Archive for the Philosophy Category
May 20 2010Kyle Haight in Islam, Middle East, Objectivist Sites, Politics, Religion, Terrorism
A thought-provoking TED talk on the connection between effective leadership and communicating the ‘why’ of what you’re doing:
While trundling around Usenet, I stumbled over a piece of spam by a religionist with the subject “What have atheists ever done for humanity?” The question struck me as interesting, not because of its contents but because of the way it frames the conflict between the religious and non-religious worldviews. The poster wants to provoke the following line of thought: ‘What have atheists done for humanity? Well, let me think of some famous atheists… hmm, nobody really comes to mind. I guess there were the Communists, and Madeline Murray O’Hare. Gee, I guess all we’ve gotten from atheism is mass slaughter. Wow, I guess religion really must be a good thing!” And, indeed, he is correct that overt atheists are pretty sparse on the list of great benefactors of humanity. But does his conclusion follow?
The problem comes from the way the distinction is framed: religion versus atheism. But is this the right way to think of the dispute? Atheism, per se, is a purely negative doctrine. It indicates the lack of a specific kind of belief. But men act on the basis of what they do believe, not what they don’t. I’m an atheist, but that isn’t the essential defining characteristic of my beliefs. Fundamentally, I’m an advocate of reason. Atheism is a derivative consequence, not a primary. I don’t believe in God because there is no rational basis for doing so.
If you reframe the question in terms of reason and faith, the entire playing field changes. What has reason ever done for humanity? In a modern industrial society it’s difficult to identify a concrete value that doesn’t flow from reason. Science, technology, medicine, industry, political freedom — all are children of the age of reason. (Stephen Hicks has a nifty diagram of the connections in his book Explaining Post-Modernism; on-line version available here.) Now consider the contrary question: What has faith ever done for humanity? The era of history in which faith was most dominant is aptly named the Dark Ages — a time when the average lifespan was approximately 30 years and everyone existed in what we would today consider grinding poverty. Disease ran rampant, literacy was extremely rare. Heretics were burned at the stake. Men who took their faith the most seriously, like Saint Francis, would use rocks as pillows, drink laundry water, and sprinkle sand on their food to dull the taste.
Reason is man’s basic means of survival. In essence, the answer to the question “What has reason ever done for humanity?” is “Allowed it to live and prosper.” The answer to the question “What has faith ever done for humanity?” is “Led it to suffer and die.” The religious men whose actions benefited humanity created those benefits to the extent that they acted rationally, i.e. to the extent that their faith did not interfere with their reason.
Attempting to think about this issue in the terms laid out by the religionist is futile. The setup leads down a blind alley to a false conclusion. The lesson is that one should never uncritically accept the terms in which an intellectual opponent wants to frame a debate. Concepts matter. Don’t let your enemies pick the ones you use.
Apr 07 2010Kyle Haight in Elections, Philosophy, Politics
Anyone paying attention to the news knows that 2010 is shaping up to be a Republican year. A growing grass-roots backlash against the Democrats is reflected in both election results and polls. But one should never underestimate the ability of the GOP to blow an advantage, and here’s an example of why — they don’t understand the power of narrative. The left is expert at setting up narrative lines that provide the structure for media coverage of events. Facts that play into the narrative get picked up, repeated, elaborated. Facts that run counter to the narrative are ignored, suppressed, abandoned. And the narratives are almost always ones that benefit the left and damage the right.
One of the narratives the left has been setting up recently is the classic “conservatives are just a bunch of racist rednecks”. They’ve been particularly anxious to set this frame up around the Tea Party movement in the hopes of scaring off and/or driving away the independent voters who have been attracted by the Tea Party’s message of fiscal responsibility, but they’ll use it on mainstream Republicans too. It never gets old. Now, if you want to fight a narrative line, you must not do anything that feeds into it and gives it credibility. Any fact that even seems to support the narrative may be seized upon, repeated endlessly as ‘proof’ of its accuracy, and used to cement its power in the upcoming news cycle.
In light of the above, I now present to you Bob McDonnell, the recently-elected governor of Virginia.
Rick Moran writes, of the Tea Parties, that he has “been very critical of those in the tea party movement who seek to use anger and fear as a wedge to gain support for their cause.” The implicit assumption here is that anger is somehow an inappropriate response to recent political events. Excuse me? Let’s take one example: ObamaCare. In my judgment, the Democrats passed a bill which was:
Exactly which of these things should I not be angry about? Anger is a response to perceived injustice. Condemning anger means one of two things: either the object of the anger is not in fact an injustice, or we should be emotionally indifferent to questions of right and wrong.
Moran goes on to note that “that reason wins a lot more converts than screaming” — which is true. But reason and anger are not mutually exclusive. The appropriate response to our current political situation is anger, rationally grounded. It is the rational identification of the facts which gives rise to the anger, and the anger provides the motivation to act to correct the injustice. This is not an academic exercise. Our lives are, quite literally, at stake. If we’re not allowed to get emotional about that, when is anger appropriate?
Kyle tends to give good advice. Following my message to the White House conveying my displeasure regarding Obama’s support of Zelaya, Kyle suggested that I balance that out by letting the Honduran Embassy in DC know that I support their decision to remove Zelaya from power. So I sent the following message:
As an American, I want to let you know that not all Americans support President Obama in his attempts to return Manuel Zelaya to power. We know that Zelaya is a criminal, that he was trying to circumvent the Honduran Constitution, and that he is no friend of freedom or the rule of law.
I am angry that Obama supports Zelaya, but not surprised. I have sent a message to the White House expressing my disapproval. Hopefully my countrymen will do the same.
Hondurans, take comfort in knowing that not everyone is against you. Many of us support your decision to remove Zelaya. You are doing the right thing, and his removal is just. He should not be allowed to return. Ignore the rest of the world; they are fools who believe in dictators. Stand strong and do not give in.
I do not know if the sentiment will be appreciated, but I feel better for sending it. Balancing the negative with the positive — it’s good for me as well as for them.
Jul 07 2009Anne Haight in Philosophy, Politics, tags: honduras, leftism, obama, tyranny, zelaya
I just sent this letter to the White House through their comment form at whitehouse.gov. I am thoroughly disgusted with the United States’ support of that socialist thug.
I am angry and disappointed that your administration supports Manuel Zelaya in returning to power in Honduras. It is clear that Zelaya violated Honduran law in his failure to enact properly passed legislation in Congress, and it is also clear that as a friend of Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro, he is an enemy of freedom and democracy. He sought a referendum that would have removed term limits in the Honduran Constitution, thus cementing his power as dictator of that nation. How can America support this? Further, why are we interfering in what was clearly a legal and proper removal of a criminal from government? They even managed it without anyone getting hurt. Zelaya tried to return, and they blocked his plane from landing. They could have simply shot it out of the sky, and would have been fully justified in doing so, yet they did not.
You say that we should be impartial regarding other nations’ form of government. I disagree. We can and must be vocal defenders of liberty, and we should take every opportunity to denounce socialism and leftist thuggery no matter where it is found.
Mr. Obama, we should not be attempting to return Zelaya to power. We should be supporting the just rule of law in Honduras, and congratulating them on their successful defense of democracy in removing Zelaya.
I feel a sense of despair in being just one voice in this nation. I debate the merit in even sending such comments. Kyle points out that positions are counted, and the government does tally such things. I presume this is true. I have to, otherwise I succumb to apathy and disinterest like so many of my countrymen.
Apr 16 2009Kyle Haight in Elections, Philosophy, Photos, Politics, Tea Party
Yesterday, Anne and I swung by the San Jose Tea Party protest. We didn’t have time to prepare anything, so we simply wandered around taking pictures and chatting with people. I was fairly impressed with the turnout, considering that San Jose is a fairly liberal city in a very liberal state. I know nothing about estimating crowd sizes, but the San Jose Mercury News reports the turnout at 1000. (I’ve been told that the local talk radio station estimated 2000, but since they helped organize they’re likely to skew high. So I’d guess somewhere in the middle.) We don’t have a decent panoramic shot, but here’s a couple of the crowd:
There were a lot of signs, ranging from the clearly home-made to the professionally printed. The overall theme was, sadly, political, with objections to taxation, excessive government spending and rapidly increasing debt. There was a lot of talk about what people were against, but much less about what people were for. That’s a problem, which I’ll talk about a bit more towards the end of this post.
Congress took some well-deserved hits for passing the so-called stimulus bill without actually reading it first.
There were some people with a more positive message. Nice to see a good word for capitalism.
I didn’t see any giant puppets, but large revolutionary-era flags are always a winner.
These guys probably win the award for “Longest Trip To The Protest”. It must be scary to flee socialist oppression in one’s homeland only to witness the same thing rising in your new country, aided and abetted by people who should damn well know better.
In spite of the attempts by the port side to present the Tea Party movement as a purely partisan affair, it isn’t. George W. Bush and profligate Republicans took a fair amount of smacking right along with Obama and the Democrats. There’s discontent brewing here, but it isn’t going to automatically turn into votes for the GOP on election day unless they take steps to earn them.
Not everything was serious. This guy wanted Obama to help him. Well, sort of.
Get a group of a thousand people together and there’s always going to be a few people who are off-message.
(For those who don’t follow sports, the Sharks are San Jose’s NHL team.)
Speaking of folks who were off-message, we had a small group of left-wing counter-protesters show up. Oddly enough, their focus was on amnesty for illegal aliens, which is just weird given that the Tea Party was about fiscal policy. I don’t know if they were hoping to provoke a fight with the racist right-wingers who turned out for the Tea Party in their minds, or what, but the people I talked to were mostly bemused. There was some back-and-forth chanting, but for the most part we ignored them. This guy pretty much sums up my reaction.
The Mercury News writes that:
I didn’t see the charge on the stage, but that does sound like the kind of behavior I expect from leftists. There was a point later in the rally when the police were separating the lefties from the rest of us, but both groups were just standing there.
The Tea Party people I spoke to were almost uniformly calm, friendly, smiling and open to discussion. (I did chat with one hard-core religious nut who was, frankly, scary. I’ve got an invitation to a class on Biblical Prophecy. I won’t be going.)
Here’s me in black next to the woman with the pro-capitalism sign. I want one of those tri-corn hats.
There were a couple of other Objectivists around who had taken the time to put together signs. Here they are in Q&A format.
No literature, though. I understand that the Golden Gate Objectivists had something a bit better prepared for the San Francisco Tea Party.
Overall impression: the people I saw and spoke to are very unhappy with where they see the country going, but they lack ideas to explain why the country is going that way. Lots of outrage, little reasoning. This is a serious problem, because ultimately it is ideas that drive cultural and political change. If you can’t explain why you’re outraged, what would be a better alternative to the status quo, and why, you’re dead in the water. That’s the bad news. The good news is that people are looking for the answers they need. This suggests that bringing literature to these protests for free distribution should be a high priority for the next wave. Literature at multiple levels of information density would be even better, ranging from simple one-page fliers at the low end, to pamphlets and article collections in the middle, all the way up to copies of Atlas Shrugged at the high end. On this note the Ohio Objectivist Society did something brilliant, collecting together a number of excellent articles on aspects of the current crisis, its roots and Ayn Rand’s relevance to the solution into a reprint booklet called The Portable Objectivist. (They also have a web version. And yes, they got permission from the copyright holders — Objectivists respect property rights, and try to practice what we preach.) Something I’m hoping will emerge from the various write-ups I’m seeing is a set of ‘best practices’ for working future protests. There’s a learning curve here and we need to move up it, fast.
I was very pleased to read that a number of Objectivists spoke at various Tea Parties. Rational Jenn had a short recorded video which was played before the 16,000 people at the Atlanta Tea Party. Greg Perkins of Noodlefood was the kickoff speaker at the Boise Tea Party, and on short notice at that. John Lewis gave a good speech focused on moral fundamentals at the Charlotte Tea Party, and there’s YouTube video of that that I can’t resist using to wrap things up. More like this in Boston on the 4th of July, please.
Ok, I lied… there’s also a post-speech interview with Dr. Lewis, and I’m going to wrap up with that instead. He’s bang-on… we need a moral change if we’re going to get a sustainable political change. The American people are divided in spirit, and we send inconsistent signals to our elected officials — we want free stuff, but we don’t want to pay for it ourselves and we don’t want to go into debt for it either. Something there has to give, and if we want to avoid a total loss of freedom it had better be the desire for free stuff.
I like this. People justly mock Republicans who lecture the rest of us on the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family values, then have marital affairs and solicit sex in public restrooms. It’s well past time to mock Democrats who lecture the rest of us on cronyism and financial management problems, then obtain special “Friends of Angelo” mortgages and fail to pay their taxes.
Moral principles are universal, and apply equally to all people. This business of applying one standard to government officials and another to everybody else is more like the relationship between feudal aristocrats and their serfs than anything that should exist in a free society. At least they haven’t resurrected the droit de seigneur — so far, they’ve restricted themselves to screwing us economically.
In an interview with Al-Arabiya, President Obama commented that “the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.” 30 years ago, in 1979, the relationship between America and the Muslim world was dominated by the Iranian Hostage Crisis. 20 years ago, in 1989, it was the first Gulf War. In other words, the “respect and partnership” that America had with the Muslim world 20 or 30 years ago was characterized by a virulent Islamic totalitarian movement waging a terror war against the United States, and a large-scale American invasion of Iraq. Sounds familiar. What exactly needs restoring, again?
Those ignorant of history…
Update: Sorry, brain fart. The first Gulf War was, of course, in 1991 — not 1989 as I said above. I think I conflated it with the fall of the Berlin Wall for some bizarre reason. ‘Those ignorant of history’ apparently includes me. Ok, so it was 18 years, not 20, and the irony only holds 50%. Still, I think the basic point — that the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world over the last three decades has been a pretty consistently bloody and violent one — stands up.