Thursday, February 28, 2008

Coddling Dictators

Barack Obama has said that if he is elected President, he will pay a visit to Cuba to talk with its current ruler, Raul Castro. Castro, of course, is a dictator, just as his brother Fidel was. In any case, it is a shameful idea. As Ayn Rand correctly pointed out long ago (from Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged):

In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit. In that transfusion of blood which drains the good to feed the evil, the compromiser is the transmitting rubber tube . . .

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Republic - If You Can Keep It

The Founding Fathers bequeathed to us a glorious Republic based on the inalienable rights of Man. We squandered that bequest long ago. How do we get it back?

The course of human events is moved by philosophy. When a rational philosophy (such as Aristotelianism) is dominant, freedom expands. When an irrational philosophy (such as Platonism) is dominant, freedom contracts. As an Objectivist, I am working toward the re-establishment of a dominant rational philosophy - namely, Objectivism. How long will this take?

In discussing this with me, a friend and fellow Objectivist wrote "when I think about how much effort is required to grasp Objectivism, I am less than confident about the future of our society."

I think that is the key. Objectivists sometimes talk about how quickly Marxism became a worldwide phenomenon. The implication being that Objectivism might duplicate that feat. But the point is, Marxism wasn't intellectual at all. It was just a call to rob the rich and give to the poor. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." That's all people took away from Marxism and that's why they - the poor, the lazy, the envious - flocked to its standard. And why they still do, under different names, like modern liberalism, environmentalism, compassionate conservatism, and the anything-goes catch all, "democracy."

Objectivism is exactly the opposite. People, if they understand it, are more likely to run away screaming, than flock to it. They don't want to have to think, they don't want to have to work, they don't want to have to be responsible for their own welfare. Establishing and maintaining a Republic is damned hard work. To quote Benjamin Franklin, in answer to someone who asked him what kind of government the Constitutional Convention of 1787 had come up with: "A Republic - if you can keep it."

We failed to keep it. We will have to duplicate the efforts of the Founding Fathers and their generation - the genuine "greatest generation" - to regain a Republic based on individual rights. It will not happen quickly, or easily. There is no royal road to a just society.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Philosophy: Who Needs It

Everyone needs philosophy, was Ayn Rand's answer to that question, which she gave in an address to the graduating class at West Point in 1974. Everyone lives according to some philosophy, whether they realize it or not.

As Ayn Rand said in her address:

. . . the principles you accept (consciously or subconsciously) may clash with or contradict one another; they, too, have to be integrated. What integrates them? Philosophy. A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation - or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown.

So if you want to know yourself better, if you want to gain conscious control of your life, your decisions, your judgments, if you want to understand what causes your emotions, you must learn to engage in introspection.

Do you, for example, hate profit-chasing Big Oil executives? Your answer to that question, whether negative or affirmative, reveals a part of your implicit philosophy. If you dislike the desire for profit, ask yourself why. Perhaps you believe profits are immoral. Dig down another step: why do you hold that profits are immoral? Some will answer: because the desire for profit is selfish. For these people, this answer reveals that altruism is their moral philosophy, their ethics. Altruism is the moral code which holds that service to others -selflessness - is the good, and selfishness is the evil. Think Mother Teresa, the most well known altruist in recent times.

Anything opposed to altruism, such as the pursuit of profit, is immoral to an altruist. Dig further into your philosophy and ask yourself why altruism is your moral philosophy. In pursuing these elusive answers, you will be getting at your philosophical premises.

The purpose of this exercise in self-examination is to become aware of the philosophical premises that have been guiding your life subconsciously - without your authorization, so to speak. Most people will find some of the premises they have adopted, somewhere along the way, are not supportable upon close examination. Then discard them, and replace them with premises you can support.

After a lifetime of persistent self-examination, and of pestering others to do the same, the Greek philosopher, Socrates, was convicted of corrupting the minds of the young. He faced the death penalty, but it was suggested he might be allowed to live if he would accept exile, and cease to be the annoying philosophical gadfly he admitted to being. He refused the offer. The unexamined life, he said, is not worth living.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Ragtime: A Musical Interlude

An example of the benevolent spirit of ragtime music.

I generally prefer solo piano ragtime, but this is an excellent banjo version of Dill Pickles Rag, by Charles Johnson.

Poetic Interlude

To Helen

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
The weary, wayworn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome.

Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
Are Holy Land!

Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ecce Homo

Howard Roark, intransigent architect hero of Ayn Rand's novel, The Fountainhead, is one of the most inspiring creations in the history of literature. He had his own ideas about what and how to build, and he turned them into reality in spite of all the obstacles a timid and envious society could hurl against him.

Much more inspiring, though, is an intransigent hero who actually existed. Behold the man, Wilbur Wright. The oldest dream of man was to fly. Icarus, Bellerophon on Pegasus, flying carpets, and countless other myths and fables show the dream realized in fiction. Leonardo Da Vinci, a hero of the Renaissance, worked on making the dream a reality, but it was too early. Technology was not yet advanced enough.

When the technology was ready, Wilbur Wright (and to a lesser extent, Orville Wright) stepped forward and engineered the marvel of powered flight. From the dauntless self-confidence needed to believe he could achieve this "impossible dream," through long hours of research, countless brilliant experiments, successes and setbacks - all funded from the Wrights' own savings - to the epoch making first flight at Kill Devil Hills (near Kitty Hawk), Wilbur Wright overcame every obstacle.

He conquered the sky.

Wilbur Wright is man, the hero. Next time someone moans that he is "only human," remind him of what heroes men can be, by pointing to Wilbur Wright.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Once Upon a Time in America

With a population of some three million, colonial America produced more Statesmen than modern America can produce with her 300 million. How can that be, when we have the advantage of public education?

America still produces brilliant and ambitious men. But none of them yearn to be part of our Government, as they did in our Revolutionary days. Those were days of ferment when great things were being accomplished in government, namely the enshrinement of man's inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, and the establishment of a Republic - a nation of laws, and not of men.

What is government doing today? The long train of abuses and usurpations one could list would put those of King George III to shame. Nobody with any honor or self-respect would agree to be part of such a government, except with the express purpose of annihilating the work of the last century of misgovernment.

There are no such Statesmen today, anywhere upon the landscape.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

To Whom It May Concern

The title of my blog refers to the song from The Sound of Music. I admire the song for its dedication to freedom in the face of advancing totalitarian forces. The alpine flower, edelweiss, is used in the song to symbolize freedom.

" . . . blossom of snow

may you bloom and grow,

bloom and grow forever.

Edelweiss, edelweiss,

bless my homeland forever."

From Rodgers & Hammerstein's The Sound of Music.