A Prayer for Trump’s Wall

Lord, I don’t believe in you. But know that this prayer is the true cry of my heart. Hear me:

Lord I have no great affection for white people, and no antipathy either. The same goes for people of all colors and shades. The best I can say about people of any race is that some of them are easy on the eyes, and that is nice. (Also, please do something about sickle-cell anemia.)

But the uppity mouthbreathers with lame degrees in the humanities and social sciences keep telling me that white men, and white people generally, have had too much say here for too long a time. I have always believed people should get what they ask for, good and hard. Lord, give it to them. Give them the change they ask for!

Let the United States of America take in millions of new immigrants. Start today! Let every one of these immigrants be brown or black, or really any color but white. Let half of them be gay, or all of them. Who cares? Let at least half of them have gender expressions that are at apparent odds with their biological sex. Let at least half of them be disabled. Let them all be atheists. Let them be all be poor and desperate, perhaps fleeing from oppression in their home countries.

But let them all be hard-core anarcho-capitalists. Or Objectivists. Or, best of all, Agorists. Let them all be well read in economics, Misesians tempered with an Objectivist’s sense for objective economic value. Let them be well read in Aristotelian philosophy, too. And since this is my prayer, let them all (even the deaf ones, if you can arrange it) be fervent lovers of Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Charles Ives, and, most of all, Gustav Mahler. The general taste in music needs improving.

Lord in short order let them infiltrate and bring under their control all our key institutions. Let the universities be staffed with these brown and black immigrants. Let all the anchors on NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, and the cable networks be replaced with them. Let them take all the key offices of government, pass a constitutional amendment, and then take the presidency. Let them end the Federal Reserve and restore the gold standard. Let them enforce the Ninth and Tenth Amendments with a passion so pure and hot that its beauty and terror makes all the faculty and students of Yale’s law school commit mass suicide by self-immolation. Harvard too, Lord.

Let them Make America Great Again. Great, and brown. Let them have lots and lots of babies. Let them intermarry with white America, ’till the country caramelizes coast to coast, and no one can figure out what race anyone else is anymore.

When the time is right, Lord, let them dissolve the government and bring at last a peaceful, permanent, civilized anarchy to this continent.

I know this is a lot to ask, Lord. If it is too much, then please just let Trump’s wall be built. Real high.

This I pray.


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

On Nonsense and Referents

The Internet hosts many critiques of Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, most of which are useless or worse. Michael Huemer’s Why I Am Not an Objectivist (WIANO hereafter) is an exception. It has the great virtue that any Objectivist who engages its arguments can either realize a better understanding of philosophy by overcoming them, or else realize the inadequacy of his understanding by failing to do so.

What follows is a rejoinder to WIANO’s first section, “MEANING.” This is the first revision of a version published earlier here.

Huemer Against Rand on Meaning

Objectivism rejects the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. Michael Huemer accepts it. He correctly recognizes that the basis for Objectivism’s rejection of this dichotomy lies in its identification of the meaning of concepts. Leonard Peikoff writes, in “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy,” “[A] concept means the existents which it integrates. … [It] subsumes and includes all the characteristics of its referents, known and not yet known.” (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Second Edition, p. 99. Emphasis in original. Hereafter cited as ITOE.) Huemer also notes that Objectivists consider concepts to be open-ended, or as he would have them put it, “[T]he meaning of a concept is all of the concretes it subsumes, past, present, and future, including ones that we will never know about.” (WIANO, §1)

Huemer prepares his attack on the Objectivist rejection of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy by reference to the story of Oedipus, who famously — and unwittingly — married his own mother, Jocaste. Huemer wants to show that the Objectivist theory entails that Oedipus could not have married his own mother unwittingly, since he knew that he was marrying Jocaste, and since “Jocaste” and “Oedipus’ mother” have the same referent. It is absurd to think that Oedipus knew he was marrying “Oedipus’ mother” just because he knew he was marrying “Jocaste,” so if Objectivism does entail this, Objectivism is absurd.

Continue reading On Nonsense and Referents

Premature Identification

One of the things I find most striking about Objectivism is its subtlety. I’m in the minority. The lucidity of Ayn Rand’s writing, I think, tends to fool her admirers nearly as often as it fools her critics. She reduces complex issues to essentials, casts fine lines of distinction in sharp relief, illuminates the obscure, and penetrates the impenetrable. She makes it look easy.

It’s not easy.

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. And an argument, to be refuted, must be comprehended, which means it must be surrounded with understanding. Ayn Rand made dispatching her opponents look easy because, far more often than not, she had them surrounded.

To my dismay, I’ve observed too many who call themselves Objectivists surround their interlocutors’ arguments, not with understanding, but with mere words. This isn’t comprehension; it’s circumlocution.

And in fact, it’s often worse than that. Continue reading Premature Identification

Physics v. Philosophy

If we are to carve the beast of reality along the joints, there is a dovetail where physics and philosophy meet, but the line will be carved by philosophy alone. The habit of philosophers and hangers-on to philosophy to discuss, armchair Hawking-style, matters cosmological and quantum-mechanical annoys me to no end. Reading a nice, well-written smackdown of such vice, like this one, gives me cause to rejoice!