paul sometime tomorrow.

Debi Ghate and Tom Bowden: “How to Be an Agent of Cultural Change

  • A nice presentation of some of the basic steps a person can take to contribute to positive cultural change. Most of it was familiar ground to me, but I did take good notes. I’ll be posting those to OActivists tomorrow.

Leonard Peikoff: “Q&A”:

  • I didn’t take many notes on this Q&A, so I don’t have much of substance to say about it. However, Dr. Peikoff was in fine form. He was as intellectually sharp as ever, plus in a delightfully friendly and benevolent mood. He was particularly generous in answering my question about privacy lies — or rather in explaining why he couldn’t answer my question because he really couldn’t say under what conditions lies to protect privacy might be legitimate because it depends too much on the particulars of the situation at hand.

  • Also, he reported that his book is going very well, that he’s written a full draft o the whole text, and that he expects to be finished by the end of 2010 at the very latest.


  • The informal get-together for Objectivist bloggers (a.k.a. OBloggers) was all kinds of fun. I’ll have to arrange a similar event in advance next year rather than at the last minute.

Now it’s finally time for bed! I’m beat!

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