September 9th, 2001


People's Front of Judea vs. Judean People's Front

Kitiara writes:

I'm new to Ayn Rand (I'm about 300 pages into Atlas Shrugged) so I don't know a whole lot about Objectivism. But from what I have gathered so far from Atlas Shrugged, it seems like her philosophy *was* libertarian. So what's the problem between objectivism and libertarianism?

Well, that's just it.

Rand's political philosophy is nearly indistinguishable from libertarianism.

She heavily influenced the movement, both through her intellectual influences upon its leaders (such as Murray Rothbard, and Roy Childs, Jr.), and through her books, which probably attracted more people to libertarianism than any other single source. (For a nice overview of her impact on libertarianism, see the series of articles by Roy Childs, Jr., Ayn Rand and the Libertarian Movement.)

I think Rand disliked libertarians because they embrace anyone who believes that people should be free to do as they please so long as they don't physically harm someone else.

Do you believe in a free society because it will maximize most people's utility functions?

Do you believe in a free society because it is the only appropriate society for man qua man?

Do you believe in a free society because God appeared to you in a dream, in the form of a burning Teletubbie, and told you so?

All are welcome in the libertarian party.

Of course, very few libertarians come to libertarianism through visions of burning Teletubbies; the vast majority are persuaded by utilitarian arguments (a la Friedman, Hayek, and Mises) or by natural rights-style arguments (a la Rand, Rothbard). Note also that this doesn't mean that most libertarians think that it doesn't matter how you arrived at your political beliefs--many care passionately about the issue. However, libertarians argue that, for the purposes of political influence, freedom lovers should set aside their philosophical differences and band together to fight for their common goals.

Rand believed that it was inappropriate to attempt to promote a free society divorced from its proper philosophical underpinning (which she believed to be Objectivism). She also strongly disagreed with the anarcho-capitalist faction of the libertarian movement (led by Rothbard) calling them "hippies of the right).

In addition, "Orthodox" Objectivists [those associated with the Ayn Rand Institute] will argue that to support the Libertarian party gives moral sanction and respectability to the beliefs of some of the decidedly minority views within the libertarian party. For example, here's an excerpt from Peter Schwartz's essay On Moral Sanctions:

"...Thus, the "benefits" of speaking to Libertarian groups are as
nonexistent as the "benefits" of exhibiting books at an Iranian
fair. The Libertarian movement is not some innocuous debating club. It
is a movement that embraces the advocates of child-molesting, the
proponents of unilateral U.S. disarmament, the LSD-taking and
bomb-throwing members of the New Left, the communist guerrillas in
Central America and the baby-killing followers of Yassir Arafat. These
views have all been accepted under the Libertarian umbrella (and
remain accepted under it by everyone who still calls himself a
Libertarian). It is these types of vermin that one is lifting into
respectability whenever one sanctions Libertarianism - or whenever one
maintains that ideas can be analyzed without being evaluated...."

See Schwartz's essay Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty, for a more in depth explication of the problems "Orthodox" Objectivists perceive with libertarianism. For the other side of the issue, see Jim Peron's four part article Objectivists and Libertarians.

Plug: In my opinion, The Objectivist Center takes a much more rational view toward libertarians than The Ayn Rand Institute.

Spare the rod, spoil the child?

(Please note that I have no children yet, and have no direct experience with Sudbury. My views in what follows should be taken with a big hunk 'o salt.)

Amanda42 posted some interesting comments her mother made regarding the Sudbury Valley School. The school attempts to implement the following principles:

  • All people are curious by nature.

  • The most efficient, long-lasting, and profound learning takes place when started and pursued by the learner.

  • All people are creative if they are allowed to develop their unique talents.

  • Age-mixing among students promotes growth in all members of the group.

  • Freedom is essential to the development of personal responsibility.

What does this mean in practice?

....this means that students initiate all their own activities and create their own environments. The physical plant, the staff, and the equipment are there for the students to use as the need arises.

Philosophically, the self-directed learning styles promoted by Sudbury appeals to me a great deal. Such a school seems a vast improvement on most existing schools, with their rigid conformity, dumbed down curriculum, and expectations that students learn decontextualized bits of information, with little or no thought as to why that knowledge is important.

Yet I feel ambivalent about the Sudbury system (and unschooling in general.) I believe children should be treated with respect, but I also think that their internal regulatory mechanisms are still immature. As a child, I hated to take piano lessons, and my mother eventually ceded to my wishes, and let me quit. As an adult, however, I wish that I had taken them--it's much harder to learn to play as an adult.

Morever, a disciplined, rigorous approach can produce fantastic results. For example, see the article Prodigal Daughters by Sarah Hurst that appeared in the May 15-21, 1997 edition of European Magazine. The Polgar daughters were chess prodigies. Sofia is rated 6th in the world among women and has a FIDE rating of 2505. At 21, Susan Polgar was the first woman to become a chess grandmaster. At 15, Judit Polgar broke Bobby Fischer's record and became the youngest grandmaster ever. She has a shot at become the first World Chess Champion, the first women to ever do so.

Their ability appears to be the result of an intensive training program begun by their father when they were still toddlers:

...Laszlo Polgar's ambition is for an institute to test his educational
theory, but the intensive teaching put in by Laszlo and Klara is not a
realistic option for the average family. The girls used to wake at six
each morning, play table tennis for two to three hours, then study
chess for six to eight hours And things were not always easy. As the
eldest, Zsuzsa bore the full force of her parents feud with the
Hungarian authorities. When she was five the police came to the flat
to make her go to school. The Polgars persuaded the government that
she should be allowed to stay at home, but their next opponent was the
Hungarian chess federation. It objected to Laszlo's insistence that
Zsuzsa must play only in mixed tournaments. As a punishment, the
federation banned her from going abroad for three years....

See also this excerpt from a post to Fork by Rohit Khare, which in turn is an excerpt from the article
Who wants to be a genius?
Jan 13th 2001, The Economist print edition, subtitled Psychologists are divided over whether genius is innate or acquired. Nobody has yet been smart enough to figure it out

"...Just as Dr Ericsson took people with no discernible talent and turned
them into champions, so, in a fashion, did a Hungarian, Laszlo
Polgar. When he began training his daughters, it was widely believed
that women could not play serious tournament chess. But through a
deliberate (and still continuing) psychological experiment, Dr Polgar
and his wife created a trio of world-class chess champions out of
their own daughters, overturning this prejudice.

By 1992, all three had reached the women's top ten worldwide. The
third, who presumably received the most refined training regimen,
became the youngest grandmaster in the history of the game and is
reckoned by her peers to have a good chance of becoming world
champion one day. With remarkable, if not hubristic, prescience, Dr
Polgar had written a detailed book on the subject of child rearing,
entitled "Bring Up Genius!" before beginning the coaching of his
children. But would any child reared by such a parent have become a
chess prodigy? "

What do y'all think? How much should children be allowed to learn on their own? How much should parents "make" them do things that are unpleasant in the short term, but have long term payoffs? (Such as learning to play the piano.)

Susannah McCorkle

I didn't learn about Susannah McCorkle until I heard a tribute to her on Fresh Air. Now two of her songs are among my favorites: The Waters Of March, and Dilemma. Waters of March is a light, happy song that celebrates the joys of life. Dilemma is about making the decision to tell a best friend you love him/her, possibly risking the friendship.

Unfortunately, on May 18, 2001 McCorkle jumped to her death from her apartment window. She was 55. Her inability to get a new record produced with Concord, her record company, was apparently the proximate cause of her suicide. However, she had long suffered from depression.

I'm always flabbergasted when people respond, "O.K. maybe cryonics/life extension will work. Why would you want to live a long time though? I'm content living a natural life."

Most would agree that McCorkle's death is a terrible tragedy. Would it have been less of a tragedy, if she had jumped on May 22? May 23? When would it have ceased to be a tragedy?

Yet McCorkle's death is but one, among millions that happen every day. If I allow myself to think about it, I feel a terrible sense of anxiety, knowing that everyone I love will eventually face the same fate. Yet most people don't appear to feel this way. I guess this is the role that religion plays -- a way to amelioriate anxiety that would otherwise paralyze.
  • Current Mood

Elvis Shrugged

From a description of a comic book of the same name:

"In the 1997 of Elvis Shrugged, only one record company exists after
absorbing or driving out the others - Sony/Time/Warner. Perhaps it's a
bit extreme but after real mergers like Turner and Time-Warner or
Disney buying ABC, it's not that far fetched. Under the guise of
fiscal caution, Sony/Time/Warner has eradicated all music except
rock. But S/T/W becomes desperate to find anyone to keep the public
happy when the most innovative composers and singers began
disappearing. As Jon Peters and Peter Gubers say, "...we need new
blood. Certainly nothing chancy or innovative. Just new faces to do
the same old thing, which is what the rock industry has always been

Madonna refuses to work for Sony/Time/Warner and teams up
with the rejuvenated (via Austrian youthfulness treatments and
bionics) Frank Sinatra to record some revolutionary music they
found. But Sony/Time/Warner manages to absorb their tiny company,
Madonna tries to trace the missing musicians while Old Blue Eyes fends
off Colonel Parker (now a scientifically preserved floating head) and
Andrew Lloyd Webber on behalf of Sony/Time/Warner.

Madonna finds that Elvis is alive. After his 1970 comeback
concert, Elvis broke with the Colonel's, preferring to write his own
experimental music. While Elvis soul searched in Tibet, the Colonel
had a clone replace him, but when Elvis discovers that the clone has
become a sick parody, he engineers the clone's death in the most
embarrassing way possible. Then he enlists other musicians to the
cause, the first batch of whom, like John Lennon, Roy Orbison and
Sammy Davis Jr., fake their deaths and join Elvis in an island
hideaway - Blue Hawaii - where they can create music without
profit-driven pressure."