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Ayn Rand
Posted: 20 May 2007 08:12 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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I was wondering to what extent did Sam Harris find Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (and other novels/books) influential/interesting.  "Letter to a Christian Nation" is perhaps (IMO) the most influential book in this young new century - No one (I mean NO ONE) has dealt with the madness we call religion and God as Sam Harris has done.

All I could do was keep saying "wow" - as I read the book.  How could anyone have gotten words on such a topic so right on the money??  And Sam Harris has.  I notice in the discussions (e.g. with Rick Warren) there is an attempt at evading or worse attacking Sam Harris when answers fail.

The "God" we hear about does not exist, even in the minds of the people who claim He exists.  If He did exist, He sould not need mortals to defend him NOR would be cruel to kill babies before they are born or allow human cruelty to humans. 

Good Luck Mr. Harris, be careful, in this "Christian" nation, there are those that believe that their GOD will demand they do something.

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Posted: 17 June 2007 01:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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I obviously don’t know how familiar Sam Harris is with Rand’s philosophy and books, or his opinion of them, but I would venture to say that he would agree with little in Objectivism. Sam identifies as a political liberal (in the American sense, meaning left-ish) while Objectivism fiercely supports the most unregulated form of capitalism; and Sam also seems to think that morality involves kindness toward others, love, altruism, etc., with which Rand would certainly disagree. They both do stress reason an awful lot, but that’s the least unique aspect of Objectivist philosophy.

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Posted: 19 June 2007 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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I am certainly curious ... (since this is not a forum on Objectivism. I’ll refrain - except to say that Rand never disagreed with the idea of kindness, love and such - but that for another time/place)

The reason I asked is because while Rand has mentioned her atheism, Harris has done a brilliant job of using the very arguments/texts that theists use against them and in essence forced the issue (as it were) ... I found his arguments and writings very persuasive and cannot imagine how any thinking person can ignore what he says

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Posted: 19 June 2007 02:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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I’ve never read Ayn Rand, and I’m surprised to hear her described as an atheist. Many modern conservatives view Rand as a hero, which led me to assume that Rand was a defender of “traditional Judeo-Christian values,” a politician’s nebulous term.

I posed a similar question on a Washington Post online chat, and reporter David Von Drehle described Rand’s philosophy this way: “Randism is the last of the corrupt and nihilistic ideologies to gain sway in the 20th Century.” He hoped to see a day when “‘Atlas Shrugged’ goes the way of ‘Mein Kampf’ and ‘The Sayings of Chairman Mao’ and is pulped in the garbage mill of history.”

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Posted: 19 June 2007 03:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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I’ve been working on a more complete essay regarding Objectivism and Libertarianism (both the politics and the philosophy), so the subject is on my mind.

All of the above have serious problems. While I don’t claim that they are interchangeable, they all share a common flaw, namely, that the ideas don’t survive contact with reality.

The real difference between Harris and Rand, however, is that Harris has limited his argumentation to a fairly narrow area, and even at that, has not made much in the way of a policy debate. He isn’t looking for laws to be changed, etc. He is really attempting to raise people’s consciousness, with the notion that their behavior will change as a natural consequence.

Rand, on the other hand, was all about policy. Rand was pissed that the evils that she saw in Soviet Russia were, in her opinion, being recreated in America, and she lashed out against that, crystalizing her notion of how things should be in the process.

There is often a wide gulf between philosophy and policy, however, and if history tells us anything, it is that political systems that strive to adhere too closely to a given philosophy are usually dismal failures. In my opinion, this is because reality is a muddy thing, with numerous compromises and exceptions that have come about in an organic fashion. The best governments, while having philosophical roots, usually also have exceptions and compromises.

-Matt

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Posted: 20 June 2007 01:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Its been awhile since I have read Ayn Rand but I’m sure she never disagreed with the idea of kindness, love and such.  She believed hedonism/selfishness for one’s desire is how everyone should act.  One doesn’t have to be a hedonist and cruel at the same time.  I remeber reading a great essay by her on Woodstock and the Apollo space launch, can’t remember which Apollo launch it was.  Both events happened at the same time.  In her essay she emphasised how the Apollo launch followed the persuit of reason and the good that brings.  On the other hand the hippie movement followed the persuit of pleasure void of reason, from that she gives the consequences of this lifestyle.  She mentioned all the bad outcomes of Woodstock and the anti-rational hippie movement.  On the side the History channel just did an excellent series on the Hippie movement.

psiconoclast: Can you shortly list some of your thoughts on why Libertarianism is wrong? As of now Ron Paul is the candidate of choice for me.

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Posted: 20 June 2007 05:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“fletch_F_Fletch”]Its been awhile since I have read Ayn Rand but I’m sure she never disagreed with the idea of kindness, love and such.  She believed hedonism/selfishness for one’s desire is how everyone should act.  One doesn’t have to be a hedonist and cruel at the same time.  I remeber reading a great essay by her on Woodstock and the Apollo space launch, can’t remember which Apollo launch it was.  Both events happened at the same time.  In her essay she emphasised how the Apollo launch followed the persuit of reason and the good that brings.  On the other hand the hippie movement followed the persuit of pleasure void of reason, from that she gives the consequences of this lifestyle.  She mentioned all the bad outcomes of Woodstock and the anti-rational hippie movement.  On the side the History channel just did an excellent series on the Hippie movement.

My snarky comment: Apollo was the epitome of big government spending, and Woodstock was done entirely by private people acting freely. Oh the irony.

psiconoclast: Can you shortly list some of your thoughts on why Libertarianism is wrong? As of now Ron Paul is the candidate of choice for me.

It is no small task to succinctly explain what is wrong with Libertarian thought, mostly because it is such a mercurial target. There is a very academic philosophical core that is very refined, but the political implementations usually deviate from that core quite a bit. There is a group that I call pragmatic minarchists, and I have very little problem with them. They basically believe that the government needs to do some things, they are open to debate as to what those things are, but believe that the government should attempt to accomplish those things with as small a footprint as possible (IE, minimal waste). There are others, however, who feel that there is a very short list of things that the government should do, and that it should simply not do anything else. Finally, there are people who simply want to pay fewer taxes, and have more freedom to engage in behaviors that they may, or may not, want to engage in, with no fear of an interfering government.

I have sympathy with all of the above, actually. The problem is that, while they find common cause politically, the arguments with each “flavor” are not identical, so what follows here are basic criticisms, without regard for which branch they apply to. Libertarians or Objectivists reading this should not respond as if I have accused them personally of something, since that is by no means my intention.

One of my biggest problems with the more extreme variants of Libertarian thought is that it is plagued by the twin evils of not having been field tested, and being an all or nothing proposition. I submit that there is acknowledged world government that is organized under substantially Libertarian principles, and if I am wrong, I would gladly take a look. Also, the more extreme Libertarian camps argue that, in order for their ideas to work, the government needs to stop meddling, all over the place. When one stops and thinks about all the things that a government does, that it probably would not do in a purely Libertarian system, it becomes immediately apparent that a transition would likely be very painful. Even Libertarians will often acknowledge this, and often suggest trying to ramp the transition to lessen the pain, but it is unclear to me that a population would willingly submit to a Libertarian form of government long enough for the approach to actually “pay out”, if, indeed, it ever would.

The environment is another area in which I have big problems with Libertarian thought. Species go extinct left and right. Human civilizations have, throughout history, collapsed due to resource exhaustion. I am not moved by the Libertarian notion that people, as rational agents, will actually manage resources wisely. Every honest person will readily admit that pollution, at extreme enough levels, is a problem. When you really dig into Libertarian proposals on how to handle pollution, however, you will either see concessions to the need for regulation, or solutions that allow people rather more freedom to pollute than most people are comfortable with.

How should we deal with children? Libertarian thinkers tend to either ignore children, or treat them as little adults. Neither approach is, in my opinion, very good.

If I had to sum up all of my issues with Libertarianism in one thought, though, I would say that it squanders our shared “social capital”. This is not an original thought on my part, I should say, but it resonates with me, so I have incorporated it into my thinking on this matter. Our civilization is a collection of many things, culture, laws, science, technology, arts, etc. Taking a machete to the government, would, in my opinion, squander a lot of what we (as a people) have spent much time and effort building.

-Matt

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Posted: 20 June 2007 01:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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“Woodstock was done entirely by private people acting freely. Oh the irony.”

Who had to come in and save those private people acting freely?  Big Government.

Quick response to one thing that stood out.

When you really dig into Libertarian proposals on how to handle pollution, however, you will either see concessions to the need for regulation, or solutions that allow people rather more freedom to pollute than most people are comfortable with.

The thing that I like about the Libertarian viewpoint is its ability to keep the government small.  There are many big governments who have done very poor in the environment, after all the Soviet Union were very large polluters.  When you have corporations in bed with the government, or the government in bed with themselves the people have no way of putting checks and balances on corporations or the government.  Without a government that is so connected with corporations it is easier to sue a corporation who pollutes.  And I’m sure a Libertarian would be or can be for making it easier to sue a corporation.  If a corporation is polluting on your land or negatively impacting your land or yourself you have the right to sue.  I believe Libertarians feel if your land is polluted or you have been polluted by a company suing them is the best means to hold checks/balances on that corporation.  For example in the Exxon oil spill.  Who was responsible for cleaning that spill up?  Tax payers not Exxon.  Correct me if I’m wrong but Exxon was hardly penalized.  They still have ships that are extremely poor in protecting oil spills, and why should they invest in better ships the government will still compensate in cleaning up another spill.  Without a big government in bed with the oil companies another spill like that would put Exxon out of business.  Thoughts?

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Posted: 21 June 2007 10:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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[quote author=“fletch_F_Fletch”]The thing that I like about the Libertarian viewpoint is its ability to keep the government small.  There are many big governments who have done very poor in the environment, after all the Soviet Union were very large polluters.

The problem, though, is that many industrialized countries that have a good track record on pollution also have fairly big governments. The fact that some big governments have bad track records on the environment in no way proves that they all will.

Additionally, there are no Libertarian governments that we can look at, to see how well they would actually do, which is a concern.

I believe Libertarians feel if your land is polluted or you have been polluted by a company suing them is the best means to hold checks/balances on that corporation.

Yes, this is what Libertarians feel, at least as far as I can tell. Of course, without an EPA to test the land, or even to establish what is safe, or isn’t safe, the amount of money that people would have to spend to even prove that they had been wronged would make it a practical impossibility for most.

For example in the Exxon oil spill.  Who was responsible for cleaning that spill up?  Tax payers not Exxon.  Correct me if I’m wrong but Exxon was hardly penalized.  They still have ships that are extremely poor in protecting oil spills, and why should they invest in better ships the government will still compensate in cleaning up another spill.  Without a big government in bed with the oil companies another spill like that would put Exxon out of business.  Thoughts?

Under the scenario where private individuals must sue, who would have sued? How long would it have taken before the cleanup even began (nothing would happen while the suit was pending)? Should Exxon get a free ride? Hell no! But supposing that the situation would have been better for the public had there been no government response, save to adjudicate when private citizens filed a formal suit is asinine.

-Matt

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Posted: 21 June 2007 12:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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“The problem, though, is that many industrialized countries that have a good track record on pollution also have fairly big governments. The fact that some big governments have bad track records on the environment in no way proves that they all will.”

In no way do I believe you can look at the size of the government as the only factor for how much they will pollute.  My point was having a big government doesn’t mean pollution would be eliminated.  Pertaining to big governments with a good track record on pollution.  I believe there track record is good not because they have a big government but because the people sincerely care about the environment.  For instance, Germany just passed a law that would increase their energy bill by five percent and that extra money would go into research for solar panal energy.  What politician in America would ever propose this? Obviously someone who doesn’t want to get re-elected.  It goes back to what the people want.   

“EPA to test the land, or even to establish what is safe, or isn’t safe, the amount of money that people would have to spend to even prove that they had been wronged would make it a practical impossibility for most.”

What? You need a large organization such as EPA or FEMA to make sure everything is safe?  Why can’t state organizations perform such acts?  Why can’t state governors force corporations to provide additional funds to have their grounds tested for pollution by a state organization?  There are ways people and the state can put checks/balances on corporations.  Was the book “The Jungle” written by the EPA?  I’m sure environmental thinktanks wouldn’t stop doing what they are doing.  What if Dupont was actually held responsible for what they were doing and there wasn’t a large government there to play security guard for them Was it the EPA who discovered the horror at ‘Love Canal’?

Under the scenario where private individuals must sue, who would have sued? How long would it have taken before the cleanup even began (nothing would happen while the suit was pending)? Should Exxon get a free ride? Hell no! But supposing that the situation would have been better for the public had there been no government response, save to adjudicate when private citizens filed a formal suit is asinine.

Anyone who owned the land that had oil on it?  The state of Alaska certainly could have sued.  The state of Alaska could make laws that prohibite any oil tankers in their state without a two wall protector for the oil.  There are tankers out there that are much more practical for preventing oil spills oil companies simply won’t purchase them because they cost ‘too much money’.  Alaska could force any oil company that wants to ship oil from their state to have these ships.  Look, there are many ways from preventing an Exxon oil spill from happening, again none of which require a large government.  In fact I believe it is our large corrupted system that continues to allow these things.  Libertarians aren’t against government they are against people who throw away the Constitution.  The 10th Amendment gives room for state governments to act in accordance to their desires and when they have been violated.  How long for the cleanup is entirely up to the court system.  I’m sure FEMA would do a much better job.

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Posted: 21 June 2007 02:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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fletch_F_fletch:

You are more of a state’s rights/small federal gov. advocate than a true Libertarian, as is demonstrated by all the times that you talk about states passing laws, or having agencies.

I have far less quarrel with state’s rights advocates than with true Libertarians.

America is a huge country, and what holds true in one state does not hold true in all of them. Pushing responsibility as close to the local level as possible makes a lot of sense from a number of different perspectives.

There are some things, however, which are still appropriate for the federal government, and some environmental issues are included.

If carbon dioxide, for instance, is a major contributor to global warming, as many scientists argue, there is a number, that represents the amount of carbon dioxide that, if reached, will push the entire planet into a very bad place. Keeping us on the good side of that number is not something that should be left to chance. And yes, I am talking about the initiation of force, or at least the threat of the same.

-Matt

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Posted: 22 June 2007 03:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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You are more of a state’s rights/small federal gov. advocate than a true Libertarian

State rights/small federal gov. advocate is a true Libertarian.  They are saying the exact same thing.  How is a true Libertarian different than one who advocates state rights/small federal gov?  What examples did I use where a true Libertarian would disagree?

If carbon dioxide, for instance, is a major contributor to global warming, as many scientists argue, there is a number, that represents the amount of carbon dioxide that, if reached, will push the entire planet into a very bad place. Keeping us on the good side of that number is not something that should be left to chance. And yes, I am talking about the initiation of force, or at least the threat of the same.

What would make tighter carbon emmission levels? I don’t see how having a large government that receives much of its campaign contributions by large corporations solving your problem.  There are many states who are beginning to make their own initiative with helping the environment.  Just like stem-cell, I don’t know anything about it so morally I’ll refrain from giving my opinion, however I disagree with it from a constitution standpoint.  Our constitution does not provide tax dollars to be spent for scientific research at a Federal level, this however can be done at a state level.  And in fact it is going on right now in California and they are benefitting greatly, billions of dollars worth of jobs are pouring into California because they began to to take the initiative with stem cell research.  People for some reason feel states can’t do the same as the federal government can.  This is far from the truth.  On a final note, when people start agreeing with you, and they are, you will see state governmens crack down more on CO2 gas, which they are.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 03:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“fletch_F_Fletch”]State rights/small federal gov. advocate is a true Libertarian.  They are saying the exact same thing.  How is a true Libertarian different than one who advocates state rights/small federal gov?  What examples did I use where a true Libertarian would disagree?

My political stance is somewhat libertarian in concept, although I don’t consider myself a Libertarian. Small l versus big L. I don’t necessarily see the conflict as between the federal government and the state governments. Instead, I think the true conflict is between all government and the individual,  with my objective as setting reasonable limits on government’s intrusion into the individual’s personal life. State governments aren’t immune from the temptation to intrude into personal lives.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 04:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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fletch_F_fletch:

What I mean by “true” Libertarian has to do with the rabid, almost (but not quite) anarchic branch that wants to so emasculate government that it really can’t do anything.

Whether it is at the state level, or the federal level, however, you recognize that people need to cede a certain amount of power to the government in order to get certain things done.

IMHO, the central government vs. state’s rights argument, in this country, is about the organizational limits of certain initiatives. It should be painfully obvious that some things, like which side of the road we drive on, is something that should be the same everywhere, but other things, like building codes, for instance, really need to vary from region to region. Incidentally, this is where I get really steamed at many who call themselves Libertarians, they get upset at having to comply with building codes! I’m sure that, somewhere, there are some codes that are not reasonable, but, by in large, they are a very good thing.

Back to global warming for a moment, though: I agree that states can do a lot, but they can’t do it all. When it comes time to negotiate treaties with other countries, we need the federal government to act as our representative, unless you advocate dissolving the republic in favor of a union or a confederacy of some sort.

-Matt

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Posted: 22 June 2007 05:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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[quote author=“psiconoclast”]Whether it is at the state level, or the federal level, however, you recognize that people need to cede a certain amount of power to the government in order to get certain things done.

IMHO, the central government vs. state’s rights argument, in this country, is about the organizational limits of certain initiatives. It should be painfully obvious that some things, like which side of the road we drive on, is something that should be the same everywhere, but other things, like building codes, for instance, really need to vary from region to region. Incidentally, this is where I get really steamed at many who call themselves Libertarians, they get upset at having to comply with building codes! I’m sure that, somewhere, there are some codes that are not reasonable, but, by in large, they are a very good thing.

Excellent points. I like the principle of “compelling interest” in determining what power should belong to the government and what power belongs to the individual. From that standpoint, I see no compelling interest for government to ban same-sex marriage or even to make adultery illegal. But I do see a compelling interest in establishing reasonable building codes.

I’m undecided about smoking bans in bars and restaurants, even though the bans benefit me personally because I don’t smoke and I don’t want to expose my young children to the smoke when we go out to eat.

In my experience, most objections to the idea of building codes or zoning laws come from people who own construction companies.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“Carstonio”]Excellent points. I like the principle of “compelling interest” in determining what power should belong to the government and what power belongs to the individual. From that standpoint, I see no compelling interest for government to ban same-sex marriage or even to make adultery illegal. But I do see a compelling interest in establishing reasonable building codes.

Exactly. Same sex marriage, and, arguably, adultery fall into the category where people are simply attempting to use legislation to cement their personal morality. Building codes, OTOH, are in place for rational and demonstrable reasons, generally public safety related. Of course, I am sure that sometimes, the process gets corrupted, and codes change more to encourage the sale of some product, than to promote the public good, but when has any institution been free of corruption? We do the best we can.

I’m undecided about smoking bans in bars and restaurants, even though the bans benefit me personally because I don’t smoke and I don’t want to expose my young children to the smoke when we go out to eat.

This is an issue that I have internally debated for a long time myself. I’m not a regular smoker, although I do really enjoy the occasional cigar (especially with a good bourbon). I think that the problem is that people who support the smoking bans are not all coming at it from the same place. Some of those people are honestly motivated by public safety issues. Many of them, I suspect, are actually legislating their personal morality (smoking is icky, so ban it).

As it stands, though, I think that the state by state approach is working tolerably well, although I reserve the right to change my mind.

In my experience, most objections to the idea of building codes or zoning laws come from people who own construction companies.

True enough!

-Matt

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