12 July 2009

OCON Update - July 10 and 11, 2009

John Lewis concluded his course on “The History of Ancient Greece: The Archaic Period.”  I think it was my very favorite of the optional courses, which is saying quite a lot.  Naturally, his time was very limited in this short course, but Dr. Lewis managed to paint a wonderfully rich sketch of this amazing infancy of western civilization, and to demonstrate its significance as it leads to the classical period of Greek history.  LB and I came away from the course with a much better understanding of the archaic period, and we are both excited to explore some of the poetry and writings that Dr. Lewis introduced in the class.

I took copious notes in Elan Journo’s course, “Understanding the Arab-Israeli Conflict.”  He managed to cover an enormous amount of material, and interestingly, even though he was presenting this at OCON, I think his approach would be very suitable for a general audience.  (That is likely the intent, for it was being filmed.)  His was a systematic approach: a chronological, objective unfolding of facts with little or no evaluation.  It is true that a rational person could come to only one conclusion faced with these facts, but Mr. Journo left the conclusions to the listener.

In a general lecture called “Free Minds and Free Markets,” Peter Schwartz pointed out the inextricable connection of liberty and capitalism.  As Ayn Rand put it, “A free mind and a free market are corollaries.”  Mr. Schwartz elaborated upon this with his typical brilliance and intensity, and he illustrated his points with many examples, including some execrable quotes from Nicholas Kristof, David Brooks, and Cass Sunstein.

Wayne Fortun, the CEO of Hutchinson Technology, presented an inspiring lecture called “Objectivist Corporate Culture Is a Durable Competitive Advantage.”  The published and practiced values of his extraordinarily successful company incorporate Objectivist principles with consistency.  It is not a surprise to see this success, of course, but it is nice to observe the practical manifestations of implementing reason, and of establishing the virtues that derive from reason. 

Finally, Harry Binswanger presented the conclusion to his lecture, “The Objective vs. the Intrinsic and the Subjective.”  In this, he pointed out the false dichotomy of subjectivism versus intrinsicism, and showed how reality actually supports a trichotomy.  It is the objective view of ethics, politics, law, etc. that is proper, as against the subjective and the intrinsic.  Though there is a clear distinction between the subjective and intrinsic views, they often have a surprising amount in common... and of course are invariably wrong.  There is a wealth of material here, including some very powerful concepts that tie in with Leonard Peikoff’s DIM Hypothesis, so I plan to return to my notes frequently in order to “chew” on the ideas.  I would say that of all the general lectures at the conference - and that includes the ones by superstars like Tara Smith, Onkar Ghate, and Peter Schwartz - the most valuable ones for me were the pair by Dr. Binswanger.


It would be hard to overstate the spiritual lift that these days at OCON have provided.  (Naturally, I use the word “spiritual” here in an utterly non-mystical sense!)  I came into the conference feeling a bit overworked and discouraged about the state of America and the world.  I feel completely recharged now and armed for battle, as it were.

If I have a regret, it is that LB and I had not come to OCON before.  I had attended one by myself back in 1992, but now I rue missing the conferences of the intervening years (though we had legitimate obstacles - it is difficult for us to leave for a week or two on a vacation that does not include the kids).  I don’t know when we will be able to return, but tentatively, we are regarding the Fort Lauderdale conference in 2011 as our next opportunity.  In the meantime, I am determined to improve my thinking and writing, and to fight a fight worth making: to make the world a better place... for me.

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