31 December 2008


In today’s note on his private list, Harry Binswanger called attention to something that I found has become a habit of mine recently: jumping to the editorial section of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) to see which letters-to-the-editor have been written by Objectivists.  

Yet another one was published yesterday, a letter by James G. Lennox, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburg, defending Charles Darwin’s achievements.  Letters critical of Barack Obama’s health plan, by Richard Ralston of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine (AFCM), and Dr. Paul Hsieh of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine (FIRM), were published on the same day last week.  On the very next day, Dr. Ralph Whaley’s letter pointing out an individual’s ownership of his own organs was printed.  David Rafner had a letter published the week before last, concisely defending principles against pragmatism.  Dr. Hsieh had another letter printed in the WSJ last month.  There are others, too, that I can’t quite put my finger on.  (I am pretty sure Alex Epstein of ARI had a letter printed not too long ago, and my own letter was published earlier this year.)

It’s progress.

29 December 2008

Dennis Prager: If There Is No God, Part 3

(Note: This is Part 3 in the series started here.  The previous installment is here.  In each post, I comment on one of the fourteen points made by Dennis Prager in his article, “If There Is No God.”)

Dennis Prager’s Point #3:

Life is ultimately a tragic fare if there is no God. We live, we suffer, we die -- some horrifically, many prematurely -- and there is only oblivion afterward. (Note 1.)

An interesting aspect of sorting through Mr. Prager’s fourteen points is that one can determine what he thinks God is by working backwards through his logic.  For instance, on its face, the pessimistic assertion of Point #3 is extremely vague.  What has God got to do with it?  How does God mitigate the “tragic fare?”  If the word “God” were replaced with a substantial concept, such as “liberty” or “justice” - or even something with which I would totally disagree, such as “universal health care” - then the point would at least have specific content.  But with the word “God,” the statement only invites refutation from the most obvious counterexamples.  There have always been and will always be individuals who live tragic lives and those who live rewarding lives, independent of the existence of a God or of a personal belief in God.

However, the clue to his actual intent is given by the mention of “oblivion” after death.  This focuses on a particular aspect of the Judeo-Christian God.  What Prager apparently means by “if there is no God” - and the only sense that renders significance to his assertion - is “if there is no God to deliver eternal reward or punishment after death.”  With this added clarification, the statement is at least comprehensible and appeals to logic.  (Mr. Prager’s statement #5 makes essentially the same point, and helps shed light on his meaning here.)  The basic idea is that without the existence of some sort of “life” after death, presumably with the application of God’s justice, then life itself (which Prager apparently regards as being dominated by trials and suffering) is pointless and tragic. 

Before showing how Prager is profoundly wrong on this point, permit me to digress with a comment on his view of God since it informs all of his statements.  Positing the existence of an afterworld is quite a leap from merely asserting the existence of a “creator” in order to explain the existence of matter.  For Prager, God does not reduce to a mere logical position, like an Aristotelian “Unmoved Mover,” but is an active, paternalistic figure in the universe, demanding daily obedience, issuing rights, and meting out rewards and punishments.  

Unlike many conservative commentators, Mr. Prager is refreshingly honest and unambiguous about the existence of this omnipotent, universal micromanager.  “[W]hile it is not possible to prove (or disprove) God’s existence,” he admits, “what is provable is what happens when people stop believing in God.”  This is basically correct: arbitrary assertions are indeed out of the realm of proof, and the actions of men are not merely provable but directly observable.  

With this admission, how then can Dennis Prager assert the existence of God as the mitigating factor in the fourteen points of his essay?  He explains: “None of [the fourteen points] proves, or even necessarily argues for, God’s existence.  It makes the case for the necessity, not the existence, of God.”[Note 1, Emphasis mine.]  In other words, we should not believe in God because He exists per se, but because we need him to exist.

This makes clear not only Prager’s essay, but goes far toward explaining the persistence of religion in the modern world.  What could be more common than wishful thinking?  What could be more common than thinking that the mere need or desire for something can somehow bring it into existence?  Yes, what could be more common... and more false?

I give credit to Mr. Prager both for identifying the root of his reasoning and for being candid enough to express it openly.  However, as much as he might wish to deny it, his explanation plants him firmly in the primacy-of-consciousness camp.  By primacy of consciousness, I refer to the (mistaken) belief that each individual creates and imposes his own reality upon the universe, by virtue of the fact that he is conscious.  (This view is opposed to the primacy of existence, which correctly holds that things are what they are, independent of any observer.) (Note 2.)  Only from the primacy-of-consciousness perspective could one believe that the mere “necessity” of a God could bring him into existence.  

Incidentally, I put “necessity” in quotes in the previous sentence to emphasize the use of this word in Prager’s statement.  He most certainly is not referring to factual necessity, in the sense of “the square of a right triangle’s hypotenuse is necessarily equal to the sum of the squares of its sides” or “two objects with mass will necessarily attract each other with a force inversely proportional to the square of the distance of separation.”   On the contrary, by “necessity,” Prager is clearly referring to need in the sense of a desire or desperate longing.  

Thus, his point #3 boils down to this: Life is sometimes tragic, and as a human being, I suffer and will die.  I don’t like this.  If there were a God, replete with a heaven and hell and a rule book to let me know how to earn a place in heaven, I would live happily forever and my enemies would suffer eternally.  Despite the facts, I really, really wish the universe worked this way, so my need for this to be true makes it true.

No person (excluding infants and young children who have not yet learned better) should regard this as proper thinking.  

A final word on Prager’s account of God.  The fact that the primacy of consciousness is at the heart of his arguments is one more illustration of the point I made in Part 1 of this series: the religionists hold essentially the same premises as those of the subjectivists that they claim to abhor.  The very same perspective that permits the subjectivist to reject absolutes permits the religionist to invent absolutes.

Now, let us return to Mr. Prager’s point #3: Life is ultimately tragic if there is no God to cancel the “oblivion” of death and make up for the misery of life. 

Even if we accept the possibility of immortality in the form of everlasting reward or retribution after death (which I’ve already pointed out is childishly primitive and unwarranted), Prager’s logic is still exactly backwards.  It is precisely the mortality of every human being that furnishes the value to his life; the “oblivion” of death renders life in this world precious and makes our choices matter.  It is the struggle for living life and seeking happiness in this world that prevents misery and tragedy from being an automatic condition; indeed, a belief in eternal life is what makes suffering an acceptable state and even elevates it to a virtue.  

And finally, it is precisely the absence of a mystical heaven and hell that makes it so important for human institutions to safeguard individual rights and use force to retaliate against evil.  If justice is to be done, it is to be done in this world.  This is one of the many considerations that highlight the galling absurdity of holding (as Prager and many other religionists do) that America’s founders were trying to create a nation built upon Judeo-Christian values. 

(Note: The next installment in the series is here.)


1.  Dennis Prager, “If There Is No God,” http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2008/08/19/if_there_is_no_god.

2.  Ayn Rand explained, “The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity. The epistemological corollary is the axiom that consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists—and that man gains knowledge of reality by looking outward. The rejection of these axioms represents a reversal: the primacy of consciousness—the notion that the universe has no independent existence, that it is the product of a consciousness (either human or divine or both). The epistemological corollary is the notion that man gains knowledge of reality by looking inward (either at his own consciousness or at the revelations it receives from another, superior consciousness).  Ayn Rand, “The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,” from Philosophy: Who Needs It, Signet, NY, 1982, p. 24.

Dennis Prager: If There Is No God, Part 2

(Note: This is Part 2 in the series started here.  The previous installment is here.  In each post, I comment on one of the fourteen points made by Dennis Prager in his article, “If There Is No God.”)

Dennis Prager’s Point #2:

Without God, there is no objective meaning to life. We are all merely random creations of natural selection whose existence has no more intrinsic purpose or meaning than that of a pebble equally randomly produced. (Note 1.)

I have no doubt that Mr. Prager and I are diametrically opposed with his overall intention here, but if his words are taken literally, I am surprised to find that with some reservations, I have no strong objections to his formulations.

First, let us note that because I reject the premise of God as arbitrary, any sentence in the form, “If there is no God, X is true,” reduces to simply, “X is true.”  Thus, although it obviously reverses Prager’s intentions, the “without God” condition may be plucked from his statement without changing its meaning.

Next, what does Mr. Prager mean by a “meaning to life?”  If he equates “meaning” with “purpose” (as he seems to do in the second sentence above) or with “value” (as he suggests in point #9 of his essay), then I vehemently disagree with his statement.  It is not God but the facts of reality that give rise to the objective value of my life and to the purpose of pursuing my own long-term happiness.

However, I do not consider the meaning of my life to be the same thing as its purpose.  Whereas a purpose reflects an individual’s own goals, a meaning suggests the existence of a larger, external plan.  (I admit that the term “meaning of life” is so vague, I could be wrong on this point, so I welcome comments.)  To me, the phrase “meaning of life” connotes some sort of transcendent, sacrificial purpose - the sort of “meaning” that holds individuals as means to an end that is “greater than oneself,” such as God, humanity, etc.  This concept is aptly illustrated by George Bailey of It’s a Wonderful Life, who finds that his life has “meaning” only insofar as he had an effect on others.(Note 2.)  If that is the “meaning to life” that Prager is referring to - an altruistic meaning - then I agree with his literal statement that there are no objective grounds whatsoever to assert its existence.  (I am aware that he was trying to establish exactly the opposite point.)

Similarly, I have no serious disagreement with his second sentence, taken literally, either.  We are in fact “random creatures of natural selection.”  (I would not have emphasized “merely random” as Prager did since our natural ancestry in no way reduces the value of what we are now, nor would I have used the word “creations” because it implies a creator.)  Furthermore, Prager asserts that we have “no more intrinsic purpose or meaning than that of a pebble.”  This sudden shift from “objective” to “intrinsic” is significant.  Strictly speaking, the purpose of an individual’s life is properly termed objective, not intrinsic - that is, it is based upon each man’s relationship to the universe and a code of values that he has chosen on a rational basis, as opposed to being a fixed, context-less abstraction divorced from a valuer.  This is a technicality, of course, but again, however accidental it may be, I don’t disagree with Prager’s formulation even though he was trying to make precisely the opposite point.

(Note: The next installment in the series is here.)


1.  Dennis Prager, “If There Is No God,” http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2008/08/19/if_there_is_no_god.

2.  Edward Cline recently wrote a good article about this alleged hero of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.  See “George Bailey’s Wasted Life,” http://ruleofreason.blogspot.com/2008/12/george-baileys-wasted-life.htm.

22 December 2008

A Good Sign

I was thrilled to flip to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal today and see that both Richard Ralston and Paul Hsieh had their letters-to-the-editor published.  Congratulations to both of them.

I was also encouraged by the tone of some of the adjacent commentary.  A couple of letters were clearly critical of government regulation and Fed meddling, and the main article on the next page was titled "Washington is Killing Silicon Valley."

The link to the editorials is here at the moment I am writing this, but since the contents change every day, I am reprinting Mr. Ralston's and Dr. Hsieh's letters in full below (Note 1):

You are probably correct that a major new national health-care program will be rushed through the next Congress without substantial debate through some mechanism such as budget reconciliation. That is because many of its elements would not survive close examination. The fatuous claim of Sen. Max Baucus that placing the nation's medical care under the rule of an "independent" council of presidentially appointed experts would not constitute government management of care is only the most conspicuous example. Others include the claim that computerizing those remaining medical records still on paper would reduce insurance costs by $2,500 a year per family.

But the main reason for the big rush is that nobody has a clue how the government will pay for it -- anymore than they know how the current unfunded liability of Medicare and Medicaid can be honored.

The last thing that proponents want is for anyone to ask where the money will come from, except perhaps questions about such details as the individual rights of patients and physicians to make their own medical decisions without the approval of presidentially appointed experts.

Richard E. Ralston 
Executive Director 
Americans for Free Choice in Medicine 
Newport Beach, Calif.

Businesses expecting to save money under President-elect Barack Obama's universal health-care plan are going to be in for a rude awakening. President-elect Obama's plan includes an employer mandate in which businesses must either pay their employee health insurance or else pay into a government fund to cover the uninsured.

A similar mandate has already been in place in Massachusetts for two years. As health costs there have skyrocketed, the state government has asked for more and more "contributions" from businesses. During this financial crisis, the last thing America needs is yet more economic burdens on the businessmen who create jobs and prosperity.

The fundamental problem with Mr. Obama's plan is the premise that health care is a "right" that must be guaranteed by the government. Health care is a need, not a right. Rights are freedoms of action, not automatic claims on goods and services that must be produced by another. Attempting to guarantee an alleged "right" to health care must necessarily violate actual individual rights and will destroy the American economy in the process.

Paul Hsieh, M.D. 
Sedalia, Colo.

1. Letters to the Editor, Wall Street Journal, 22 Dec 2008, p. A18.

06 December 2008

Keep Your Friends Close, And Your Self-Proclaimed Allies As Distant As Possible

After publishing the introduction to my series on the Prager essay, I thought of a pair of current events that illustrate what I meant when I wrote, "An enemy who is an avowed antagonist is usually less dangerous than an enemy who claims to be an ally."

In virtually all media outlets, we have the obscene spectacle of the recent financial crisis being blamed on... you guessed it: the “unrestrained excesses” of the free(!) market.  Why?  Because George W. Bush and the Republicans are in charge, and Republicans are allegedly "pro-business" and "pro-free market."  The facts of reality - that the Republicans have long abandoned any pretense of their limited government principles, and have engaged in an orgy of spending and re-regulation (which they farcically called deregulation) - do not come into play. 

I am convinced that we would be in much better shape today if Republicans had been entirely out of power for the last couple of decades.  I do not mean that we would not have financial troubles - the Democrats would certainly have imposed their own destructive policies - but there would have been much less of a pretext to blame the inevitable problems on individual liberty and too little government intervention.  The long association of conservatives with the free market, as unfounded as that association is, renders the conservatives the dread enemies of capitalism, much worse than progressives or so-called "liberals" who are overt, unapologetic antagonists to liberty.

A still more specific (and virulent) example of this principle is in Alan Greenspan's recent mea culpa, in which he threw capitalism under the bus in a stunningly dishonest betrayal of freedom.  Greenspan’s youthful association with Ayn Rand (long before his involvement with the Federal Reserve) has been used as a stick to beat the notions of a limited government, the virtue of self-interest, and an unrestrained free market.  Never mind that the Federal Reserve is itself a grotesque contradiction to liberty and capitalism; with Greenspan the “capitalist” at the helm, it must follow from the perverse logic of association that his every whim and utterance was an application of reason.  We would have been better off with Paul Krugman running the Fed.

I highly recommend reading Harry Binswanger’s excellent article, “Alan Greenspan vs. Ayn Rand and Freedom,” which thoroughly debunks the absurd notion that Alan Greenspan was an advocate of liberty, and especially that he was in any sense a mouthpiece of Ayn Rand’s ideas.  I wish I could remember where I saw it so I could give proper attribution, but someone perceptively wrote that Ayn Rand would have had but four words to say to Alan Greenspan: “I told you so.”


1.  Harry Binswanger, “Alan Greenspan vs. Ayn Rand and Freedom,” http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=5353, 7 Nov 2008.


I found the “I told you so” reference I mentioned.  It was in a letter to the editor of The Toronto Star, from a certain Paul McKeever.  The link to the page is here, and the full text of Mr. McKeever’s letter, along with another excellent one by Mark Wickens on that same page, is reprinted below.

Alan Greenspan's primary role, as head of the federal reserve, was to regulate the rate at which the supply of American dollars grew. With Greenspan at the helm, the government intervened in the economy. That government intervention facilitated and encouraged easy credit, bad loans and bankruptcies.

Such government intervention, together with the added intervention of bailing out banks with taxpayer earnings, is all contrary to the laissez-faire capitalism that Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged, impressed upon Greenspan in his youth.

Condemning Greenspan and government intervention for the hardship now being felt by many is fair game. Condemning Ayn Rand and anti-interventionist admonitions is not. Were she alive today, her words would be "I told you so."

Paul McKeever, Leader, Freedom Party of Ontario, Oshawa

Whether he admits it or not, Mr. Greenspan abandoned Ayn Rand's philosophy in 1987 when he accepted the job of U.S. Federal Reserve Board chairman – i.e., of chief governmental dictator of interest rates. Such a position would not exist in a government that abided by Rand's principles. The financial crisis we are witnessing today is not a refutation of her ideas, but a sadly eloquent confirmation of them.

Mark Wickens, Toronto

05 December 2008

Dennis Prager: If There Is No God, Part 1

(Note: This is Part 1 in the series started here.)

Dennis Prager’s Point #1:

Without God there is no good and evil; there are only subjective opinions that we then label "good" and "evil." This does not mean that an atheist cannot be a good person. Nor does it mean that all those who believe in God are good; there are good atheists and there are bad believers in God. It simply means that unless there is a moral authority that transcends humans from which emanates an objective right and wrong, "right" and "wrong" no more objectively exist than do "beautiful" and "ugly."  (Note 1.)

It’s hard to find a more clear example of religionists conceding all philosophical ground to the subjectivists.  

Let’s reduce the two positions to their essences and compare:

The subjectivist position is that there is no natural basis to distinguish between good and evil. 

The religious position is that there is no natural basis to distinguish between good and evil... but there is a supernatural reason to do so. 

Notice that these alleged intellectual foes completely agree on the fundamental point: that there is no distinction between good and evil in the natural world.  Mr. Prager states clearly that were it not for the existence of God - a God that has no height, length, or breadth, no weight, no location, no color, no temperature, no energy; a God that recedes precisely and in lock step with the advance of inquiry; a God that has never been seen and by definition cannot be seen, yet is credited with every happy chance while misfortune is attributed to his “mysterious ways”; a God to whom a man who would not purchase an apple without first examining it nevertheless surrenders his mind; a God who is so obviously a creation of poets and scholars and tyrants, who so resembles the heroes, kings, and monsters that listeners and readers crave and storytellers from time immemorial have passed down to us; a God that is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, in everything yet outside the universe; in short, a God that exists because his existence is impossible - were it not for this God’s existence, all good and evil is merely subjective opinion.

A subjectivist could hardly refrain from bursting into applause when seeing Prager’s logic.  “You are making my point, my friend,” he would say, “and since the condition is clearly absurd, the conclusion is clear: all good and evil is subjective.”

As I said above, the religious conservatives willingly - even enthusiastically - concede all intellectual ground to the modern “liberals” with whom they profess to disagree.  They freely admit that there is no natural or logical reason to be moral.  The only dispute is whether some extra-universal “entity” with no attributes or possible connection to the physical world should serve as the absolute authority over human behavior.  The religionists posit the existence of such an “entity”; the subjectivists do not.

I disagree with their shared premise.  There is a very real reason to be moral.  Every man’s life and happiness depends upon his ability to discover reality, to understand his nature and the requirements of his survival.  Above all, one’s moral code is the very last thing one should surrender to any authority.

For an explanation of an objective morality based in reason, I refer the reader to “The Objectivist Ethics,” the first chapter of Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness.  This excellent volume also contains what is probably my favorite of her essays, “Man’s Rights,” which will be relevant for Part 13 of this series.

(Note: The next installment in the series is here.)


1.  Dennis Prager, “If There Is No God,” http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2008/08/19/if_there_is_no_god.

04 December 2008

Dennis Prager: If There Is No God, Introduction

One of the projects I’ve been meaning to work on is to post some comments on Dennis Prager’s article called “If There Is No God,” which he published last summer on townhall.com. (Note 1.)  In general, I do not consider the point-by-point rebuttal of religious claims to be a particularly fruitful method of combating mysticism, but every now and then the exercise may be a good vehicle to reach honest minds.  I’ve found Mr. Prager to be more thoughtful and philosophical than the typical religious conservative, and in his brief article he manages to squeeze in many ideas that I believe represent mainstream religious thought.  Judging by the level of his discourse, he seems to treat his opponents respectfully, so I think he deserves the same.

My main goal here is to dash the notion that there are only two choices in the realm of morality: either to be religious or to reject morality outright.  I sympathize somewhat with the people who fly to religion in order to escape the ruinous subjectivism of modern intellectuals.  The so-called “liberals” - the cultural and political “left” - sneer at the notion of a “black and white” world, regard the acceptance of absolutes as “naive” and lacking "nuance," and consider good and evil to be mere social conventions.  The dominance of these ideas accounts for much of the deterioration in the western world today.

However, the fact that the subjectivists are wrong does not absolve the religionists from their own errors. 

It is vital to identify our nature as human beings, and to recognize that as thinking, free-willed individuals, morality is literally a matter of life and death.  To affix the validity of morality upon a supernatural God - to cast an anchor into fog, to tie one’s lifeline to a ghost - is to commit a grievous error as bad as or worse than that of the subjectivists.  I understand the desire to defend ethics, but if the religious are hoping to place morality beyond the reach of attack by basing it on God, they end up achieving just the opposite; they lay bare the bankruptcy of their arguments.  

As bad as the assault on values by the intellectual left is in America today, I think morality is far more threatened by religious conservatives.  The subjectivists attack; religionists betray.  An enemy who is an avowed antagonist is usually less dangerous than an enemy who claims to be an ally.  And to make matters worse, the religionists hold a near monopoly in the realm of values; morals and religion are practically synonymous.

If America and the West is to be saved, we must rescue morality from religion.

The choice to either accept religion or reject morality altogether is a false dichotomy.  Neither is correct.  (In fact, the two viewpoints have more in common with each other than subjectivists or religionists would probably care to admit, a point that I’ll make in Part 1 of this series.)  To have these two moral viewpoints as the only dominant choices in the world is a disaster.  The one dismisses morality altogether; the other recognizes morality, but derives it from a fairy tale.

In Mr. Prager’s essay, he enumerates fourteen consequences of there being no God.  My plan is to comment on each of these in turn in the coming weeks.  (At the rate I’ve been writing lately, those weeks will likely turn into months, unfortunately.)  In the broadest sense, the same answer applies to most of Prager’s points; namely, Prager’s assertions are arbitrary and may be dismissed accordingly without further consideration.  However, this simple rejection is not likely to be convincing or helpful to a religious person who is honestly trying to come to conclusions that are consonant with reality.  I am convinced that some religious people hold religion rather loosely - only as a matter of habit, or as I indicated above, perhaps because they are revolted by modern “liberalism.”  It is for them that I submit these ideas.  Perhaps some will see that religion does not provide the unassailable foundation that they thought it did.  But happily, an objective view of reality does provide a means – the only means – of comprehending the universe, and it also provides a framework for objectively-derived values.

(Note: The next installment in the series may be found here.)


1.  Dennis Prager, “If There Is No God,” http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2008/08/19/if_there_is_no_god

13 November 2008

It’s Not About Her

In reading LB’s essay Why I am an Objectivist, with which I wholly agree, some of my own reflections came to the fore, especially concerning the introduction of reason, selfishness, and individual rights to people who are not familiar with Ayn Rand’s works.  

In an important sense, Objectivism - the body of ideas - has nothing to do with Ayn Rand.  Don’t misunderstand me: the philosophical achievements are entirely hers, and Miss Rand deserves literally all the credit for Objectivism.  She single-handedly integrated and formulated every major and minor tenet of the philosophy; the sheer scope of her achievement is almost too staggering to believe could be accomplished by one person. 

Nevertheless, in terms of Objectivism’s content and its application to the real world, I think it is important to focus on the philosophy, not the the philosopher.  I care not a whit about the genesis of the philosophy.  Its truth would not change had it been articulated and refined by dozens of great men over the course of the last two thousand or so years, or (as it turned out to be) formulated by a single twentieth-century novelist.  The important thing is that the tenets of the philosophy hold true to reality, comprehensively and systematically - which is exactly what Objectivism does.

From the perspective of evaluating and applying Ayn Rand’s ideas, I invoke this popular expression: “it’s not about her.”  

Incidentally, I do not know but would guess that this must be the reason Miss Rand chose to call her philosophy “Objectivism” as opposed to say, “Randism.”  She had every reason to be immensely proud of her achievements, but she did not label her philosophy as Hank Rearden labeled Rearden Metal.  To call it Objectivism not only emphasizes its distinction from subjectivism and intrisicism, but reinforces its generality as a complete, reality-based philosophical system.  Ayn Rand was not an inventor; she was a discoverer.  As a novelist she created, but as a philosopher she identified.

I bring this point up because a few too many times I have seen the word “cult” associated with Ayn Rand, as if she were some sort of religious figure with a following of obedient disciples.  This is an absurd smear, and it is not without a certain irony - for if there is one characteristic that is sure to be found in every individual who truly grasps Miss Rand’s ideas, it would be a selfish independence of mind that makes such “cultish” following impossible.  

With this in mind, I would not wish to grant my intellectual foes a favor by contributing, however inadvertently, to the idea that Objectivists are followers of a “gospel according to Rand.”  When I argue points with friends and colleagues, I do not frame my statements in the form, “Well, Ayn Rand said...” or, “As an Objectivist, I believe that...”   Why should this convince anybody?  Listeners (or readers) who disagree with Ayn Rand to begin with will not be convinced by merely repeating her position on matters, and those who are unfamiliar with her work should not take her - or anyone else’s - word for it.  Anyone who is worth arguing with should care only about facts and their connections to principles.  Mentioning Ayn Rand every few sentences would do more harm than good.

An even more fundamental reason that I don’t speak or write that way is that I don’t think that way.  I simply don’t go around wondering, “What would Ayn Rand do?”  It’s perfectly true that when I read The Fountainhead twenty-five years ago, it changed my life.  I’ve read and re-read her fiction and non-fiction many times, and without question Miss Rand is my supreme intellectual hero.  But when I’m puzzling over something, I do not mine her works for the answer.  I look to reality for the answer.

As did she.

26 October 2008

Blog, Interrupted

I think I have (or had) a few regular readers, and to them I apologize for my abrupt hiatus of the last few weeks.  I have been completely consumed by work, trying to meet some deadlines for the product I am working on.  I've spent not only all my time but all my mental energy on the circuit design and firmware for which I am responsible.  I've neglected myself, my family, and alas, my blog.

If there is a silver lining to this interruption in writing, it has provided me with a brief break from discouraging current affairs - in particular, the election and the federal takeover of private enterprises.  But I'll soon turn my attention to these things again.  Stay tuned, if you are so inclined!

05 October 2008

Grim Prospects For Liberty

It’s done.  On Friday, President Bush signed into law the $700 billion “economic bailout” bill that Senators and Representatives bickered over last week but ultimately passed.

Personally, I am extremely discouraged with the prospects for liberty in this country, more so than in any time in my life, I think.  There must have been worse times, when Americans’ freedoms were more in jeopardy than now, but the New Deal years were before my time, and I was too young to remember Johnson’s Great Society programs and Nixon’s price controls.  This year had already been bad enough with the woeful selection of presidential candidates, featuring two men who each in his own way have an utter contempt for individual rights.  (I found myself actually hoping Hillary Clinton would become the Democratic candidate so that I could vote against the religion-infested Republicans.  With Obama as the nominee, I will not vote for any presidential candidates in November.)  But this heavy-handed and accelerating intrusion of the federal government in the economy, starting with the Federal Reserve’s “emergency loan” to Bear Stearns and culminating in the outrageous $700 billion giveaway (or more accurately, takeaway), has put it over the top.

I was going to use this post to say that we had finally plunged headlong in tyranny, but on second thought, that is not an apt characterization.  This is tyranny all right - the soft, relentless oppression of the paternalistic state - but it’s hard to characterize it as a plunge.  We did not just move from a state of freedom to one of subservience.  If we had, surely there would have been more protest.  No, we have been serfs for some time now.

How did we get here?  How can there be a nearly universal sense that it is the free market that has failed, that “deregulation” has not worked, that more oversight is needed to contain “greedy” Wall Street executives that care only about fleecing the poor and middle class?  How can most Americans not only leave the federal government blameless for the crisis, but think it is a good idea for the government to seize almost a trillion dollars that American citizens have earned, then concentrate the dictatorial power to determine the value of “toxic” mortgages and assets into the hands of a few federal bureaucrats who have no financial interest in the outcome?

It can only be by imperceptible degrees.  Americans by nature do not roll over when attacked from the front.  Freedom cannot be taken from us... but it can be handed over willingly to con men.  There was a time when Americans stood on their own two feet and would have been appalled at the thought of enlisting the government for help.  But apparently, desperation can soften up a population, and men will discard their principles for a loaf of bread.  I’m sure that some shame was felt at first - a little during the “trust-busting” days of the turn of the 20th century, and more so in the bread lines of the Great Depression years - but nowhere now do I see any shame at all.  It is now taken as a given that it is the governments’ job to regulate, restrict, prohibit, and prescribe.  Absurdly, bureaucrats whose interests lie in consolidating power are propped up as the safeguards of prosperity, while businessmen whose livelihoods depend upon pleasing customers are painted as the enemy.

The American spirit has not broken; it has withered.  We bleed not from a few mortal wounds, but from countless small cuts - the “cuts” being ideas, of course - over more than a century.  We are slain not with swords but with pins.  It is death by a thousand pricks.  

And since the “bailout” bill is fresh in my mind and the villains this week are the Senators and Representatives of the United States, I am tempted to call it death by 535 pricks.  If the phrase has a coarse secondary meaning, I make no apology for it.  

30 September 2008

The Financial Crisis Hotline

I've added a new link list in the right column of my blog: The Financial Crisis Hotline.  

The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights has dedicated a page that features pertinent articles by Yaron Brook, Alex Epstein, Harry Binswanger, and others.  Unlike the news coverage that for the most part absurdly characterizes the recent crisis as a "failure of the free market," these ARC articles pierce to the root of the matter to show that we are suffering from a failure of the unfree market.

28 September 2008

A Legislative Crime

I realize that the passage of a bailout plan by the House and Senate is all but inevitable, but all the same I sent this letter to Senator Kerry, Senator Kennedy, and the Representative of my district. 

Dear Senator:

The notion of using taxpayers’ earnings to “bail out” companies that are going out of business is an outrageous violation of free-market principles.  Government intervention in the economy (via the Federal Reserve and innumerable government programs and regulatory agencies) has caused the failures in the first place; it makes no sense to try to cure the patient by adding another gigantic dose of legislative poison.

If you vote for such legislation, you will be adding to your legacy your participation in the most destructive attack on American principles in my lifetime.  It would be unforgivable... and unforgettable. 

If you wish to correct the problem - and simultaneously grab the free-market baton that the Republicans have long ago dropped - you will refuse to bail out Wall Street firms, work to undo devastating anti-American legislation (such as the Community Reinvestment Act and Sarbanes Oxley, to name just two), and repudiate further government intrusions in economic affairs.


Stephen Bourque