Blaming All Potential Victims

Aug 282002

Hmmm… Do some multiculturalists really prefer gang rape to moral judgment? Um, yes.

TOC Live!

Aug 282002

The raw, unedited audiotapes of my lectures to the 2002 Summer Seminar of The Objectivist Center are now available from TOC Live! I’m proud to say that I heard rave reviews of my lectures from more people than I could count. (I was even told that my “Objectivism 101″ course was the best introduction to Objectivism ever heard.)

Objectivism 101

Price: $81.00 (six tapes)

Ayn Rand’s novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged offer a unique and inspiring moral vision, but translating those ideals into daily life can be a challenge. Through a mixture of lecture and discussion, Diana Hsieh will survey the basic principles of Objectivism, from metaphysics to aesthetics. She will focus on both the theory and practice of the philosophy, contrasting it with common religious and cultural views. Ideas discussed in these six sessions will include reason as the only means to knowledge, the integration of mind and body, the choice to think or not, emotions as automatic value judgments, life as the standard of value, the major virtues, the trader principle, capitalism, and much more.

White Lies, Black Lies

Price: $13.50 (one tape)

Honesty is widely regarded as one of the most important virtues in our culture, yet people routinely lie in order to be polite, conceal their misdeeds, protect their privacy, and manipulate others. In this lecture, Diana Hsieh examines the complex issue of when, if ever, it is moral for a person to lie. She will examine the motivations for lying, the traditional Objectivist arguments for truthfulness, other good arguments for truthfulness found in philosophical literature, as well as strategies Objectivists can employ to develop a deeply-engrained commitment to truthfulness.

These tapes won’t be available for long, so buy them sooner rather than later!

Cryptic Report on Front Sight

Aug 282002

Some of you might be wondering how the Front Sight Ambassador meeting went. Let me simply say that the business strategy is brilliant, but that the Kool-Aid was awfully expensive and not very tasty.

In any case, their new non-firearms self-defense classes (starting in October) are definitely of interest to me, as firearms are forbidden anywhere (including in vehicles) on the CU Boulder campus. But those courses will have a wait a bit, as Paul and I are already slated to return for the Defensive Handgun course in late October.

One last note: Absolutely everyone who owns or carries a firearm for self-defense ought to go to Front Sight for training — as soon as possible. In my experience, local training courses pale in comparison to Front Sight. And when you decide to go to Front Sight for the first time, you should contact me first as I can offer a substantial discount.

Catching Up

Aug 232002

Yeah, yeah, I know that I’ve been gone from the blogging scene for far too long. I’ve been busy trying to realistically map out my projects for the next year in MS Project, preparing for the start of graduate school (in philosophy at CU Boulder), and so on. Later today, I’m flying out to Vegas for the weekend for Front Sight’s Ambassador Program.

Today, I’ve been trying to catch up with my overdue book reviews. Here are three — with more to come (hopefully) next week.

Time Management for Unmanageable People by Ann McGee-Cooper

Looking at the trees, Time Management for Unmanageable People was a jargon-laden, philosophically confused waste of time. But the forest wasn’t so bad. The basic premise, that time management advice is too often useless and even harmful when applied to creatively disorganized people, seems sound. The book primarily functions as an alternative guide to time management for the creatively disorganized, discussing both why traditional techniques fail and suggesting some alternative methods. Unfortunately, both the theory and practice of the book tended to be shallow at best. So the primary virtue of this book certainly lies in its basic approach to the subject of time management: individual people need to find methods of time management that suit their unique strengths and help them overcome their weaknesses.

A History of Freedom by J. Rufus Fears

I bought the 18 tape / 36 lecture set A History of Freedom expecting a survey of the critical ideas and moments in the history of freedom. I was more than disappointed in a number of ways. First, Fears routinely focuses on the significant political institutions and leaders in history, while ignoring the critical ideas that shaped those institutions and leaders. (So, for example, there is no discussion of either the Enlightenment or Judaism.) Although I disagree with that approach to history, it was tolerable. Second, and much more seriously, Fears’ understanding of freedom was nothing short of a bizarre conglomeration of contradictory ideas. Everything from freedom to do as one pleases, collective self-determination, positive rights to goods, and Christian freedom from this earthly life were included in his conception of freedom. (It’s as if anything ever called freedom counted as freedom for Fears.) But the strangeness did not end there. He treated Adam Smith as some sort of totalitarian, Marxism as scientific, and FDR as a great hero of freedom. Additionally, unlike Alan Kors’ tapes on the Enlightenment, Fears provided few references or facts to back up his claims, which I’m sure were often wrong. Oh, and one last dig: Fears speaks like a cross between a southern James T. Kirk and Troy McClure from The Simpsons. In short, these lectures were a waste of time and money.


Aug 172002

It’s about time that someone explained stupidity. As the opening says:

Only a few questions can be called basic to the human condition — such as “What can we eat?” or “Who created us?” — and lots of very smart people have been working on them for millennia. The “eating” thing, for instance, has been minutely parsed by agriculture, economics and the culinary arts (among other fields), while the question of origins has given us religion and several branches of the hard sciences. But there’s at least one question — as basic as any other in its topical relevance and its grounding in the ancient — that human inquiry has only recently begun seriously to address. It was asked in caves, by people clad in mastodon-hide shifts, and chances are it crossed your mind this very day. “How,” it goes, “can people be so stupid?” And who knows the answer, really? I don’t — do you?

Canada Rediscovers the Benefits of Slavery

Aug 132002

According to this news story Quebec is primed to pass legislation mandating when and where doctors must work. Quebec, unlike other provinces, is unwilling to pay the monetary incentives needed to fill the less desirable time slots. So instead, they are proposing $5,000 fines if doctors refuse to work where they are told.

The most mind boggling bit was this:

Health Minister Francois Legault said doctors can’t always be allowed to choose when and where they want to work.

“By counting on the good faith of doctors, we always managed until now to fill all the emergency-room shifts in necessary spots,” Legault told the legislature.

“That’s not possible anymore. So a new approach is needed.”

Well my Canadian friends, slavery isn’t exactly a new approach.

Movies that Suck

Aug 112002

Paul and I finally managed to see Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones today. The best thing I can say about it is that it didn’t suck as much as The Phantom Menace. But sheesh, was there any plot at all behind all those special effects? Uh, no. Did the movie actually advance the story in any substantial way? Uh, no. And yet, almost 30% of IMBD raters gave it 10 of 10! The mind boggles.

We also watched Snatch last night, which Paul enjoyed, but I thought was a confusing bore. It was self-consciously witty in much the same way that made both Cryptonomicon and Confederacy of Dunces unreadable for me.

Ah, but at least I got to refresh the soul with yet another episode of Powerpuff Girls this evening!

The False Dilemma of Privacy Versus Honesty

Aug 082002

The following post was submitted to OWL earlier today. I’m very glad that I took the time to write a response to Phil’s post, as I discovered the benefit of honestly refusing to answer invasive questions (discussed towards the end) in the process!

I was unable to respond to the various comments on honesty until recently due to an out-of-town trip. So let me start with Phil Coates’ arguments in favor of lying to protect privacy.

Phil Coates’ post of July 20th wondered how to overcome the presumption of guilt that naturally emerges with “none of your business” responses to privacy-invading questions. For example, imagine that Lucy’s friend and co-worker asks her whether she is sleeping with the new boss. If Lucy has been willing to answer questions about her lovers in the past, then refusing to answer the question this time is, as Phil noted, “in itself revealing.” Replying “none of your business,” in such cases, will not protect privacy. In other words, there is no right against self-incrimination in everyday life, for refusal to answer is generally (and often reasonably) considered positive evidence of guilt.

In isolation, these sorts of examples certainly do give the impression that dishonesty is often necessary to protect privacy. But there is no need to choose between honesty and privacy if we take a long-term, full-context approach to these apparent dilemmas. First and foremost, the majority of these examples are compelling only because the individual has done little or nothing in the past to protect privacy — in which case, privacy is not likely the real value at stake. Looking back at Lucy’s dilemma, she was perfectly willing to reveal information about her love life to this friend and co-worker in the past, so her problem is not in revealing private information in answering honestly. Rather, her problem is that an honest answer might reveal her wrongdoing of an inappropriate relationship with the boss. So for Lucy, like in so many of these alleged dilemmas, the goal a lie would not be the preservation of privacy but rather the concealment of wrongdoing. Lies to conceal wrongdoing have rather pernicious effects upon moral character, as I discussed in my paper “Excuses Excuses” available here.

Of course, people do face legitimate dilemmas about how to effectively protect privacy without lying. For example: Parents of multiples are often queried by total strangers as to how their children were conceived. Neighbors might ask how much you paid for your house or how much you make. Relatives might press an infertile couple about when they are doing to have children. Co-workers might ask what the boss said to you in your yearly evaluation meeting. A competitor in business might inquire as to the status of a client’s account. And so on. Contrary to Phil’s argument, such situations do not require dishonesty in order to protect privacy. Rather, they require a bit of forethought and some simple skills of etiquette.

First, we need to invest a bit of thought into what information we wish to keep private from whom. And then we need to consistently refuse to answer questions we consider to be invasive, whatever our answer would be. So if Lucy genuinely wanted to keep her love life private, she ought to have refused to answer any questions about the identity of her lovers, rather than trying only to weasel out the unpleasant question about the boss. In other words, we need to create and enforce our own zones of privacy. We need to take responsibility for our privacy preferences before we get stuck on the horns of a privacy-honesty dilemma.

Second, we need to cultivate the etiquette skills of deflecting inappropriate and invasive questions. After all, there are many more ways of refusing to answer a question than simply saying “None of your business.” We might just casually say “Oh, I don’t answer questions about that” or perhaps shockedly exclaim “Oh dear! That’s private!” or jokingly reply “Now why would I tell you that?!?” In egregious cases of strangers asking personal questions, glaring and walking away is a good option. In her excellent book _The Right Thing to Say_, Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners) discusses a wide variety of methods of deflecting inappropriate questions. These are skills of etiquette that no person should be without. Interestingly enough, we can quickly develop these skills of deflection into easy habits by fully committing to honesty, but we lose that opportunity if we allow ourselves to slide into lies when the going gets rough.

So we can protect our privacy without sacrificing our honesty. Additionally, by being honest, we avoid all the usual risks of lying: the slippery slope of lies, the distractions of creating and maintaining lies, and the risk of damaging trust in our relationships and reputation within the community. Those risks are substantial.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is the way in which openly refusing to answer privacy-invading questions serves an important positive function in our relationships. In our relationships, we communicate in a background way all the time through what we choose to reveal to and conceal from the other person. For example, a woman might be willing to tell co-workers that her dog died, but be unwilling to discuss the painful details or the emotional upheaval. By revealing some information and concealing other information, she is implicitly communicating that her relationships with her co-workers are moderately intimate.

So when someone asks a privacy-invading question, honestly refusing to answer implicitly communicates “Hey wait, the relationship isn’t *that* close!” Lying, of course, provides no such information. So speaking abstractly, honesty about private matters is an important means of indirect communication about the intimacy of a relationship. Speaking practically, if we don’t want people to ask privacy-invading questions, then we need to let them know what constitutes an invasion of privacy for us. Again, we do this by honestly refusing to answer invasive questions, not by lying. So we can dramatically reduce the frequency of these apparent privacy versus honesty dilemmas by honestly communicating and upholding our preferences for privacy.

In short, adopting a policy of lying to protect privacy can too easily turn into vicious circle, where a person doesn’t have a clear understanding of his preferences for privacy, doesn’t have the skills to effectively and benevolently deflect questions, and doesn’t communicate his preferences to privacy to others. That’s not a good situation for anyone to be in.

Speaking more personally, I wouldn’t jump down a person’s throat for lying to protect legitimate privacy. But I would recommend that the person reflect in a deep way upon the situation to see if honest alternatives were available. If so, then the next step is to train the brain to serve up those honesty alternatives before the dishonest ones, particularly when time is tight. I have yet to find a genuine, irresolvable privacy versus honesty dilemma. But if Phil thinks he has faced a few, I’d be delighted to hear them — with the details changed to protect privacy, of course!


Aug 082002

Yes yes, I know that I’ve been away for ages. I was gone for over a week for my sister’s lovely and wonderful wedding. Since I returning home last week, I’ve been busy getting myself organized with the excellent advice of The Time Trap. I’ve also been immersed in the hairy details of researching, test driving, and purchasing a small SUV, a Mazda Tribute. Since I’ve been gone so long, here are some miscellaneous URLs of possible interest:

  • This rather interesting article details why McGill University rejected an endowed Ayn Rand Chair. If the university is being honest about their reasons, then it seems that they made the right decision. In contrast, UT Austin’s solution of a temporary fellowship seems like a good one.
  • The Independent Women’s Forum sports a good article on battered women and guns. The opening stories of the gross negligence of some police in failing to prevent crimes in progress made my skin crawl!
  • You should be grateful for this commercial plug: I absolutely adore my long-distance company, ZoneLD. I get 4.5 cents per minute with no monthly fees and automatic billing of my credit card. So I thought I should share the love!

    That’s all for now. I’ll be posting my OWL post on privacy and honesty later tonight.

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