September 7th, 2001


"I tell everyone I'm going to buy 15 SUV's"

Matthew Rabin, an economist at Berkeley, won a MacAurthur "genius" award for his work on human irrationality. Here's an excerpt from a nice profile of him:

Rabin uses a simple example to illustrate one of the many consumer
habits that is left out of most economic profiles of buyer
preferences: people's strong desire for immediate gratification.

"If you ask someone if they'd rather have $10
now or $15 a week from now, a lot of the respondents would say they
wanted $10 now. If you then ask them if they'd rather have $10 50
weeks from now or $15 51 weeks from now, everyone will say they'd
rather have the $15 51 weeks from now," he says. "People have
self-control problems and they will cave in to immediate
gratification. But you don't find that psychological factor in the
economic models of our buying habits."

And you thought it was a Monty Python sketch

I was raised a devout Mormon. I still feel a bit wistful when I pass a Mormon church. If you're devout, no matter where you go in the world, you're likely to find a cluster of Mormons who share the same values with you and welcome you into the community. Of the religions that I'm aware of, it also seems to be the most extropian--after all, in the afterlife, righteous Mormons get to become Gods themselves, and create universes of their own.

That said, I'm glad my freshman calculus teacher was handing out ARI [Ayn Rand Institute] pamphlets in White Plaza one sunny fall afternoon. I had read The Fountainhead in high school, and loved the book, but until then, I had not given much thought to changing my beliefs. Since high school, I had become increasingly bothered by the epistemology of faith. For example, in the Mormon church, when someone was ill, the elders who served as that family's home teachers would sometimes be called upon to give a blessing. At fast and testimony meetings, people often told stories about how their child had miraculously recovered following such a blessing--"I was healed through the power of the Holy Ghost."

Of course, if little Johny died, "Well, it was God's Will."

Head's I win, tails you lose.

After reading those pamphlets, I devoured everything I could find by Rand.  I was very excited--here was a philosophy that seemed to offer a rational foundation for epistemology and ethics, that seemed wholly consistent with what I knew about evolution and science.

Yet I've become increasingly disillusioned with some Objectivist individuals and organizations. Some Objectivists seem to think in compartments as "thought-tight" as the mind of my devout grandmother. For example, here's the welcome message for the Bayside Objectivist Club:

"BOS supports The Ayn Rand Institute, it's policies and Board of Directors. We accept membership
only from those who agree with this support. You are welcome to join if you are new to the ideas of
Ayn Rand. If at some stage you conclude that Objectivism is not the philosophy for you or you choose to support groups antithetical to The Ayn Rand Institute, you will be expected to withdraw from BOS. (To preserve happiness in my life I would not like asking people to leave. Please join only if you agree to these terms.) That said, welcome to BOS."

I strongly suspect that "...or you choose to support groups antithetical to The Ayn Rand Institute..." is code for "...or you're a libertarian or agree with David Kelley..."

Here's another club that makes it's policies more explicit:

The Objectivist Society of Los Angeles excludes from membership any individuals advocating or promoting such incompatible ideas including, but not limited to, supporters of the Libertarian Party or its affiliates, and the "Institute for Objectivist Studies" directed by Dr. David Kelley.

The annoying thing about these litmus tests is that the members of these clubs go bonkers if they think you're a libertarian, but have no problem if you vote Republican, or even Democratic. After all, Rand campaigned for Goldwater, and voted for Nixon.

I've studied from the book of Python, so I suppose that I shouldn't get my boxers in a bunch about infighting in small political groups, but hell, President Bush just appointed Luddite bioethicist (This may be redundant--how often do you read about a bioethicist who supports some new technology?) Leon Kass to be his advisor. (Anybody have a cite for this? I remember reading it, but I can't find the source). It seems to me that we have much bigger enemies than each other...


On a more positive note, The Silicon Valley Objectivists are meeting this Sunday at Gordon Biersch restaurant in Palo Alto at 5 p.m. I haven't been to this group's meetings before, but they seem to be non-dogmatic. I'm planning to go--anybody else going?