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A Hasty and Inadequate Introduction to a Serious Problem

I have developed a keen interest in persuading sensible people that Western civilization is an a dire state, that they should take a personal interest in this, and that they can, and should, do something about it.

For my purposes, “sensible people” are Aristotelians (whether they know it or not). In brief, this means that they reason inductively. Nothing is more real or more authoritative to them than the evidence of their own senses. It also means that they reason logically: they recognize that contradictions do not exist in reality, and that, therefore, apparent contradictions are always indicative of cognitive error. In approaching any question in any field, Aristotelians first identify the basic facts in that field. They then integrate these facts into a non-contradictory cognitive whole. Then they do something useful with this whole, whether communicating it to others, or using it more directly to produce values. To be an Aristotelian is to follow this method. It is not essentially a matter of education, and has nothing to do with whether or not one has ever read Aristotle.

If Western civilization collapses, which is the current trend, all sensible people will sorely miss it. But nothing they are doing now is likely to alter this trend. Insensible people are getting to have their way.

Why?

Because a sufficient minority of the sensible have not recognized these facts, and acted accordingly:

  1. Western civilization is collapsing.
  2. Collapse is probable within our lifetimes.
  3. There’s no limit to how bad the collapse could be, and no benefit in idly hoping for the best.
  4. The collapse can be prevented.
  5. No effort currently underway will prevent it.
  6. Preventing it can be fun and profitable, in short and the long run both.

Most sensible people would agree with at least the first point. I won’t try to persuade the insensible majority of anything, but I would very much like to convince even forty Aristotelians that all six of these facts are facts. Given the nature of Aristotelians, and given the nature of facts, one would think this shouldn’t be too hard. But I think it will be hard. Here’s why:

What do attentive Aristotelians think about the state of the world? They don’t like it. What are they doing about it? Certainly not nothing. Aristotelians are action-oriented thinkers. If most of them can recognize that Western civilization is collapsing, then they must be doing something about it. What, then?

One or more of these, I think:

  • Supporting “libertarian” policies through the political process
  • Trying to persuade others to support “libertarian” policies through the political process
  • Trying to persuade more people to become “libertarians”
  • Trying to teach more people to be sensible
  • Trying to increase “libertarian” influence in the academic world or other key institutions
  • Promoting or conducting research in the special sciences that supports “libertarian” policies
  • Building capital
  • Building a self-sufficient or partly self-sufficient farm, cabin, compound, or other dwelling
  • Preparing for social and economic collapse by gathering knowledge, resources, and weapons
  • Purposefully setting the problem aside and going about business as usual, on the principle that there’s nothing that can be done about it anyway

In essence, these responses to the impending collapse of Western civilization can be reduced to three basic strategies:

  1. Mass persuasion
  2. Escape
  3. Surrender

Sensible people have assayed the state of the world by their own lights, they’ve made their own sense of it, and they’ve already settled on their own strategies for dealing with it. I will argue — briefly here, and at length later — that all three of these strategies, in every extant variation, are ill-considered.

Mass persuasion will take longer than we have. Civilization will collapse long before the Ayn Rand Institute’s associates are tenured at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. The Libertarian Party will never win the presidency. The mass of men do not yearn to be free, and they will not learn to be free, either.

Escape is probably impossible. And if it is possible, it is probably not worthwhile. Your compound in the woods will be overrun by the mob, or else taxed and regulated out of existence. (But I repeat myself.) Your bank accounts and bitcoins will be seized, your gold coins taken at gunpoint. There is nowhere to run to. Your resistance will fail.

Surrender, however, is premature. It is contemptible to surrender unnecessarily. Western civilization can be saved.

Contradictions do not exist. If these strategies are ill-considered, then those who devised them — you, when you devised yours — must have missed something. Missed one or more of six somethings, conveniently enumerated above, I think.

Now, this has all been rather slapdash, and the topic deserves more serious treatment. But I am eager to get to work, and some prefatory remarks were needed. These will have to do for now. I want to begin to show, as unequivocally as I can, that:

  1. If you think Western civilization isn’t collapsing, you’re confusing friezes for foundations.
  2. If you assume the collapse is far off, you assume too much.
  3. If you think the collapse can’t destroy everything you hold dear, your reach exceeds your grasp.
  4. If you think it’s inevitable, you have surrendered prematurely.
  5. If you think Objectivists, Libertarians, Free-Staters, Silicon Valley, floating cities, crypto-currencies, or anything else out there will save you, you don’t realize what you’re up against.
  6. If you think the only way to fight it is by sacrificing your happiness to some grim struggle, by breaking your body on the barricades, or by joining the charge of the light brigade, you haven’t studied your enemies’ victories.

I want to focus, straight away, on point 5. Too many sensible people, because they have not realized how dire the state of the world is, believe that someone, somewhere is doing good work, work that can turn this thing around. But no one, nowhere is. Not yet.

Reason and Rights: the Last of the Wine

My thinking about the world changed in June of 2016, as I considered the media analyses of Pulse nightclub shootings, and the popular response to it. Predictably, drearily, the red phylum of boobus Americanus emphasized the Islamism of the shooter, while the blue phylum emphasized his choice of weapons. It was terrible, terrible that more hadn’t been done to root out the threat of radical Islamic terrorism! It was terrible, terrible that the shooter had had such ready access to deadly firearms! Nearly everyone agreed that more government action, of one kind or another, was urgently needed. Oh my.

Of course, a small contingent of libertarians resisted. No, they said, Americans do not need to submit more completely to the national security state. No, they said, Americans do not need to give up their guns. They were ignored, as always.

In the end, the Pulse shooting provoked no new depredations against Fourth- or Second-Amendment rights. The status quo prevailed. But this was no victory for libertarians; mere cultural inertia had carried the day. And because authoritarians were not effectively shamed for their attempted exploitation of the victims, they will surely seek to exploit them again. Authoritarians on the right and on the left alike have filed them away, each victim a bullet added to their talking points, each victim a rationale for expanding government power.

None of this was new. If the Pulse shooting was sprinkled with left-authoritarians’ crocodile tears, Sandy Hook was drenched in them. And neither of these can compare to 9/11, which was exploited by right authoritarians far more effectively than any crisis since. The aftermath of the Pulse shooting changed my thinking not because it brought about anything new, but because it delivered so much more of the same. I had seen too much of the same for too long: A crisis. A reaction. A solution. If Pulse didn’t bring some new authoritarian solution to fruition, it was only because the reaction hadn’t been fearful enough.

It is an insanity, if any force can be raised up to stop it, to permit this drama to continue any longer: a crisis, a reaction, a solution. A crisis: 9/11. A reaction: widespread fear. A solution: the USA PATRIOT Act. Without question, some new crisis, its reaction, and its “solution” will finally dissolve the lees and dregs of the West, and the last of the wine with it.

Is there a force that could be raised up to stop this? I’m quite sure there is. After the Pulse shooting, I stopped thinking I could wait for it. My math had been wrong.

Anyone who has the sense to see where all of this is headed: you should stop thinking you can wait for it, too. Your math is wrong.

Facile Critics of Ayn Rand

One of the more distasteful logical fallacies is the straw man, because its use implies a conscious intent to deceive. Honest, reasonable argument is noble on its face. But replying to an argument dishonestly makes a farce of what should have been fine. And it is shameful, and thus distasteful, to witness someone debasing themselves this way.

Ayn Rand’s critics are infamous, among her admirers, for their characteristic reliance on straw men. I myself have read perhaps hundreds of criticisms of her work, of which maybe two or three were straw-man free. The failing is pandemic. Since I am always looking for something to admire in my fellow man, it could be argued that I ought to read fewer of Ayn Rand’s critics.

But I don’t think I will stop reading them, because they fascinate me. The more persistent the gap between the phantasmagorical Rand they tilt at and the substance of what she wrote, the more fascinating the spectacle. What could be the cause of such “refutations,” I wonder? Why bother to rebut an imaginary argument? Why review a book that was never written?

It hasn’t sated my fascination that I already know, in outline, the answers to these questions. You, reader, likely know the answers as well. They are always the same. If we “seek the true by the light of the good,” we find nothing. If we believe we know what constitutes “the good” in some context, then we must think we already know, because the good is a species of the true, the truth in that context too. Thus we make ourselves unteachable. What if some might-be truth threatens our precious “good?” That might-be must not be. What if our own honesty threatens the good as we see it? Better be dishonest. What if being fair threatens the good as we see it? Better be unfair. If “progressive” values are good, Ayn Rand’s values, which threaten them, had better be degenerate. If progressives themselves are good people, Ayn Rand had better be a goon. So the answers are clear: Why rebut an imaginary argument? Because imaginary arguments have no power to disillusion; rather, they complement and sustain whatever illusion, or noble lie, one already cherishes. Why review a book that’s never been written? Because an unwritten book consists only of these safely imaginary arguments, or of characters, setting, plot, and theme equally anodyne.

It’s not enough to know, in the abstract, why Ayn Rand’s critics misread her. I want to know: what is it like to author such a misreading? What, exactly, is one telling oneself as it’s happening? I have a notion, and perhaps it’s wrong, but I want to find out for myself, that if someone were to recover from this particular form of self-delusion, he could return to the still-deluded, like Plato’s cave escapee, but he would know the secret words to whisper to them, the words that would finally set them free.

Open Letter to the Blue Team

Blue Team:

As you may have noticed, it is possible, sometimes, to tell how someone votes by the arrangement of their yard. I say, “sometimes,” because most yards are neutral. There’s a lawn, probably, and some landscaping. There might be a fence, or a garden gnome. If there are children in the house, there might be toys scattered around. None of these tell us much about a homeowner’s politics.

But there are a few yards that do tell. The crisply mown lawn, edged to perfection, with a swept driveway cutting through it in stark contrast. The metal shed at the back, or a workshop, or a number of trim outbuildings, with clean walls of beige or gray, and bare, except perhaps for a thermometer. The faint chemical smell of fertilizer. A sense of readiness and order. This is a red-team yard. Count on it.

On the other hand: a compost pile, hidden behind a wild profusion of greenery. Sunflowers. A vegetable garden. A tangle of green so thick and profuse it seems more wild than an untouched field or forest. Flashes of color, stained glass and brass or copper. A path to the house through the green, made of natural stone. A neglected driveway, an afterthought. This is a blue-team yard, no question.

Have you ever wondered what causes these strange consonances?  Why should Obama voters prefer one style of yard, and Bush voters another? Certainly there’s no direct link between being pro-lawn-fertilizer and being pro-life. Certainly there’s no direct link between funky yard art and being pro-choice. What’s going on?

I’ll leave that for you to puzzle over, if you like. Whatever the cause, it’s plain that red teamers and blue teamers have more in common, intramurally, than mere politics. These commonalities can be found and contrasted in other areas, too.

For example: Blues, you’re earthier than the reds. You have an affinity for life as it is, growing on the earth. You don’t try to scold life into behaving “as it should.” You try to follow its grain, explore its nooks, taste everything it offers. It makes you better cooks.

It also makes you better company, often times. Reds are rigid thinkers, easily made uneasy. Consequently, their small talk is as bland as their canned dinner rolls. Tell a red teamer about that theme park you’ve always wanted to build — the one with roller coasters that toss you through waterfalls to land in pools teeming with android mermaids, where you must catch holograms of talking fish in nets made of laser light, then hold them to your ear to get the password to the water slide, the one that goes down to a hidden grotto bar, where strong drinks are served in goblets like conch shells and everyone drinks merrily until the coaster cars come around again — and they’ll just say, “Whoo-kay.” They’ll miss the invitation to talk about fantastic sights as yet unseen. A pity.

There are other points blue teamers can justly pride themselves on, I think. But at least one common point of pride among you is one you haven’t earned. Although false modesty prevents you from saying so plainly, you believe yourselves to have evolved beyond bigotry. Or at least, you believe yourselves more evolved on this point than the rednecks, Republicans, and Walmart shoppers you disdain. But you are bigots. You are the worst, most complete, most perfectly closed-off, vacuum sealed, and hopeless bigots I have ever, in my life, encountered.

The fulcrum of your bigotry is pride in your education. Those who oppose you are often, so you say, mentally ill (racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, etc.), they might be malevolent too (although you hesitate to say so, unless they’re winning), but they are almost always, as you understand it, ignorant. Everyone who disagrees with you is ignorant. You know this, because, if they weren’t ignorant, they would agree with you. You learned this in college. Your opponents must either have not gone to college, or they went, but somehow missed getting educated.

In the wake of the Trump phenomenon, several of your own have taken you to task for this obdurate smugness. Here’s an excerpt from a typical example, and a good one, from Emmett Rensin writing at Vox.com:

Elites, real elites, might recognize one another by their superior knowledge. The smug recognize one another by their mutual knowing.

Knowing, for example, that the Founding Fathers were all secular deists. Knowing that you’re actually, like, 30 times more likely to shoot yourself than an intruder. Knowing that those fools out in Kansas are voting against their own self-interest and that the trouble is Kansas doesn’t know any better. Knowing all the jokes that signal this knowledge.

… It is the smug style’s first premise: a politics defined by a command of the Correct Facts and signaled by an allegiance to the Correct Culture. A politics that is just the politics of smart people in command of Good Facts. A politics that insists it has no ideology at all, only facts. No moral convictions, only charts, the kind that keep them from “imposing their morals” like the bad guys do.

But the friendly critics like Rensin merely want you to modulate your rhetoric. They don’t deny that you’ve got science on your side. No, they just want you to try addressing the red team with arguments rather than insults, because they think this approach will be more likely to advance your political goals. They frame your smugness as a tactical misstep, not as what it is: a character flaw.

The problem isn’t that you are wise in matters of policy, but foolish in matters of strategy. The problem is that you are fools, full stop. And you are not benign fools, either. You are the worst and most dangerous kinds of fools; you are fools who think yourselves wise. You are sophomores who never graduate, who never stand to defend a thesis. You are Eternal Sophomores, mere beginners, who are aware that they have learned something, and mistake that tiny something for the whole of wisdom.

You vaunt your education, but I have seen the kind of work you do. I’ve seen how uncritically you accept your instructors’ framing of issues. I’ve seen how little time you spend in libraries, seeking out contrary views, how dependent you are on sources that are handed to you. I’ve seen how sloppily you put your papers together, how you raid your sources, just as Nietzsche says the “worst readers” do:

The worst readers are those who behave like plundering troops: they take away a few things they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the whole.

In short, I’ve seen how little you value ideas, even your own. You don’t take them seriously. You never have taken them seriously. You might never take them seriously. For you, an idea is good if it helps you fit in with the crowd you’ve chosen. An idea is good if supporting it earns you nods or Facebook Likes from the right people. You would disagree. You would say you think an idea is good if it is true, or perhaps if it is useful. But you have no way of measuring ideas against these standards, and you’re not interested in learning how to do it. When you say you care about the truth, you lie.

I’ve watched you long enough to know that this isn’t a passing phase. It’s not the shock of Trump’s victory that’s got you dabbling in sophistry. This is your true, authentic, ultimately self-expressive stance toward ideas: they don’t matter. What matters is being liked by the right people, holding the right opinions, and knowing, as Rensin says, the “Good Facts.” It’s all a game for you.

And this is what makes you bigots. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines a bigot as:

A person who is obstinately and unreasonably wedded to a particular religious creed, opinion, practice or ritual. The word is sometimes used in an enlarged sense, for a person who is illiberally attached to any opinion, or system of belief; as a bigot to the Mohammedan religion; a bigot to a form of government.

An unwillingness to honestly consider arguments or evidence is the essence of bigotry, not racial prejudice, or any of the boogeymen of the contemporary left. Bigotry is unreason; it is an indifference to reality. Bigotry isn’t fundamentally about our attitudes toward other groups. If it were true that, for example, gay marriage were a threat to our civilization, then to be against it would not be bigoted. To refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple would not be bigoted. But it is bigoted, right now, today, when blue teamers refuse to duly consider the arguments the red team marshals for this flawed thesis.

Blue teamers, it has become fashionable of late to distance oneself socially from those who hold differing political opinions. I’m sure you’ve noticed. Perhaps you’ve done this yourself. But when you do this, it’s not your instinct for self-preservation at work, or a cautious prudence, or some kindergarten ethos that bids you to say nothing at all, since you can’t say anything nice. It’s your bigotry. Your unreason. Your Eternal damned Sophomorism. You know this as well as I do. So do better.

Make an argument for once. Hear an argument for once. Take it all the way to the end. I really don’t think you can do it. I think you’re too far gone. But because some of you — when I choose to overlook your loathsome bigotry — are some of my favorite people, I’m rooting for you.

In Case You Ever Wonder

Why Ayn Rand Is “Not a Serious Philosopher”

Let us look more closely; what is the scientific man? A type of man that is not noble; he has an instinct for his equals and for what they need; for example, that claim to honor and recognition, that constant attestation of his value and utility which is needed to overcome again and again the internal mistrust which is the sediment in the hearts of all dependent men. He is rich in petty envy and has lynx eyes for what is base in natures to whose heights he cannot attain. Their sense of the mediocrity of their own type instinctively works at the annihilation of the uncommon man and tries to break every bent bow, or preferably, unbend it.

—Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil § 206, as presented by Laurence Lampert, Nietzsche and Modern Times, pp. 34–35

CNN’s Least Favorite Syria Facts

Worth considering:

Slate Produced Something Not Entirely Worthless!

Wonders never cease.

Note: Nietzsche is wrong in the end, but right sometimes on his way there.

A Way Out

I was asked on Facebook how I would move people toward learning how to talk about politics. My answer grew too big for a Facebook comment, so I’m posting it here:

As for what can be done right this second, yes, participating in and encouraging civil and serious discussion is the way to go. One reason I recommend this is because serious discussions make us reflect: “Was my answer really good enough? Did I take everything into account? Maybe I am missing something? But what could it be?” And, especially if we share these struggles with each other, then we model that it’s okay not to know everything, and we encourage better thinking in ourselves and in our interlocutors.

Another reason is: Facebook is a medium that’s hostile to reason. It’s also tremendously important and influential. I think good discourse should crowd out the bad, if possible. And I’m not sure it’s not possible yet.

I’m actually very curious: if people just did more of this, would they discover on their own how inadequate their thinking has been? Would they consequently abandon the meme tossing, and hit the books? I’ve never seen it, so I can’t say. But I don’t discount the possibility.

Beyond this, I’m still working out for myself just how I can best move people toward learning how to talk about politics. I haven’t yet formed a detailed opinion on how people in general can effect positive changes here. The great difficulty is that merely understanding what people need to learn doesn’t get you all the way to helping them do it.

That said, whatever rhetorical strategy I might come up with would certainly take these factors into account:

First, the problem isn’t primarily about politics. It’s about method. People don’t know how to think, in general. Their difficulties with politics are direct extensions of their difficulties with epistemology. To get to clear thinking about politics, people must first learn how to get to clear thinking in general. How do they do that? Through the deliberate study of method.

Second, everyone already has a method for arriving at opinions, whether they recognize this about themselves or not, and whether they arrived at it formally or not. It’s tremendously helpful, I’ve found, to recognize that red teamers tend to share one epistemology, blue teamers another, and Aristotelians (such as myself) a third. Because of this, blue teamers probably need totally different kinds of improvements to their method than red teamers do. (Aristotelians, if they need to improve their method, need to do it in still another way.)

What are these characteristic methods? They can be categorized by their attitudes toward integration. Integration (roughly) is the mental process of taking MANY factors and arriving at ONE conclusion. In general, blue teamers are uncomfortable with integration. Red teamers are very comfortable with it, but want their conclusions to conform to a “higher reality” of some kind. Aristotelians are just as comfortable with integration as red teamers, but don’t believe in any higher reality, and therefore are more fastidious about which factors in regular reality should be included in an integration.

This is why blues emphasize statistics and expert opinion: they don’t think individuals can ever adequately take into account all the MANY factors that are relevant to complex issues. They don’t trust individuals to make decisions for themselves that could affect the community as a whole. Therefore, they step back and want to let the experts handle both the gathering of data and the design of policy based on that data. But they also don’t trust conclusions, so they want all conclusions to be provisional and subject to continual renegotiation, usually through the democratic process.

Reds tend to emphasize both individual judgment and eternal principles when coming to a decision about policy. This is because there’s ONE true answer to any question, and many of the important questions’ answers are given to us by God. The complexity of the world is not overwhelming, because integration works for individuals.Single individuals are more than capable of understanding everything they need to understand before making informed decisions, even if those decisions, in the aggregate, will have a massive effect on the community as a whole.

Aristotelians are so few in number, they have no recognized voice in public discourse.

This has all been a massive oversimplification, of course, but it gestures in the right direction. I’ll just point out, to avoid a possible later confusion, that Marxists are a pro-integration minority within the blue team, and, with respect to method, they have much more in common with red-team Christians than with Aristotelians or with other blue teamers.

These characteristic methods should be taken into account when trying to reach out to someone and help them to improve their method.

The third factor that a good general rhetorical strategy would take into account, I think is that not everyone is equally ready to begin working on their method. If someone’s interested in methodological questions, they’re a good candidate for learning and growth. If they scoff at the necessity of improving their method, they’re probably not a good investment. Focus on people on all teams who are especially intellectually curious.

The last factor I want to mention is the magnitude of the problem. I think it’s huge. A typical college-educated person is years of study away from holding a single competent political opinion.

To sum all this up: a good general strategy for helping people to improve their thinking on politics would be to guide them toward a focus on improving their general method of thinking. It would take into account that they already have methodological habits, and it would be tailored to address them. It would take a long-range approach, and not expect easy victories, but rather slow and difficult progress.

Huge caveat: once a person passes a certain threshold of intellectual curiosity, all this rhetorical daintiness can be tossed out the window. If someone really wants to understand politics, and they’re willing to seriously consider the possibility that a rigorous study of method (epistemology) is an essential means to that end, then they don’t need to be guided through the normal convalescent process. Instead, they can just read a few books. I’m hesitant even to mention them, however, because I realize that there’s something I haven’t mentioned yet:

I spent a good portion of my intellectually formative years puzzling over a single question: Why don’t people seem to care whether their opinions are actually true? And I became progressively more convinced that this was because, either at a very early age, or perhaps even at conception, mankind gets divided in two: those who care about the truth, and those who just want to get along. And this was a bit depressing.

And then I became a teacher. As a result of my experiences there, I started to take very seriously an alternative hypothesis: that our natural interest in the truth is systematically suppressed. I now consider this more plausible than the some-of-us-are-just-less-human-than-others hypothesis.

And this is finally what we are up against in politics, I think: Very clever people have designed important institutions, notably education and mass media, to exploit certain inherent human vulnerabilities. This is rather vague sounding, so let me give a specific example. Bill Gates, in his support for the Common Core, is trying to improve education. I believe this effort of his is genuine and benevolent. I also believe, unbeknownst to himself, that he supports this kind of education because, if it worked out, public schools would churn out more workers suited for the kind of work that gets done at Microsoft. He doesn’t perceive, I don’t think, this conflict of interest: the kinds of workers ideally suited to working for Microsoft are just the kinds of workers ill-suited to start their own firms.

School promotes institutional thinking. Institutional thinking is deep in a niche and shallow everywhere else. It keeps the big picture obscure. It promotes citizens that understand, say, the dangers of climate change very well, but are helpless to put those dangers in any larger context. Because the kind of thinker who makes a good project manager at Microsoft, but who would never conceive of a new, user-friendly OS, is the same kind of thinker who sees the dangers of ocean acidification, but cannot conceive of the dangers of political remedies to this problem.

Every aspect of public intellectual life is a hall of mirrors. Anyone who wants to see the big picture has to smash the mirrors and get outside. And Gates and Zuckerberg and their ilk don’t want us outside. So a sincere desire to improve one’s thinking is not, I’d guess, enough. It has to be a desire strong enough to overcome a whole world that’s telling you to put the books down and get with the program, already.

That said, these are the books I’d tell myself to read in order to get out:

  1. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand. Optional, but highly recommended. Pay special attention to how popular opinion is managed by the story’s villain, but the main reason (in the present context) to read this book is to get a sense for what an Aristotelian ethos feels like.
  2. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand. Introduces an original, but Aristotelian way of understanding the big picture. Pros: a page-turner. Cons: highly stylized writing, often mistaken for a clumsy attempt at more conventional prose. There’s a big speech near the end that must not be skipped or skimmed, although most readers seem to. Many adult readers will struggle to take this book seriously, unless a concerted effort is made. It’s worth that effort, and then some.
  3. For the New Intellectual, Ayn Rand. Read the title essay only. It’s not going to make a whole lot of sense, but read it anyway. As with all of her nonfiction, take copious notes.
  4. The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand, et al. This presents Rand’s ethics. Understanding these ethics is prerequisite to understanding her politics.
  5. Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal, Ayn Rand, et al. Presents Rand’s politics.
  6. Philosophy: Who Needs It, Ayn Rand. Probably the single most useful book for understanding contemporary politics, or contemporary intellectual life in general. Nearly incomprehensible without a firm grounding in her philosophy.
  7. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Ayn Rand. Very technical, although not a hard read. Totally necessary. Do not skip under any circumstances.
  8. The Ominous Parallels, Leonard Peikoff. Explains why Hitler happened, and why the U.S. is headed the way of the Weimar Republic. Essential first step in learning to apply a broad philosophical framework to cultural analysis.
  9. The DIM Hypothesis, Leonard Peikoff. Like a cheat sheet for understanding how everyone around you thinks. Totally incomprehensible without having read and thoroughly digested most of the above.
  10. Understanding Objectivism, Leonard Peikoff. Clears up a number of common misunderstandings. Highly, highly recommended, although optional.
  11. Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff. A summary of Rand’s philosophy. Optional, but it’s the only way to get the whole thing in one piece. This book is not useful as an introduction to Rand’s thought, so do not, under any circumstances, start here.

At this point, you have a number of options. You can delve into criticism of Rand’s work, or you can try to build a foundation in red-team and blue-team fundamentals that matches the Aristotelian-team fundamentals outlined in the books above. If you decide to delve into Rand criticism, be aware that almost all of it written before 2010 is garbage. I can recommend only three works of criticism:

  • Concepts and Their Role in Knowledge, Allan Gotthelf and James G. Lennox eds.
  • Metaethics, Egoism, and Virtue: Studies in Ayn Rand’s Normative Theory, Allan Gotthelf and James G. Lennox eds.
  • Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand, Roderick T. Long.

And that’s about it. Your question really merits and requires a book-length answer, and this certainly isn’t it. But it’s, as I said above, a gesture in the right direction. If it seems I’ve suggested resources for becoming expert in one particular philosophy, rather than for improving thinking in general, it isn’t so. Not only does one have to start somewhere, but, the Objectivist / Aristotelian framework has the advantage of being very tightly integrated. It’s a model, whether one ultimately accepts its conclusions or not, of coming to see the one in the many.

There’s Too Much Confusion

What you think this is: a dark satire that speaks to our disgust with commissars and oligarchs.

What this actually is: a confession of bloodlust, felt everywhere, but neither understood nor (openly) admitted to.

See, the thing is, people, keep it up like you have been — the rage and the fervent belief, unsupported by serious arguments — and in retrospect this kind of thing is going to look quaintly optimistic. Bloodlust isn’t nearly so sensible as the sensible hope.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Revealing Propaganda Through Juxtaposition

Then suddenly on Wednesday afternoon, [Patrick] Kennedy and three of his top officials resigned unexpectedly, four State Department officials confirmed…. All are career Foreign Service officers who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

This is from a Washington Post article with the headline, “The State Department’s entire senior administrative team just resigned.”

Now compare this article, from before Trump’s election:

A group of top State Department officials that some called “The Shadow Government” met weekly to discuss Freedom of Information requests related to Mrs Clinton. They wanted her emails to be released all at once, instead of on a rolling basis, as would normally be the case, according to the FBI summary. But the group did not get its way.

From the lede of the same article:

A State Department official offered a “quid pro quo” deal if the FBI would change the classification of a Hillary Clinton email, FBI documents indicate.
 
Patrick Kennedy, an undersecretary of state, had asked the email be downgraded to a lower category. [Emphasis mine.]

Hmm. That name seems familiar.

Next, consider this analysis, which begins:

IN JANUARY 1961, Dwight Eisenhower delivered his farewell address after serving two terms as U.S. president; the five-star general chose to warn Americans of this specific threat to democracy: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” That warning was issued prior to the decade long escalation of the Vietnam War, three more decades of Cold War mania, and the post-9/11 era, all of which radically expanded that unelected faction’s power even further.

 

This is the faction that is now engaged in open warfare against the duly elected and already widely disliked president-elect, Donald Trump. They are using classic Cold War dirty tactics and the defining ingredients of what has until recently been denounced as “Fake News.”

 

Their most valuable instrument is the U.S. media, much of which reflexively reveres, serves, believes, and sides with hidden intelligence officials….

Finally, consider CNN’s slightly different take on Patrick Kennedy’s departure from State:

Two senior administration officials said Thursday that the Trump administration told four top State Department management officials that their services were no longer needed as part of an effort to “clean house” at Foggy Bottom.

Was Kennedy fired, or did he resign? Why does the answer matter?

Get it?