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Atlas Shrugged III March 1, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Libertarianism, Objectivism.
5 comments

…and yes, it would appear that there’s been yet another change in personnel so that the lead and as far as one can make out most of the others whose roles are confirmed appear to be played by a third set of actors (given that they changed from Part I to Part II.

I managed to acquire Part I very inexpensively second-hand in recent weeks. I may report back on it.

Bits and pieces… December 15, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Culture, Libertarianism, Science, Uncategorized.
6 comments

This is odd, assuming it’s accurate. Glenn Beck made a piece of parodic ‘art’ which has a figure of Obama in what is supposedly urine, a play on the famous Piss Christ work by Andres Serrano. Problem is that this can’t function in the way Beck seems to think it will, i.e. enraging Democrats and US liberals. It’s simply not the same dynamic – few would consider Obama as being equivalent to a deity (and truth is I’ve often wondered how many people were genuinely upset by Piss Christ in the first place) – perhaps not even the same import given that it is essentially unserious (and Beck seems to say that it beer not urine). Still, it is oddly interesting as an example of pretty poor trolling (I’d say on an epic scale, except somehow although that might be the intent it is not the actuality). You’d have to worry about the man. Sort of.

This is for all those who think well of Carl Sagan…

I’ve already referenced the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ here, and I’m not sure whether I’m pleased or appalled that there’s something of a cottage industry on YouTube producing animations and videos to go along with the text he recorded above – a sort of secular humanist prayer as it were.

Continuing matters astronomical, what of this from wiki about Patrick Moore where it is claimed that he played ‘Anarchy in the UK’ on xylophone at a Royal Variety performance. Hard to believe. Here though from Room 101 is Moore doing something not entirely dissimilar with Jon Culshaw.

Interested in Objectivism? Or are you an Objectivist? Or do you know one? Here’s a site focussed on all things Rand.

Reading through it I found a piece on Bioshock, the computer game, which I’d forgotten has an Objectivist back story. Though it’s not entirely complimentary to the philosophy. Hmmmm…

Animal Crackers March 18, 2008

Posted by smiffy in Environmentalism, Libertarianism, Media and Journalism, Pseudo-Science, Revolutionary Communist Party.
20 comments

(This began as a comment in response to Worldbystorm’s musing about the attitude of the Spiked crowd to animals, but became a little unwieldy, so it gets its own post).

Animals – their welfare and their rights – is one of the key issues that recurs again and again with the Revolutionary Communist Party group, but doesn’t seem to generate the same debate as their more high-profile, or controversial, preoccupations.  An article by Brendan O’Neill on the old favourites – the environment, child protection or liberal elitism – may generate hundreds of responses on Comment is Free, but discussions around animals don’t tend to receive the same kind of intense level of interest.  However, as Worldbystorm rightly points out, it’s something that they are fascinated with, and keep coming back to.  For that reason, I thought it might be interesting to take a sample of the articles on Spiked about animals, and see how they reflect many of the tropes of a typical RCP article.

For clarification, I’m using the term Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) to refer to the entire range of writers and personalities associated with what might mostly broadly be called Furedi and chums.  This includes Living Marxism/LM, Spiked, the Institute of Ideas, the Manifesto Club, Sense about Science and all the rest.  I’m assuming that readers will already be aware of the background of the network and of the links between the different groups (both the overtly Furedian ones and the front organisations).  Those interested in finding out more might usefully start with the Sourcewatch article on the LM group and following the links – in particular the piece entitled “Strange Bedfellows” from The Ecologist.

I admit, of course, that treating all of these individuals as a single collective is something of a blunt instrument.  Different writers will adopt different styles and different approaches, depending on their audience, the medium they’re using and their particular interests.  However, on many issues – in particular in relation to animals – there does appear to be a single, unwavering line common to all.

With those disclaimers in hand, let’s look at some of the rhetorical tactics of the RCP’ers.

1: “The real reason they oppose it …”.

Take, for example, the 2006 Spiked article “Stop weeping over whaling“, by Helene Guldberg.  In it, the author tries to demonstrate that anti-whaling sentiment is actually motivated by cultural imperialism and anti-Japanese bigotry.  Or, to be specific, the author asserts that as the case and doesn’t provide any evidence in support of the claim.  The entire article is a mismash of various logical fallacies and indicates a deliberate unwillingness to even to begin to engage with the substantial anti-whaling arguments.

We see this again and again with the RCP’ers.  Rather than address the actual arguments of those they oppose, they prefer to speculate wildly about the motivations of others.  We see it over and over with the debate on climate change.  Those who highlight, for example, the impact of increased air travel, fuelled by low-cost carriers, on the environment are doing so not from any concern about global warming, but because they are liberal elite killjoys who want to prevent ‘ordinary people’ (always a loaded phrase) from enjoying themselves.

This tendency is perhaps best exemplified in the large red banner currently across the front page of Spiked linked to their ongoing campaign: Beijing 2008 – Challenging China-bashing.  To believe the RCP’ers, there is a huge upsurge of racist, anti-China feeling sweeping the land: a latter-day version of the ‘Yellow Peril’.  Concerned about the consequences of continued Chinese economic growth reliant to the burning of fossil fuels?  Racist anti-China bashing!  Alarmed at what you saw about infant abduction stemming from the one-child policy on the recent Channel 4 documentary China’s Stolen Children? Patronising anti-China bashing!  Don’t like what you’re seeing on the news about the occupation of Tibet and the violent crackdown on protestors?  You’re both self-loathing and imperialist (a rather contradictory combination, some might think.  Don’t worry, though.  Brendan O’Neill is large; he contains multitudes).  Of course, one might question why a group supposedly so concerned with individual freedom would consistently ignore China’s appalling human rights record, but that would no doubt make one an anti-China basher, a liberal elitist and a scaremonger about the Yellow Peril.

In all cases the motivations of those opposed to the RCP worldview is called into question; the actual arguments they make seldom are.  One wonders why.

2: That’s how it is!

In this particular manoeuvre, the RCP’er will make a particular assertion in order to refute a position he or she disagrees with, but will proceed as if their assertion is already universally accepted, when it’s actually the very point at issue.  “Begging the question”, to put it another way.

Take the 2006 article ‘A Great Aping of Human Rights’.  In it, Josie Appleton writes about a proposed Spanish parliamentary resolution in support of the objectives of the Great Ape Project, that is to extend the protection of certain fundamental rightsto the Great Apes.  Josie Appleton, unsurprisingly, is against this.  She argues that:

The Great Ape Project emerged out of disillusionment with human beings and human values, and effectively looks to apes to provide a new moral compass. Great apes are cast as wise and knowing figures that can help to renew a corrupted human civilisation.

Unfortunately, however, this isn’t true as anyone who had read collection of essays in The Great Ape Project (which Appleton cites in her footnotes) would know.  The argument is, essentially, that there is no moral justification for limiting basic rights to humans and preventing their extension to non-human animals which share certain intellectual attributes with humans.  This, of course, isn’t a particularly mainstream opinion and is far from non-contentious.  However,  Appleton argues as if this point, central to the argument, has already been refuted without bothering to do so.  It’s the long-winded equivalent of Mick Hume’s ‘Animals Count? No they don’t‘ piece (thesis: Animals Matter; antithesis: No they don’t; synthesis: They just don’t! Shut up!).

To see the same approach in a non-animal context, look at Jennie Bristow’s 2007 article ‘Abortion: stop hiding behind the science‘.  In it, Bristow argues that, contrary to the argument of anti-abortionists, greater scientific understanding of foetal development doesn’t impact of the moral case in favour of access to abortion and that this case should be restated.  She writes:

But when it comes to the principle of abortion, science can tell us no more than it ever has. Women who need abortions should be able to have them: some people agree with this, and others do not. Scientific evidence, however sound it may be, will never tell us what society should do about abortion.

This happens to be a position I’d agree with myself, and I believe that the moral case for the right to choose should be restated.  However, nowhere in Bristow’s piece does she do that.  She simply asserts that women should be able to access abortion services, without ever explaining why this should be the case.

3: Infantile Contrarianism

Occasionally, one finds oneself agreeing with an RCP’er (don’t worry – remember the old saying about the stopped clock).  Other times, one disagrees but accepts the sincerity of their arguments.  All too often though, pieces like ‘In defence of fur‘ are published, which can’t possibly be genuine.

No doubt Josie Appleton either likes the feel and look of fur, or doesn’t really care about it one way or the other, but the article itself reads like a heavy-handed and obvious attempt to appear controversial.  Take that, conventional wisdom!  Have at you, bien-pensants!  The RCP is on the job, demolishing the ivory towers of the elite, undermining what you think you know and totally blowing your mind!

Except, they’re not, of course.  There’s little more tiring than a self-conscious controversialist.  These pieces are, invariably, attempts to appear radical by mindlessly opposing what’s seen as the consensus view on some issue or other without really thinking through the basis for the position.  Kneejerk first, argument later.  Which often leaves the writer clutching desperately for something – anything – to support the view they’ve adopted.  Who could read Josie Appleton’s defence of the use of fur

Just as a butterfly is never aware of the beautiful patterns on its wings, so a mink will wear its soft coat until death without ever appreciating it. For the mink, fur is just something that it carries around in the battle to survive, like claws or teeth.

By being made into a fur coat, that mink’s pelt is raised into something higher, just as a tree made into a violin is raised, or a cow made into a sumptuous steak is raised. A raw material becomes part of the human world; fur isn’t just on the back of an animal scratching around for food, but is instead worked on and admired as art. Indeed, it is only really by becoming a coat that a mink’s life can be said to have had any purpose at all.

without feeling at least a little embarrassed for her?

For more of this ‘I hate you Daddy’ defiance of mainstream thinking, see all of Brendan O’Neill’s output.

4: If it’s global warming, how come it’s cold today?

Climate change isn’t a tactic of the RCP per se.  The various articles the Furedists produce on the subject employ the full range of rhetorical tropes, including those highlighted above.  However, given that it’s such a key issue for them, as well as such an important issue more generally, it merits specific consideration on its own.

It’s rare to see an RCP’er deny the reality of man-made climate change outright; rather, as we see in the Polar Bear article that WbS highlighted early, they prefer to muddy the waters, to cast doubt on the accuracy of the available evidence and malign the motivations of those trying to tackle the problem.  In this case, the attempt is made to highlight a report pointing to possible flaws in forecasting methodology used in predicting the impact of climate change on the bears, with the underlying implication that all evidence for climate change is similarly flawed.  The authors of the article – Armstrong, Green and Soon (a professor of marketing, a research fellow in business and finance and an astrophysicist respectively) – are favourites of the RCP, two of them having previously made similar points about forecasting in the IPCC report, covered by Brendan O’Neill here.

To be fair, it’s possible that there may be some truth in the suggestion that the forecasting methology employed in various climate studies is flawed.  And it’s difficult for the lay-reader to determine the plausibility of this.  However, when viewed in the context of a wider and consistent campaign by the RCP against those who argue that climate change is occuring, and needs to be tackled, it’s reasonable that one should caution against taking anything published on the site on the subject with a pinch of salt.

What makes the RCP’s attitude towards the climate change question so fascinating, as well as confusing, is the fact that in some ways it runs completely contrary to their stated philosophy on some many other issues.  Look at the review of Damian Thompson’s Counterknowledge to see this tension at its most pronounced.  While it attempts to support the primacy of rational enquiry over superstition and pseudo-science, it has to pull back at the end and, essentially, say ‘except for environmentalism’.

Also interesting is the RCP group Sense about Science, which describes itself in the following terms:

Sense About Science is an independent charitable trust promoting good science and evidence in public debates. We do this by promoting respect for evidence and by urging scientists to engage actively with a wide range of groups, particularly when debates are controversial or difficult.

We work with scientists to

  • respond to inaccuracies in public claims about science, medicine, and technology
  • promote the benefits of scientific research to the public
  • help those who need expert help contact scientists about issues of importance
  • brief non-specialists on scientific developments and practices

One might imagine that a group of this kind might have something to say on the issue of climate change, possibly the most important ‘scientific’ issue facing the global community, and one on which a certain amount of scientific knowledge on the part of the public would be, at the very least, desirable.  Unfortunately, while the group is ready to launch  any number of press releases denouncing homeopathy, anti-GM protests or the collected works of Gillian McKeith, all they have produced on the question of climate change is a short document on the complexity of forecasting.

On this, as on so many other issues, it’s difficult to know what their motivation is.  It’s tempting to simply suggest that they’re insincere, and that they have a vested financial interest in pushing the positions they’re taking.  Certainly, the links between the RCP (et al) and various large corporations has previously been highlighted.  Perhaps even odder is the suggestion that they actually do believe all this, with what can only be described as a quasi-religious fervour.  There’s a blind faith at play in the perfectability of humanity and of scientific progress that borders on the fanatical.  One can see this in the Little Atoms interview with Brendan O’Neill of last November.  After a long diatribe treading very familiar ground on the perfidy of environmentalism, the presenters finally ask Brendan what, precisely, he would do to combat Climate Change.  His response – he didn’t care; science would look after it (indeed, to suggest that this might be a little naive displays nothing but the questioner’s contempt for mankind’s potential). 

Perhaps it would be a little cruel to view the RCP as the post-Marxist equivalent of the Heaven’s Gate cult, waiting for Frank Furedi’s instruction to cut off their sex organs and meet him behind the comet.  Certainly, at their most extreme they recall some of the more extreme groups in Ken McLeod’s Fall Revolution novels.

Who knows, though: they might be right.  And come the Singularity who’ll be first against the wall?

New book on ‘Council Communism’ August 20, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Left Libertarianism, Libertarianism, Marxism.
7 comments

Thought this might be of interest to some of our regulars considering the comments on the BICO and SP threads dealing with Marxism, Leninism and the role of democracy and the party in such.

According to an IRSP email bulletin an organisation called Red and Black Publishers in the US has published a book entitled ‘Non-Leninist Marxism’ (Available on Amazon), including the works of Dutch Marxists Hermann Gorter and Anton Pannekoek, the English Left Communist Sylvia Pankhurst, and the German Council Communist Otto Ruehl. I’ll be honest. It’s not my cup of tea and I’d only vaguely heard of ‘Council Communism’ prior to this but I thought some of our Marxist scholars might be curious. Lengthy excerpt from the review follows:

“The book begins  with Gorter’s excellent, systematic refutation of Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder, which was penned against the Council Communist tendency and includes Gorter’s essay on why a Communist Workers’ International was needed.

non-leninist-marxism.jpg
“The one weakness of the book is its selections by Anton Pannekoek, perhaps the greatest astronomer ever produced by the Netherlands and one of the most intelligent exponents of Council Communist. It offers his 1908 article on The Labour Movement and Socialism, which while a worthwhile critique of the reformist tendencies of the trade unions pales besides his master work, The Workers’ Councils, which is not offerred here. Likewise, Pannekoek’s 1918 article, The German Revolution: First Stage, is well worth reading, but his book Lenin As Philosopher would have been a more welcome (if much longer)
offering.

“Sylvia Pankhurst is represented by her seven-part article Communism and Its Tactics, which provides a wonderful breath of fresh air amidst the meager politics of reform that passes for Marxism today.

“The book concludes with two pieces by the all too rarely seen German Council Communist leader, Otto Ruhle. The first of these is his The Revolution is Not a Party Affair, which provides an excellent critique of the party as the means for working class revolutionary organizing and then finishes with his powerful Report From Moscow, which is precisely that–a report to the German Communist Workers’ Party regarding his trip to Moscow to attend the third Congress of the Third International, which marked the KAPD’s break from the Comintern in defense of a revolutionary vs. a opportunist line to be pursued in Western Europe. “

It is believed that 20th Century Fox are bidding for the movie rights.

Defending one’s property: Nally, Gangland Violence and the Media December 19, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Ireland, Irish Politics, Libertarianism, Media and Journalism, Social Policy, The Left.
3 comments

The Nally case depresses me. For many reasons. For those unaware of the broad outlines let me recap. In October 2004 Padraig Nally, a farmer in Mayo, came upon a man at the back of his farmhouse. In any event, he shot the tresspasser in the side, one John Ward – a member of the Travelling community, who then attacked him. Nally then beat him with a stick and then went away to get more cartridges from a shed for his gun before shooting Ward in the back as he retreated. He took the body and dumped it over a wall.

Ward was no innocent with more than 80 convictions and four bench warrants for his arrest out the day of his killing (although these weren’t actually executed since he was being treated in a psychiatric hospital at the time). Nally was, according to those who knew him, a man living in perpetual fear of being robbed or attacked on his land.

In the Central Criminal Court the jury acquitted Nally of manslaughter after three days of consideration.

In a way I don’t really want to discuss the case, other than to echo the thoughts of the Irish Times editorial on the matter where it notes that “physical force must remain intolerable in all but exceptional circumstances”.

However I do want to consider the overall environment within which we see this and similar judgements. And let’s contextualise it a little with a personal anecdote. In 1995 I was living off Ardee Stree in the Coombe in a rented house. The area was, like almost all urban areas, reknowned for the number of burglaries, and talking to neighbours and those in local shops the impression was that it was ‘a matter of time’ before my house was hit.

And so it proved to be. I was woken one night around two o clock to the smell of cigarette smoke wafting up from downstairs. Unusual, since I’d recently given up smoking in the house. A moment’s thought and the sound of voices downstairs made me realise that there were intruders in the place. Now it was a smallish house, two bedrooms upstairs, a small hall with a tiny front room off it leading into a larger sitting room/dining room area with a narrow kitchenette leading off it. A back yard beyond was surrounded by high wall with that most inviting of decorative features, razor wire (installed by a previous landlord). I was fairly sure whoever had come in had made it through the front door, so in a way it became a simple issue of trying to get these people out.

I got up, turned on the stereo upstairs, made some noise, walked around, waited ten minutes (no Nally me, but then no single barrel shotgun either) before gingerly going downstairs to suss out the situation. No sign of the intruders, but a puddle on the floor of the kitchenette (a rainy night, nothing more), a couple of bags taken, a shelf of CDs too and the stereo and TV on the floor where they had clearly being trying to untangle the entangled electric cables before making off with them.

The door had been opened, in the absence of the Yale lock being set (I’d been away in the Aran Islands the previous weekend and was still in recover – so to speak), by a small triangle of clear plastic which they’d enterprisingly used to mess around with the other lock.

The physical losses? Perhaps forty or fifty punts, some CDs (some of which I’ve yet to recover – anyone with Disco Inferno’s 1994 EP ‘The Last Dance’ email me – cheers) and that was about it.

Postscript one: the next day, after calling the Gardai, who arrived and were suitably sympathetic and suitably realistic about catching these guys, I was out on the street outside the house when two guys in their early 20s passed by. One said, ‘Got 50 pence? Ah, no you don’t cos everything was cleared out last night’. Bizarrely one was carrying a copy of Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh. So clearly a busy night for them.

Postscript two: A week later my housemate was in the kitchen rummaging through the cutlery, and asked ‘Where’s the carving knife?’. It was gone, as with the puddle. Obviously their first port of call was to procure a weapon in case I came down suddenly.

It’s a great little story, isn’t it, with a nice sting in the tail. Except for:

Postscript three: It took, and I kid you not, years to sleep well again in that house. Fitful sleep, bad dreams or nightmares – call them what you will, sudden waking, anxious reaction to small sounds. Even today I still go through phases where the after effects of that night recur. Not often, but too often for comfort – hence I have more than some sympathy for Padraig Nally’s state of mind.

So I fully understand what it is like to have ones living space violated, to see that violation carried out with a significant level of threat and to then have to accept that this threat is constant.

However, what’s the solution? Lock the door properly was obviously the first and most important one (although a later resident awoke to find people trying to get in across a sloping roof to the upstairs back bedroom some years later – the razor wire providing an insufficient level of deterrant). Had I my own weapon would that have made me significantly safer? I tend to doubt it. I was at a disadvantage one way or another as I came downstairs, if they were still there, with any sort of a weapon, they were in a position to see me before I could see them. But above and beyond that what level of force would I exercise in defence of my property? Well, taking the Nally route, shooting someone – twice? Perhaps, dependent upon the level of threat. I’d certainly have had no qualms in the context of someone attacking me outright.

But there is a broader point. I live in the inner city beside a location where there has been unending physical and noise disruption for the past six years. Due to this local residents – myself included in one instance – have on occasion been the beneficiaries of compensation payments from various commercial and semi-state organisations. I don’t begrudge anyone that compensation, nor do I think it entirely unwarranted. Yet, I can’t help thinking that in the context of living in the largest urban centre on this island some level of discomfort is both inevitable and to be expected and that in certain instances the compensation has been wildly disproportionate to the distress caused.

According to the media the perception of crime is on an upward curve, indeed Pat Leahy, Political Correspondant of the Sunday Business Post, has an excellent article on just this matter, and concludes that the evidence is that in the context of considerable population growth crime is in actual fact dipping slightly, that the funding for the Gardai has been effectively doubled over four years and that we have significantly increased numbers of Gardai. So why this misperception? Why did Nally live in fear of his life? Could it be that we live in a society which finds it far easier to enjoy vicariously the idea that this state is but one step away from the anarchy of the American frontier, than the rather sedate (in European terms) levels that we endure?

In 1995 there were 43 homicides, in 2005 58 homicides during a period where the population increased by half a million. The concentration of murders has been in part due to an upswing in gangland violence, in 1996 8 incidents, in 2006 24 so far this year. This clearly is a significant issue, and one which greater resources should be targeted towards. However, in overall terms crime has remained relatively constant in the ten years with 102,000 approx recorded in 1995 and 101,000 approx recorded in 2005. This during a period where recording of crimes has improved. There are of course caveats, unrecorded crime is like an iceberg, it is literally unknowable, and it seems counter-intuitive that recorded crime should drop during a population increase. Yet, it’s important to note that this has also accompanied a time of rapid economic expansion and prosperity, which is widely recognised as having a positive impact on crime figures.

So what am I saying? Nothing hugely original, although as I say it was refreshing that the Sunday Business Post was so honest about the situation. Without being cold about it, crime is a feature of contemporary society. It’s difficult to impossible to envisage that this will alter radically in the near future.

There is a utopian strain in human thinking which sometimes seems to believe that all pain can be eradicated from life. I don’t believe that for a moment whether those who propose this are of left or right. And perhaps the price that is paid for living in complex societies, is one where instances like that which happened to me – and has left some degree of a lasting impression – are simply inevitable. That’s not to argue for complacency either.

A media which, as the media does, relies upon exaggerating fear of crime out of all proportion to reality – and not just crime, we see the same pattern in almost every aspect of life, from health, education, food and so on – serves us poorly. These are real and terrible crimes that are committed, and resources targeted against specific areas are necessary (albeit in the context that significant resources have already been given to the Gardai). But there is another factor as well. Perhaps it’s my ideological approach, but I find the hypocrisy of some of those engaged in discussing these issues often risible. Having worked in areas related closely to the media the reality is that that and other areas of this society are awash with drugs. While ideally I would take a libertarian approach to drug usage, the prevailing reality is that those using them are locked directly into a process which ends at the death of an innocent plumber as ‘collateral’ damage in a gang war. And therefore, for what it’s worth, I think drug usage in this society in this point in time to be reprehensible. Unfortunately what I think is irrelevant, and consumption is unlikely to decrease.

And this is where these supposedly disparate issues link. The shooting in Mayo is difficult to entirely understand outside the context of a society where physical danger to individuals in relation to crime is exaggerated. Gangland murders are difficult to understand except in the context of a society where illegal drug consumption is considered tolerable by significant elite or semi-elite sectors within that society. So yet again we have another area of contemporary life where profit from human misery in all these areas takes precedence and a Pharisaic approach on the part of the media, the general public and others remains the standard.

Milton Friedman, the Austrian School, Chile and the delusions of ideology November 24, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Libertarianism, Marxism.
7 comments

Poor old Milton Friedman, barely shuffled off his mortal coil and already they’re out in packs to pull him off his philosophical perch.

I actually rather like Friedman, but I prefer Hayek, and my real favourite on that end of the political spectrum was the ever enthusiastic and entertaining Murray Rothbard. Read his thoughts on the US involvement in Vietnam and tell me again that he wasn’t a radical in any sense of the word…

Still, I can’t entirely blame Friedman or the Austrian School (well more precisely the Chicago School) for falling in part for Pinochet’s rather dubious charms. It’s the old problem with ideology. It tends to hoover up enthusiasm and credulity in equal measure. I’m sure they thought all their Christmases had come together when they got the call to fly south to the balmy climes of Chile and chat with the General’s more intelligent associates.

A country to play with. Real live working institutions to dismember and reconstitute. A state which appeared willing to try out radical experimentation…and all in the name of that most nebulous of concepts – economic freedom.

I’d have been excited, and darn it all I’m just a libertarian socialist (or is it a social democratic liberal – so difficult to tell these days).

That the Chicago School made much less of an impact in Chile than was hoped for, despite the current revisionism which seeks to portray the current reasonably strong economy as the result of all their hard work in the 1970s (a likely story if ever I heard one) is neither here nor there.

Their radical enthusiasms were of a piece with generation of leftists who also travelled to the America’s and found common cause with various revolutions there. In essence everyone likes to think their ideology will improve the world, or at least a part of it. And whether that means you’re picked up at one airport by a chauffeur driven car and taken to an economic research institute, well at the end of the day people tend to sleep fairly decently whatever the noises off…

I don’t want to get into a sterile argument comparing Castro or Pinochet, their respective worth, their impact, the differing ‘freedoms’ that they promoted. I don’t know if I know enough, or will ever know enough to make a real judgement about it one way or another. Perhaps if I were living in Havana today I’d be cursing the fact the President for Life is still in situ. Or perhaps Castro, for all the paternalism did his people ‘no small service’. And no doubt there are those in Santiago with similar thoughts…

But to my mind if one wants to see the real, the very real, dangers of ideology untrammeled by consideration of genuine human need we can do little better than consider how innately decent people such as Friedman (and I think also of Marx), who thought long and hard about the nature of freedom and the necessity for new ways of organising society, even if the conclusions are not much to my liking, could lend intellectual support – even at arms length and indirectly – to actions which would cast a long shadow over any reputation.

Ayn Rand’s Diary – part 2 August 9, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Libertarianism, Other Stuff.
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(For part 1, see here …)
Tuesday 18 July

12st 13(!!!!), alcohol units 2 (v.v.g.), cigarettes 24 (as planned), inevitable consequence of the collectivist mentality – slavery

10:40 am: Mmmmm. Things might be looking up on the romance front – the drought may just be about to lift. Best not to get hopes up too early though.

Late into work again this morning, still suffering from last night’s festivities, when I tripped rushing into the lift and almost spilled my Starbuck’s skinny latte all over Freddy, that new chap who’s just started in accounts. Luckily, he grabbed my arm as I fell, although the contents of my handbag fell out all over the floor and onto the new issue of Heat, which I’d just picked up (picture of Orlando Bloom on the cover – yum!).

Obviously a gentleman (and virtuous – a man who has created his wealth through his own productive will. I could just tell) Freddy helped me gather my bits and bobs, half-cocking his eyebrow at my blue-haired troll key-ring. I think he might have smiled at me as he got off, but I was desperately trying to hide my face and my shame behind my hair.

Oh God, I thought I was scurried up to my desk, hoping that evil boss wouldn’t see me. I’ve made a total ruddy idiot of myself. Stupid, Ayn, so stupid! Maybe I could keep my head down and avoid him for the next … well … thirty years or so. I just wanted to curl up and die, right there and then, until I realized, of course, that I can and understand and control my own behaviour as well as I can understand and control the behaviour of crop plants and domestic animals. In this, I am justified in believing that I have become civilized.

Imagine my surprise when, a short while later, the following popped up on the computer screen in front of me:

message hayek

notwithstanding the moral axiom that the state has no right to impose itself on private relations between rational adults, that skirt you’ve got on today could cause someone to commit a crime

fred

I couldn’t believe it! Maybe he didn’t think I was a complete idiot. And he was utterly fit (with no ring on his finger, so maybe …). But what am I going to reply to him? I’m terrible at this kind of thing.

message rand
all individuals must, as an imperative, be considered rational, independent beings. i do not believe that anyone, least of all the state, should play an role in prescribing rules intended to regulate discourse between autonomous persons. if I did, however, i might consider that your last message could be construed as sexual harassment, you dirty pig!

ayn

There. Nice and playful. Hopefully he’ll like that. Within seconds, he’d replied.

message hayek

come, come, you little minx. can’t i interest you in starting up a little collective – just the two of us? bring a toothbrush.

fred

message rand

ugh. can’t think of anything more frightful! anyway, don’t have time to stay here chit-chatting. am very busy and important, and can’t afford to let you lead me down the road to serfdom

ayn

message hayek

roflmao!!! ‘road to serfdom’ – love it! must remember that one. talk to u later, u doe-eyed temptress!

fred

What does “roflmao” mean?

10:45am: Looked up “roflmao” on Google. I think it’s a good thing, although why does he have to be so crude? I hope he’s being playful. Does he really think I’m a “temptress”? I bet I’ve scared him off. He probably thinks I was being serious. Typical bloody me! Maybe he’ll mail me again.

12:50pm: Nothing from Fred yet. Maybe he’s busy and will send something over lunchtime.

2:00pm: Still nothing.

5:30pm: Nothing all day. Sod it – I’m going home.

No greater joy in heaven than when a sinner repenteth… July 21, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Environmentalism, Greens, Libertarianism, Uncategorized.
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Reading the latest issue of Scientific American I was drawn to the monthly column by Michael Shermer [here] where he describes ‘how the evidence for anthropogenic global warming has converged to cause this environmental skeptic to make a cognitive flip’…

Now there’s a change of heart.

Shermer is a colourful character and always writes compelling material [wiki bio]. He is a former right-libertarian and Ayn Rand follower (and author of an entertaining ‘from the inside’ critique of Objectivism [here]), and almost incredibly, was a born-again Christian during his high-school and early college years.

What’s interesting, perhaps even important, about Shermer changing his mind, is not so much the way the evidence has convincingly stacked up over the past fifteen or twenty years in favour of human exacerbated global warming, but that he, a skeptical rationalist has come so late to the party, and the reasons for his change of heart. Indeed it dovetails nicely with the points smiffy raises about relativism in Cultural Suicide – not always painless.
He notes that in 2001 he organised a debate with Bjorn Lomborg, of the Skeptical Environmentalist fame, and talking to environmentalist organisations was told none wished to participate. He went ahead with the debate and clearly remained within the Lomberg camp.

Yet what is most pertinent is the way in which stereotypical views of environmental activism prevented the data from trumping the politics, as it were, for Shermer for so long. He cites ‘activists who vandalise Hummer dealerships and destroy logging equipment’. And fair enough, I’ll always buy into a proper state led strategy to tackle environmental damage head-on over often futile gestural activism. But even so, there’s something disproportionate about citing such petty instances in the overall context of the problem of global warming.

In any case, by 2001 pretty much the entire scientific world was convinced of the data. And while it is good that a sceptic would remain sceptical of everything, there is a certain perversity to aligning with views which the best contemporaneous science had fairly comprehensively demolished. Even Lomborg, acknowledges that climate change exists to some degree, but posits that it’s only one of an array of problems and that there are better ways of spending our money, which is a clever way to intellectually evade the issue.

But, in fairness, prejudice is a thin wall to construct in the face of climatology and as Shermer notes, ‘nevertheless, data trump politics’. The intervention of the Evangelical Climate Initiative (backed by 86 leading US evangelicals) calling for carbon emission reductions, was one event that caught his attention. But it was the Technology, Entertainment, Design conference in Monterey where he saw Al Gores ‘[deliver] the finest summation of the evidence for global warming I have ever heard’. The before and after photographs of shrinking glaciers also managed to help him on his damascene conversion.

Shermer isn’t hugely confident about the future. He notes that global temperatures are likely, even in the event of reduced emission, to rise by up to 9 degrees by 2100 – a scenario that could result in the demise of the Greenland ice sheet and the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet. Now if that happens we’re in for a really rough ride and perhaps the Dáil Commission will be proven correct [here], because likely sea level rises would be up to 10 metres.

As he says, ‘Because of the complexity of the problem, environmental skepticism was once tenable. No longer, it is time to flip from skepticism to activism’.

For all his quirks, or perhaps because of them, Shermer is an interesting and thoughtful correspondant placed well within the scientific camp. His former scepticism may well be of use in pursuading those who can make policy of the necessity to do so. It will be interesting to see what he proposes by way of such activism.

Ayn Rand’s Diary (with apologies to Helen Fielding) July 4, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Libertarianism, Other Stuff.
3 comments

Monday, 17 July

12st 10, alcohol units 12 (groan!), cigarettes 12 (no better way to exemplify man’s Promethean dominance over raw, brute, nature. In fact, I vow that I will smoke twice as many tomorrow)

Spent the evening over at smug marrieds Nathaniel and Barbara Brandon’s, for a dinner party along with the rest of the ‘Collective’ (ugh! who came up with that name?).  I have to admit, despite the fact that Barbara cannot be considered a truly moral person, given that she does not earn money through creative endeavour, she certainly knows how to cook up a delicious pot roast, not to mention that lemon meringue pie of hers for pudding.

Although the evening was supposed to be a celebration of the anniversay of the death of quasi-Marxist Adam Smith, Leonard Peikoff decided that he was going to spend the entire time talking about himself (AGAIN!!!!).  Honestly, I can’t believe that I snogged him last New Year’s Eve. Still I won’t be making that mistake again, and I won’t be getting that drunk again in a hurry (she said – LOL!).

Greenspan surprised us all, with the announcement that he had been in a “serious” relationship for the past month.  That’s not like him at all – usually his little pick-ups are sent out the door before the sun comes up – so we were all rather intrigued, and pressed him for the goss’. While he clearly didn’t want to tell us, and became beetroot red with the embarrassment (reminder – write a pamphlet on why embarrassment in unworthy of the TRUE American), eventually he stammered:

‘His name is Robert. He’s an economist in the Department of Labour, and I think I’m in love with him’

You can imagine how shocked we all were. No, horrified and disgusted is probably a more accurate description of our feelings.  No one knew what to say (not even Peikoff – for a change!!!!), until I broke the silence.

‘A Keynesian, Greenspan? Have you gone completely mad? Why can’t you find yourself a real man? An industrialist, a banker or a businessman? Someone who embodies the highest virtues: productive genius, energy, initiative, independence and courage. This … this ‘functionary’ you’ve latched yourself onto is nothing more than a cog in the obscene machinery of the state, created with no other purpose than to crush human spirit and freedom and transform true men into mindless automatons.  Mark this well, Greenspan: there’s nothing worse than a Keynesian, not even a Red!’

I could tell I’d upset him. He was shivering with rage, and tears were welling up in his eyes.

‘I don’t care! I don’t care, even if he is a Red’, Greenspan squealed, ‘as long as he’s Pink in the middle!’.

He broke down sobbing, and rushed out of the room.  I started to say something, but the look on Peikoff’s face told me I mightn’t be a very good idea.  A lesser person, a serf, say, or a European, could easily have felt guilt at this point.  Luckily I’m a fully moral and independent person, and have learned (from the marvellous ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ – definitely a must for any discerning Objectivist) to “own” my own feelings, so I knew better.

The rest of the night passed tolerably, even if Greenspan’s girlish tears did put a bit of a dampener on the celebrations.  I patched things up with him, and we agreed not to mention his unspeakable flirtation with collectivism again.  Barbara Brandon brought out a tray of Pina Coladas, and we all had a bit too much to drink.  I think Nathaniel might have a bit of a crush on me (sweet, but double-ugh!!! He’s far too young for me!!!!!!). He kept staring at me during my party piece, where I stand on the kitchen table and belt out that old Objectivist disco anthem ‘I Will Survive’.  Barbara certainly wasn’t pleased.  I overheard the two of them arguing in the kitchen later on, although my name wasn’t specifically mentioned (that might have made things awkward – just a little!!!!!!). Ha! Maybe the smug marrieds aren’t as smugly happy as they make out they are.  Serves them right for not realising that true happiness comes from the state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement  of one’s values. Idiots!

Managed to make it home somehow, and passed out on the sofa. Before falling asleep, it occurred to me that to say “I love you” one must first be able to say “I”.  However, I can say “I”, so why can’t I (or even “I”) find a boyfriend? Is it because my bum is so big?

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