“Intermediates: A Cuckoo For Mankind” by D.W. Cook

They co-evolved with us. They are unknown to mankind, and have our external physical appearance, with one difference: They phase from one gender to the other, as part of their reproductive cycle, seducing unwitting humans of both genders. Their continued survival as a species depends on taking their offspring from duped human mothers and in regarding mankind as a useful tool. They call themselves “Intermediates”.   https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XB7RKSS/


Zygote Wrangle Down In Texas: A Novellette

When Toby and Laura decided that only one of them wanted children, divorce seemed like the only answer. But, current technology provided another solution. Toby’s older and old-fashioned sister, Jennie, never liked it. Ten years later, Laura’s career has changed, bringing her closer to her husband -but can Jennie accept the change when she barely accepted their decision to separate marriage from parenthood in the first place? (About 16,000 words.)  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XCS41PT



Robert Heinlein: Some of His Writing I Love, But Some of It I Really Hate

I’ve decided that I have a “love/hate” relationship with Robert Heinlein’s fiction. I read “Tunnel in the Sky” the summer after eighth grade, and thought it was one of the best books I’d ever read. It was about a student in the future who takes a wilderness survival class, and the final exam is to be transported to another planet via teleportation to survive for a week -but something goes wrong and he and other students are trapped there indefinitely. At the time I was really into wilderness survival and science fiction, so I loved that book.

The “Door Into Summer” is a great novel about a brilliant inventor whose ideas are stolen, and his use of cryonics and time travel to get back what is his, as well as to meet the love of his life. It was a touching novel that almost moved me to tears.

“Orphans of the Sky” is about a “generation star ship” where the inhabitants have forgotten they are on a star ship and think that the “universe” consists of just the ship. The main character learns the truth, but the others don’t believe him -similar to Galileo. Also a great book about human institutions and superstitions in conflict with the facts of reality.

However, two of Heinlein’s books are quite possibly some of the most vicious science fiction novels I’ve ever read. First, there is “Stranger in a Strange Land” -arguably Heinlein’s most popular novel, but I absolutely hate it. It involves mysticism, non-monogamous “free love”, cannibalism, and some sort of mystical epistemology (“groking”). Heinlein said he wrote it to challenge every central tenet of Western Civilization. It was Charles Manson’s favorite novel with good reason, and, from what I’ve heard, Heinlein refused to take any responsibility for intellectually “aiding and abetting” that deranged mind.

“Waldo” is a shorter novella, and at the end of it I thought: “I’m not sure I want to believe Heinlein meant what I think this novella stands for.” Basically the main character is a misanthropic genius who is severely, physically disabled. At the end, he discovers some mystical power that lets him become physically fit again, and then slowly has pieces of his brain removed and becomes a vapid “every man” who gets along with everyone. What I took as the theme of the novel was: “You can either be intelligent, miserable, and physically deformed or you can be happy, stupid, and physically fit -but not both.” It seemed like a complete “mind-body false dichotomy” to me.

Thomas Hobbes on Accidental and Essential In “Leviathan”

In his book “Leviathan”, Thomas Hobbes prefaces his discussion of politics and the “social contract” with a discussion “Of Man”. (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3207/3207-h/3207-h.htm) (My references to “Leviathan” are to the Penguin Classics version, 1987, ISBN 0-14-043195-0 http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?bi=0&bx=off&ds=30&isbn=0140431950&recentlyadded=all&sortby=17&sts=t )

Hobbes recognizes that one must study the nature of man before discussing how men should be organized into society and what sort of political system they should adapt. He also recognizes that the nature of the human mind, and how it acquires knowledge, is key to understanding the nature of man.

In historical context, Hobbes lived in a time when some of the scientific assertions of Aristotle, which had been re-incorporated into Western thinking by Thomas Aquinas, were being questioned.

Galileo Galilei had presented evidence that tended to overthrow the Ptolemaic system, which had described the Earth as the center of the universe. This idea had become official doctrine of the Church with its adoption of Aristotle, through Thomas Aquinas, at the beginning of the Renaissance.

Hobbes wrote against this backdrop, in which all of Aristotle’s science, especially his cosmology, was starting to be questioned.

Despite his declared rejection of Aristotle, Hobbes didn’t go far enough in questioning the philosopher when it came to the distinction between “essential” and “accidental” properties of a thing. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accident_%28philosophy%29)

Although Hobbes was right to reject the Platonic/Aristotelian view of “essences”, his embrace of the idea of “accidental” features in things that are not man-made lead him to believe that definitions are based on mere “accidental” features.

An alternative to both Hobbes and the “realists” (Plato and Aristotle) holds that essential features are characteristics perceived by a particular type of mind, the human mind, to serve human purposes -ultimately, man’s life.

There is a long-standing debate in the history of philosophy about where the essential feature(s) that comprise a concept come from:

“The problem of universals is the problem of the correspondence of our intellectual concepts to things existing outside our intellect. Whereas external objects are determinate individuals, formally exclusive of all multiplicity, our concepts or mental representations offer us the realities independent of all particular determination; they are abstract and universal. The question, therefore, is to discover to what extent the concepts of the mind correspond to the things they represent; how the flower we conceive represents the flower existing in nature; in a word whether our ideas are faithful and have an objective reality.” (E.C. Moore, American Pragmatism: Peirce, James, and Dewey. New York: Columbia University Press (1961), quoting DeWulf, M. Catholic Encyclopedia, XI, “Nominalism, Realism and Conceptualism”(1909).)

“Since man’s knowledge is gained and held in conceptual form, the validity of man’s knowledge depends on the validity of concepts. But concepts are abstractions or universals, and everything that man perceives is particular, concrete. What is the relationship between abstractions and concretes? To what precisely do concepts refer in reality? Do they refer to something real, something that exists -or are they merely inventions of man’s mind, arbitrary constructs or loose approximations that cannot claim to represent knowledge?…To exemplify the issue as it is usually presented: When we refer to three persons as ‘men’, what do we designate by that term? The three persons are three individuals who differ in every particular respect and may not possess a single identical characteristic…If you list all their particular characteristics, you will not find one representing ‘manness.’ Where is the ‘manness’ in men? What, in reality, corresponds to the concept ‘man’ in our mind?” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd Ed., “Forward to the First Edition”. New York:Meridian (1990).)

Plato said that “essences” exist in pure form in some other realm, and that the world we see around us is just a vague, shadowy approximation of that real world of forms. This is probably what was meant by Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave

Plato said we are all like people who are chained and forced to face the wall of a cave with a fire behind us. We can see the shadows of people and other things as they pass by, but we cannot see the actual things. This is a metaphor for the idea that human senses do not perceive actual entities or things, just the shadows of things that actually exist. What actually exists are the “forms”, which are in some other realm. Human beings are merely perceiving the shadows of those forms. Those “forms” are what we mean when we speak of the essence of a thing. The “manness” that we perceive in men actually exists in some pure form in another realm, and the individual men that we perceive are just shadowy approximations of the “Platonic form” of man.

Plato’s student, Aristotle was somewhat more “this worldly” than his teacher. Aristotle rejected the idea that “forms” exist in some other realm. Instead, some scholars interpret Aristotle as saying that the “form” or “essence” of a thing exists within each concrete instance. http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/arist.htm The practical result of this would be that for Aristotle, studying concrete particular things is important to understanding them, since that “essence” of the thing exists somewhere within it, whereas Plato said the “essence” isn’t in the thing –the thing is just a shadow of that “pure essence”. Plato’s view of knowledge would tend to suggest that one gains knowledge by learning about some other world, other than the one you perceive, while Aristotle at least believed that you should study the things you can actually see and perceive in order to learn about their essence.

Starting in the late Middle Ages, the ideas of Aristotle were rediscovered by Western Scholars like Thomas Aquinas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Aquinas By the time of the Renaissance, much of Aristotle had been incorporated into Church doctrine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaissance The ideas of Aristotle and Aquinas became part of the “scholastic” tradition. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholasticism

In the 1600’s, Hobbes, and other thinkers and scientists, began to reject the ideas of the “Schoolmen” (the Scholastics).

“Lastly, the Metaphysiques, Ethiques, and Politiques of Aristotle, the frivolous Distinctions, barbarous Terms, and obscure Language of the Schoolmen, taught in the Universities, (which have been all erected and regulated by the Popes Authority,) serve them to keep these Errors from being detected, and to make men mistake the Ignis Fatuus of Vain Philosophy, for the Light of the Gospell.” (Leviathan, Pg. 708)

Along with the doctrines of Aristotle, Hobbes also denounced, amongst others, the idea of Papal infallibility (“…that the Pope In His Publique Capacity Cannot Erre…” Leviathan, Pg. 706) and transubstantiation (“…they assure the same, by the Power they ascribe to every Priest, of making Christ; and by the Power of ordaining Pennance; and of Remitting, and Retaining of sins.” Leviathan, Pg. 708)

Hobbes likely regarded Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as an “abuse of speech”:

“Secondly, when they use words metaphorically; that is, in other sense than that they are ordained for; and thereby deceive others.” (Leviathan, Pg. 102)

The allegory of the cave could be considered a “metaphorical” use of words, aimed at deceiving others into doubting the evidence of their senses.

If Hobbes rejected the essentialism of Plato and Aristotle, what did he believe we were referring to when we speak of an essential, defining characteristic of a thing?

For instance, I read an article about a chimpanzee that lost all of his hair in a zoo because of alopecia –a disease. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1322472/Guru-chimp-suffering-alopecia-looks-human-star-zoo-attraction.html)

This is what Hobbes says the schoolmen would say:

“From these Metaphysiques [the philosphy of Aristotle], which are mingled with the Scripture to make Schoole Divinity, wee are told, there be in the world certaine Essences separated from Bodies, which they call Abstract Essences, and Substantiall Formes…” (Leviathan, Pg. 689)

Aristotle tried to draw a distinction between “essential” and “accidental” properties of a thing to account for something like a chimpanzee without hair, and why it is still a chimpanzee. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accident_%28philosophy%29)

The fact that most chimpanzees have hair on their bodies must be an “accidental feature” of a chimpanzee. Something else must be “essential”.

Although he is not always clear on this point, I believe Hobbes thought all definitions ultimately rest on “accidental qualities”:

“Of Names, some are Proper, and singular to one onely thing; as Peter, John, This Man, This Tree: and some are Common to many things; as Man, Horse, Tree; every of which though but one Name, is nevertheless the name of divers particular things; in respect of all which together, it is called an Universall; there being nothing in the world Universall but Names; for the things named, are every one of them Individual and Singular.

One Universall name is imposed on many things, for their similitude in some quality, or other accident: And whereas a Proper Name bringeth to mind one thing onely; Universals recall any one of those many. ” (See Leviathan, pg. 103)

“Secondly, it may enter into account, or be considered, for some accident or quality, which we conceive to be in it; as for Being Moved, for Being So Long, for Being Hot, &c; and then, of the name of the thing it selfe, by a little change or wresting, wee make a name for that accident, which we consider; and for Living put into account Life; for Moved, Motion; for Hot, Heat; for Long, Length, and the like. And all such Names, are the names of the accidents and properties, by which one Matter, and Body is distinguished from another. These are called Names Abstract; Because Severed (not from Matter, but) from the account of Matter.” (See Leviathan, Pg. 107.)

In the above passages, Hobbes says there are “accidental qualities” that make up “matter” and “body”. Hobbes initially did seem to suggest that one “…Universal name is imposed on many things, for their similitude in some quality, or other accident…” (Leviathan, Pg. 103)

This could be interpreted as meaning he made a distinction between “similarity” and “accident”. So, for instance, the chimpanzee with alopecia has no hair as a result of an “accident” (a disease). However, given what he then gives as examples of “accident” (“living”, “moved”, “hot”, “long”, etc), the logical implication is that all characteristics of any given entity would ultimately be considered “accidental”.

Additionally, for Hobbes, a “body without us” is what is commonly called an “object”. “Objects” are the things we perceive with our senses:

“Concerning the Thoughts of man, I will consider them first Singly, and afterwards in Trayne, or dependance upon one another. Singly, they are every one a Representation or Apparence, of some quality, or other Accident of a body without us; which is commonly called an Object. Which Object worketh on the Eyes, Eares, and other parts of mans body; and by diversity of working, produceth diversity of Apparences.” (Leviathan, Pg. 85)

Every “object” that we perceive, according to Hobbes, is a “Representation” of “Apparence” of “some quality, or other Accident of a body [an object] without us; which is commonly called an Object.”

The logic of Hobbes’ view of knowledge is to say that everything about a particular entity that we call “matter” or “body” is just an accidental feature. Therefore, all of our concepts must be based on “accidental features”. There is no “essence”, as Plato or Aristotle speaks of them.

One of the strengths of Hobbes is his commitment to good definitions:

“Seeing then that Truth consisteth in the right ordering of names in our affirmations, a man that seeketh precise Truth, had need to remember what every name he uses stands for; and to place it accordingly; or els he will find himselfe entangled in words, as a bird in lime-twiggs; the more he struggles, the more belimed. And therefore in Geometry, (which is the onely Science that it hath pleased God hitherto to bestow on mankind,) men begin at settling the significations of their words; which settling of significations, they call Definitions; and place them in the beginning of their reckoning.

By this it appears how necessary it is for any man that aspires to true Knowledge, to examine the Definitions of former Authors; and either to correct them, where they are negligently set down; or to make them himselfe. For the errours of Definitions multiply themselves, according as the reckoning proceeds; and lead men into absurdities, which at last they see, but cannot avoyd, without reckoning anew from the beginning; in which lyes the foundation of their errours. From whence it happens, that they which trust to books, do as they that cast up many little summs into a greater, without considering whether those little summes were rightly cast up or not; and at last finding the errour visible, and not mistrusting their first grounds, know not which way to cleere themselves; but spend time in fluttering over their bookes; as birds that entring by the chimney, and finding themselves inclosed in a chamber, flitter at the false light of a glasse window, for want of wit to consider which way they came in. So that in the right Definition of Names, lyes the first use of Speech; which is the Acquisition of Science: And in wrong, or no Definitions’ lyes the first abuse; from which proceed all false and senslesse Tenets; which make those men that take their instruction from the authority of books, and not from their own meditation, to be as much below the condition of ignorant men, as men endued with true Science are above it. For between true Science, and erroneous Doctrines, Ignorance is in the middle. Naturall sense and imagination, are not subject to absurdity. Nature it selfe cannot erre: and as men abound in copiousnesse of language; so they become more wise, or more mad than ordinary. Nor is it possible without Letters for any man to become either excellently wise, or (unless his memory be hurt by disease, or ill constitution of organs) excellently foolish. For words are wise mens counters, they do but reckon by them: but they are the mony of fooles, that value them by the authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas, or any other Doctor whatsoever, if but a man.” (Leviathan, Pg. 105-106)

Here, Hobbes says that all authority must be rejected (specifically the authority of “…Aristotle…Cicero…[and]…Thomas [Aquinas]…” He says that one must “…examine the Definitions of former Authors…” to see if they are right or wrong. Hobbes says that failure to do so will cause one to “…find himselfe entangled in words…”

But, Hobbes doesn’t always follow his own advice on definitions. Hobbes uses the term “accidental” without thinking about what that means -what its definition is. The definition of “accident” is:

“a sudden event (such as a crash) that is not planned or intended and that causes damage or injury.”
“an event that is not planned or intended: an event that occurs by chance” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/accident)

An “accident” means something that was not planned or intended. With respect to “the metaphysical”, i.e., all aspects of reality that don’t involve human choice, the concepts of “planned” or “intended” do not apply. Only human beings, and, arguably, certain other types of living organisms, are capable of “planning” or “intent”. These concepts pertain to entities that possess a mind like human beings.

Similarly, the concept of “chance” means that an event occurs about which one does not have sufficient information to know for certain what the outcome will be. For instance, if I flip a coin, whether it will come up heads or tails is a question of “chance”, and I can speak of the probability that it will come up heads or tails.

If I had enough data about the original position of the coin prior to being tossed, the angle(s) and speeds of all the forces that worked on it when it was tossed, the wind and weather factors involved, etc., then I could know for certain whether the coin toss would end up heads or tails. It would no longer be a matter of “chance” because I have sufficient knowledge to know all the factors that are playing into its eventual resting state.

All inanimate things act in accordance with their nature, and the nature of other things that they interact with, and they absolutely must act that way. “Chance” is just a way of saying that a human being doesn’t have enough knowledge about the nature of certain inanimate things to know what the outcome will be.

For example, the fact that the Earth and the other planets came to revolve around the sun the way they do, and at the orbits they occupy, had to occur that way because of the nature of the Sun and the other planets. (Their masses, their speeds, their composition, etc.) The element of “chance” comes into play because human beings do not know all of the factors that led to the Earth orbiting the sun in the way it does. “Chance” is just a reflection of some human being’s level of knowledge on a subject.

As far as we know, only human beings make choices. Since only human beings can make plans or intend to bring about some event or goal, only human beings are capable of having their plans or intentions fail due to some ignorance, negligence, or irrationality on their part. Only human beings can have “accidents”, because only human beings can be mistaken.

This means that when it comes to reality, apart from those aspects that don’t involve human choice, nothing is “accidental”, because the concept does not apply. It’s like asking: what is the sound of one hand clapping? Or: what is outside the universe? Since clapping, by definition, is the striking together of two hands, it is a nonsense sentence. If the universe is all that exists, then you cannot speak of anything “outside” it, because anything that exists is part of the universe. “Outside” is also a relational concept, implying that something that exists is not within something else, so there is no “outside” the universe. (Arguably, there is no “inside” the universe, either.) Similarly, speaking of “accidental” aspects or features of reality, that don’t involve human choice, is a nonsense statement.

Going back to the chimpanzee with alopecia, the fact that he lost all of his hair is not an “accident”, nor is the fact that other chimps have their hair an “accident”. Chimps that don’t have alopecia have their hair because of their nature as a living organism, plus the nature of the rest of reality that they interact with. It isn’t an “accident” that chimps have hair. It had to be that way, because reality is what it is. There is no god making choices about how reality is going to be. Reality simply is. Only human beings make choices, that we know of, and only human beings can make plans. Human beings, not reality, are capable of having “accidents” -of making mistakes. If a chimp looses his hair for some reason that doesn’t involve human choice, it had to be that way because of the nature of certain diseases and the nature of the chimp’s body in reaction to those diseases.

What is the consequence of believing, as Hobbes appears to, that all features or characteristics of “matter” and “body” are “accidental”? He would have to believe that all concepts that human being hold must be, in some sense, “accidental”. Concepts for Hobbes are not going to be fully real to him. Hobbes is what is known today as a “nominalist”:

“Denying that concepts have an objective basis in the facts of reality, nominalists declare that the source of concepts is a subjective human decision: men arbitrarily select certain characteristics to serve as the basis (the “essentials”) for a classification; thereafter, they agree to apply the same term to any concretes that happen to exhibit these “essentials,” no matter how diverse these concretes are in other respects. On this view, the concept (the term) means only those characteristics initially decreed to be ‘essential’. The other characteristics of the subsumed concretes bear no necessary connection to the ‘essential’ characteristics, and are excluded from the concepts meaning.

Observe that, while condemning Plato’s mystic view of a concept’s meaning, the nominalists embrace the same view in a skeptic version. Condemning the essence-accident dichotomy as implicitly arbitrary, they institute an explicitly arbitrary equivalent. Condemning Plato’s ‘intuitive’ selection of essences as a disguised subjectivism, they spurn the disguise and adopt subjectivism as their official theory…Condemning Plato’s supernaturally determined essences, they declare that essences are socially determined, thus transferring to the province of human whim what had once been the prerogative of Plato’s divine realm. The nominalists’ ‘advance’ over Plato consisted of secularizing his theory.”(Leonard Peikoff, “The Analytic Synthetic Dichotomy.” In: Rand, A. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd Ed.” New York:Meridian (1990).)

Hobbes is correct that all definitions of concepts rest on human choices -that all essences are based on human choice. He is mistaken in believing that certain aspects or characteristics of the things we perceive, given certain contexts of knowledge, should be considered no more essential than all of their other features, though. This is because the human mind has a certain nature, and it must organize the material it perceives in accordance with that nature if it is going to function effectively. Since human thought serves human life, certain characteristics of the entities we perceive are more fundamental than others, because we adopt certain principles of “fundamentality” that serve our nature as living beings with a certain nature of mind.

“Now observe, on the above example, the process of determining an essential characteristic: the rule of fundamentality. When a given group of existents has more than one characteristic distinguishing it from other existents, man must observe the relationships among these various characteristics and discover the one on which all the others (or the greatest number of others) depend, i.e., the fundamental characteristic is the essential distinguishing characteristic of the existents involved, and the proper defining characteristic of the concept.

Metaphysically, a fundamental characteristic is that distinctive characteristic which makes the greatest number of others possible; epistemologically, it is the one that explains the greatest number of others.” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd Ed., Chapter 5, “Definitions”. New York:Meridian (1990).)

For instance, in the case of the chimpanzee, we know that it is a living organism that must obtain the fuel necessary for its continued existence. It must gather food and other resources. It will seek out females to reproduce with because all living organisms are capable of reproducing themselves, and, with the possible exception of humans, are driven by inexorable mating cycles to do so. Its internal organs are all aimed at sustaining itself. It reacts to its environment and attempts to adapt itself to that environment in a manner that will allow for its continued existence, so it behaves in certain ways. It possesses a consciousness that is, perhaps different from human beings, but a consciousness, nonetheless.

Take away its hair, and the chimpanzee is still a living organism, albeit one that is in a diseased state, so it might not be quite as successful at living. To the extent that human beings interact with a chimpanzee without hair, they will still do so in largely the same way. Hair, as far as human beings are concerned, is not an essential feature of the chimp. But, this is only as far as a human being are concerned. Outside of the way human beings organize certain entities that they perceive in their minds in order to serve human purposes, every entity is unique. No two chimpanzees are the same. The concept of “similarity” serves human needs.

What are some of the “principles of ‘fundamentality’” that human beings adopt in order to serve their purposes? Probably the most important one is the principle of causality. We try to find aspects of reality that we can use to bring about certain results. This is important because reason is our means of survival. So, for instance, we find that certain types of molds kill bacteria. A certain type of mold is the “cause” of bacteria death. We then extract the substance from that mold that leads to the death of certain types of bacteria, and make antibiotics. This means that when we form concepts we look for characteristics that are the “cause” of other characteristics of the thing. The more characteristics of a thing that a particular characteristic(s) causes, the more likely it is to be considered “fundamental”.

This isn’t always an easy task, since we may have incomplete knowledge, but this is what we are doing when we try to find “essential features” of a thing -and finding those essential features is necessary for successful living by human beings. The fact that the concept of essential features is necessary for living life means that there is a “right” and a “wrong” -that some ideas held by human beings are “true” and others are “false”. If one person believes that penicillin kills bacteria while another believes that voodoo incantations will cure disease, then the former is right and the later is wrong. If you want to live, then it’s not all just a matter of arbitrary definitions based on “accidental qualities”.

In the case of a chimpanzee, the fact that he has hair is not considered a fundamental feature. Other mammals have hair, and it doesn’t explain most of the chimp’s behavior patterns or the overall structure of his body. He also is still capable of reproduction with other chimpanzees, which is a strong indicator that an animal is the same species as another animal -although not always a definite indicator. (Wolves and coyotes can interbreed.) Why is interbreeding such a strong indicator? Because two animals breeding and giving rise to offspring tends to be very important to human beings in terms of farming. Agriculture, at least since the Neolithic period, is important to mankind because livestock for food and other purposes is important to human survival.

Essential features are neither “out there”, as Plato/Aristotle would say, nor “arbitrary creations”, as Hobbes would have to say. They are aspects of realty perceived and organized by a certain type of organism, a human being, who needs them to serve a certain purpose, which is living.

The legacy of Hobbes and of the Enlightenment is one in which tradition and authority is questioned. Hobbes just didn’t go far enough when he accepted, without criticism, the idea of “accidental qualities”, because the concept of “accident” does not apply to those aspects of reality that exist apart from human choice. (The “metaphysical”.) Only the metaphysical should be accepted, while all human choices and institutions should be judged, and, if necessary, reformed, if one wants to live.

A Review of “Altruism as Appeasement” by Ayn Rand

In 1962, Ayn Rand asked a student at MIT why so many of “…today’s young intellectuals were becoming ‘liberals’…” (pg. 32) A few weeks later, the MIT student wrote Miss Rand a letter, outlining his thinking on the subject. Miss Rand wrote “Altruism as Appeasement”, which expands on the response she got from this MIT student. This essay can be found in The Voice of Reason. (My page citations below are to the 1989 Meridian version, ISBN number: 0-452-01046-2)

In his letter, the student told Miss Rand that “The majority of college students…do not choose to think; they accept the status quo, conform to the prescribed code of values, and evade the responsibility of independent thought…’In adopting this attitude, they are encouraged by teachers who inspire imitation, rather than creation.’” (Pg. 32)

However, there is another group who are “…not willing to renounce their rational faculty.” Miss Rand then quotes at length from the MIT student’s letter: “‘They are the intellectuals -and they are the outsiders….They are teased and rejected by their schoolmates. An immense amount of faith in oneself and a rational philosophical basis are required to set oneself against all that society has ever taught…The man who preaches individual integrity, pride, and self-esteem is today virtually nonexistent. Far more common is the man who, driven by the young adult’s driving need for acceptance, has compromised. And here is the key -[the result of] the compromise is the liberal.’”

What is the psychological result? Most “liberal intellectuals” are driven by a strong guilt complex, because a person who sets himself against society in favor of rationality will feel guilt due to his rejection by the mediocrities around him. The “liberal” “…’loudly proclaims the brotherhood of all men. He seeks to serve his escapist brothers by guaranteeing them their desire for social security…’” (Pg. 33) “Liberals” are driven to atone for their false guilt, and they do so by working for “…’their welfare…’” (Pg. 33)

Miss Rand agreed with the MIT student regarding the psychological process he had identified, however: “…the situation he [the MIT student] describes is not new; it is as old as altruism; nor is it confined to ‘liberals’.” She says that this is the “…story of men who spend their lives apologizing for their own intelligence.” (Pg. 33)

Miss Rand then describes how this psychological process works out in the mind of the average college student. In an effort to avoid a massive quantity of quotations, I will summarize Miss Rand’s description of this process as best I can, as well as discuss some of my own observations that have led me to believe that Miss Rand is describing a psychological process that occurs very often in the mind of persons that usually self-identify as “liberals” or, more often today, as “progressives”.

When I originally read this essay in the mid-nineties, I was 19 or 20 years old. I hadn’t had enough experience to know if Miss Rand was right, so I just mentally “shelved” the issue. 20 years later, I’ve dealt with and seen enough people, and I’ve spent enough time thinking about their behavior, that I consider Miss Rand’s theory in “Altruism as Appeasement” to be a highly probable explanation for many people that are college educated, and self-describe as “liberals”, “progressives” or “social democrats”.

Miss Rand observes that bright children have a sense of being trapped in a “nightmare universe” when they are growing up. Growing up mostly in the Bible Belt and going to public school, I can relate to this description of childhood. In the South, large numbers of people will tell you that you are going to hell for some inherent moral vice called “original sin”, unless you repent your non-existent guilt to god. This could certainly be a frightening prospect for a child. In my own case, I started questioning the existence of god around age 13, and my mother must have sensed that because I was made to go to church despite the fact that I wasn’t particularly interested. Fortunately, the church that I was sent to was fairly “liberal”, and didn’t take the bible literally, so it could have been worse, I suppose.

Public schools, especially high school, were filled with their share of bullies -by which I mean children that would engage in low-level initiations of physical force, especially against anyone who didn’t seem to fit in, or that their emotions told them deserved such treatment. (By low-level initiations of physical force, I mean things like handing out quadriceps contusions —a “deadleg”- or being spit on, or having your books knocked out of your hands in the hall, etc.) Although in my case, by the 11th grade, most of the kids that were initiating physical force against others had either been removed from the school to a special “alternative school”, or were already in jail. Additionally, Plano Independent Schools contain a large number of children with parents that actually care about academic achievement and personal success, so my overall public school experience wasn’t what I’d call a “nightmare”. I suspect that an inner-city public school would be four years of complete hell all the way through, and make my experience look like I was living in Galt’s Gulch (a utopia).

I discovered Ayn Rand’s philosophy when I was about 15, and I did note that most people were hostile to Miss Rand’s ideas, if they knew about them at all. I did have a couple of teachers that seemed sympathetic towards her ideas, but that was rare. So, I can relate when Miss Rand says that the intelligent teenager wants to “…understand things and issues, big issues, about which no one else seems to care.” (Pg. 33)

Miss Rand goes on to say that most intelligent teenagers start college with the hope that it will be better, but their first year is too often a “psychological killer”(Pg. 33). He went to college hoping to find answers and meaning, and some companions to share his interest in ideas. She notes that he may find a handful of teachers that live up to his hopes, but “…as to intellectual companionship, he finds the same gang he had met in kindergarten, in playgrounds, and in vacant lots: a leering, screeching, aggressively mindless gang playing the same games, with latinized jargon replacing the mud pies and the baseball bats.” (Pg. 34)

I found Rand’s description of college to be fairly accurate at the University of Texas at Austin, which is easily the most left-wing school in Texas. One English professor was particularly terrible. He interpreted everything we read through the lens of “multiculturalism” and “feminism”. He told the class that Thomas Jefferson was a racist and a hypocrite when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. I raised my hand and disagreed with him. I told him that the Declaration of Independence may not have been consistently applied at the founding, but it formed the intellectual basis on which the nation eventually moved towards abolishing slavery. His response was that the civil war was the reason the slaves were freed. I disagreed, and said that slavery would have been abolished eventually anyway. In that professor’s mind, ideas had nothing to do with it. The use of physical force was all that mattered. It makes me wonder why he bothered to be a professor at all, if he thought ideas were so futile.

Going back to Miss Rand’s essay, how do too many intelligent college students deal with the intellectual wasteland that is college? “There are many wrong directions he can make at this crossroads, but the deadliest -psychologically, intellectually, and morally- is the attempt to join the gang at the price of selling his soul to uninterested buyers. It is an attempt to apologize for his intellectual concerns…by professing that his thinking is dedicated to some social-altruistic goal.” (Pg. 34) She notes that this is rarely a conscious decision on his or her part. It is done gradually and subconsciously and by semiconscious rationalization. She also notes that altruism “…offers an arsenal of such rationalizations: if an unformed adolescent can tell himself that his…subservience is unselfishness…he is hooked. By the time he is old enough to know better, the erosion of his self-esteem is such that he dares not face or reexamine the issue.” (pg. 34)

What is the psychology of an intelligent person who goes to college and professes that he is using his mind to serve others? Such a man or woman has some “…degree of social metaphysics [secondhandedness]…” (Pg. 34) The concept of “social metaphysics” requires some explanation, which Rand does supply: “Basically, a social metaphysician is motivated by the desire to escape the responsibility of independent thought, and he surrenders the mind he is afraid to use, preferring to follow the judgments of others.” (Pg. 34)

If you’ve read Miss Rand’s book The Fountainhead, the character Peter Keating is the ultimate “second-hander” or “social metaphysician”. If you haven’t read that novel, it could be thought of as the “go along to get along” type of personality. (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/go_along_to_get_along) It does not mean never compromising on non-fundamental or trivial matters. So, for instance if you are going to dinner with a friend, and they prefer Italian food and you want Chinese, and you compromise by going to an Italian restaurant, with the understanding that next time you will pick the restaurant, that isn’t social metaphysics. That is simply recognizing that there are a range of food preferences that vary by person, you can only go to one place at a time, and that friendship is about shared values, which means showing an interest in what your friends are interested in.

The social metaphysician regards society -others- as the standard of reality. The social order as it happens to exist is accepted by him, or her, and then he or she operates within it. A social metaphysician can be quite successful at operating within that social order, but she never questions it. This is why Rand called them social metaphysicians.

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the most fundamental aspects of the nature of reality. Metaphysics are the principles that must be understood before one can study particular sciences like physics or biology. For instance, in Miss Rand’s philosophy, she accepts the existence of an external universe as the given. The entities that make up the universe have a particular nature and those entities act in accordance with that nature. According to Miss Rand’s system of metaphysics, an entity is what it is regardless of anyone’s desires or wishes to the contrary. If one is a social metaphysician, then the metaphysical, i.e., reality, is less important than the “man-made”. The man-made includes all of our social institutions and customs. Unlike reality, the man-made depends on human choice, and could be other than it is. For instance, America is a Republic and not a Monarchy because people chose to make it that way. It’s continued existence as a Republic depends on human choice. The social metaphysician simply accepts these man-made customs as the given, and rarely questions them. In fact, a social metaphysician has so internalized this way of thinking, that anyone who questions generally accepted social institutions will make her feel uneasy.

Social metaphysicians who are less intelligent, and didn’t go to college, are the “good old boys” and “rednecks” that one might see in a small, rural town. The social metaphysician is also quite common in inner cities, but I don’t know what the polite word to describe them would be. For lack of a polite term, I will call them “black rednecks”. A “black redneck” from a large inner city like Chicago or New York will be highly critical of anyone from his neighborhood who studies hard and tries to better his economic standing. He will accuse high-achievers in his race of “acting white”. This is a perfect example of the social metaphysician attitude. The “black redneck” believes there are certain social customs and institutions that are not to be questioned -unfortunately those social customs and institutions in minority communities include the belief that gaining knowledge and education is not in accordance with being of African descent. Anyone from his racial group who defies those customs is therefore a traitor in the social metaphysician’s eyes. There was once a great episode of a show that I didn’t typically watch that covered this topic, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” where the “nerdy” character “Carlton” is accused of being a race-traitor.

Another great essay by Rand describing basically the same mentality as this type of social metaphysician, the “anti-conceptual tribalist”, can be found in Philosophy: Who Needs It called: The Missing Link.

The intelligent teenager who goes to college and has the “social metaphysician” mindset will not become a redneck, though. He (or she) will become a “liberal” -which is the “educated” equivalent. To a social metaphysician college student, it seems like all of his professors and peers accept the idea that the individual must sacrifice himself to the “common good”. This means that in the social metaphysician’s eyes, the idea of self-sacrifice is one of the social institutions and custom of college. It is the social order that is not to be questioned.

The psychology of social metaphysics doesn’t entirely explain the “liberal mindset”, however. The college “liberal” is also engaged in “intellectual appeasement”: “…an intellectual appeaser surrenders morality, the realm of values, in order to be permitted to use his mind. The degree of self-abasement is greater [than the social metaphysician]; the implicit view of the mind -as functioning by permission of the mindless -is unspeakable. (Nor does the appeaser often care to speak of it.)” (Pg. 34)

“There are as many variants of the consequences [of being an intellectual appeaser] as there are men who commit this particular type of moral treason. But certain scars of psychological deformity can be observed in most of them as their common symptoms.” (Pg. 35) Rand then describes some common consequences of being an intellectual appeaser.

First, the intellectual appeaser tends to hate mankind in general, and to regard them as “…evil by nature, he complains about their congenital stupidity…” (pg. 35) I regard the “people are stupid” attitude as the hallmark of the “liberal” or “progressive”. “Liberal” politicians like Michael Bloomberg pass laws to restrict the size of sugary drinks because he thinks people are too stupid to regulate their own caloric intake. The “liberal”, intellectual appeaser view of “…the people at large is a nightmare image -the image of a mindless brute endowed with some inexplicably omnipotent power -and he lives in terror of that image…emotionally, he keeps feeling the brute’s presence behind every corner…The brute is the frozen embodiment of mankind as projected by the emotions of an adolescent appeaser.” (Pg. 35)

In my own experience, the belief that the majority of people are brutish is why most “liberals” are for gun control. They believe that most human beings are seething cauldrons of rage who will snap at the slightest provocation -that they are brutes. I saw this when Texas legalized concealed carry with a license in the mid-1990’s. “Liberals” claimed that it would lead to the “wild west” -with people shooting each other over trivial matters like parking spots. This is not to say that murder never happens, but the world today is arguably less violent than it has ever been. (“Steven Pinker: The surprising decline in violence” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ramBFRt1Uzk )

Second, a “…corollary symptom, in most intellectual appeasers, is the ‘elite’ premise -the dogmatic, unshakable belief that ‘the masses don’t think,’ that men are impervious to reason, that thinking is the exclusive prerogative of a small, ‘chosen’ minority.” (Pg. 36) In politics, this “elitism” manifests itself in the form of two types of “intellectual appeasers”. There are the more aggressive “liberals”, who believe in rule by physical force because “…people are unfit for freedom and should be ruled -‘for their own good’- by a dictatorship of the ‘elite’.”(Pg. 36) These are the Michael Bloomberg’s and Hillary Clinton’s of the world, who want to force people to buy smaller soft drinks or to buy health insurance because they are supposedly too stupid to take care of themselves.

Unfortunately, the other type of intellectual appeaser is predominately found in the Republican Party: “The more timorous type of appeasers, the ‘conservatives,’ take a different line: they share the notion of an intellectual ‘elite’ and, therefore, they discard intellectuality as numerically unimportant, and they concentrate on cajoling the brute (‘the masses’) with baby talk -with vapid slogans, flattering bromides, folksy speeches in two-syllable words, on the explicit premise that reason does not work, that the brute must be won through appeals to his emotions and must, somehow, be fooled or cheated into taking the right road.”(Pg. 36)

This analysis of conservatism provides a possible explanation for the popularity of Donald Trump in the Republican party. One thing I’ve noticed about Trump’s campaign is that it tends to be short on many specifics, but it contains a lot of emotional appeals, bromides, and verbal “put downs” of the other Republican candidates. This is not something new within the Republican party, though. Ronald Reagan was the master of “flattering bromides”, “folksy speeches”, and one-liners at debates. Trump is just a little bit more blunt in his delivery than Reagan was.

A third consequence of being an intellectual appeaser is moral cowardice, which is “…the necessary consequence of discarding morality as inconsequential.”(Pg. 36) For the “progressive” intellectual appeaser, the image of the brute is “…the symbol of an appeaser’s belief in the supremacy of evil…when his mind judges a thing to be evil, his emotions proclaim its power, and the more evil, the more powerful.” (Pg. 36)

This can be understood in terms of what the intellectual appeaser has accepted as “good” or “moral”. The intellectual appeaser is a proponent of self-sacrifice in the service of others, which is generally known as “altruism”. This means that “good” action for the altruist consists in destroying one’s own happiness and sacrificing one’s life in order to serve others. As a result, “good” and “right action” is self-weakening, and self-destructive. To the altruist, those who do not engage in self-sacrifice will be regarded as morally bad. However, the altruist can see that people who do not sacrifice themselves to others are more successful at living. For instance, someone who rejects altruism will have more wealth because they refuse to drain off their financial resources to help complete strangers. The person who rejects altruism has an easier life. In the altruist’s subconscious mind, the good has become associated with self-destruction, while the evil has become associated with the efficacious. The mistake lies in the intellectual appeaser’s belief that self-sacrifice is “the good”, when it is, in fact, the opposite of the good -if one wants to live.

The result of the intellectual appeaser’s inverted moral system is his belief that “…the self-assertive confidence of the good [the good by the standard of those who actually want to live] is a reproach, a threat to his precarious pseudo-self-esteem, a disturbing phenomenon from a universe whose existence he cannot permit himself to acknowledge -and his emotional response is a nameless resentment. The self-assertive confidence of the evil [those who violate individual rights] is a metaphysical confirmation, the sign of a universe in which he feels at home -and his emotional response is bitterness, but obedience. Some dictators -who boastfully stress their reign of terror, such as Hitler and Stalin -count on this kind of psychology. There are people on whom it works.” (Pg. 37)

The final result of this sort of moral cowardice of the “liberal” intellectual appeaser is to oppose those who want to live, the actual good, in order to appease those who want to violate individual rights, and eventually “…to pounce upon every possible or impossible chance to blacken the nature of the good and to whitewash the nature of the evil.” (Pg. 37) This is why so-called “liberals” were always quick to apologize for atrocities and human rights violations committed by the Soviet Union. It’s also why “liberals” engage in ad hominem criticisms of Ayn Rand because she collected social security -like we’re all supposed to be forced to pay into that system and then “fall on our own swords” and not try to collect out of it. (This is altruist thinking.)

A fourth consequence of being an intellectual appeaser can be seen in art. “Progressives” are always fascinated by movies and art that is a “…projection of cosmic terror, guilt, impotence, misery, doom…” (Pg. 37) “Liberals” and “progressives” are fascinated with movies that study “homicidal maniacs” (Pg. 37), like “Natural Born Killers” or “Dexter” because of their subconscious belief that such people are the norm. They believe destruction is the norm, while creation is an aberration, because they hate mankind.

A fifth consequence of being a “liberal” intellectual appeaser is “…the dry rot of cynicism…”(Pg. 38) that eventually sets in. As the “liberal” appeaser grows older, any “…pretense at any belief in altruism vanishes from his [or her] mind in a very few years, and there is nothing left to replace it: his independent capacity to value has been repressed -and his fear of the brute makes the pursuit of values seem hopelessly impractical.” (Pg. 38) I suspect that this is the point that has been reached by a politician like Hillary Clinton. At this stage in her life, she is probably running on fumes. Her denial of any responsibility in the attacks on the American embasy in Benghazi, and her attempt to shift blame onto a YouTube video shows this sort of cynicism. In response to Congressional criticism about Benghazi, Hillary Clinton said: “What difference at this point does it make?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ka0_nz53CcM) It doesn’t make any difference in Clinton’s mind, because the truth doesn’t matter. All that matters to her is whether she can con the American people into making her President.

Sixth, the intellectual appeaser ultimately spends so much time pandering to her own image of the “the masses” as a stupid, irrational mob, that she eventually “…assumes the standards of those he [or she] professes to despise…Any man who is willing to speak or write ’down,’, i.e., to think down- who distorts his own ideas in order to accommodate the mindless, who subordinates truth to fear -becomes eventually indistinguishable from the hacks who cater to an alleged ‘public taste.’ He joins the hordes who believe that the mind is impotent, that reason is futile, that ideas are only means of fooling the masses (i.e., that ideas are important to the unthinking, but the thinkers know better…” (Pg. 38) In my own experience with self-described “liberals” and “progressives”, this has been true. They will imply to me that reason is just a means of tricking or fooling people, and that objective truth is not even possible.

Ayn Rand had a more realistic picture of the majority of mankind than the “liberal” appeaser: “No, men are not brutes; neither are they all independent thinkers. The majority of men are not intellectual initiators or orginiators; they accept what the culture offers them….their abstract range is limited…The truly deliberately evil men are a very small minority; it is the appeaser who unleashes them on mankind; it is the appeaser’s intellectual abdication that invites them to take over…When the ablest men turn into cowards, the average men turn into brutes.” (Pg. 39)

Ayn Rand was not pessimistic about the future, so long as the more intelligent people refused to become altruistic intellectual appeasers: “No, the average man is not morally inocent. But the best proof of his non-brutality, of his helpless, confused, inarticulate longing for truth, for an intelligible, rational world -and of his response to it, when given a chance he cannot create on his own -is the fact that no dictatorship has ever lasted without establishing censorship.” (Pg. 39)

How does one avoid becoming an intellectual appeaser? By being “…proud of his intelligence -regardless of their [the average person’s] approval or disapproval. No matter how hard this might be in a corrupt age like ours, he has, in fact, no alternative. It is his only chance at a world where intelligence can function, which means: a world where he -and, incidentally, they -can survive.”  (Pg. 39)

Regrettably, I suspect that by the time most people are about 30, it would be very difficult for them to change. They have too many habituated behaviors and thought patterns. But, Ayn Rand remains popular with the young, so I think that there is still a chance.

Bernie Sanders: The Pied Piper of Self-Sacrifice

Bernie Sanders will likely loose the Democratic Party Primary. Despite this, I want to take a moment to discuss his ideology and his philosophy, which must be resisted -if you regard your own life and the pursuit of your own happiness as important. This is true whether you are “rich” or “poor”. I will discuss Mr. Sander’s philosophy in the context of an interview I found online. The interviewer’s name was Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB CEO Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. Mr. Rosica is a Catholic Priest. The interview with Bernie Sanders was posted on the Washington Post web site, and can be found in its entirety at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/bernie-sanders-calls-pope-francis-a-socialist/2016/02/22/9fefd340-d9b4-11e5-8210-f0bd8de915f6_video.html

I transcribed the portions of the interview that I considered to be relevant to what I want to write about here:

Bernie Sanders: [1:00 minutes] “What the Pope has done in a very bold way is not only talk about the dispossessed…people who just don’t have enough income to survive…but what he has also done is raise the issue of the worship of money, the idolatry of money, and to say maybe that’s not what human life should be about…”

Fr. Rosica: [1:40 minutes]“They call you a socialist…do you think he’s a socialist [Pope Francis]?”

Bernie Sanders:[1:54 minutes] “….Well, what it means to be a socialist in the sense of what the Pope is talking about, and what I’m talking about, is to say that we have got to do our best and live our lives in a way that alleviates human suffering, uh, that does not accelerate the disparities of income and wealth. Uh, when he talks about wealth being used to serve people – not as an end in itself- I agree with that. In this country, and obviously the Pope is a worldwide figure, the church is worldwide, we are the wealthiest country in the history of the world, and if you go out in the street and you ask people, “Did you know that we’re the wealthiest country in the world?” They’d say “No, I’m working two or three jobs, I’m making 8 dollars an hour, I don’t know that we’re the wealthiest. I can’t afford childcare for my children.” So, what the Pope is saying is that human life, our existence, should be more than just the accumulation of more and more wealth, and everybody knows that right now we have the wealth, we have the technology, to provide at least a decent standard of living for all of our people, and so few should not have so much, and I think that’s what the Pope is talking about.”

Mr. Sanders isn’t exclusively talking about more welfare for poor people here. This is made clear when he says: “What the Pope has done in a very bold way is not only talk about the dispossessed…people who just don’t have enough income to survive…but what he has also done is raise the issue of the worship of money, the idolatry of money, and to say maybe that’s not what human life should be about…” (emphasis added) Mr. Sanders claims that people “worship” money.

What is money? It is a medium of exchange used instead of the barter system. Money involves trade. It is used when people want to voluntarily exchange goods and services with each other. It presupposes that (1) Each party to the transaction has something that the other regards as valuable, and (2) that each party has a right to use and transfer what he has produced as he sees fit. Why does each person have the right to dispose of what he has produced? It can only be the case if one regards his own life as important to him -if he wants to live. Money is a tool -it is a means of satisfying your material wants and needs by voluntary trade with other people who are also interested in satisfying their material needs. We all have these material needs -we all need a certain number of material goods in order to live. We all need food, clothing, and shelter, and it isn’t provided by nature. It must be produced by someone. If some produce while other appropriate by force what they have produced, then those producers are not free to live their lives. They are slaves to those who don’t produce.

I would hasten to add that it is possible to be irrational about the pursuit of money. It’s possible to pursue it over and above other things that would be more important to a rational human being. In the novel “A Christmas Carol”, Ebenezer Scrooge chooses to pursue more money over a marriage to the woman he loved (Belle):

[Belle:] “Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man.”… [Scrooge:]“Have I ever sought release?” [Belle:] “In words. No. Never.” [Scrooge:]“In what, then?” [Belle:] “In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us,” said the girl, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him; [Belle:] “tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no!” He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite of himself. But he said with a struggle, [Scrooge:] “You think not.” [Belle:] “I would gladly think otherwise if I could,” she answered, [Belle:] “Heaven knows! When I have learned a Truth like this, I know how strong and irresistible it must be. But if you were free to-day, to-morrow, yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose a dowerless girl—you who, in your very confidence with her, weigh everything by Gain: or, choosing her, if for a moment you were false enough to your one guiding principle to do so, do I not know that your repentance and regret would surely follow? I do; and I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were.” He was about to speak; but with her head turned from him, she resumed. [Belle:] “You may—the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will—have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen!” (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm)

Scrooge was not truly acting in a manner that promoted his own life. He chose a little more money over love of a “dowerless girl”. (A “dowry” was money or property that a wife or wife’s family gives to her husband when the wife and husband marry.) The problem here is Scrooge had already satisfied a certain level of material well-being, but he choose a few more dollars over the love of his life (Belle). Even in this case, who did Ebenezer Scrooge hurt -in the most fundamental sense? He hurt himself. (Belle went on to find a man that valued her in a more rational manner -as shown by a later scene in “A Christmas Carroll”.) Scrooge’s own life was (presumably) of utmost importance to him, but he damaged that life by pursuing more money over Belle.

Rational egoism means making your own life your ultimate value, and recognizing that reality demands that you must take certain actions in order to further it, such as working to produce the material values you need to survive. But, rational egoism means more than just acquiring material wealth. If you want to fall in love, you actually have to go out, and try to meet people, and you have to go out on dates. If you want friends, you have to find people that you have things in common with, and make an effort to make them a part of your life. If you want knowledge, you must read books, go to school, and study new ideas. If you want to be rational, you must study logic, and learn the method of objectivity. If you want happiness, you must discover what will make you happy, and then pursue it relentlessly. The level of wealth that each of us chooses to acquire in relation to other important values is a personal matter, and will often depend on your personal context and situation. One of the values of Capitalism is that it leaves each individual free to decide what level of wealth he will pursue. If he chooses to irrationally pursue additional wealth over love or friendship like Ebenezer Scrooge, that is his choice to make, and he will live with the consequences.

But, Bernie Sanders is not talking about the irrational pursuit of money like the case of Ebenezer Scrooge, because he does not accept the morality of rational egoism. He does not want you to live your life for your own sake. He reveals this when he discusses what it means to be a “socialist”. As a preliminary matter, it must be noted that the actual, accepted, definition of “socialism” is along the lines of: “…a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies…” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/socialism Whether governmental ownership of the means of production is actually in anybody’s rational self interest is more of a question for Economics and History. (I refer you to the old Soviet Union for an example of how socialism just makes everyone poor.) Governmental ownership of the means of production is not what Bernie Sanders is primarily talking about:

Bernie Sanders:[1:54 minutes] “….Well, what it means to be a socialist in the sense of what the Pope is talking about, and what I’m talking about, is to say that we have got to do our best and live our lives in a way that alleviates human suffering, uh, that does not accelerate the disparities of income and wealth.”

Whose suffering is Mr. Sanders talking about here? Are we talking about you taking action to better your own life and maximize your own happiness? It’s doubtful, given the rest of what Mr. Sanders said, that this is what he means. Bernie Sanders is not advocating “socialism” per se here. He is advocating “altruism”. He does not believe that your own life is important for its own sake, or that you should pursue your own happiness -and leave others free to pursue their own as well. Mr. Sanders says we should all: “…do our best and live our lives in a way that alleviates human suffering…” Service to others and self-sacrifice, i.e., altruism, is what Bernie Sanders advocates. To Mr. Sanders, your own life is secondary to the purpose of alleviating the suffering of others.

Furthermore, for Bernie Sanders, the more successful you are -the more productive you are- the more you should sacrifice yourself to others: “…right now we have the wealth, we have the technology, to provide at least a decent standard of living for all of our people…” However, “wealth” is nothing but the material means by which you maintain your life and pursue your own happiness. Imagine that you want to spend more time furthering your writing career (or painting, or sculpture, or dance). If you want to buy a washing machine so that you don’t have to spend enormous amounts of time washing your clothes by hand, so that you can pursue your career in art, according to Bernie Sanders, you can’t -unless you first buy a washing machine for all the people in inner cities, Appalachia, and the Third World. Imagine that you want to get married to the love of your life. If you want to buy your girlfriend an engagement ring as a symbol of your love when you ask her to marry you, you cannot -unless you ensure that every unmarried bachelor in the world can afford to buy one for his fiance. Imagine that you want to have children. You can’t buy that toy for your child -until you buy a toy for every child, everywhere. Furthermore, would Mr. Sanders even limit this self-sacrifice to the material realm? Once this notion is accepted, shouldn’t you go out and marry a girl you don’t love out of charity? Hell, maybe you have to find a spouse for everyone else first? Shouldn’t you spend time with your worst enemy, who does nothing but denigrate you, rather than seeking out people who would value you and your friendship? What about the “suffering” of someone who chooses to be obnoxious and boorish in any social situation, such that no one wants to be his or her friend? Shouldn’t you put up with his or her undesirable behavior and be friends, even though you gain nothing from the relationship and feel totally “drained” by their toxic friendship?

What motivates support for Bernie Sanders? For some it may be genuine envy -a hatred of those who want to live and are successful at doing so. However, I have too much faith in the good will of my fellow man, so I refuse to believe that this is anything more than a small number of people. I think most people support Bernie Sanders out of fear. They fear loosing their job, they fear getting sick and having no way to pay for it, they fear their child will get sick or starve, and they won’t be able to pay for it. There are no guarantees in life, and that is a scary thought. I understand this fear, and I feel it, too, sometimes. But, the desire to use armed force to obtain from others the goods you need for survival must be resisted -and that is what we are talking about when we talk about the welfare state and socialism. If you refuse to pay taxes for the support of others, the police will come for you and arrest you. If you resist, they will use clubs and handcuffs. If you resist with a weapon, they will shoot you. If they put you in prison for not paying taxes, and you try to escape, you will be shot by the guards. Right now, you may regard someone else as “the wealthy”. You may think that you can “get away with” expropriating the goods produced by “the wealthy”, and make your own material circumstances better. Be aware that you’re playing a risky game. Someone, someday, may decide that you are “the wealthy”. They may also decide they have a big enough voting block and the necessary government force, i.e. a big enough gang, to take it from you. Then you will be the one to have his wealth expropriated.

“The Martian”

I saw “The Martian” last night. I won’t do any plot spoilers, but it was pretty great, overall. A sufficiently faithful adaptation of the book that I was pleased. The overall theme -that reason is man’s means of survival- was translated to the movie fairly well.

They cut out some sub-plots that I would have liked to see, but I understand that has to be done in the interests of time. They also made a reference to religion -the rocket launch scene- that wasn’t in the original book (as best I can recall), but the book is such a powerful statement about the power of human reason that I’m sure the Hollywood PR people were nervous about how that would go over in middle America.

The other thing that really annoys me is how Hollywood has treated this movie. It got some sort of award for “Best Comedy”, which I think is a total back-handed compliment. The movie and the book definitely do have humor in them. You often laugh with the main character as he uses his reasoning skills to solve problems, but to describe the movie as a comedy is a slight on the part of the Hollywood elite in my opinion. It makes it clear in my mind that people in Hollywood don’t just have a left-wing bias, they have an “anti-man” bias. This translates into an anti-reason bias -because they don’t believe man is efficacious and capable of solving problems through the use of his reason. (This is also why Hollywood is so left wing -they think we need a nanny-state to take care of us.) They hate those who want to live life as men, they hate the faculty that is man’s means of survival -his reason, and they hate success. As a result, the movie is not fully “real” or “dramatic” to the Hollywood elite. In their minds, the idea that anybody could use their reason to promote their own individual survival is not fully real -hence the “comedy” label.

“Ninety-Three” by Victor Hugo

Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo is set during the civil war that occurred in France after the revolution. There was an uprising against Paris’ revolutionary government by the Chouannerie region. The peasants in this region tended to support the Catholic Clergy and the local nobility, so they opposed attempts by the Revolutionary government in Paris to secularize the country and to unseat the nobility.  The plot revolves around the military conflict between Gauvain, a former noble and leader of a Republican army in the region and his uncle, the Marquis de Lantenac, the leader of one of the royalist insurrectionist groups. Cimourdain is a former Catholic priest turned firebrand Republican, who is apparently committed to the cause at any cost. (These main characters all appear to be fictional.)

The conflict between the teacher/”father” Cimourdain and the student/”son” Gauvain was quite good.  It’s easy to write a story where the good guy is in conflict with a bad guy. Everybody knows who you’re supposed to root for. It’s much more difficult to set up a situation where the good guy is in conflict with another good guy. (Parenthetically, I think that’s why everyone likes to see the comics where one superhero is in conflict with another superhero -like “Wolverine versus The Hulk”: they’re both good guys, so how will the conflict be resolved?) This conflict centered around Cimourdain’s desire to obey the Revolutionary government’s ordinance that no quarter was to be given to the rebels, which were regarded as “brigands”, and Gauvains desire to show mercy towards defeated enemy soldiers. Cimourdain had been sent to the conflict to oversee Gauvain, who was reputed to be ignoring the revolutionary government’s decrees on this matter. Cimourdain promises Robespierre and Marat that he will guillotine any officer who disobeys the governments orders. Then he discovers that he will have to oversee the man that he views as his “adopted son”, Gauvain. Thus, there was not just external conflict between Cimourdain and Gauvain, but Cimourdain also had enormous internal conflict between his desire to see the revolution succeed and his desire to protect Gauvain.

I also liked the main bad guy, Marquis de Lantenac. He was Gauvain’s great-uncle and raised by him, which, once again, gave the feeling of the “father” and “son” in conflict, which seems so contrary to the “natural order of things” that it makes for a good story. The Lantenac often spoke of duty, and he was portrayed as totally disinterested in his welfare or the welfare of others. He was prepared to die in his efforts to restore the King, but he was also prepared to kill anyone else who stood in the way of that end. Even though it is clear in my mind that Lantenac would be a morally bad person, he gives a speech to Gauvain that is probably the best justification I think possible for the reason he is a Royalist. (Basically that social stability is best served by maintaining the monarchy and the feudal order.) Unfortunately, I think the biggest weakness of this novel is the fact that there was no well-developed character on the Republican side who was equally as ruthless as Lantenac. The only character that comes close is Marat, an actual historical figure from that time, who seems prepared to guillotine anyone in the name of the revolution. But, that character is undeveloped, probably because he was a real person. This meant that Hugo was probably somewhat constrained from making him anything but a minor character.

Some themes touched on in the story include justice versus mercy and duty versus love of life. The themes related somewhat to two questions: Does “the ends ever justify the means”? and When should someone be forgiven?  The themes were illustrated fairly well by the major conflicts. For instance, Cimourdain stood for “justice” (strictly following the rules) because he wanted to follow the revolutionary decree that Lantanac was to be guillotined if captured, while Gauvain wanted to give him an honorable military death by shooting him. The conflict of Gauvan and Cimourdain also delt with the issue of when does “the ends justify the means”, if ever? Specifically, they debate whether the revolutionary government was wrong to institute the reign of terror. Cimourdain says it is necessary to save the Republican government from external invasion and counter-revolution internally, while Gauvan said that such measures tainted the principles on which the revolution was founded. Gauvain’s own internal conflict about how to deal with a captured Lantanac illustrates the question of forgiveness.

The main thing I did not like about this novel was the author’s tendency to give long-winded descriptions of certain scenes and situations. He spent far too long describing three children (several chapters). It probably was necessary to show how cute and lovable these children were, since they were facing danger, and Hugo probably wanted the reader to care about what happened to them. But, after about a chapter, I thought: “Alright, I get it, these children are cute, adorable, and completely innocent.” This is more of a stylistic criticism on my part, though, since I simply prefer writing that is more to “to the point”.

Overall, the conflicts presented, and the interesting historical setting make it obvious to me why Victor Hugo is still read over a hundred years later.

Randall’s Aristotle, Chapter VII, “The Heavens”

I have been reading Aristotle by John Herman Randall, Jr. (1960 Columbia Press).  Chapter VII, “The Heavens” discusses Aristotle’s cosmology. It really hit home for me why the Catholic church took so much offense from Galileo and other 16th/17th Century natural philosophers saying that the Earth was not the center of the universe, that the Earth revolved around the sun along with the planets, etc.
The church had adopted Aristotle’s ideas by that time, and that included the notion that as you traveled out away from the Earth, you would approach divine perfection.  Unlike Plato who thought that such divine perfection existed in some other realm, Aristotle said such perfection was the outermost layer of the Universe.  As evidence of this perfection, it was pointed out that the stars moved in an apparently unchanging circular pattern through the night sky, and such circular motion was considered “divine” or “perfect”.  The stars, unlike the planets, exhibited this circular motion because they were closer to perfection.

As the Church became increasingly Aristotelian, it would have adopted the notion that this outer realm of the universe was where the divine resided, rather than in some “other realm” outside the universe as a more Platonic Christianity would hold.  However, the natural philosophers of the 16th/17th century began to show that the rest of the universe operated in accordance with the same natural laws as the ones operative here on Earth, and that the Earth revolved around the sun.  This would have started calling into question the whole scheme in which the Earth is at the center, and “imperfect”, while as you moved out away from the Earth, you approached “perfection”, and a different set of natural laws from the ones on Earth.  But, if the Church had already rejected the Platonic notion of the divine in another realm, and the divine also didn’t exist in this universe, then that would tend to suggest that it didn’t exist anywhere.  It wasn’t just a question of Astronomy for the Church, it literally called into question it’s most fundamental tenants.

The Science Fiction of Ray Bradbury

A few months ago, I finished Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”.  I was so impressed with it, that I decided to read some more of his short stories.  If you have been a science fiction fan for a while, then you should read some of his work, if you haven’t already.  I just finished “The Illustrated Man” today.  Overall, Bradbury seems to have a very bleak view of the future.  This is manifested in several ways.  First, many of his future societies are dystopian.  For instance, “The Fox and the Forest”, involves the main characters “escaping” from the future via time travel to the past –to 1932.  At several points, in the story it is made clear that 1932 is a better time to live than their own time.  Children also tend to be portrayed negatively in Bradbury’s stories.  For instance, “The Veldt” involves children that only want to watch lions kill things in their virtual reality “nursery”.  The story “Zero Hour” involves very young children collaborating in a make-believe “invasion” from Mars -that turns out to be not-so-make-believe.  Since children represent the future in a certain sense, the fact that Bradbury tends to portray them so negatively is yet another way that he manifests a bleak view of the future.
I suspect that Bradbury’s dystopianism lies partly in his view of human nature.  He tends to portray people as brutish, irrational, and short-sighted.  For an example of this, read “The Visitor”, which involves a telepath that arrives on Mars and offers the human exiles living there visions of the Earth they would like to return to.  Another reason Bradbury tends to be dystopian is probably due to his mysticism.  I suspect that Bradbury was religious.  (See “The Man” and “The Fire Balloons”.)  As a result, he would tend to believe that human beings are born with “original sin”, rather than being “tabula rasa”, at birth.
Although Bradbury’s dystopianism and religiosity would have turned me off when I was younger, I can now appreciate the fact that he was an excellent writer, even if I don’t agree with the themes of a lot of his stories.  His writing style is remarkable because he uses metaphors and similes so effectively.  For instance, in his story “Kaleidoscope”, he describes a rocket exploding and men being sucked out into the vacuum of space in this manner:
“The first concussion cut the rocket up the side with a giant can opener.  The men were thrown into space like a dozen wriggling silverfish.  They were scattered into a dark sea…”
The description of the explosion as a “giant can opener” and the space-suited men as “wriggling silverfish” thrown into space effectively painted a picture in my mind, and it really brought the story to life in a way that a straight description of the scene never could have.  Although I may not agree with many of his themes, Bradbury’s style and technical proficiency as a writer is excellent.

I don’t know that I would recommend Bradbury to younger science fiction readers.  Let teenagers start off with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.  But, if you are a mature “sci-fi connoisseur” like me, then you should read Ray Bradbury.