Sunday, November 27, 2016

Recommended reading

George Smith is a great writer because he makes philosophical ideas accessible. Here he quotes Ayn Rand (who often did go over my head) extensively in her predictions about where collectivism would take America. Even with my short attention span I got through through it and relished some of the passages.

The placement of socialism and fascism at opposite ends of a political spectrum serves a nefarious purpose, according to Rand. It serves to buttress the case that we must avoid “extremism” and choose the sensible middle course of a “mixed economy.” Quoting from “‘Extremism,’ Or The Art of Smearing” (CUI, Chapter 17):

"If it were true that dictatorship is inevitable and that fascism and communism are the two “extremes” at the opposite ends of our course, then what is the safest place to choose? Why, the middle of the road. The safely undefined, indeterminate, mixed-economy, “moderate” middle—with a “moderate” amount of government favors and special privileges to the rich and a “moderate” amount of government handouts to the poor—with a “moderate” respect for rights and a “moderate” degree of brute force—with a “moderate” amount of freedom and a “moderate” amount of slavery—with a “moderate” degree of justice and a “moderate” degree of injustice—with a “moderate” amount of security and a “moderate” amount of terror—and with a moderate degree of tolerance for all, except those “extremists” who uphold principles, consistency, objectivity, morality and who refuse to compromise."


Mark Wahlberg said...

Way back about 1983 I plowed through Atlas Shrugged and The Fountain Head enjoying the stories and championing the heroes. But I struggled with the philosophy and absolutes demanded of objectivism. I came up short when I created excuses for myself when pragmatism was an easy out. But I haven't surrendered all my values and still adhere to the belief "Selfishness is a virtue" as espoused by Ayn Rand.
I subscribed to a periodical out of Auckland called "Liberty" edited by one Ian Fraser. Published once a month, I would wait for the rural mailman at my home in the wilderness of the Northern Wairarapa, hungry for the latest political intrigue via an advocate of Ayn Rand's philosophy.
I had and old valve radio of 1920 vintage and the only station I could pick up was the National Programme. Every Saturday afternoon I would tune into another acolyte of Rand, Jessica Weddell's radio show. Jessica interviewed all manner of interesting people and I never missed a show.
Through Jessica I met Trevor Loudon and got involved with his "Campaign For A Soviet Free New Zealand" Wore the Tee Shirt. Exciting times.
I guess what I'm saying in a long winded way, is, I agree with your post. These days I am aware I am powerless to affect change, so keep my head down, safe in the knowledge, I know what I know.

Anonymous said...

This selfishness is virtuous stuff strikes me as being weird. You could argue that the cry "Women and children first" is a nonsense, sponsoring poor kids is self defeating and heroes are idiots. So much that inspires or is noble is rejected and potentially so much that is cowardly is celebrated. Castro was selfish so he's good? I like a fair bit of Rand's politics but I can see why she never became mainstream even in philosophy and maybe it wasn't because the mainstream was wrong. Like most things I guess we cherry pick to some degree but I find Rand cold at the personal level and for me there is as much to dislike as to like.


Lindsay Mitchell said...

I think self-interest is a better descriptor than 'selfishness', which has modern-day bad connotations. If we act in our self-interest - which includes the well-being of our nearest and dearest if we are human - and our transactions include voluntarism and reciprocity, then outcomes should be win-win. My sticking point has always been a distrust of some people's motivations. Not everybody is 'human' by virtue of being human.

BTW I do think 'women and children first' is a nonsense. Thinking about the Titanic for instance, families should be boarded entire. The ensuing grief and loss of economic support would have been less.

Anonymous said...

See, you are already modifying the rules to suit yourself and that is where I get stuck. Its all about what you think as opposed to what should be a base line of good behaviour. That concept allows all sorts of appalling prejudices to be exercised.

The concept of woman and children first may be economically dumb but men know the distinction between economics and courage, love etc.... Someone had to stay behind and even now most I suspect would agree that it was right that many men did. The upper class did better than the rest of course so economics did play its part. This idea of self sacrifice for others distinguishes mankind from other animals and I'm grateful we have that app installed.

I must read Atlas Shrugged. I like the idea of the story as I understand it to be and hope its not an academic drone to read.


Lindsay Mitchell said...

"The concept of woman and children first may be economically dumb but men know the distinction between economics and courage, love etc"

Economically AND emotionally dumb. You talk about love. But so did I.

"This idea of self sacrifice for others distinguishes mankind from other animals and I'm grateful we have that app installed."

But why does the burden of self-sacrifice fall on men?

Mark Wahlberg said...

I struggle with the concept of sacrificing myself for the benefit of strangers, when my sacrifice might create appalling consequences for those I hold dear. (family)
Personal sacrifice is a wonderful concept, but when put to the test, it challenges our moral conscience and I tend to start procrastinating.

Anonymous said...

Because civilised men have that emotional role in civilised society. In my view its rightfully expected and maybe is an old feature of the gender distinction. Old fashioned perhaps but some things never go out of style.


Mark Wahlberg said...

Anon, I suspect you are talking about being chivalrous. I don't believe the age of chivalry is dead. Personally I doff my hat to ladies, open doors and always stop to help anybody in distress with flat car tyres etc.
As a young person if I didn't show respect,my father would give me a clout with hands the size of dinner plates and hard as bricks, so courtesy was instilled in me from an early age and at times at cost to myself.

As for running into a burning building or giving up my seat in the proverbial boat of life, I struggle with that one........

Anonymous said...

I share your discomfort when the concept of taking a big risk for someone but I've never really been put on the spot other than shielding a young lady from a Maori youth who said he had a knife etc... way back when I was mid 20's. I thought at the time he was talking crap and as he eventually ran off without sticking me I guess my instinct was correct. Should the occasion arise I like to think I'd do what was right (and we know what is right without debating economics) rather than for ever be a Cosmo Duff Gordon. We like heroes because they are so often the ordinary put on the spot and we know we would like to be like them if circumstances required it. Greater love hath no man than this than he lay down his life etc...


Peter Cresswell said...

The concept of self-interest is not "women and children first" -- nor is it designed for 'lifeboat' situations. (If all or life were composed of such situations that would be different, but it's not. Life, in fact, does not require sacrifices, nor that some be chosen to be those sacrifices.)

That said, a better analogy for rational self-interest in this sort of context would be the instructions given to you when starting a plane flight: if the oxygen masks are uncovered, then make sure you fasten yours before trying to help somebody else. In other words, you're note even of any use to anyone else until or unless you've first sorted yourself out.

Not that "being of use to others" should be your primary goal. As GK Chesterton is supposed to have said, " We're all here to provide service to others. What the others are here for I can't imagine."

Mark Wahlberg said...

Lindsay, I'm playing devils advocate. I don't know if this is appropriate, or even relevant. But its been bugging me and I've needed to express it for clarity in my own mind.

In relation to what has been discussed here,I've been trying to find a suitable analogy to describe the death of the Palmerston North policeman who drowned while attempting to assist his daughter, who was attempting to help the family dog, which got into difficulties in the Manawatu river while the family were out for an evening stroll. I cant find the words which won't give offence. I suspect its to soon after the event and there is too much emotion involved and not enough hard evidence available to explain the course of events. But what disturbs me, is the man has been heralded a hero and tributes flow across the front pages of local newspapers. In death he can do no wrong.

But what if the daughter and dog were not in any distress at the point he entered the water and what if he made a series of mistakes which compounded and cost him his life? Whatever the answer, his die had been cast.

Compare this to the situation which developed last weekend on the Kaipara Bar when 8 people lost their lives in a tragic boating accident.

Immediately after the incident and in lieu of any evidence as to what happened on board the boat, the skipper has had a torrent of abuse and blame heaped on his now departed soul. Such has been the vitriol directed at him, I suggest his character is beyond redemption.

But what if the skipper didn't want to attempt the crossing, but was coerced into it? Whatever the answer, his"die had been cast."

The sad thing here is lives have been lost unnecessarily whatever the reason. One man is a hero while the other is labeled a villain.

Coroners inquest should be interesting in both cases.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

You are exploring the moral questions that arise from tragedies.

But..." what if the daughter and dog were not in any distress at the point he entered the water and what if he made a series of mistakes which compounded and cost him his life? "

What would his motivation for entering the water have been then?

Skippers, pilots, captains etc always have total responsibility for their decisions (hence full control over their craft, be they sea or air).

As an aside, I'm struggling to understand why the Colombian jet ran out of fuel. The pilot's responsibility will be the first port of call in air accident investigation. Adequate fuel contents and range are primarily his responsibility. But other individuals are involved in the fueling process...

Mark Wahlberg said...

"What would his motivation for entering the water have been then?"

Valid point, the answers to which could be many and varied and all possibly innocuous.Why did he allow his daughter near the water in the first place? Was the dog on a leash? Bylaws demand it. Acts of heroism aside, errors of judgement by someone in authority compounding into catastrophe is the common thread.

As you point out The Colombian jet disaster is another example.Is the pilot destined to be the villain of the piece? The reporting of the incident suggests the only passengers on board were members of the football team. If there were other passengers, they appeared to be of no account as far as headlines went.