Sunday, June 30, 2019

On Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee

Depiction of the Stone Age
by Viktor Vasnetsov
Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal is on human evolution and human behavior— but a significant chunk of the book, especially the final chapters, are focused almost entirely on promoting the modern ideology of environmentalism. Sounding like a fanatic environmentalist, Diamond blames mankind for all kinds of environmental destruction and mass extinction of animal species. In one passages, he contemplates if things on this planet could improve if every human were to die tomorrow.

Here’s an excerpt:
There are many grounds for pessimism. Even if every human now alive were to die tomorrow, the damage that we have already inflicted on our environment would ensure that its degradation will continue for decades. Innumerable species already belong to the 'living dead', with populations fallen to levels from which they cannot recover, even though not all individuals have died yet. Despite all our past self-destructive behaviour from which we could have learned, many people who should know better dispute the need for limiting our population and continue to assault our environment. Others join that assault for selfish profit or out of ignorance. Even more people are too caught up in the desperate struggle for survival to be able to enjoy the luxury of weighing the consequences of their actions. All these facts suggest that the juggernaut of destruction has already reached unstoppable momentum, that we too are among the living dead, and that our future is as bleak as that of the other two chimpanzees. 

This pessimistic view is captured by a cynical sentence that Arthur Wichmann, a Dutch explorer and professor, penned in another context in 1912. Wichmann had devoted a decade of his life to writing a monumental three-volume treatise on the history of New Guinea's exploration. In 1,198 pages he evaluated every source of information about New Guinea that he could find, from the earliest reports filtering through Indonesia to the great expeditions of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. He grew disillusioned as he realized that successive explorers committed the same stupidities again and again: they showed the same unwarranted pride in overstated accomplishments, refused to acknowledge disastrous oversights, ignored the experience of previous explorers, repeated previous errors, and hence blundered into unnecessary suffering and death. Looking back on this long history, Wichmann predicted that future explorers would continue to repeat the same errors. The bitter last sentence that concluded Wichmann's last volume was, 'Nothing learned, and everything forgotten!
You may find some useful insights in the book's earlier chapters, but its overall pessimistic view of humanity is difficult to digest if you are not an environmentalist. Diamond sees every progress that men have achieved, including the rise of agriculture based societies thousands of years ago, as an attack on earth’s environment. He frets about the ways by which the human beings could extinguish all life on earth: Over exploitation of the natural resources, nuclear holocaust, climate change, food and water running out due to overpopulation, rise of new kind of germs, etc. But he does not offer evidence to show that mankind is responsible for the past environmental disasters—and his predictions of future disasters are nothing more than his "predictions". I can safely predict that none of Diamond’s predictions will ever come true.

I think this is a bad book—it's full of lies and false predictions.

On Nationalism and Renaissance

The intellectuals who condemn nationalism are ignoring the connection between nationalism and renaissance. Every renaissance that humanity has experienced in the past has been inspired by the desire of the people in a nation to revive the glorious culture that their ancestors had once created from their political, intellectual, economic, and militaristic achievements.

A renaissance, by definition, is a revival, a reawakening, a rebirth. A political and cultural movement to radically transform a country (a renaissance) can succeed only when a large section of the population has a good sense of history and culture, and they love and admire their nation for its past achievements.

The Age of the Renaissance in Europe (between the 14th and 17th centuries) was also an age of rising nationalist sentiments—people started identifying with the culture and history of their nation as they had never done before. A “nationalist” is a person who loves his nation, its culture, and its history—people like him are a necessary condition for a renaissance.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Jung On The Stages of Life

Carl Jung
Carl Gustav Jung, in his essay, “The Stages of Life,” (Chapter 1; The Portable Jung, Edited by Joseph Campbell; translated by R. F. C. Hull), points out that there are four stages in a man’s life, and he talks about the physiological issues that arise as a man transitions from one phase of life to other. Here’s an excerpt in which he is using the analogy of the sun’s motion to describe the difficulty a man faces in transitioning from the phase of mature adulthood to extreme old age:
"Experience shows us, rather, that the basic cause of all the difficulties of this transition is to be found in a deep-seated and peculiar change within the psyche. In order to characterize it I must take for comparison the daily course of the sun—but a sun that is endowed with human feeling and man's limited consciousness. In the morning it rises from the nocturnal sea of unconsciousness and looks upon the wide, bright world which lies before it in an expanse that steadily widens the higher it climbs in the firmament. In this extension of its field of action caused by its own rising, the sun will discover its significance; it will see the attainment of the greatest possible height, and the widest possible dissemination of its blessings, as its goal. In this conviction the sun pursues its course to the unforeseen zenith—unforeseen, because its career is unique and individual, and the culminating point could not be calculated in advance. At the stroke of noon the descent begins. And the descent means the reversal of all the ideals and values that were cherished in the morning. The sun falls into contradiction with itself. It is as though it should draw in its rays instead of emitting them. Light and warmth decline and are at last extinguished." 
Jung notes that it is fortunate that we are not like rising and setting suns, because that would fare badly with our cultural values. “But there is something sunlike within us, and to speak of the morning and spring, of the evening and autumn of life is not mere sentimental jargon.”

Intellectuals Versus The Ignorant

The silliness that you find in intelligent and perceptive intellectuals is often more severe than the silliness that you may find in people who are seemingly ignorant.

Friday, June 28, 2019

On the Correlation Between Philosophy and History

Theory and practice cannot be dissociated from each other because one informs the other. Alasdair Macintyre is of the view that an artificial division between theory and practice (philosophy and history) had its origins in the Enlightenment. Here’s an excerpt from Macintyre’s After Virtue (Chapter 5: “Enlightenment Project of Justifying Morality”):
Abstract changes in moral concepts are always embodied in real, particular events. There is a history yet to be written in which the Medici princes, Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, Frederick the Great and Napoleon, Walpole and Wilberforce, Jefferson and Robespierre are understood as expressing in their actions, often partially and in a variety of different ways, the very same conceptual changes which at the level of philosophical theory are articulated by Machiavelli and Hobbes, by Diderot and Condorcet, by Hume and Adam Smith and Kant. There ought not to be two histories, one of political and moral action and one of political and moral theorizing, because there were not two pasts, one populated only by actions, the other only by theories. Every action is the bearer and expression of more or less theory-laden beliefs and concepts; every piece of theorizing and every expression of belief is a political and moral action. 

Thus the transition into modernity was a transition both in theory and in practice and a single transition at that. It is because the habits of mind engendered by our modern academic curriculum separate out the history of political and social change (studied under one set of rubrics in history departments by one set of scholars) from the history of philosophy (studied under quite a different set of rubrics in philosophy departments by quite another set of scholars) that ideas are endowed with a falsely independent life of their own on the one hand and political and social action is presented as peculiarly mindless on the other. This academic dualism is of course itself the expression of an idea at home almost everywhere in the modern world; so much so indeed, that Marxism, the most influential adversary theory of modern culture, presents what is just one more version of this same dualism in the distinction between basis and ideological superstructure. 
This chimes with my own view of the artificial division between history and philosophy—I think there exists a distinct parallel between intellectual and social history.

Why is Libertarian Political Analysis so Lousy?

Why is political analysis by libertarian scholars so lousy? I think this is because the libertarians tend to take a philosophical approach to politics. They don’t get it that political activism and philosophizing do not mix well in a man’s mind. Good politics is one thing; good philosophy is another. You can either be a philosopher, or a political activist. If you try to orchestrate a forced marriage between politics and philosophy, they will not live happily ever after—they will rip each other apart, and a stage will be reached when there will be neither good politics nor good philosophy left.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

On The Limitations of Human Reason

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
By Francisco Goya
Hugo Mercier and Daniel Sperber are looking at the evolution and working of reason in their book The Enigma of Reason. Here’s an excerpt from the their Introduction to the book:
Human reason is both biased and lazy. Biased because it overwhelmingly finds justifications and arguments that support the reasoner's point of view, lazy because reason makes little effort to assess the quality of the justifications and arguments it produces. Imagine, for instance, a reasoner who happens to be partial to holidays at the beach. When reasoning about where to spend her next vacation, she will spontaneously accumulate reasons to choose a sunny place by the sea, including reasons that are manifestly poor (say, that there’s a discount on the flight to the very place where she would like to go, when in fact the same discount applies to many other destinations as well). 
The solitary use of reason has two typical outcomes. When the reasoner starts with a strong opinion, the reasons that come to her mind tend all to support this opinion. She is unlikely, then, to change her mind; she might even become overconfident and develop stronger opinions. But sometimes a reasoner stars with no strong opinion, or with conflicting views. In this case, reason will drive her toward whatever choice happens to be easier to justify, and this sometimes won’t be the best choice. Imagine she had the choice between visiting her horrible in-laws and then vacationing at the beach, or somewhat cheaper. Reason will drive her toward what seems to be the rational decision: taking the cheaper option. 
I think reason has contributed greatly to our success as a species—it is what makes us special. However, we are really bad at reasoning. We tend to place a greater weight on evidence that supports our existing beliefs, and less weight on evidence that contradict them. More often than not we rationalize to find support for the good or bad choices that we have made in life.

How Objectivism Destroyed Ayn Rand’s Legacy!

To say that a movement is essential to develop and disseminate a philosopher’s work, is tantamount to saying that a government is essential to build roads and provide healthcare. The countries with big governments have the worst roads and healthcare, likewise the philosophers whose work is monopolized by a movement face the risk of becoming irrelevant.

None of the important philosophers in the last 2000 years have wasted their time in trying to start a movement.

Ayn Rand ruined her legacy by teaming up with a bunch of foolish youngsters and starting objectivism which soon developed a government like command-and-control structure and inserted a collectivist element into her philosophy of individualism. Her legacy would have been in a better shape if she had never met these youngsters and continued to do what she was good at—writing novels, movie scripts, and articles.

What did the youngsters bring to her? Nothing, except a massive loss of reputation and credibility. What has objectivism brought to her? Nothing, except the indignity of being regarded as the founder of the world’s most incompetently argued philosophy.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A Memorable Passage from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Here’s an interesting passage from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (Page 53-54):

"Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances. On silvery sandbanks hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side. The broadening waters flowed through a mob of wooded islands; you lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once—somewhere—far away—in another existence perhaps. There were moments when one’s past came back to one, as it will sometimes when you have not a moment to spare for yourself; but it came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities of this strange world of plants, and water, and silence. And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at you with a vengeful aspect."

Philosophical Movement! Who Needs It?

The idea that you need a philosophical movement dedicated to the cause of liberty and reason to create a free and scientific society is a blatant rationalization by some intellectuals. There is no historical evidence to show that such philosophical movements are a necessary condition for the rise of good nations. In fact, such movements lead to intellectual corruption and often fail to create a milieu that is conducive for genuine liberty and reason.

A country can find itself sinking deeper and deeper into statism and mysticism despite being home to several prominent intellectuals who night and day philosophize and rant about liberty and reason. On the other hand, a country where very little attention is being paid to the philosophy of liberty and reason may develop an advanced capitalist culture. Countries like the USA, the UK, and Japan have never had philosophically inspired mass movements and yet they are mostly free and they have a scientific culture. Their politics is mostly in control of the men of action—the politicians, who try to attain power by running extensive grassroots level campaigns.

Also, there is no guarantee that a philosophical movement that talks about reason and liberty will implement those ideals if it manages to attain political power. It is easy to talk about all kinds of values when you are out of power, but once you are in power, you may get corrupted or have a change of mind or find yourself incapable of implementing those values. I think, several non-philosophical factors have a much greater role to play in the development of good nations.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Dialectics of Liberty

One of the issues that I see in “libertarianism” is that it is not clear what this word really stands for—your libertarian might turn out to be someone quite different from my libertarian. There are different types of libertarians who embrace all kinds of philosophical and political values and define their personal philosophy by terms such as divergent as: Anarcho-Capitalism, Civil Libertarianism, Classical Liberalism, Fiscal Libertarianism, Libertarian Socialism, Minarchism, Agorism, Neolibertarianism, and Paleolibertarianism. These schools of libertarianism have wide ideological and methodical differences with each other.

Today I started reading The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, coedited by Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Edward W. Younkins. The book has 18 essays by 19 well known libertarian scholars. (The chapter 4, “Whence Natural Rights?” is jointly written by Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen.) The book is divided into three parts, each with six essays—Part 1: Foundations and Systems of Liberty; Part 2: Government, Economy, and Culture; and Part 3: Justice, Liberation, and Rights. But, as the coeditors point out in their Introduction to the book, this division of parts has nothing to do with the ““Hegelian Triad”—which actually originated with Fichte, since Hegel himself never used the terms “thesis,” “antithesis,” “synthesis,” in his work!”

I think, this book, with its emphasis on dialectics, may shed light on the context that is common to libertarianism’s myriad offshoots. In their Introduction, the coeditors note that their dialectical approach takes into account all forms of libertarianism: “Dialectical libertarianism is thus a large umbrella formed from the welding together of two major components—the methodology of context-keeping and the ideology of human freedom. It is a very broad paradigm, with numerous variants contending for acceptance, as is reflected in the range of essays in this collection. The nature of the dialectical approach we champion allows for libertarian views that run the gamut from the Mises-oriented “right-libertarians” to the Center for a Stateless Society “left-libertarians,” but all still within the “universe” of the dialectical libertarian alternative the volume represents.”

The first essay, “Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism,” by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, concludes with these lines:

“In the final analysis, dialectical libertarianism forms the basis of a broad research program, within which there may be much theoretical diversity and varying strategic implications. The project seems daunting, for the invitation to large-scale theorizing might give the impression that one must analyze everything before one can change anything. But this specter of “analysis paralysis” is as much of an example of the “synoptic delusion” fallacy as is the notion of central planning. What is required is a more fully developed critique of the system that generates the social problems in our midst—and a corresponding vision for social change that resolves these problems at their root, in all their personal, cultural, and structural manifestations. A genuinely radical project beckons, one that integrates the explanatory power of libertarian social theory and the context-keeping orientation of dialectical method.”

Currently I am halfway through the book’s second essay, “Freedom and Flourishing: Toward a Synthesis of Traditions and Disciplines,” by Edward W. Younkins. I will have more to say on the book in the days to come as I finish reading its other essays.

Why Ayn Rand Failed as a Philosopher?

Ayn Rand was probably unaware that philosophy provides the proximate explanations and not the ultimate explanations. She started her philosophy of objectivism with the intention of providing the ultimate explanations for living happily on earth.

She and her followers saw themselves as the chosen people, they regarded the truth that they embraced as the ultimate truth, they envisioned a perfect civilization which they would create after vanquishing the imperfect civilization that exists today. Their agenda was so monumental and magnificent that only an entity with superhuman powers, a “god”, could have achieved it. The objectivists didn’t have a god, but they had a perfect mind in the person of Rand. After all, 100% certainty implies 100% perfection and as Rand was 100% certain, she had a perfect mind.

And so what was originally conceived as a “philosophy of reason and individualism,” soon morphed into a movement that is dedicated to worshipping its founder as the perfect mind and the world’s ultimate repository of ultimate explanations.

I believe that Skepticism is the fountainhead of philosophy. A man who is convinced that he is a repository of all the ultimate explanations will make a lousy philosopher. I am not saying that a philosopher should be skeptic all the time and about everything—but he must never lose sight of the fact the “philosophical arguments” that he is providing may invite counter-arguments.

Rand has written good novels, but as a philosopher, she was a failure because she was incapable of having any kind of self-doubt. She never cared to examine the arguments of all those who disagreed with her on any issue because she was 100% certain that she was always right.

Monday, June 24, 2019

What Turns Intellectuals into Strident, Ruthless, Slavedrivers?

Eric Hoffer
Eric Hoffer, in his essay, “The Readiness to Work,” observes that most intellectuals, even those who stand for liberty and individualism, cannot feel wholly at home in a free society. Here’s an excerpt:
"The paradox is, then, that although the intellectual has been in the forefront of the struggle for individual freedom, he can never feel wholly at home in a free society. He finds there neither an unquestioned sense of usefulness nor favorable conditions for the realization of his talents. Hence the contradiction between what the intellectual profess while he battles the status quo, and what he practices once he comes to power. At present, in every part of the world, we see how revolutionary movements initiated by idealistic intellectuals and preserved in their keeping tend to crystallize into hierarchal social orders in which an aristocratic intelligentsia commands and the masses are expected to obey. Such social orders, as we have seen, are ideal for the performance of the intellectual but not for that of the masses. It is this circumstance rather than the corruption of power which has been turning idealistic intellectuals into strident, ruthless, slavedrivers." ~ (The Ordeal of Change by Eric Hoffer; Chapter 5, “The Readiness for Work”) 
I think that in our modern society there are several confirming examples to substantiate Hoffer’s point of view.

On The Advantage of Having a Philosophical View

To have a philosophical view of the world is like going up a mountain and from the height taking a look at the world below. All the filth and confusion, sadness and pain, irrationality and malice fade away and what you have is a sanitized, grand, orderly, and sublime perspective of civilization.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness is the story of a journey into the heart of Africa—up the Congo River and into the Congo Free State. The story has great insights on human nature. I think this book can also be seen as a work of philosophy.

Here’s a description of a scene from the novel’s final pages:

When Mr. Kurtz, the rogue ivory trader, dies his last words are: “The horror! The horror!” By then the novel’s narrator, Charles Marlow, is himself very ill—he is in the borderline between life and death when he contemplates about the sadness of life in these words:
“Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is — that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself — that comes too late — a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable grayness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamor, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be.” 
Marlow survives and returns to London and there be breaks the news of Kurtz’s death to his fiancé. But in the settings of the modern world he is unable to tell her the truth and lies about Kurtz’s life and business in the jungles of Africa. When she asks him what were Kurtz’s last words, Marlow replies: "The last word he pronounced was—your name.”

Ayn Rand’s Mission Proselytization

The philosophies of the world can be divided into two broad categories: the philosophies that seek to explain and the philosophies that seek to proselytize. However, there are several philosophies that have components of both—they seek to explain as well as proselytize. Ayn Rand’s objectivist movement is, I think, focused mainly on proselytization—that is why the objectivists seem less devoted to philosophical research, and producing books and papers. They are mainly into organizing events and public meetings. One of the first steps that Rand took for objectivism was the creation of NBI in partnership with Nathaniel Branden. The NBI was not devoted to philosophical research—it was primarily into events and promotion related work. I think it is quite amazing that Rand had not produced a single book or paper on any area of philosophy when she started an institution (the NBI) to preach her gospel.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

It was the spoken word that made us free

Cro-Magnon man
Some humans living in Africa 60,000 years ago had a psychical anatomy similar to modern humans but they did not exhibit modern behavior. They lacked the capacity for innovation, and the stone tools they created were similar to the tools that their ancestors had been making for thousands of years. According to Jared M. Diamond, the groups of humans living in Africa more than 60000 years ago could not exhibit modern behavior because they lacked the biological tools for creating a large variety of sounds.

But this changed between 60,000 and 40,000 years ago, when some groups of humans developed modifications in their tongue and vocal tract. This granted them a finer control of the larynx and made them capable of creating a great variety of sounds and develop a large vocabulary. In his book The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal, (Chapter 2, “The Great Leap Forward”), Diamond writes:

“It is easy to appreciate how a tiny change in anatomy resulting in capacity for speech would produce a huge change in behaviour. With language, it takes only a few seconds to communicate the message, 'Turn sharp right at the fourth tree and drive the male antelope towards the reddish boulder, where I'll hide to spear it.' Without language, that message could be communicated only with difficulty, if at all. Without language, two proto-humans could not brainstorm together about how to devise a better tool, or about what a cave painting might mean. Without language, even one proto-human would have had difficulty thinking out for himself or herself how to devise a better tool.”

However, the great leap forward did not happen as soon as the mutations for altered tongue and larynx anatomy arose. Diamond says that it must have taken the humans thousands of years to develop something resembling modern language — a language that has the concept of meaning, rules of grammar, and a sufficiently large number of words. The human groups that developed the biological capacity for language became more advanced than the other creatures—for instance, with their advanced linguistic skills some groups of Cro-Magnon man were far ahead of the Neanderthals.

Diamond notes that if the Cro-Magnon man were transported to modern settings and provided modern education and training, he could fly an airplane. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 2, “The Great Leap Forward”:

“I have argued that we were fully modern in anatomy and behaviour and language by 40,000 years ago, and that a Cro-Magnon could have been taught to fly a jet aeroplane. If so, why did it take so long after the Great Leap Forward for us to invent writing and build the Parthenon? The answer may be similar to the explanation why the Romans, great engineers that they were, didn't build atomic bombs. To reach the point of building an A-bomb required two thousand years of technological advances beyond Roman levels, such as the invention of gunpowder and calculus, the development of atomic theory, and the isolation of uranium. Similarly, writing and the Parthenon depended on tens of thousands of years of cumulative developments after the arrival of Cro-Magnons — developments that included the bow and arrow, pottery, domestication of plants and animals, and many others.

“Until the Great Leap Forward, human culture had developed at a snail's pace for millions of years. That pace was dictated by the slow rate of genetic change. After the Leap, cultural development no longer depended on genetic change. Despite negligible changes in our anatomy, there has been far more cultural evolution in the past 40,000 years than in the millions of years before.”

Friday, June 21, 2019

Moral Argument is Rationally Interminable

Alasdair Macintyre
Why can’t mankind reach an agreement on the problems of wars, abortion, welfare state, and several other issues? Why is it that the philosophical and political debates on these issues are always unending?

According to Alasdair Macintyre, in modern times all moral argument is rationally interminable. In Chapter 2, “The Nature of Moral Disagreement Today,” of his book After Virtue, Macintyre writes:

“Contemporary moral argument is rationally interminable, because all moral, indeed all evaluative, argument is and always must be rationally interminable. Contemporary moral disagreements of a certain kind cannot be resolved, because no moral disagreements of that kind in any age, past, present or future, can be resolved.”

Macintyre notes that this challenge of there being no rational way of securing agreement in moral disputes invites us to confront the philosophical theory of emotivism. He defines emotivism as a “doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character.”

On Ayn Rand’s Attacks on Past Philosophers

You can learn a lot about a philosopher’s agenda by looking at the philosophers that he or she attacks. A philosopher who is lusting for glory will attack the most popular and powerful philosophers with the hope that by vanquishing the reigning emperors in the history of philosophy he will prove his own mettle as a philosophical warrior and make himself relevant in the eyes of his contemporaries and posterity.

Ayn Rand, I believe, was lusting for glory when in the 1960s she aimed her bazooka at Plato, David Hume, and most importantly, Immanuel Kant. Unfortunately, her plan backfired because her attacks were ignorantly and sloppily orchestrated—instead of vanquishing the topmost philosophers of the western tradition, she shot herself in the foot and caused irreparable harm to her own reputation as a thinker.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

On The Libertarian Obsession With The Word “Narcissist”

Narcissus gazing at his own reflection
(Painting by Caravaggio)
Ever since Trump became the president, the community of libertarian scholars has become obsessed with the word “narcissist”. They have been flooding the libertarian websites and forums with articles and blogs which proclaim that Trump is a narcissist and therefore he is unfit to hold the office of president.

Let’s assume that Trump is a narcissist, as the libertarians claim, but does that necessarily make him a worse politician than a non-narcissistic man? Why is narcissism a problem? I am not enthusiastic about narcissistic politicians, but I don’t believe that a politician who is full of empathy, and is filled with self-hatred and self-doubt, will make a better president. If the libertarians think that narcissism is a bad thing then they need to explain why. As far as I know, not a single libertarian has cared to elucidate the Libertarian Theory (if  there is such a theory) of narcissism in politics.

Only the libertarians know why they have been using the idea of narcissism to make their case against Trump. The people are not worried about narcissism. They don’t see narcissism as a problem. They are quite used to narcissistic politicians as they have been voting for such men in election after election in the last 100 or more years. A humble and meek man, a man who is full of self-hatred and self-doubt, a man who empathizes with all, can never be a successful politician in America or in any other advanced democracy in the world.

Obama was much more narcissistic than Trump. And the presidents before Obama too were narcissistic. Being narcissistic is, I think, an important trait in a politician in an advanced democracy. A politician’s job is to convince the voters that he is the best man to solve the problems that they face in their life—he can’t do that unless he is to some extent convinced that he is really the “best”. So self-confidence and self-admiration — in other words, narcissism — is an absolute must in a politician.

Finally, it is strange that the libertarians are so appalled by the sight of narcissistic politicians when they themselves are an extremely narcissistic group. They are so convinced of the perfection of their own ideology that they seldom write an article without quoting from a few libertarian scholars whom they adore. Their method of argumentation is: Mises said it so it is correct; Hayek said it so it is correct; Ayn Rand said it so it is correct; Rothbard said it so it is correct. But this kind of writing is narcissism. They are what they accuse Trump to be.

I think libertarian writing on contemporary politics has become extremely sloppy and pedantic in the last 15 years. No one is impressed by their political writings except other libertarians.

Is 21st Century the Age of Anti-Aristotelianism?

There are two kinds of philosophers — the conformists and the rebels. The conformists play a role in explicating and strengthening the ideas that are already dominant in the society, whereas the rebels are focused on refuting the dominant ideas and establishing a new system of thought. In order to be effective, the rebels must target the philosophical systems that are most popular among the scholars and the masses.

Aristotelianism was never targeted in a big way by the rebellious philosophers for more than 2000 years after Aristotle because it was never regarded as a dominant school of thought in any past culture—before the 19th century very few scholars bothered to discuss Aristotle and the masses were mostly unaware of him. Even during the Renaissance, the Aristotelian schools were relatively small and posed no threat to other schools. The main fight during the Renaissance period was between the Humanists and the Religious thinkers. But in the 19th century Aristotelianism came of age—it has now become quite powerful, and so I suppose a major backlash is round the corner.

The 21st century could as well turn out to be the age of anti-Aristotelian philosophical movements.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

On the Rise of Socialism in Asia

Eric Hoffer
In his article, “The Awakening of Asia,” (Chapter 2; The Ordeal of Change by Eric Hoffer), Eric Hoffer examines the reasons for which the masses in several Asian nations were eagerly embracing the communist system and accepting the hegemony of the Soviet Union. The article was written in the 1960s, but it contains wisdom that is relevant to our times. Here’s an excerpt:

“It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the faults of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from their sense of inadequacy and impotence. We cannot win the weak by sharing our wealth with them. They feel our generosity as oppression.”

Hoffer goes on to note that the intellectual and cultural weakness is so deep-rooted in some of the Asian countries that it is difficult to stop the march of communism through any kind of direct intervention:

“Nor can we win the weak by sharing our hope, pride, or even hatred with them. We are too far ahead materially and too different in our historical experience to serve as an object of identification. Our healing gift to the weak is the capacity for self-help. We must learn how to impart to them the technical, social, and political skills which would enable them to get bread, human dignity, freedom, and strength by their own efforts.”

I think Hoffer’s arguments can be summarized in this modification of Lord Acton’s words: Weakness tends to corrupt, and absolute weakness corrupts absolutely.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

On The Neoconservative View of “Ideological Interests”

Irving Kristol, in his essay, “The Neoconservative Persuasion,” (Page 190-194; The Neo Conservative Persuasion: Selected Essays 1942—2009, by Irving Kristol), says: 

“for a great power, the “national interest” is not a geographical term, except for fairly prosaic matters like trade and environmental regulation. A smaller nation might appropriately feel that its national interest begins and ends at its borders, so that its foreign policy is almost always in a defensive mode. A larger nation has more extensive interests. And large nations, whose identity is ideological, like the Soviet Union of yesteryear and the United States of today, inevitably have ideological interests in addition to more material concerns.”

But how does one define the ideological interests of a country as culturally diverse as the United States? Every political party will have a different view of the ideological interests—there will also be a wide difference of opinion within the political parties. People in the academia, bureaucracy, religious institutions, trade unions, business community, and mainstream media will be as divided about the nation’s “ideological interests” as the members of the political community. Kristol does not offer in his article his view of what the nation’s ideological interests are, but he suggests that it is worth going to war to defend such interests.

He notes that “the incredible military superiority of the United States vis-à-vis the nations of the rest of the world, in any imaginable combination,” is a present day reality. He thinks that this strength can be put to use to promote ideological interests. “No complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest are necessary,” he says. The nation can go to war over whenever it perceives a threat to its ideological interests. He criticizes the older, traditional elements in the conservative Republican party who “have difficulty coming to terms with this new reality in foreign affairs, just as they cannot reconcile economic conservatism with social and cultural conservatism.”

I think this is a very warmongering kind of foreign policy that Kristol is advocating. There will be no peace in the world if the nations start fighting with each other over “ideological differences.” Such differences are meant to be settled by arguments, diplomacy, and politics, and not by military means.

Kristol was a Marxist and Troskyist during the 1930s and 1940s. In his book Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, he says, “Is there such a thing as a “neo” gene? I ask that question because, looking back over a lifetime of my opinions, I am struck by the fact that they all qualify as “neo.” I have been a neo-Marxist, a neo-Trotskyist, a neo-socialist, a neoliberal, and finally a neoconservative. It seems that no ideology or philosophy has ever been able to encompass all of reality to my satisfaction. There was always a degree of detachment qualifying my commitment.”

If Kristol is the godfather of neoconservatism, then it is clear that neoconservatism does not stand for a  free society. The prefix “neo,” it seems, is a proxy for Marxism, Trotskyism, and socialism.

On Philosophy, Legends, and Religions

Philosophy entails venturing into unknown areas. That is why good philosophy always develops in cultures which are dominated by religions whose theological structure is explained through enduring legends which are full of all kinds of adventures. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle believed in Zeus. The religion of Zeus, propagated mainly through the legends of Hesiod and Homer, brought to the thinkers in Ancient Greece the desire venture into unknown areas of intellectualism.

In Plato’s the Republic, Socrates and his friends use the phrase “by Zeus” 92 times (as per my count in Allan Bloom’s translation of Plato’s the Republic). Socrates and his friends also talk about the Oracle of Delphi in several passages. Socrates insists that in the city founded by the philosophers, the Oracle of Delhi will be the final authority. Aristotle too was a believer in Zeus and Athena. According to Diogenes Laertius, in his will Aristotle left a sizable sum of money to build statues "4 cubits high in Stagira to Zeus the Preserver and Athena the Preserver, in fulfilment of [his] vow. "

Good philosophy and a religion rich in legends always walk hand-in-hand. The philosophers who hold religious beliefs have contributed far more to the development of a free, scientific, and tolerant society than the atheistic philosophers. The atheistic philosophers do not have any legends or traditions and so they mostly preach revolutionary ideas which denounce modernity and aim to take society into the dark ages when farmers and workers were the property of feudal lords and tyrants.

Monday, June 17, 2019

On The Libertarian Flags

Why do some libertarian movements use as their flag the picture of a rattlesnake coiled ready to strike with the text “DON'T TREAD ON ME” written beneath it?

I understand that the flag has a historical connection—it was designed in 1775 (during the American Revolution) by the American general and politician Christopher Gadsden. During revolutionary times a flag with this kind of a symbolism is fine, but it makes little sense to use it in times of peace and stability.

When the libertarians use such a flag, they risk sending out the signal that they are extremely dogmatic in their thinking, full of hatred for all non-libertarians (which means vast majority of the population), and alienated from the society. Your philosophical, economic, and political thinking might be good, but very few people will come forward to support your cause if your calling card contains the image of a rattlesnake with its fang bared and the text “DON'T TREAD ON ME”. People have a poor sense of history—most of them may not even know about the connection with the Gadsden flag.

Some libertarian scholars, I have noticed, use the image of a hemp leaf as their flag. Perhaps they think that that the hemp leaf stands for liberty and good life. I believe that people should be free to consume the intoxicants of their choice, but to use a hemp leaf as the flag for a social and political movement is not a good strategy as it creates the impression that this is a movement of the hedonists, by the hedonists, and for the hedonists.

The “DON'T TREAD ON ME” flag and the hemp leaf flag should be rejected because they create the impression that the libertarians are a community of unhinged and alienated people. A social and political movement is also about winning—your flag should be such that it helps you in making a positive impression on maximum number of people.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Skepticism is the Fountainhead of Philosophy

Depiction of the Stone Age
by Viktor Vasnetsov
In his book Way to Wisdom,  Karl Jaspers writes, “The source of philosophy is to be sought in wonder, in doubt, in a sense of forsakenness. In any case it begins with an inner upheaval, which determines its goal.” ~ (Chapter 2: “Sources of Philosophy”)

I think this is correct. Till about 70,000 years ago the human beings were more or less like animals—they did not have the ability to doubt anything and they had to believe all the information that they received through their senses. In such a condition there could be no philosophy.

Philosophy came into being when language become so advanced that the human beings had the ability to communicate to themselves and share with others their doubts about the nature of the world that they perceived around them. The first spark of philosophy must have been lit by the man who for the first time propagated the idea that the things that he and others see can be something else or may not even exist.

This means that the idea that there is a reality outside the mind and that the world that we perceive through our senses is real has been gained through skepticism itself. We can then say that skepticism is the fountainhead of philosophy. Human beings philosophize because we wonder about things, we are filled with doubt and a sense of forsakenness.

8 Heads of Libertarianism

Libertarianism has eight heads: Anarcho-Capitalism, Civil Libertarianism, Classical Liberalism, Fiscal Libertarianism, Libertarian Socialism, Minarchism, Neolibertarianism, and Paleolibertarianism. However, libertarianism cannot be compared to a Hydra because the eight heads are mostly disjointed from each other—they do not have a common body. Each of the eight heads thinks that it is the “real” libertarianism and the other seven are imposters and charlatans—the thought of coexisting with each other in the same body is an anathema to them.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Definition of an Intellectual

Eric Hoffer
In his article, “The Definition of an Intellectual,” (February 16, 1969), Eric Hoffer gives a definition of the kind of intellectuals that he despised:
I have been wiping the floor with the intellectuals these many years, blaming them for everything under the sun. Though I have spelled out many times who these intellectuals are, I am still being asked quite often for a definition of the intellectual. Here it is:  
My intellectual is a person who feels himself a member of the educated elite with a God-given right to direct and shape events. He need not be well educated or very intelligent. What counts is the feeling of the being a member of the educated elite. 
What the intellectual wants above all is to be listened to—with deference. He will forgive you everything if you take him seriously, and allow him to instruct you. It is more important to him to be important than to be free, and he would rather be persecuted than ignored. 
He ends his article with these lines: “The intellectual knows with every fiber of his being that men are not equal, and there are a few things he cares for less than a classless society. He is convinced that government is too weighty and complex to be left to common people. He cannot see how anything originating in an uninformed, unprincipled and uncommitted populace could be of any value. There is nothing he loathes more than government by and for the people.”

Friday, June 14, 2019

MacIntyre's Comparison Between the Fall of Rome and Modern Civilization

Alasdair MacIntyre ends his book After Virtue with this paragraph:

“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead – often not recognizing fully what they were doing – was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict.” (Page 304-305)

Since the barbarians are not at the gates, but are governing us, what should the modern man do?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

My Thoughts on Objectivism

Ayn Rand
Here are some of my thoughts on Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism:

1. Whenever the objectivists are confronted with a new political or social problem, they look backwards towards their messiah, who did her best work between the 1930s and 1950s, to find in her writing what she would think about this problem. So objectivism is the philosophy of past, the philosophy of archivists, the philosophy whose best time is now gone for good.

2. The objectivists are convinced that Ayn Rand has provided the solution to every philosophical and political problem in her writings. Doing your own thinking, coming up with your own ideas, have never been the objectivist way. The objectivists prefer philosophy that comes in a can which carries the label: Ayn Rand Cola.

3. A philosophical movement has not come of age till it outgrows its founder. Objectivism has no chance of outgrowing its founder. When Rand was around, objectivism was like a bonsai plant growing out of a small bottle kept on her study table. After her demise in 1982, Leonard Peikoff transferred the objectivist bonsai plant to his own study table. He waters and tends it as a religious duty everyday but he has no ambition of freeing it from the bottle.

4. The objectivists believe that they are revolutionaries who are fighting to create a better world. But they are not revolutionaries. They are a very small cultish establishment. The objectivist movement was designed as a privately owned “business establishment” by Nathaniel Branden in the 1950s and 60s, and it has continued to function in more or less the same way after his departure in 1968.

5. Rudeness is generally a trait of the philosophers who are dogmatic, intolerant, and not confident of their own knowledge. The objectivists are often rude because they want to hide their intellectual weakness and project the impression of strength.

6. Objectivism cannot be the philosophy of living happily on earth because it has been founded by a lady who herself desperately quested for happiness but found very little of it. The objectivists, who follow Rand blindly, don’t know what happiness is or how it can be achieved.

7. The objectivist project (as conceived by Ayn Rand) is so huge and the people charged with managing it are so “small” that the aims of this project can never be achieved. The objectivist scholars, it seems, have been intellectually and morally crushed by the weight of Rand’s monumental and grandiose undertaking. They appear clueless.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Fictitious History of Mankind

In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari uses his fertile imagination to conjure a dark picture of mankind’s past and future. I managed to wade through the first two parts of the four-part book, and now I have decided to take a break from Harari-ism. His book does not contain much actual history— it’s full of wild speculations, brazen lies, and dubious analysis. I don’t see any benefit in reading it to the end. Here's a review of the first two parts of the book:

Harari speculates that the homo sapiens were responsible for destruction of almost every creature that has disappeared in the last 100000 years. He sees the Homo Sapiens as a terror of the ecosystem, and suggests that they were responsible for the disappearance of Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and other creatures of the Homo genus. That our ancestors were victorious over their genetic cousins was, I think, good for us, but Harari is pessimistic about our future. He notes that mankind will vanish in another thousand years because of what the modern man is doing.

Harari hates modernity. In several passages, he suggests that a hunter-gatherer way of life is in some ways better than the life of the modern man. Here’s an excerpt:

“While people in today’s affluent societies work an average of forty to forty-five hours a week, and people in the developing world work sixty and even eighty hours a week, hunter-gatherers living today in the most inhospitable of habitats – such as the Kalahari Desert work on average for just thirty-five to forty-five hours a week. They hunt only one day out of three, and gathering takes up just three to six hours daily. In normal times, this is enough to feed the band. It may well be that ancient hunter-gatherers living in zones more fertile than the Kalahari spent even less time obtaining food and raw materials. On top of that, foragers enjoyed a lighter load of household chores. They had no dishes to wash, no carpets to vacuum, no floors to polish, no nappies to change and no bills to pay.” (Page 56)

Harari’s claims are interesting but dubious. If the life of prehistoric hunter-gatherers was as good as he claims, then why was their life expectancy so low? Most of them used to die before they were 30. He asserts that “the forager economy provided most people with more interesting lives than agriculture or industry do.” This, I think, is pure speculation. He goes on to suggest that in most places, “foraging provided ideal nutrition,” and that such a lifestyle protected the prehistoric men “from starvation and malnutrition.”  He offers an idyllic description of the lifestyle of the hunter-gatherers that we, the modern men, are expected to envy and emulate.

Environmentalism is a key concern for Harari. He holds that mankind has been destroying the environment for the last 70,000 years. He says that “historical record makes Homo sapiens look like an ecological serial killer.” (Page 74) But what is historical record that he is talking about—he does not clarify. “We are the culprits,” he proclaims like a medieval mystic out to damn the sinners. (Page 80)  He ends the Part 1 of his book with a rant about the ecological disasters that humans have caused in the past and warns that modern man is continuing to wreak havoc on the environment.

“Perhaps if more people were aware of the First Wave and Second Wave extinctions, they’d be less nonchalant about the Third Wave they are part of. If we knew how many species we’ve already eradicated, we might be more motivated to protect those that still survive. This is especially relevant to the large animals of the oceans. Unlike their terrestrial counterparts, the large sea animals suffered relatively little from the Cognitive and Agricultural Revolutions. But many of them are on the brink of extinction now as a result of industrial pollution and human overuse of oceanic resources. If things continue at the present pace, it is likely that whales, sharks, tuna and dolphins will follow the diprotodons, ground sloths and mammoths to oblivion. Among all the world’s large creatures, the only survivors of the human flood will be humans themselves, and the farmyard animals that serve as galley slaves in Noah’s Ark.” (Page 82-83)

But Harari does not offer any evidence to prove his theory of First Wave, Second Wave, and Third Wave extinctions. He has little understanding of the historical periods and he tends to make wild speculations about what transpired tens of thousands of years ago. For instance, in Part II of his book he is making the case that the movement into agricultural communities was a mistake, because a hunter-gatherer lifestyle was more easy, full of joy, and healthy. He calls the discovery of wheat, the “history’s biggest fraud,” and tries to make the case that wheat led to the downfall in the quality of life of the farmers. His theories are unbelievable.

According to Harari, mankind is a pestilence that has been ravaging the earth for tens of thousands years destroying every creature and polluting the environment. He offers blood-curdling predictions about human destiny. I don’t know why anyone will take such nonsense seriously. But it is clear that many people are taking Harari’s book seriously—it is in the bestseller list and has garnered several good reviews. That a book containing such amateurish speculation and outrageous falsification of history can become a bestseller is a testament of our low intellectual standards.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Role of Gossiping in Human Progress

Depiction of the Stone Age, by Viktor Vasnetsov
Human beings have a natural and unusual ability for making great progress by indulging in acts that are trivial. It is likely that the wheel was invented around 70,000 years ago when a group of children started using a circular piece of wood or stone as their new toy. After years of watching their children play around with circular objects, some of the grownups realized that the wheel could be used to transport heavy loads across large distances.

Boats, bows and arrows, oil lamps, and needles (which are essential for sewing animal skin) were invented during the same period, probably by children looking for new toys, or foolish adults who didn’t have anything better to do other than tinkering with trivial things and ideas. The dogs were first domesticated about 30,000 years ago and in another 15,000 years all human tribes had their dogs. But it is plausible that the dog was first domesticated by a child looking for a companion, or by a foolish adult or an outcast from the tribe. After it became apparent that the dog could be domesticated, the tribal leaders realized that they could use the animal as a hunting partner and for guarding the tribe.

It is the childish and the foolish minds which venture into areas that are ignored by the experienced and successful members of the community.

Yuval Noah Harari, in Chapter 2, “The Tree of Knowledge,” of his book  Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, talks about the critical role that gossiping, a “trivial” human habit which is often frowned upon, has played in human progress. He writes: “Homo sapiens is primarily a social animal. Social cooperation is our key for survival and reproduction. It is not enough for individual men and women to know the whereabouts of lions and bison. It’s much more important for them to know who in their band hates whom, who is sleeping with whom, who is honest, and who is a cheat.”

According to Harari, language and the human trait of gossiping progressed side-by-side between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago. “The new linguistic skills that modern Sapiens acquired about seventy millennia ago enabled them to gossip for hours on end. Reliable information about who could be trusted meant that small bands could expand into larger bands, and Sapiens could develop tighter and more sophisticated types of cooperation.”

One impact of gossiping was that the size of the average size of the tribes grew to around 150 individuals—this was a fairly large number in that period. Further growth in the size of the tribes happened with the Cognitive Revolution which brought to human beings the power of thinking and talking about things that no one has ever seen, heard, or smelled. When human beings started talking about the supernatural, there was the appearance of legends, myths, gods, and religions. Harari notes that “Many animals and human species could previously say, ‘Careful! A lion!’ Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo sapiens acquired the ability to say, ‘The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.’”

“But fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively. We can weave common myths such as the biblical creation story, the Dreamtime myths of Aboriginal Australians, and the nationalist myths of modern states. Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers. Ants and bees can also work together in huge numbers, but they do so in a very rigid manner and only with close relatives. Wolves and chimpanzees cooperate far more flexibly than ants, but they can do so only with small numbers of other individuals that they know intimately. Sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers. That’s why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftovers and chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.”

What sets the human beings apart from other animals on this planet is that for humans the trivial is not trivial—it can be the fountainhead of great progress. The first steps in the advancement of humankind were not taken by the philosophers, scientists, politicians, and businessmen, but by toymakers, gossipers, weavers of myths, and preachers of religion.

(All quotes from Harari’s book that I have used in this article are from Chapter 2, “The Tree of Knowledge”).

Monday, June 10, 2019

“A Paradigm of Philosophical Incompetence”

In his review of Ayn Rand’s For the New Intellectual, the libertarian philosopher Bruce Goldberg calls the book a “paradigm of philosophical incompetence.” He notes that he is tempted to see the book “as a huge joke, a farce by means of which its creator can laugh at the gullible.” Goldberg’s conclusion to the review is quite sharp:
For the New Intellectual is an intolerably bad book. More than that it is a silly book; street corner rabble rousing can affect only the vulgar. That it should have come from the pen of the author of The Fountainhead, which is a genuinely fine novel, is not a little surprising. But as unfortunate as this book is, it would be even more unfortunate if it came to be regarded by anybody as a representative sample of libertarian thought. How easily the Left could shatter capitalism if this were its only defense! Fortunately the superiority of free-enterprise can be demonstrated. But while von Mises, Hayek, and Friedman, to name only a few, make for more difficult reading and demand greater attentiveness than does Ayn Rand, the reward justifies the effort. 
It is not difficult to understand the attraction Ayn Rand has for the uninstructed. She appears, I suppose, to be the spokesman for freedom, for self-esteem, and other equally noble ideals. However, patient examination reveals her pronouncements to be but a shroud beneath which lies the corpse of illogic. Those who are concerned with discovering the principles of a sound social philosophy can read and study libertarian thought at its best. The ludicrously mistitled “philosophy of Ayn Rand” is a sham. To those who are traveling her road I can only suggest its abandonment—for that way madness lies.
There is too much of anger and hatred in Rand's book. In the eponymous title-essay, she attacks several philosophers—Plato, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Comte, Spencer, Nietzsche, Bentham, and the logical positivists. Without offering a single piece of evidence or rational argument, she accuses them of being in bed with Attila and the Witch Doctor. The 41-page essay mentions the word “Attila” 106 times and the words “Witch Doctor” 116 times. Only Aristotle receives a little bit of consideration. Her depiction of Aristotle is incorrect, but at least she shows him some respect.

In a footnote to the title-essay, Rand writes, “I am indebted to Nathaniel Branden for many valuable observations on this subject and for his eloquent designation of the two archetypes, which I shall use hereafter: Attila and the Witch Doctor.” This means that it is Nathaniel Branden who introduced Rand to these hysterical words: “Attila” and “Witch Doctor”. Rand was herself weak in philosophy and the people that she collected around her were as ignorant as she was.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Myth of the “Saintly” Libertarian

Auguste Rodin's The Thinker 
Like most intellectuals, the libertarians have a contempt for the common folk. They believe that their libertarianism bestows on them some kind of “saintliness”. Their thinking, as reflected in their articles and books, is—I am a libertarian and so I am virtuous and correct; if you question my theories, then you must be ignorant or evil.

The concerns that drive the political choices of normal human beings are “trivial” for the libertarians—their political writing is full of ideas that are monumental, majestic, and sensational. (The truth is that they mostly sound clueless.) Even if 10% of the libertarian political predictions had come true, our civilization would have ended in a giant fireball 20 years ago. But we are still living—and the libertarians are still ranting.

In their writings, libertarians tend to demand instant gratification. They want instant transformation of politics and economy—instant gold standard, instant reform of law & order machinery, instant open borders, instant deregulation of the entire economy, instant abolishment of the entire government or of the superfluous sections of the government.

But the real world does not work on an “instant” basis. The libertarians don’t understand that if any government made such “instant” reforms, it will risk a counter-coup. People have become used to living in a bureaucratized society in the last 200 years, and if they are suddenly given total freedom, they will become confused and disoriented and they might even participate in a socialist revolution. That is why reforms must always be conducted at a pace that does not lead to any drastic and sudden transformations in the nation’s way of life.

The libertarians claim that they are too good to be involved in politics. But they are always hinting that they can run the country in a much better way than the “morons” who are in office. They condemn all politicians, and often call for abolishment of the entire government machinery, but they are themselves not averse to enjoying the perks of political power. In several countries, the Libertarian Parties have been contesting elections (and winning less than 1% of the votes)—they contest elections even though they claim that they stand for abolishing the system of government and establishing an “anarchist utopia.”

The libertarians cannot make a serious dent in politics as long as they regard themselves as saints. Politics is the job of normal human beings, and not of saints. Only a normal human being can empathize with the problems that other human beings are facing—but from the self-proclaimed saints of libertarianism, you can’t expect any understanding.

The Libertarian Political Parties cannot succeed until libertarianism is free of its “saintly” connotations. The word “libertarianism” must become a dirty word. By dirty word, I mean “non-saintly,” or a part of the corporeal world. You cannot win an electoral battle in any advanced democracy unless you are ready to wrestle in the mud. Political battles are fought in the real world and not in some saintly utopia.

I hope that one day there will be the rise of a libertarian politician who is a total scoundrel. It will take a scoundrel to rescue libertarianism from the libertarians who have become convinced that they are saints.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

On the Politics of Libertarianism

Ludwig von Mises
Here’s a rule: Any individualist and liberty oriented political movement that is dominated by intellectuals will over a period of time become collectivist and statist. This happens because most intellectuals have the tendency of falling in love with their own thinking—they love to rationalize. But “individualism” and “liberty” cannot coexist with rationalization, so when the intellectuals are in control, the movement will become collectivist and statist.

The movement of the liberals gravitated towards leftism more than 100 years ago because most liberals were intellectuals. The same thing is now happening with the movement that has inherited the mantle of the liberals, the libertarian movement. I think eventually the word “libertarianism” will go the “liberal” way because the libertarian movement is also dominated by intellectuals. While the intellectuals rationalize and bicker with each other and futilely fantasize about a libertarian utopia, the control of the word “libertarianism” slips from their hands.

A political movement needs two things to expand the reach of its ideas while adhering to its core principles: structure and direction. Libertarianism has a direction but no structure. By structure, I mean a set of institutions which agree on the broad philosophical and political principles. The libertarian institutions have very little agreement—their intellectuals bicker all the time; they accuse each other of being a socialist. It is not clear what libertarianism stands for—does it stand for free market capitalism, anarchism, minarchism, agorism, welfare state, socialism, or something else?

The libertarian political movements can create a structure by removing the intellectuals from positions of power in their organizational set-up, and putting some real politicians in charge. Only the extremely naive will believe that people support a political movement because they like its ideology and are impressed by all the blather about having a rational and free society. That is not how it works. People support a movement because they think that it will lead to an improvement in their own living condition—they are seeking a solution to their own immediate concerns.

I will end on a positive note: some schools of libertarianism have a good sense of the direction in which they want society to move. This is because the libertarians are good economists—they have written a number of books and papers on economics. Even in the areas of political history and moral theory, the libertarian scholars have done good work. They have a clear conception of the economic and political policy that they would like the government to implement. The libertarians can improve their political prospects by putting some actual politicians in charge of their political messaging.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Libertarian Politics is a Failure

The libertarians might be good in philosophy, but their political opinions are often flawed. I follow libertarian writing quite closely, but I rarely get to see a convincing political analysis by a libertarian intellectual. I think this is because most libertarians are too dogmatic—they can’t see beyond the confines of their brand of libertarianism. They don’t consider what is going on in the world and what concerns are uppermost in the minds of the people.

Like Narcissus, the libertarians are obsessed with themselves, not with their good looks (I hope), but with their own thinking which they believe is the best in the world.

You will rarely find a unique perspective on political issues in the articles authored by libertarians—in their articles they mostly rehash the same old viewpoints that you would have already picked up from dozens of media outlets. To make their articles appear unique, they try to insert some libertarian cliches and their own rationalizations, but most readers are not going to be impressed by cliches and rationalizations.

The libertarian political movements cannot win support because they are not being led by real politicians—they are dominated by intellectuals and philosophers who don’t have any political talent and whose perspective on political issues is flawed. A successful politician is not an armchair rationalizer, he is a man of action: he is a communicator; he goes out in society, listens to the people’s problems, and offers his solutions; he gets into verbal duels and even nasty street brawls with his political rivals; he struggles to raise money to fund his campaign; he does all that he can to convince the people that he is the right man for the office.

Instead of men of action, the libertarian political movements are being dominated by theorists who sit in their armchair and rant against their political rivals, or rationalize and pontificate about a “libertarian utopia” that they will create if the masses vote for them. They never listen to anyone who is not a libertarian intellectual like them; they never make the effort to understand the historical nature of the problems that their country is facing. Their thinking is utopian and they are convinced that their libertarian philosophy is a magic wand for curing the world of all its woes and bringing happiness to all.

The only people that the libertarians can hope to impress with their philosophizing are other libertarians. The man on the street is unimpressed by libertarianism, because he is not looking for philosophy; he is looking for concrete solutions to specific problems; he is looking for politicians who are capable of taking “actions” to solve social problems. I am not saying that the political choices that the voters make is always correct—often they end up voting the wrong political force into office with disastrous consequences for their society. But they will generally vote for politicians who offer a plan for action and not for philosophers whose entire campaign consists of rants, philosophical theories, and rationalizations.

In most Western and Asian democracies, the libertarian movements fail to get more than 2% of the vote. All the rationalizations and pontifications of the libertarian politicians and intellectuals is having no impact on the people. The general public is not going to be impressed by the libertarian political movements as long as these movements are dominated by intellectuals and philosophers who don’t listen to anyone and preach without getting up from their armchair.

I don’t see any major progress happening in the libertarian space in the next 20 years. The libertarian political movements will continue to be dominated by philosophers and intellectuals who have zero understanding of the political realities.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Truth, According to William James

William James
I see William James’s pragmatism as a form of skepticism—this is primarily because it holds that truth is something that has to be invented bit-by-bit by a number of inventors. The nature of the truths that we hold, according to pragmatism, is dependent on the caprice and knowledge of the inventors: one set of inventors may give rise to one kind of truths, while another set of inventors may create a wholly different set of truths.

Henri Bergson offers a good insight into James’s view of truth in his essay, “On The Pragmatism of William James.” Here’s an excerpt:
More precisely, other doctrines make of truth something anterior to the clearly-determined act of the man who formulates it for the first time. He was the first to see it, we say, but it was waiting for him, just as America was waiting for Christopher Columbus. Something hid it from view and, so to speak, covered it up: he uncovered it. —Quite different is William James's conception. He does not deny that reality is independent, at least to a great extent, of what we say or think of it; but the truth, which can be attached only to what we affirm about reality, is, for him, created by our affirmation. We invent the truth to utilize reality, as we create mechanical devices to utilize the forces of nature. It seems to me one could sum up all that is essential in the pragmatic conception of truth in a formula such as this: while for other doctrines a new truth is a discovery, for pragmatism it is an invention.  
It does not follow, of course, that the truth is arbitrary. The value of a mechanical invention lies solely in its practical usefulness. In the same way an affirmation, because it is true, should increase our mastery over things. It is no less the creation of a certain individual mind, and it was no more pre-existent to the effort of that mind than the phonograph, for example, existed before Edison. No doubt the inventor of the phonograph had to study the properties of sound, which is a reality. But his invention was superadded to that reality as a thing absolutely new, which might never have been produced had he not existed. Thus a truth, if it is to endure, should have its roots in realities; but these realities are only the ground in which that truth grows, and other flowers could just as well have grown there if the wind had brought other seeds. 
According to Bergson, pragmatism is a continuation of Kantianism. He writes: “The structure of our mind is therefore to a great extent our work, or at least the work of some of us. That, it seems to me, is the most important thesis of pragmatism, even though it has not been explicitly stated. It is in this way that pragmatism continues Kantianism. Kant had said that truth depends upon the general structure of the human mind. Pragmatism adds, or at least implies, that the structure of the human mind is the effect of the free initiative of a certain number of individual minds.”