Atlas Shrugs–Gradually and In Reverse

From a news release by the New Jersey Department of Transportation:

(Trenton) – New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) officials announced today the start of a railroad crossing rehabilitation project that will require a seven-day closure and detour of John Galt Way to start tomorrow in Florence, Burlington County.

Beginning at 7 a.m., Friday, October 4, until 7 p.m., Friday, October 18, John Galt Way will be closed and detoured in both directions at the railroad crossing between Richards Run and Route 130/Bordentown Road to remove the existing crossing and replace it with a new concrete crossing, as well as new asphalt approaches.

I don’t know, I feel like there’s something off about this.

Useful back story.

Reason, Naturalism, and Free Will

People familiar with Objectivism will remember an old article by Nathaniel Branden titled, “The Contradiction of Determinism,” (Objectivist Newsletter, May 1963). In it, he argues, not that the doctrine of free will is true, nor that determinism is false. Rather, he argues that if determinism is true, we cannot know it. And the reason we can’t know it is that, if determinism is true, no knowledge is possible at all.

The argument is that knowledge must be validated by a process of reason. Our suppositions about the world are not self-certifying. The mere presence of an idea in your mind does not establish that it is true. Therefore, we have to evaluate our suppositions about the world by means of sensory evidence and other tests, such as coherence. This must be done by a process of reason. But the process of reason cannot be realized by merely mechanical causation of the sort that is expressed by causal laws. Causal laws determine that a certain sort of event results in consequence of a certain sort of prior event, and this sort of determination is entirely different from that of seeing reasons or recognizing logical connections.

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How “We” Achieve Ignorance

Here’s a Facebook thread, featuring arch-Objectivist Robert Mayhew (Philosophy, Seton Hall University, and Board of Directors, Anthem Foundation), discussing a newly-published review in Reason Papers, by Ray Raad, of Harry Binswanger’s book, How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation. In the last of his comments, Mayhew refers to Robert Campbell’s review (sarcastically dubbed a “review”) of Binswanger’s book in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

There it is on display–the vintage ARI-inspired intellectual slovenliness, the reflexive resort to sarcasm, the unargued dogmatism, and the all-consuming desire to poison the well for The Tribe. Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation: res ipsa loquitur.

What an asshole.

More on Aesthetics: Nietzsche, Postmodernism, Dewey, and Ayn Rand

A few brief conversations on aesthetics with Anoop Verma: Nietzsche on the idea of “giving style to one’s character“; postmodern art and postmodern philosophy; and Dewey’s philosophy of aesthetics.

Though my promises obviously mean nothing, I’m hoping to post a series of critical reflections here on Ayn Rand’s aesthetics. Of course, having put that hope in print, it’s now likely that I’ll end up reneging or backsliding on my quasi-commitment, and say nothing at all on the subject. But having re-read Rand’s Romantic Manifesto for the first time in several years, I’m struck by how frankly awful a book I find it–much worse than I did on my last reading in 2014, when my marginal notes, though highly critical of Rand’s claims, were not as dismissive of them as I now feel. Right now, I’m having a hard time understanding how anyone could take the book seriously.

So if you think it should be taken seriously, feel free to convince me when the time comes. I’d like to think that there’s more there than meets the eye, but right now, I’m not seeing it. At the moment, The Romantic Manifesto strikes me as one of the worst books of its kind (of any kind) that I’ve ever read.

My War Against America

Almost thirty years ago, as a callow Rand-intoxicated undergraduate, I bought Ayn Rand’s collection The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, opening with breathless anticipation to Leonard Peikoff’s anti-academic rant, “Assault from the Ivory Tower: The Professors’ War Against America.” This passage briefly arrested my attention:

If you want still more, turn to art – for instance, poetry – as it is taught today in our colleges. For an eloquent example, read the widely used Norton’s Introduction to Poetry, and see what modern poems are offered to students alongside the recognized classics of the past as equally deserving of study, analysis, respect. One typical entry, which immediately precedes a poem by Blake, is entitled “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane.” The poem begins: “Hard Rock was ‘known not to take no shit / From nobody’ …’ and continues in similar vein throughout. This item can be topped only by the volume’s editor, who discusses the poem reverently, explaining that it has a profound social message: “the despair of the hopeless.” Just as history is what historians say, so art today is supposed to be whatever the art world endorses, and this is the kind of stuff it is endorsing. After all, the modernists shrug, who is to say what’s really good in art? Aren’t Hard Rock’s feelings just as good as Tennyson’s or Milton’s?

Two things struck me at the time about this passage: Continue reading

Reason Papers 39:2 Out (Winter 2017 Issue)

The latest issue of Reason Papers is now out–Volume 39, Number 2 (Winter 2017). The issue includes a symposium on Tara Smith’s Judicial Review in an Objective Legal System, as well as Part II of a symposium on Den Uyl and Rasmussen’s newest book, The Perfectionist Turn. There’s also a revised version of a piece I posted here at PoT on teaching Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to the Americans” (scroll all the way down to “Afterwords”). And other stuff as well–psychological egoism, Nozick on patterned theories of justice, interviews with Nazi filmmakers, commentary on a theatrical production of Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. Enjoy.  Continue reading

Football: The Final Frontier

Much of our national life can be defined according to frontier and hinterland attitudes. Take our two national pastimes, football and baseball. Football is a frontier game, because it has to do with the conquest of territory. The aim of the game is to invade the other team’s land and settle there until you’ve crossed the goal line. As on the frontier, time of possession is everything.

Football is a metaphor for land hunger, a ritualized reenactment of the westward movement, going back to colonial times. Look at the names of some of the teams in the NFL, the Patriots, the Redskins, the Cowboys, the Broncos, the Forty-Niners, the Chiefs, the Raiders, the Buffalo Bills, and the Oilers, all names connected with different stages of the frontier epic. Look at the way a first down is measured. Officials bring out the chains, which are a vestigial replica of the surveyors’ chains and a reminder of the men who marked off the wilderness, dividing it into ranges and townships and sections.

On their hundred-yard-long turf-covered universe, football players act out the conquest of the frontier. And just as they fought the taking of their land on the real frontier, Native Americans today protest the appropriation of their past on the football field, in the use of team names like the Redskins and Chiefs, and in the hoopla of fans painting their faces, wearing chicken-feather headdresses, and waving foam-rubber tomahawks. In the game itself there are emulations of Indian customs, such as the huddle, which is a stylized Indian pow-wow, and the gauntlet that each player must run upon entering the stadium.

Football breeds a defiant frontier attitude, because someone is out to get you and you’re not going to let him. As the late linebacker Lyle Alzado once said: “I don’t think there is anyone on earth who can kick my ass.” Another great linebacker, Lawrence Taylor, once said that his purest joy was to hit someone so hard he could see the “snot bubble out of his nose.” And here’s the Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka defining the frontier ethic as well as the game of football: “It’s people hittin’ each other, that what it’s all about. I’m tired of skill.” Skill gets taken for granted, while there’s a degree of physical punishment reminscent of  life in the wilderness. The limits to that punishment are suggested by some of the penalties, such as “piling on,” “unnecessary roughness,” and my personal favorite, which has a colonial ring in its phrasing, “coming unabated at the quarterback when offsides.”

–Ted Morgan, Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent (1993), p. 14.

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Chris Sciabarra on Objectivism and Disability

Here’s a must-read interview with Chris Sciabarra at Folks magazine, on Sciabarra’s  lifelong struggle with Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome, along with his lifelong attachment to the work of Ayn Rand (and Nathaniel Branden).

One doesn’t usually think of Rand or Objectivism as offering much insight into the nature of disability, but Chris clearly does:

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Reason Papers 39:1 (Summer 2017) out

I’m pleased to report that the latest issue of Reason Papers, vol. 39:1 (Summer 2017), is now out. Individual articles can be accessed through the Archives link by scrolling down to the issue. Alternatively, the full issue can be accessed through this link, which takes you to a 152 page PDF.

The issue begins with a symposium on Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen’s recent book The Perfectionist Turn: From Metanorms to Metaethics (Edinburgh, 2016), with commentaries by Elaine Sternberg (University of Buckingham), Neera Badhwar (George Mason), and David McPherson (Creighton), and a response by Den Uyl and Rasmussen. If you’re into (or interested in) neo-Aristotelian libertarianism–and who isn’t?–this is the symposium for you.

The issue then proceeds to a discussion of Stephen Kershnar’s Gratitude toward Veterans: Why Americans Should Not Be Very Grateful to Veterans (Lexington, 2014), with commentaries by Michael Robillard (Oxford) and Pauline Shanks Kaurin (Pacific Lutheran), along with a response by Kershnar. If you thought my criticisms of Khizr Khan here at PoT were annoying, I’m sure you’ll love Kershnar’s book and this symposium even more. Just in time for the 16th anniversary of 9/11 and talk of an American troop surge in Afghanistan…. Continue reading

“All Right, Very Bad Weather”

George Reisman, Objectivist economist, on “The Alleged Threat of ‘Global Warming,'” from his 1998 book, Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (“A complete and integrated understanding of the nature and value of human economic life”):

Currently, the leading claim of the environmentalists is that of ‘global warming’. It is alleged that man’s economic activities, above all the burning of fossil fuels, are increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This will supposedly raise the average mean temperature of the world by several degrees over the next century and will cause a rise in sea levels because of melting ice. …

Perhaps of even greater significance is the continuous and profound distrust of science and technology that the environmental movement displays…The one thing, the environmental movement holds, that science and technology can do so well that we are entitled to have unlimited confidence in them is forecast the weather–for the next hundred years!

It is, after all, supposedly on the basis of a weather forecast that we are being asked to abandon the Industrial Revolution or, as it is euphemistically put, “to radically and profoundly change the way in which we live”–to our enormous material detriment. …

The meaning of this insanity is that industrial civilization is to be wrecked because this is what must be done to avoid bad weather. All right, very bad weather. …

Indeed, it would probably turn out that if the necessary adjustments were allowed to be made, global warming, if it actually came, would prove highly beneficial to mankind on net balance. (pp. 87-89, all emphases in original).

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