Saturday, April 30, 2016

Eric Hoffer on Ideas & Intellectuals

"A ruling intelligentsia, whether in Europe, Asia or Africa, treats the masses as raw material to be experimented on, processed, and wasted at will."

"The intellectuals and the young, booted and spurred, feel themselves born to ride us."

"The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world."

"There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life."

Friday, April 29, 2016

On Kazoo Ishiguro's novel 'The Remains of The Day'

I read Kazoo Ishiguro's novel 'The Remains of The Day' few years ago. It is an unforgettable story of the highly-dignified and efficient English butler, Stevens, who has blind faith in the political opinions of the politically powerful English Lord, Lord Darlington, in whose mansion he works. Towards the end of the novel, Stevens is engaged in ruminating about the many mistakes that he has made in his life, and it dawns on him that his most glaring mistakes were not the outcome of his own decisions, rather they were the result of the thoughts and decisions of Lord Darlington, whose political ideas have failed completely.

The moral of this story is that you must always use your own mind, or you end up like Stevens. The Remains of The Day is a great story. Here is a quote from the book:

"How can one possibly be held to blame in any sense because, say, the passage of time has shown that Lord Darlington's efforts were misguided, even foolish? Throughout the years I served him, it was he and he alone who weighed up evidence and judged it best to proceed in the way he did, while I simply confined myself, quite properly, to affairs within my own professional realm. And as far as I am concerned, I carried out my duties to the best of my abilities, indeed to a standard which many may consider 'first-rate.' It is hardly my fault is his lordship's life and work have turned out today to look, at best, a sad waste-and it is quite illogical that I should feel any regret or shame on my own account."

What Is Capitalism?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Ascent of Howard Roark and the Decline of Antoine Roquentin

“Who is Howard Roark?”

“Who is Antoine Roquentin?”

The first question will be easier for most people. Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead continues to enjoy a massive worldwide following. The novel’s protagonist, Howard Roark, is discovered by thousands of new readers every day; old readers continue to be inspired by Roark and many keep returning to the book for new insights.

But there was a time when Antoine Roquentin was more popular than Howard Roark. In 1938, Roquentin made his debut as the protagonist in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, and he was quickly noticed by the intellectual elite. Almost every literary critic seemed to have an opinion, mostly positive, of Roquentin.

Nausea established Sartre’s reputation as the world’s foremost public intellectual and philosopher, and Antoine Roquentin was considered the fictional exponent of Sartre’s philosophy of existentialism. During the 1950s and 1960s, Sartre and Roquentin were at the peak of their popularity. Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964. Famously, he refused the honor of being a Nobel Laureate. But from the 1970s onward, his reputation began to wane, and this contributed to Roquentin’s rapid obsolescence.  Today Sartre has lost almost all his glory, his philosophy of existentialism is no longer considered relevant, and Roquentin, who was once the cynosure of the bibliophiles, has been consigned to obscurity.

Howard Roark, who came into being with the publishing of The Fountainhead in 1942, was almost a contemporary of Roquentin. But Roark received a lukewarm reception from the intellectuals and literary critics. The initial reviews of The Fountainhead were mixed. Ayn Rand was not hailed in the media as a great writer and thinker. Yet the novel progressed through word-of-mouth publicity and became a publishing phenomenon — it continues to sell hundreds of thousands of copies a year. It is frequently featured in lists of books that have changed people’s lives. In the public mind, Roark continues to evolve, making an ever greater impression as an icon of integrity and individualism.

The philosophical and political views of Rand and Sartre were poles apart. On the few occasions when Rand chose to speak about Sartre and his philosophy of existentialism, she expressed contempt. In her first work of non-fiction, For The New Intellectual (1961), Rand wrote: “The majority of those who posture as intellectuals today are frightened zombies, posturing in a vacuum of their own making, who admit their abdication from the realm of the intellect by embracing such doctrines as Existentialism …” There is no evidence of Sartre commenting on Rand or her ideas; it is not known whether he read her books, even though they were contemporaries — each born in 1905, and dying just two years apart (Sartre in 1980, Rand in 1982).

Both had the experience of living under a totalitarian regime: Ayn Rand in the Soviet Union and Sartre under the Nazis. Rand’s views against communism were certainly shaped by her experience of life in the Soviet Union. In the foreword to her first novel, We The Living, she wrote: “When, at the age of twelve, at the time of the Russian Revolution, I first heard the Communist principle that Man must exist for the sake of the State, I perceived that this was the essential issue, that this principle was evil, and that it could lead to nothing but evil, regardless of any methods, details, decrees, policies, promises and pious platitudes. This was the reason for my opposition to Communism then — and it is my reason now.”

It is unclear to what extent Sartre was intellectually influenced by the Nazi takeover of his country, France, during the Second World War. It is claimed that he was briefly a part of the French resistance against the Nazis; he certainly developed his intellectual love for Marxism during the occupation. While he didn't join the French Communist Party after the Second World War, he went on to become France’s most famous communist ideologue. For many decades he was a vocal intellectual supporter of the Soviet regime and was regarded as the conscience of communism.

Howard Roark is an outcome of Rand’s concept of man as a heroic being, while Antoine Roquentin is the outcome of Sartre’s concept of man as a confused and vacillating being. In view of the wide difference in the philosophies of Rand and Sartre, the few similarities that we find between Roark and Roquentin come as a matter of surprise. Both Roark and Roquentin are red-haired, slim and tall. Their names sound somewhat similar because the first two letters in their names are the same.

On an intellectual plane, the most prominent point of convergence between Roark and Roquentin is that each is an atheist. They don’t believe that there exists any divine entity on whom men can pin their hope of having guidance on how to live. Both believe in free will, or the idea that men, to a large extent, are responsible for their own actions. They believe that men must develop their own sense of values and bring meaning to life through the work that they do.

However, Roark and Roquentin have a completely different sense of life. Roark is an individualist, while Roquentin lacks a sense of identity and is filled with doubts about the nature of his own consciousness.

Roark recognizes that his individual mind is his only guide. He uses the faculty of reason to form his values and he adheres to his values with strict integrity. In contrast, Roquentin faces mental and psychological collapse. Roquentin’s sense of free will and atheism lead him to a nauseating, disorienting and disturbing conception of reality.

Roark believes that existence exists and consciousness is the faculty for perceiving that which exists. Roquentin regards consciousness as a kind of nothingness. He is mired in the skepticism of phenomenology, and becomes obsessed with how things seem from the first-person perspective.

Roark accepts the metaphysics of primacy of existence. He knows that rationality is a matter of choice and while man’s free will allows him to be irrational, man can achieve his life’s goals only if he chooses the rational path. His sense of morality guides him in acting in ways which can lead to the achievement of his ambitions.

Roquentin’s condition is one of confusion because his metaphysics is dominated by the phenomenological idea, “Essence precedes existence.” He is constantly mired in skepticism about the identity of existence. He thinks that he is free to create his own best path and that freedom means not having to constrain himself with the facts of reality.  He does not have any sense of values and to him morality is an immense vacuum.

The novel’s title, Nausea, comes from the name that Roquentin ascribes to the series of confused ruminations that constantly harry him. As he does not have a permanent job — he works as an unemployed writer — he has ample time to ruminate. His days are mostly spent in idly perusing libraries and navel-gazing at terrace cafes, mulling over the bartender's purple suspenders, the passage of time, and the root of a chestnut tree.

Roquentin is a whim-worshipper. Nothing is "real" to him. The universe has no identity, there is no cause and effect, and he has no goal, no purpose. He ruminates on whatever his mind happens to fasten upon at any given time. He can’t think coherently and a state of somnambulistic confusion is the permanent state of his mind. He makes no effort to direct his consciousness because he thinks that his ideas should precede reality and his consciousness itself should be the driver.

A whim-worshipper will try to seek out others who, like him, yearn for a world where they do not have to deal with reality. The people with whom Roquentin has some kind of association are as confused and disoriented as he is. There is one rather disturbing character called Autodidact, who seems consumed by the idea of reading and comprehending the contents of an entire library. Anny, Roquentin’s former flame, lives in the past. Much of her time is consumed in rereading the same history books and reminiscing about the perfect moments of her life.

Toward the end of the book, Roquentin arrives at the conclusion that man’s aspirations have no connection with the physical world. Denying reality has become a permanent way of life for him. He thinks that if people deny reality, they will have more freedom to give some kind of meaning to their life. Finding himself incapable of understanding what he can and cannot change, he continues to make futile attempts to rewrite reality. He has abandoned reason. To Roquentin, only “nothingness,” which he cannot see, makes up the purposeless reality that can inspire action.

The Fountainhead expounds Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, which begins by accepting the fact that existence exists as an objective absolute that is independent of our consciousness. Howard Roark, the true individualist, is an embodiment of Rand’s rational philosophy. In a world full of collectivists, populists and second handers, he is the prime mover. He never compromises on his principles. Life throws many challenges at him but he is never sidetracked. He continues to hold fast to his vision of designing buildings which make use of modern technology and design concepts. The novel ends triumphantly with Howard Roark winning the right to act according to his own principles.

Sartre’s existentialism holds that the universe is an irrational, meaningless place, existence is absurd, and life makes no sense and has no purpose or explanation. The confusion and disorientation that Roquentin suffers in Nausea is, according to existentialism, a necessary condition of life. Sartre himself used to feel “nauseated” by the vastness of the universe and the meaninglessness of life. He, like Roquentin, used to spend hours in vacuous rumination. So what we find in Nausea is an accurate description of the real impact that existentialism has on the mind of its acolytes. The confused and ruminative Roquentin is a typical practitioner of existentialism.

People generally don’t want to read the story of characters such as Roquentin, who are helpless and confused not because of any grave misfortune that has befallen them due to circumstances beyond their control, but because of the nihilistic ideology of existentialism that they have themselves accepted out of their own intellectual cowardice. A novel like Nausea can’t have any lasting value. People like to read about heroism. They want to read about men like Howard Roark, who succeed despite all odds. They want to read stories that portray a positive sense of life.

Aristotle formulated the rule for good fiction more than two millennia ago when he said that fiction represents things as they might be and ought to be. Nausea does not represent life as it ought to be. Its protagonist, Antoine Roquentin, is not a hero. He is not even fit to be an anti-hero or a villain. His mind is full of nothing and he himself is nothing. The leitmotif of Nausea is “nothingness,” which is also the essence of Sartre’s philosophy of existentialism.

Nausea was never liked by normal readers. It does not have any literary merit to attract real readers. The book reigned for few decades because it was artificially propped up by the leftist intellectuals, most of whom are probably as disoriented and out of touch with reality as Antoine Roquentin is in the novel.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Howard Roark's Basic Motive in The Fountainhead

Wealth is not a social product or a social value

"Contrary to the collectivist view, wealth is not a social product or a "social value," to use Rawls's terminology. It does not emerge as a single blob of "national income" that must be divided up by society. Wealth is created by, and morally belongs to, the individual creator. If Robinson Crusoe is tired of trying to scoop up fish with his hands and figures out how to turn a tree branch into a spear, increasing his daily catch tenfold, can Friday, who never thought to make a spear, properly complain that Crusoe has received an "unfair distribution" of fish?"

~ Don Watkins and Yaron Brook in Equal is Unfair

Friday, April 22, 2016

The West’s Most Unwanted Export Hits India—Greenpeace

The Narendra Modi government has frozen the bank accounts of Greenpeace India and banned the organization from raising foreign funds. It is hard not to sympathize with the government’s action when you are aware of the anti-development activities in which this environmentalist group has been involved. The only unfortunate thing in this case is that the Modi government has chosen to act on the basis of a routine bureaucratic report, which alleges that Greenpeace India has violated the rules of foreign funding and has withheld information on transactions.

Charging Greenpeace for financial impropriety is to my mind like charging Al Capone with tax evasion — the gangster was too slippery and could only be nailed on a technicality. The activities in which Greenpeace India was involved are far more sinister. By making a minor financial issue the basis for taking action, the government has given Greenpeace India the opportunity to play the role of a martyr.

No one in the Modi government has cared to refute the environment centered world-view of Greenpeace. No one has pointed out that nature is not superior to human beings and we can only survive by transforming the harsh natural environment. No one has said that increased usage of fossil fuels is India’s critical need — fossil fuels can liberate and empower Indians. Even the mainstream media has done nothing to expose the false propaganda of the environmentalists; quite the contrary, environmentalists are often projected as angels trying to save the environment.

More than 300 million people in India live without electricity, even though India has abundant coal, which can be used to generate cheap electricity. But new projects for coal-fired plants are getting mired in endless delays, mainly because of the high-decibel campaigns spearheaded by organizations like Greenpeace. The environmentalists believe that coal must always remain below the earth, it must never be dug up and burnt. If the coal remains underground, hundreds of millions of Indians will remain in darkness.

Greenpeace wants India to immediately switch to more expensive renewable energy. But India can’t afford to waste resources on renewable energy projects. In fact, no country in the world can afford to meet its energy requirements through renewable resources. Renewable energy is not only costlier, it is also unreliable compared to the electricity that we get from fossil fuels such as coal. The contribution of renewable energy to the total energy generated in the world is less than 2%. More than 80% of the world’s power supply comes from coal because coal is the cheapest, cleanest and most reliable means of generating power.

If the cheaper and reliable option of coal-based electricity is not pursued, millions of Indians will continue to suffer a life without electricity. India is desperate for power; average electricity usage in India is among the lowest in the world. An average Indian uses just 6 percent of the electricity used by an average American.

Since Greenpeace set up its India office in 2002, it has campaigned against not only the new coal power plants, but also against nuclear projects, mining projects, and every large-scale infrastructure project. A populous country like India faces a lot of challenges in executing development projects. There are challenges related to displacement, land acquisition, conflicts with locals and tribes, compensation, permits, and bureaucracy. Organizations like Greenpeace pretend to act on behalf of blighted natives and they have the talent to exploit and exacerbate all challenges.

Environmentalists claim that burning fossil fuels — coal, oil, and gas, in that order — releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which, in turn, causes extreme climate events. But this fear-mongering in the name of climate change is not a recent phenomenon. During the 1970s, we were warned that if we didn’t end all developmental activity, there would be global cooling to such an extent that we would face another ice age. During the 1990s, they were telling us that climate change was accelerating and global warming would lead to the melting of polar ice, which in turn would lead to a massive rise in sea levels. But the climate has mostly remained flat.

Environmentalist groups have a long record of issuing dire warnings of catastrophic events that would come to pass if we continued with unchecked consumption and development. None of their doomsday scenarios have come true. During the last 50 years, the world saw more than a 100% increase in coal usage and we witnessed an agricultural revolution. Food production soared — and, consequent to that improved nutrition, life spans increased, the world population doubled, child mortality rates fell more than 50%. There was a tremendous improvement in infrastructure in urban areas and technological innovation in all spheres of life.

Organizations like Greenpeace propagate distorted data to coerce us into giving up fossil fuels and the modern way of life. Unfortunately, most Indians continue to believe that fossil fuels are bad and climate change is a real threat. No effort is being made by the Modi government to expose and refute the baseless and anti-human environmentalist ideology. The academic community and mainstream media are unfortunately hand in glove with environmentalists.

All the core ideas of environmentalism are tacitly accepted by the Modi government. Speaking at the Paris Climate Summit, Prime Minister Modi said: “The consequences of the industrial age powered by fossil fuel are evident, especially on the lives of the poor.”

What consequences is the Prime Minister talking about? It is the consequence of the industrial age that there are now more than 7 billion humans on this planet. It is the consequence of the industrial age that a significant number of human beings now have easy access to electricity, clean water, genetically improved crops, sturdy homes, health care, medicines, communication systems, air conditioning, entertainment and much else. If the consequences of the industrial age were evident to politicians, they would not join the environmentalists in demonizing fossil fuels and lamenting that we must reduce carbon emissions.

Modi either believes, or, for political purposes, pretends to believe, the environmentalist idea that we must harness solar energy to fight climate change. His government has announced plans to spend billions to set up new solar power plants. When cheaper coal-based alternatives exist, why is taxpayers’ money being poured into an environmentalist fantasy like solar energy? India simply can’t afford to squander resources on such fantasies when more than 300 million citizens are living without electricity.

If Modi truly wants to bring electricity to every Indian, he must begin by exposing the destructive anti-human ideology of organizations like Greenpeace. He must reject the idea that industrial civilization is not sustainable. He must accept that millions of Indians can rise from poverty to prosperity only if we improve our ability to extract energy from fossil fuels.

First published in Savvy Street

Fossil Fuels: The Greenest Energy

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Agents of "change" can be agents of "disaster"

"Many among the intelligentsia see themselves as agents of “change,” a term often used loosely, almost generically, as if things are so bad that “change” can be presupposed to be a change for the better. The history of changes that turned out to be for the worse, even in countries that were pretty bad to begin with—czarist Russia or Cuba under Batista, for example—receives remarkably little attention.” ~ Thomas Sowell

(Source: 'Intellectuals and Society' by Thomas Sowell; Chapter: Subjective Truth)

The conspiracy theorist as a child

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

On the aftermath of Vietnam war

In his book Carnage and Culture, military historian, Victor Davis Hanson, has given shocking details of kind of mayhem that Vietnam in the aftermath of the communist victory. Here are few lines from the book:

“A communist victory brought more death and even greater dislocation to the Vietnamese than did decades of war—more often slowly by starvation, incarceration, and flight, rather than by outright mass murder… Exact numbers are in dispute, but most scholars accept that well over 1 million left by boat; and hundreds of thousands of others crossed by land into neighboring Thailand and even China…. Those who died in leaky boats or in storms numbered between 50,000 and 100,000…”

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Odd-even mandate won’t clean Delhi’s air, it is a recipe for poverty & havoc

The ultimate test of a new mandate from a socialist government is whether a large number of people are obeying it—the actual outcomes of the mandate don't seem to matter. Such an inference may sound unbelievable, but Delhi’s political class is hailing the odd-even mandate as a major success, solely because majority of Delhiites are obeying it. A day after the mandate was imposed, on the day for odd-number-plate cars, the Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwalsaid: "I am truly overwhelmed. There are very few even numbered cars on the roads.”

When the fine of breaking the odd-even mandate is Rs. 2000, people have no alternative but to obey. But what was the aim of the mandate? Was stopping people from using cars the real aim? If improving the quality of Delhi’s air was the objective, then why is the Chief Minister citing fewer cars on the roads as a measure of the mandate’s success? He should have cited some concrete figures to show that there has been an actual reduction in air pollution.

If one is objective, one can see, with absolute lucidity, the right solution for any real problem. But when the aim is to expand the power of the ruling class, then we find the politicians and the intellectuals deploying their verbosity to project some new problem, one that is shrewdly packaged to appeal to the conscience of the people—the idea is to bamboozle the people into accepting a new set of unnecessary restrictions on certain aspects of their lives, in name of solving the problem, which does not even exist. The pollution from cars in Delhi is not a real problem, it is a pseudo problem that the ruling class has invented for political reasons.

A study conducted by IIT (Kanpur) shows that cars contribute less than 1% of the total pollutants. This is an excerpt from a report in The Financial Express:

“The IIT study has pointed out that 56% of the PM10 (particulate matter up to 10 micrometers) and 38% of PM2.5 pollution comes from road dust and only 9% and 20%, respectively, come from all categories of vehicles combined. Of all the vehicles, 46% of PM10 and PM2.5 comes from trucks and 33% comes from two-wheelers, while four wheelers — only diesel — contribute only 10%, which makes it even less than 1% of the total pollutants.”

Since cars are not the major cause of Delhi’s pollution, permitting cars on roads on alternate days, depending on the last digit of the number plate, can do nothing to clean the city’s air. When the odd-even formula was first implemented, from January 1 to January 15, 2016, it did not lead to any improvement in the air quality. In fact, the air-pollution levels in Delhi rose during the 15 day period when the odd-even rule was in place. Even if all the cars are banned for all the days, there will not be any significant improvement in air quality.

The IIT study proves that much of the pollution that we have in Delhi consists of dust. The problem of dust can’t be solved by demonizing or restricting cars. But facts don’t matter to the intellectuals and politicians, who are behind the odd-even mandate. To them this mandate is a way of increasing their power and proclaiming that they are superior to everyone else because they pretend to be concerned about quality of air that the blighted natives of Delhi breathe. They want to project the view that they are on the side of angels who are trying to ensure pristine air for all.

Though the first phase of the odd-even rule did nothing to improve air quality, the mandate is back from April 15. According to reports, the odd-even system will be in force for 15 days every month.

The aim of the odd-even mandate continues to be shrouded in mystery. The most verbose supporters of the mandate are now claiming that they want to nudge Delhi’s citizens into making more use the city’s public transport system so that there is less traffic on the roads. It is absurd and draconian to ban cars for curbing traffic. To solve the traffic problems, you have to widen the roads, have more flyovers, and better the signalling system. The leftists are incapable of solving the real problems, so they try to divert the public’s mind with imbecilic ideas for solving invented problems.

The very phrase “clean air” is tendentious. Is the air quality in Delhi worse than that in most Indian villages where there are hardly any cars? And if the air quality in Delhi is so bad then why are people from all parts of the country coming to the city to live and work? Also, why is the life expectancy in Delhi higher than that in most parts of the country? The truth is that people are thriving in all the world's major cities, which have large numbers of cars on roads. Clearly there is no evidence to show that cars are bad for human health.

Even if cars were the primary cause of the pollution in Delhi, which they are not, the government does not have the moral right to restrict people from driving their vehicles. A government powerful enough to restrict car travel, can restrict anything. What stops the government from passing a new mandate to stop us from using two-wheelers or air-conditioners on certain days? What stops the government from trying to regulate the business of vehicle manufacturers, air-conditioner manufacturers and fuel makers?

In name of cleaning the air, an emotive argument can be made to ban every modern convenience, regulate every business, and every technology. This will ultimately have an adverse impact on the economic environment; it will force businesses to flee to places where such restrictions do not exist. The more the politicians try to fix things, the worse things get. Mandates like the odd-even formula are a recipe for poverty and havoc.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Reisman on Atlas Shrugged

"I do not know if my college education could have damaged my intellectual development permanently. It did not have the chance. For just a few months after graduation, Atlas Shrugged appeared.

"I obtained a very early copy and began to read it almost immediately. Once I started it, I could not put it down, except for such necessary things as eating and sleeping. I was simply pulled along by what I have thought of ever since as the most exciting plot-novel ever written. Every two hundred pages or so, the story reached a new level of intensity, making it even more demanding of resolution than it was before. I stopped only when I finally finished the book, four days after I had started it. When I finished, the only thing I could find to say in criticism, tongue in cheek, was that the book was too short and the villains were not black enough.

"The first thing I got out of Atlas Shrugged and the philosophical system it presented was a powerful rein- forcement of my conviction that my basic ideas were right and a renewal of my confidence that I would be able to expose my professors’ errors."

~ George Reisman in Preface to Capitalism

Universities for ninnies

Saturday, April 16, 2016

On Government Financing in a Free Society

In a fully free society, taxation—or, to be exact, payment for governmental services—would be voluntary. Since the proper services of a government—the police, the armed forces, the law courts—are demonstrably needed by individual citizens and affect their interests directly, the citizens would (and should) be willing to pay for such services, as they pay for insurance.

The question of how to implement the principle of voluntary government financing—how to determine the best means of applying it in practice—is a very complex one and belongs to the field of the philosophy of law. The task of political philosophy is only to establish the nature of the principle and to demonstrate that it is practicable. The choice of a specific method of implementation is more than premature today—since the principle will be practicable only in a fully free society, a society whose government has been constitutionally reduced to its proper, basic functions.

Ayn Rand in 'Government Financing in a Free Society'

Thomas Sowell - Disparities in Income

Friday, April 15, 2016

Sowell on Intellectuals & Society

“Communism is socialism with an international focus and totalitarian methods. Benito Mussolini, the founder of Fascism, defined Fascism as national socialism in a state that was totalitarian, a term that he also coined. The same idea was echoed in Germany, in the name of the National Socialist German Workers’s Parth, Hitler’s party, now almost always abbreviated as Nazis, thereby burying its socialist component.” ~ Thomas Sowell

(Source: Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell; Chapter: A Conflict of Visions)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand) – Thug Notes Summary

The inference that he draws from The Fountainhead is not quite accurate, nevertheless this is a very entertaining video.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Even if you average just half a page a day, after five or ten years it adds up

On a vacation early in the course of writing this book, I read a Western novel by the late Louis L’Amour. I don’t remember the story itself, but one brief portion of the novel has stood out in my mind ever since and was a significant help to me in the rest of my writing. It was about the journey of pioneers traveling west in covered wagons, and described how on some days they would make so little progress that after a whole day’s march, they could still see the remains of their campfires of the night before. The important thing to those pioneers, L’Amour stressed, was that each day they did make some progress—they always finished the day further west than they began it. This became an inspiration to me on all those days when the end result of many hours of work was that I had gotten only a few paragraphs beyond where I had finished the night before. At those times, I contented myself with the knowledge that at least I was that many paragraphs further ahead and that I was still moving “west,” so to speak. In retrospect, I think of things somewhat more humorously, and say to myself, “Even if you average just half a page a day, after five or ten years it adds up.”

~ George Reisman in Preface to Capitalism

On Individualism

"Individualism is widely misunderstood. Individualism, we often hear, assumes that people derive no benefit from working together in groups. But individualism isn't atomism. Individuals can and should cooperate—but only on terms each individual agrees to. Individualism, we hear, implies indifference to other people. But individualism isn’t misanthropy. Individuals can and should care about other people—but they shouldn't be forced to sacrifice their hopes and dreams for other people. Individualism, we hear, is the view that only money matters. But individualism isn't materialism. Individuals can and should pursue all of the values that contribute to a happy and successful life—spiritual as well as material.”

~ Don Watkins and Yaron Brook in Equal is Unfair

Monday, April 11, 2016

Don't forget the commas...

On Retroactive Law

"Retroactive (or ex post facto) law—i.e., a law that punishes a man for an action which was not legally defined as a crime at the time he committed it—is rejected by and contrary to the entire tradition of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. It is a form of persecution practiced only in dictatorships and forbidden by every civilized code of law. It is specifically forbidden by the United States Constitution. It is not supposed to exist in the United States and it is not applied to anyone—except to businessmen. A case in which a man cannot know until he is convicted whether the action he took in the past was legal or illegal, is certainly a case of retroactive law." ~ Ayn Rand

(“America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

On Kant and “giving back”

Stephen Hicks on Immanuel Kant's views on donations:  

Kant asks, on what is the duty to be charitable based? Why ought we be charitable, whether we want to or not?

Kant’s answer is that to give charity to the poor is to make good on past injustices. Here is the key quotation: in giving to a person in need of charity, the giver “makes restitution for an injustice of which he is quite unconscious; though unconscious of it only because he does not properly examine his position. Although we may be entirely within our rights, according to the laws of the land and the rules of our social structure, we may nevertheless be participating in general injustice, and in giving to an unfortunate man we do not give him a gratuity but only help to return to his that of which the general injustice of our system has deprived him. For if none of us drew to himself a greater share of the world’s wealth than his neighbor, there would be no rich or poor. Even charity therefore is an act of duty imposed upon us by the rights of others and the debt we owe to them” (p. 194).

Here we have the first part of the “giving back” claim made explicit: the zero-sum assumption and the consequent implication that one is merely returning something one has borrowed or stolen.

On the very next page, Kant makes explicit the second assumption of “giving back”: “A man ought not to be flattered for his acts of charity lest his heart swell with generosity and desire to make benevolence the sole rule of his conduct.”


Friday, April 8, 2016

Thursday, April 7, 2016

On human race...

"The human race has only two unlimited capacities: one for suffering and one for lying. I want to fight religion as the root of all human lying and the only excuse for human suffering." 

~ Ayn Rand in Journals of Ayn Rand

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Book Review - Equal is Unfair by Don Watkins and Yaron Brook

Equal is Unfair
By Don Watkins and Yaron Brook
St. Martin's Press

As most people accept the ethics of altruism, they are condemned to see virtue in ‘equality’ and lack of virtue in ‘selfishness’. In The Virtue of Selfishness Ayn Rand rejected the morality of altruism which is inherent in most philosophic systems and all religions, and established that selfishness is not the synonym of evil, it is a virtue.

Like selfishness, equality too is a misunderstood concept—most people believe that we can’t have a fair society when there is income inequality. The belief that inequality is a bad thing and it is rising at an alarming pace, and that the government must intervene for imposing equality in society, is deep-rooted.

In Equal is Unfair, Don Watkins and Yaron Brook refute the muddled arguments that are being used to drive the utopian vision of income equality. They apply rigorous empirical validation to essay a devastating assessment of the campaign against income inequality, and they show that inequality is the fundamental by-product of freedom and it is a good thing. They point out that freedom, prosperity, and opportunity aren’t guaranteed for all times, and that if the campaign for income equality succeeds, the impact on the country will be overwhelmingly detrimental.

What kind of consequences can we expect if the doctrine of equality is fully implemented? The authors provide the example of Cambodia which, under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, tried to impose the doctrine of equality on its hapless population, and the result was massive destruction and genocide.

With a logic backed by hard facts, which is impossible to disprove, the book shows that the philosophical ideas behind the equality principle have been proposed mainly by the egalitarian philosophers: “Rousseau, Marx, and their modern heirs—people like Nagel, Dworkin, Singer, Cohen, and above all Rawls.”

The main culprit behind egalitarianism and the idea of income equality is John Rawls. The book has detailed analysis of the ideas which Rawls has proposed to attack merit, success, and individualism, and make the case for an equal society.

The authors point out that the egalitarian insistence for equality is to be blamed for Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge nightmare. “Most of their [Khmer Rouge] leadership, including their general secretary, Pol Pot, were educated in France. Studying with French intellectuals, and coming under the influence of Rousseau, Marx, and other collectivist intellectuals, the Cambodians adopted a radical egalitarian ideology.”

The Khmer Rouge took for murderous path for destroying individualism in Cambodia. “The Khmer Rouge was particularly harsh toward any sign of intelligence—people were sometimes murdered merely for wearing eye glasses.”

The egalitarians may pretend that their concern is for the welfare of the people, but egalitarianism is an offshoot of the communist ideology. “Egalitarianism, as a modern philosophic movement, in many ways arose as a response to the failure of communism (and every other form of socialism) during the twentieth century.”

When the intellectuals of the left realized that wealth could only be created through capitalism and socialism led to the impoverishment of the masses, “many of them simply redefined the goal: not economic prosperity but economic equality.”

The egalitarians often claim that economic inequality is not desirable because it conflicts with economic mobility, economic progress and fairness. Don Watkins and Yaron Brook prove that every major argument that the egalitarians use for building their case for income equality is based on false premises and unreliable data.

An interesting aspect of the book is its analysis of the views of few contemporary egalitarians, including President Obama, the Nobel Prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, and the French economist Thomas Piketty. The egalitarian ideas simply don’t hold up and it is clear that any attempt by the government to redistribute the wealth will lead to decline in the opportunities for people to move up in life.

America is not supposed to be the land of equality; it is the land of opportunity. The book offers several insights to explain why individualist America is a land of opportunity, but collectivist Cuba is not. The authors accuse the supporters of the equality principle of trying to bring to America the same leftist ideas that have brought unmitigated disaster to Cuba. They ask the readers to reject the doctrine of equality in this way: “If we genuinely care about opportunity, we need to reject the egalitarian concept of equality of opportunity, and put the focus squarely back on equality of rights and the freedom it gives us to take advantage of life’s limitless opportunities.”

The authors point out that for more than two million years, the most advanced technology that mankind possessed consisted of few stone tools. But today we are at the stage where we expect a new version of iPhone to hit the market every six months. Such facts ought to be obvious to everyone, but apparently these are not obvious to the intellectuals and activists of the left, because in their narrative on economic inequality they do not acknowledge that we now have easy access to better technology for living longer, safer, healthier and more fruitful lives. It is reason and freedom that have led to human progress and not redistribution of wealth by the government.

The real aim of the critics of inequality is to destroy opportunity. Through their emotive propaganda, they seek to force the government to come up with new regulations that make things difficult for those who are ambitious and want to rise through hard work. The analysis of how government stranglehold has ensured that there is hardly any new innovation happening in the education and healthcare sectors is particularly shocking.

“The government’s monopoly on education represents an enormous abridgement of opportunity: the opportunity of entrepreneurs and educational innovators to profit by applying their creativity to the field, the opportunity of the parents to choose a school that caters to their unique values and needs, and the opportunity of the poorest students to get even a halfway decent education.”

In the healthcare space, the authors point out that just Medicare involves 132,000 pages of complex laws, rules, and regulations, and that it takes 38,400 man-hours each year to meet Medicare’s billing requirements. On an average, a hospital staff spends 30 minutes doing paperwork for every hour spent caring for a Medicare patient.

On the subject of the fundamental nature of the American dream, the book has this to say: “The American Dream is more than an aspirational story about striving and success. It is, in the best sense, a morality tale: it says that if you do the right things—if you think, learn, strive, work hard, act responsibly—you can achieve great things. In America, what matters is not privilege but merit.”

The inequality critics are misdefining the concept of ‘privilege’—they call anyone with wealth or opportunities as ‘privileged’. The authors point out that the concept of privilege applies only to those who rise in life by taking special favors from the government, and not to those who rise through merit and hard work.

Though the book deals with philosophical and political ideas, it is not too abstract and in almost every page the authors show the skill for coining apt quotations. All things considered, Equal is Unfair is an excellent book—its sensible and precise refutation of the doctrine of equality is well-timed. It clearly shows that the fundamental choice is between inequality and dictatorship, because freedom cannot exist without inequality. Hopefully, it will be widely read and will create more awareness of the dangers that can befall on us if we allow freedom to be sacrificed on the altar of equality.

It is noteworthy that the book ends on an optimistic note—its last sentence is: “Success is possible and the struggle is worth it.”

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sowell: On the leftist promotion of envy and sense of grievance

Leaders of the left in many countries have promoted policies that enable the poor to be more comfortable in their poverty. But that raises a fundamental question: Just who are "the poor"?

If you use a bureaucratic definition of poverty as including all individuals or families below some arbitrary income level set by the government, then it is easy to get the kinds of statistics about "the poor" that are thrown around in the media and in politics. But do those statistics have much relationship to reality?

"Poverty" once had some concrete meaning -- not enough food to eat or not enough clothing or shelter to protect you from the elements, for example. Today it means whatever the government bureaucrats, who set up the statistical criteria, choose to make it mean. And they have every incentive to define poverty in a way that includes enough people to justify welfare state spending.

~ Thomas Sowell in 'The Mindset of the Left: Part II'