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Jay P

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  1. To the question about reading Rand's non-fiction first, before her fiction: It's much less common than reading her fiction first. However, I too started with her non-fiction when I first discovered Ayn Rand in 1975. Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal happened to be the first book of hers that I found. At that time I didn't even know she'd written any fiction, but other people (who were not Objectivists, but who had heard of Ayn Rand) saw me reading her books and strongly urged me to read her fiction. I hadn't thought of it before but yes, I think that reading the non-fiction first did give me some better understanding of the philosophical principles she was demonstrating in Atlas Shrugged. Since motivation is so important, I think it's best to study Objectivism according to your interests. In my case, I had always been very interested in Capitalism, so Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal was best for me to start with. Having always been accused in my life of being "selfish" because I pursued my own interests, the next one to read was of course The Virtue of Selfishness. After reading those two books, I knew I'd found an absolutely unique writer whose ideas would profoundly influence me. Before reading Rand, I had read much economics, but nobody who had ever presented a moral defense of capitalism. This, I saw, is what is needed. And before reading Rand, I had never, ever, heard of anybody challenging altruism on any serious grounds. Interestingly, incredible as it sounds today, I sort of resisted reading her fiction at first. Even though I already knew she was a genius, I was afraid that her fiction would somehow not measure up to the brilliant insights of her non-fiction. I was actually afraid I'd be disappointed(!) That's probably because I'd been disappointed earlier in life by so much modern fiction that I'd had to read. But, then I read Atlas Shrugged. And I will say that if you haven't started reading it yet, you are in for a real treat of a lifetime. The book is so well integrated, the characters are so memorable and the ideas so well dramatized that I can practically pick up the book, start reading just about anywhere, and be absorbed for the next two hours. (And I have favorite scenes in both Atlas and The Fountainhead that I can read any time, enjoy them, and come away feeling refreshed.) Good reading!
  2. If by "atheist" is meant: one who has no belief in God, then I've always been an atheist. I grew up in a mostly secular environment, and the first I ever even heard that there were people who believed in something called God was probably when I was about 5 years old. I can remember thinking at a very young age that it was incredible that adults actually believed in such a thing. (I also knew that some people thought 13 and black cats were unlucky, and I put religion into the same category.) Growing up, religion wasn't an issue at all, since all of my friends were either not religious, or else didn't talk about it. And I was always very interested in science, and the idea of a mystical creator didn't fit with what I knew about the world. I couldn't have believed in God if I'd tried, because I would have been unable to integrate that belief with my increasing scientific knowledge. I also always had a good deal of resistance to Christianity on an ethical level. I could see that it was a set of beliefs that was used to take money from productive people and give it to "unfortunate" others who were supposedly more deserving. Guilt inducing. And I wanted no part of that. I also always wanted to very much be in control of my life. This was in conflict with what I heard from various born-again Christians about having God in control of one's life. So the whole religion package never had any attraction for me at all. To this day, it still seems strange that adults actually believe some God exists. I know some do, and I know that rejecting such a belief is difficult for some and can in fact be a tremendous achievement that takes a lot of courage. When I started reading Ayn Rand (I read her non-fiction first) I was quite happy to discover that she was an atheist. Here, finally, was somebody who was morally defending capitalism, which I've loved ever since I can remember, without using religion.
  3. The claim that libertarians "worship Arafat as a freedom fighter" is no exaggeration at all. Anybody who thinks that it is should buy a copy of Libertarianism - The Perversion of Liberty by Peter Schwartz and read it. That collection of essays is full of example quotes of prominent libertarians supporting the PLO. And worse. And these quotes are footnoted, so you can see for yourself who said them and go find the original sources if you want to. For example, one libertarian group was claiming that it was "the fighting men and women of the PLO [who] are placing their lives on the line for the liberation of their people from the Israeli yoke...", and later claims that the PLO was "the overwhelming choice of the Palestinian people in their fight for justice and property rights".[1] He also documents libertarian assertions that the United States government was more evil than that of the Soviet Union. (I remember this myself, having read a long essay to that effect in the Libertarian Party newsletter, which also contained a demand that the United States dismantle all of its ICBM's. This was a resolution of the governing body of the Libertarian Party.) Schwartz's essays are must reading for anybody who wonders about the Libertarian Party and movement. Particularly anybody who admires Objectivism, but who wonders if maybe Ayn Rand or other Objectivsts were somehow "unfair" to the libertarians, should read the essays. [1] Schwartz quotes this from an article entitled "Draft Program of the LP Radical Caucus".
  4. I recommend these two books about successful businessmen: The first is American Steel by Richard Preston. This is the story of Nucor Corporation (which is today one of the largest American steel producers), and the late Kenneth Iverson, the man who made the decisions and took the risks that led to the company's success. Iverson became Nucor's CEO when it was a small company that didn't even make steel. He decided to go into that business, and gradually expanded the company, building one new steel mill after another. Under Iverson's leadership, Nucor pioneered the use of some new technologies, such as continuous strip casting (which is emphasized in this book). Kenneth Iverson was a man who loved his business, loved making steel, and put in the hard work to succeed. He had no use for bureaucracies. (I found parts of this book to have a style that's rather flippant - doesn't treat the subject with the respect that it deserves - but the book is worth reading to learn the story of Iverson and how he built his business.) (Some time in the past I know I heard a tape of Iverson being interviewed by an Objectivist. Perhaps it is still available from the ARI Bookstore.) The second book is Everybody Wins! - A Life in Free Enterprise, by Gordon Cain. This is an autobiography of a man who started out as a Chemical Engineer and ended up managing, buying and restructuring petrochemical companies. He lived a life full of business adventure, and is good at telling the story. He evidently had a strong effect on management practices in his industry. He lived a life which sometimes took unanticipated turns, and in which he was ready to seize unforeseen opportunities. Cain also is very enthusiastic about capitalism. His book is both about the petrochemical industry in particular, and also about the financial side of the business. The latter is often overlooked. Cain shows how a good manager creates value by the work he does, and he helps show some of the motivating factors that can be behind a business reorganization. His book is the story of a happy success that was well deserved.
  5. Thank you for posting that link. It sure is worth reading! Kudirka was not only very courageous, but his words show that he also had a good understanding of the fact that the Soviet Union was evil, some reasons why it was evil, and the fact that his trial was a rigged show-trial. In particular, I'm impressed how his observations led him to conclude that what he was seeing in Lithuania was not consistent with the propaganda he was hearing. For example, he understood the implication of the fact that his trial was not open to the public, and was attended by KGB thugs and also guards who couldn't understand the language. He understood that it would have been open if the charges of "treason" had any merit, and wider than that: he had a good grasp of what the government of a free country would be like. Grasping these facts and their implications requires very independent thinking if all one has been exposed to is a slave state. Notice how all during the trial, he was always ready to name the issue at hand. Even though he had reason to believe he faced death, he was not afraid to clearly state the nature of the injustice he was facing. ...... Courageously naming the issue and refusing to accept the legitimacy of his persecutors remind me of Rearden's actions at his trial in Atlas Shrugged. And I think that if we saw this kind of righteously informed courage at, for instance, anti-trust trials in America today, it would have a very positive effect on the culture.
  6. Yes, I think Roark was right. By the end of the novel, it was too late for Peter Keating. Mistakes have costs; otherwise, there would be no harm in making them. Even when they are made innocently, they have a detrimental effect on one's life. For instance, suppose a good man (a first-hander) chooses the wrong career and spends 25 years pursuing it. Or maybe he chose the wrong philosophy and now realizes it. Or married the wrong person. He finally comes to the realization that he's made a mistake. For him, it is probably not too late, but it will take a great deal of courage, soul-searching (introspection) and effort to correct his mistake. To walk away from 25 years of being on the wrong path. Perhaps give up ideas that he now sees are wrong, but that used to be a big part of his life. He will have to abandon things he has worked for in the past, but that he now sees do not serve his life and happiness. The key to his survival will be his independent thinking. He'll need to do a lot of it. But in Keating's case, the problem is compounded by the fact that none of his mistakes were made innocently. He gave up his values, which he had barely caught a look at, one by one. Volitionally, and with evasion. He sold his precious life very cheaply: to please his mother; to impress incompetent fools; to gain fame and fortune which, when they were his, he had no way of enjoying. What would it mean for him to start over? He would have to, first of all, understand what he had done wrong. And he would have to approach the problem as a first-hander, completely ignoring what other people were telling him. But the problem is, Keating is a second-hander. So he not only has to toss out false values, but he has to learn from the start how to think for himself. It doesn't come naturally to him. (What I mean here is that he has not automatized any healthy thinking habits.) He has spent a lifetime pleasing crowds. That's all he knows how to do. If he is going to change, he needs to go against everything (almost!) that he has ever done. For instance, he'll have tremendous "peer pressure" to stay the course in his architectural pseudo-career. Peter Keating has developed a lifetime of habits that will lead him to cave in to this pressure. What will inspire him if he decides to change and pursue his long lost love of art? The problem is: his art is only a faint potentiality at this time; he has no achievements in it to remind himself what he's capable of. In fact, every time he contemplates art, it will be a source of depressing feelings, because he will constantly be reminded in his own mind of how he ditched this value of his. ...... When was the point of no return for Keating? Was there a time he could have, with excruciating effort, turned around? Yes. I think the point of no return came when he abandoned Katherine Halsey and married Dominique. At that time in the story, he has given up many values, but he still has one. Katie. She is the one value he clings to and has managed to not betray. He doesn't understand the issue fully, but we are shown time and again that he knows he has done bad things in his life, but that he wants to keep Katie and his love for her somehow separate and unsullied from his role in life as a manipulator and sycophant. I think he sees Katie as his refuge from an evil world. What she in fact is, is his refuge from the treason he has committed to himself. Every time I read this sequence, I'm always thinking to myself, when Dominique shows up at his door "Peter, don't do it!". If he had had enough strength of character to slam the door in her face and then marry Katie, there would have been some hope for him. Only a little, but some. Of course this action would have been completely inconsistent with the Peter Keating we've met. The choice could not have been clearer to him, and yet he betrays his last remaining value, almost automatically. At that point, the man is finished. Values are not to be surrendered with impunity.
  7. I am truly sorry to hear about James Sedgwick. During the time I was an OSG member, he was consistently one of the top three or four contributors to that forum, in terms of the value he added by his writings, which were written with benevolence and wisdom and showed a love for Objectivism. He understood Objectivism well, and was able to explain its ideas to novices, and also frequently suggested new ways of looking at problems. He always also sounded like he'd done a great deal of reflecting on the times he had lived through, and the philosophical significance of the cultural events he had seen. (For example, he would be the sort of person who could make an insightful comment contrasting America of the 1940's, 1960's, and today.)
  8. An excellent source of advice on romantic relationships (and problems that arise in them) is Dr. Ellen Kenner, who is an Objectivist psychologist who has a weekly radio show you can listen to over the internet. Her web site (www.drkenner.com) has information on how to listen. Dr. Kenner answers questions called in live, as well as questions sent to her via email. She gets questions relating to many problems, but probably the largest category is romantic relationships. I've listened to her for several years now: she's a good speaker, knows her field, and treats other people with benevolence. I particularly like how she is able to name the essential issue when somebody asks her advice. If I wanted professional psychological advice, particularly relating to romantic relationships, she's the person I'd ask.
  9. In the April and June 1983 issues of The Objectivist Forum ("TOF"), there is a panel discussion with three Objectivist Attorneys (Robert Getman, Arline Mann and Charles Sures), moderated by Harry Binswanger. One of the items they discussed is why they chose the practice of law and what they like about it. (TOF is probably still available from the Ayn Rand Bookstore in bound form. It's definitely worth having.) There was and maybe still is an organization of some Objectivist attorneys, called The Association for Objective Law ("TAFOL"). They used to publish a newsletter which applied Objectivism to current legal issues. All of this leads me (a non-lawyer) to believe that the practice of law is something that an Objectivist could find rewarding today. If the field was so corrupted that one was constantly required to compromise his principles, I do not think there would be Objectivist attorneys. I've always thought that the best motivation to go into the field of law would be a love of justice.
  10. I'm having a tough time understanding how anybody could think that it's hard to make a distinction between Robert Stadler, one of Ayn Rand's most despicable villains, and Howard Roark. Stadler doesn't just have "disdain" for people, he sees other people as being not good enough for anything but living as slaves to support those who he sees as the "better people", such as himself. Stadler doesn't think he should have to earn anything. He thinks that his superior scientific knowledge entitles him to take whatever wealth he wants from people who have earned it. Even when he knows that his knowledge is being used to develop a weapon to enforce tyranny, he does nothing to stop it (and he has plenty of opportunities to do so). He doesn't care about the evil he's supporting and making possible. This is a person with a deep-seated hatred of man. How does that even begin to compare with Howard Roark? It is true that Roark is a man who is completely indifferent to many men: mediocrities such as Peter Keating and Guy Francon. He doesn't care about them, but he has no desire to control them or live at their expense. But far from being "aloof", he is a passionate valuer of the best in men. To see this, re-read the scenes in which he meets Mike Donnigan (the electrician), Henry Cameron, and Steven Mallory. (These scenes are some of my favorites in the book; I'll sometimes re-read them when I want some inspiration, and examples of the best in Man.) Also, follow the development of Roark's friendship with Austen Heller. Consider how the lives of each of these men were enriched by knowing Howard Roark. His relationships with these men show, in fact, how naturally, easily and benevolently Roark deals with other people. Also notice how much the occupants of Roark's buildings come to appreciate them and how the man who "wanted to have clients in order to build" has in fact constructed buildings that made the lives of the occupants so much easier. Think, for example, of what a relaxing vacation a man will have who stays at Roark's Monadnock resort - and all because Roark was thinking of what people really need when they go on vacation. Roark isn't a gregarious party-hound. And he doesn't seek out the company of incompetent or mediocre people who have nothing of value to offer him. But this does not imply that he has any kind of misanthropic streak. Rather, it is confirmation that he seeks the best in other men, as he does in his work.
  11. I don't have any "litmus test" questions for new acquanitances. I have found that people are too compartmentalized for this to work well. That is, there are people who I've found I can be friends with who disagree with me on some significant question. If I were to have a litmus test, I suppose the Elian Gonzales case would be a good one, but I have to admit that I have a friend (who's not an Objectivist) who agrees with the government on this. Advocating sending an innocent person back to a slave state like Cuba is a very bad thing, but I nevertheless find that I share quite a few significant values with this friend, so our disagreement on this has not ended our friendship. A problem is that an Objectivist could come up with a whole list of "litmus test" questions. Abortion would be a good one. Or one could pick some environmentalist position that's obviously very destructive of human values and use it as a litmus test. If I asked an acquanitance all of these questions, I'd end up not associating with anybody but other Objectivists. So, how do you decide which question should be used as a litmus test? Why would it be OK for an Objectivist to associate with an anti-abortionist, but not OK to associate with somebody who thought it was OK for Elian to get sent back to Cuba? Or why would it be OK to associate with an environmentalist who advocates the sacrifice of Man to the bugs and weeds, but not OK to associate with an anti-abortionist? Does it just come down to personal preference? (That is, there might be one particular bad position that especially disgusts you.) I think that the best way to choose friends or others with whom one can comfortably deal, is to look for the values in the other person. What about him is good? ... (As for the Waco incident, I would never use that as a litmus test, since I know Objectivists on both sides of the question of whether the government acted appropriately. And I'm sure the people I'm thinking of are not libertarians.)
  12. The fire in the two World Trade Center towers was much more than hot enough to very substantially weaken the structural steel. Steel loses its strength rapidly as temperature rises, and remember, those planes were fully of kerosene (i.e., jet fuel) when the terrorists crashed them. How hot was the fire? I've heard numbers well in excess of 2000F. A few data on the high-temperature strength of structural steel: - At about 1300F, it has lost over 75% of its room-temperature strength, and its strength drops very rapidly after that. (This document has a graph that shows this: document) So 1300F would be enough to seriously weaken the buildings' structure, and the fire was much hotter than that. - Steel is commonly hot-rolled when it's made in the steel mill at temperatures as low as about 2100F. That means that it has almost no strength at that temperature; that's the temperature at which it is soft enough so that huge slabs can be squashed into shape in a steel mill. So structural steel is just about absolutely worthless once it reaches temperatures above 2000F. (See The Making, Shaping and Treating of Steel for an in-depth discussion of both the behavior of steel at high temperatures, and the use of high temperatures in processes to form steel.) The reason the buildings stood for as long as they did was that whatever insulation there was on the steel structural members slowed down the temperature rise somewhat. If you want to do some further research, you could search the internet for information on: - High temperature strength of ordinary structural steels. - The combustion temperature of kerosene. - Specific information on the temperature that the WTC was subjected to in its destruction by the terrorists. That should be enough to put these conspiracy theories to rest.
  13. I just re-read the forum rules, and I do not think they need to be amended. I think they already contain the justification that would be needed to kick out people I've recently seen on this forum who do not belong here. I would prefer to see them more strictly enforced, however. For instance, if somebody is persistently arguing for a position like libertarianism or anarchism, he is clearly in violation of the rules and should be summarily removed. I realize however that the moderators are probably unpaid and have other things to do, so I do not expect that they will always act as soon as I or somebody else thinks action would be justified. There is much of value in this forum - lots of topics are filled with worthwhile commentary by people who understand Objectivism well, or who are honestly trying to learn more about it. The main danger of the moderators acting too leniently to remove "loose cannons" is that the forum's quality will decline and it will eventually develop a Gresham's Law problem: bad discourse will drive out good. Worthwhile people wil get so tired of reading posts by those hostile to Objectivism that they will cease to participate. .... It would be better if some of the rules could be somehow displayed more prominently, because it's clear that some people are not following them. In particular: - The rules call for good grammar and spelling to be used. Yet there have been quite a few people who consistently post writing that is full of misspelled words, and sentences that cannot even be parsed. - The rules request that one look over already existing topics before starting a new one. And yet there are plenty of topics here that just repeat what has already been asked and answered. In other words, if you have a question about X, look around and see if there's an existing topic that deals with X. Maybe your question has already been answered. Or maybe you'll be able to formulate a better question by thinking about what's already been written. Or maybe if you post your new question as a reply to an existing topic about X, the discussion would benefit from the context that has already been established by the previous replies.
  14. I recommend the novels of Kay Nolte Smith. I don't know if she was an Objectivist or not, but I believe she wrote a few articles for one of the Objectivist publications. Her novels have well-developed characters - very memorable heroes - people I'd want to meet in real life. Her novels have interesting plots, with many surprising turns in the action (i.e., the plot doesn't proceed as one might have thought it would). I always thought her writing showed clearly the influence of Ayn Rand and Objectivism. The titles, together with dates of publication are: The Watcher (1980) Catching Fire (1982) Mindspell (1983) Elegy for a Soprano (1985) Country of the Heart (1987) A Tale of the Wind (1991) Venetian Song (1994)
  15. I have never read The March of Folly, but I read her The Guns of August, which is about the beginning of World War I, and liked it. So I'll say something about it. The Guns of August is written in a dramatic style - one could almost imagine a movie being made from some chapters. For example, it's almost as if one were there at the battle of Tannenberg. The generals and politicians are painted as men who have to make life-or-death decisions with limited context. Larger-than-life characters, though often not admirable ones. It's easy to read, and I always recommend it to anybody who wants to know how World War I came to be. So I like her writing style, and I don't think she left out any important facts. She writes as one who is motivated to make the reader see just how important (and tragic) World War I was. As an Objectivist, I accept the idea that it is ideas that move human history: especially fundamental ideas. Reading The Guns of August, however, one might come away with the notion that it's not ideas, but the personalities of men, that move history: that's how the book is written. This is something I find true often though of history books that I otherwise enjoy. (It probably means we just need more Objectivist writers of books on history....) I also read Tuchman's The Zimmermann Telegram - no complaints about it I can recall, but it's a book much more limited in scope. Though I haven't read it, I can't help wondering why an author would choose a title such as The March of Folly, because I do not think that phrase describes human history at all. Is it possible she's trying to portray man has having "feet of clay"? Or maybe it's just a collection of interesting historical events. I mention this in closing, because The Guns of August is a rather tragic book to read, but I don't fault Tuchman for this: World War I is perhaps the big tragedy of the 20th century: one that foreshadowed (and had a role in bringing on) much of the later suffering of that century. And also, Tuchman does point out the times that the leading men on the spot could have done differently than they did. But in human history in general, a focus on the tragic, or on folly, is not appropriate..
  16. Back to the original question: who's the greater genius, Newton or Einstein? Both men clearly discovered fundamentally important truths about physical reality, which many men were then able to use to create new values. I don't know enough to judge whose ideas are more significant strictly to the field of physics. But from what I know, I think that Einstein made connections that were more diffficult to grasp. His concepts are higher-level and more difficult to think about and concretize. So I rate him as the greater of the two geniuses. I base this on my own experiences and my observations of other people. Much of what is taught in the mechanics portion of high school physics is Newtonian physics.[1] His laws of gravitation and motion are things one can grasp by doing some fairly simple experiments. For instance, we demonstrated the validity of "F = ma" by using roller skate carts, bricks, rubber bands, a meter stick and a stopwatch. All of the concepts needed: force, mass, distance, time, velocity and acceleration can be concretized using these tools which are easy to observe, use and understand. (This is over 30 years ago, but I had a wonderful high school physics teacher!) This is something that a person of average intelligence with an active mind can grasp, because he can see examples of its application in everyday life. Go drive a car or ride a roller coaster, and you can apply Newtonian physics to make sense of what you see and feel. The math required is also not too difficult. To really understand Newtonian mechanics, calculus is good to know, but I learned about the physics before I had any explicit knowledge of calculus - and the resulting physical knowledge was in retrospect pretty good. But Einstein's ideas are much harder to grasp. I don't understand them fully myself, and my experience is that very few people probably do.[2] They're much harder to tie to what one sees every day. For instance, the theory of relativity includes certain propositions about the behavior of light - what its speed will be when measured in different circumstances. How do you concretize this? It's diffuclt, since we experience the speed of light as just being fast, practically instantaneous, so it's harder to do experiments that demonstrate relativity. What about the idea of time dilation and length contraction? That's difficult for me to even think about, and I have no experiences that I can relate it to. Understanding relativity also requires more mathematics, and here again, this is something that's further removed from reality. How in the world did Einstein ever think of all these things?... I keep asking myself. He had to have been comfortable holding these very abstract ideas in his consciousness and thinking about them. One could make the argument that Newton's ideas are more fundamentally important to civilization today, in that there is lots of technology we have today that does not depend for its realization on Einstein's theories. So perhaps in that sense, Newton is the greater man, and more worthy of attention, since the impact of his ideas has so far been greater. So I'll say I think Einstein was the greater genius, in that his ideas are more difficult to grasp and so it was probably harder for him to develop them, but that Newton is more significant in that his ideas have had more impact on civilization. As for Tesla, his achievements are great, but I don't think they compare in fundamental importance to those of either Einstein or Newton. My understanding is that his discoveries and inventions include rotating AC electrical machinery applying the principle of a rotating magnetic field (including the elegantly simple induction motor), polyphase AC electricity and its transmission and generation. These are important inventions which we use every day but I don't think he achieved the success of the other two men in devising a theory that explained and tied together so much of reality. Its scope was not as broad, so I don't think its impact will ever approach that of the ideas of the other two men. ... [1] I don't mean to denigrate Newton's achievements at all. As I understand them, they include - The theory of gravity, including the inverse-square law; the realization that the force that makes apples fall is the same one that keeps planets in orbit. - Much original work on optics. - The law of motion often stated as F = ma, including the idea that matter will remain in straight-line motion unless acted upon by a force, and the idea of conservation of momentum. [2] I don't know if this story is true or not, but what I heard was that somebody once said to Einstein that there only were three people in the whole world who really understood the theory of relativity. Thinking for a few moments, Einstein replied "Who's the third?"
  17. How indeed do we identify which of several men is the greatest genius? The first step is to identify what we mean by genius. The relevant definition in the Oxford English Dictionary begins "Native intellectual power of an exalted type, such as is attributed to those who are esteemed greatest in any department of art, speculation, or practice..." So clearly we're talking about some kind of intellectual prowess, and not some characteristic like beauty. But exactly what kind? To answer that, I ask: what is it that man does with his mind; then in identifying genius, I want to look for this in an extreme form. The essence of human thinking - what sets man apart from other animals - is that he forms and uses concepts. So a genius would be one who is particularly good at this. He can form concepts that other people don't think of. And once he has formed a new concept, he can then more easily think about it - that is: integrate it with other knowledge, project its implications and then form ever higher level concepts. Thinking is work. Hard work at times. In particular, it gets harder the higher level the concepts are with which one is dealing. This is probably because a concept, to be understood, has to be concretized, i.e., on needs to be able to identify the referents of a concept. And this is harder to do as one gets removed further from perceptual reality. As an example, take arithmetic and mathematics. Most people can grasp concepts such as addition and subtraction - they're close to perceptual reality. People can see very easily that 2 + 2 + 4. Multiplication and division are a little harder to visualize. Come to algebra, and we're manipulating abstract symbols. Algebra is still tied to reality (of course!), but it's harder to keep the full conceptual chain, all the way back to perceptual reality, in one's mind. By the time we get to calculus, it's still further removed from perceptual reality, and so it's more difficult to understand. One has to do a lot more thinking to keep concepts such as "derivative", "integral" and "limit" clear and firmly grounded, than is necessary for "addition" and "subtraction". (And if one doesn't keep them firmly tied to reality, they become floating abstractions to him.) In other words, to understand a concept, I need to have a sort of mental picture of what it is. And if it's high-level, this picture cannot simply be a group of physical entities, so it takes more effort to grasp the concept. A genius, then, would be somebody who is like man, but more so. An ideal thinker - one who is very good at doing what man does: forming and using concepts, especially higher-level ones. He's one who, because of the thinking he's done, is better able to concretize these high level concepts. Note also that concepts don't just exist to be contemplated. Man's mind is his tool of survival, and so concepts, properly used, will contribute to the proper life of a rational man - they'll make his life better because they allow him to better deal with reality. What about the "great" in "greater/greatest genius"? A great man is one who is worthy of attention or study; somebody who accomplished something of significance. In the case of any great man, part of the his greatness comes not just from the fact that what he did was difficult and original, but also that it is of importance to Man. The more fundamentally important, the greater the genius. [to be continued....]
  18. Thanks to Bill Bucko for recommending the Jeremiah Curtin translation of Quo Vadis. Fortunately that's the one I happened to pick up at a friends-of-the-library book sale a few years back, so now I have yet another reason motivating me to read it. ...... As to dictionaries, here's another vote for the Oxford English Dictionary. That dictionary is without peer if one wants to trace the origin of a word and see how it was used through the centuries. Look up a word and you'll find it used in quotations, sometimes dating back to the 12th century. The OED is a great human achievement. If you have access to it, take a look some time.
  19. This discussion of ancient Roman and Phoenician civilizations reminds me of a novel related to the subject that I read a few years back: Sophon of Carthage: Heroine of a Holocaust, by Richard Hardy. The book is set in Carthage before and during the third Punic war that ended in the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC. It features lots of historical information and some very memorable characters. The author depicts Carthage as a very wealthy and commercially successful country, but also one steeped in mysticism and one that preferred to buy off and appease its Roman enemies rather than fight a war.
  20. Here's a web page of an Objectivist in the military, who's presently in Iraq. here Worth reading, especially by other Objectivists who are thinking of joining the armed forces.
  21. I don't know about the specifics of Ecuador or Panama, but I have heard of countries other than the US being on a "US dollar standard". If I'm not mistaken, Argentina was on such a standard until a few years ago. Being on a US dollar standard means that the local currency is exchangeable for US dollars at a fixed rate (not necessarily 1 to 1). So just as under a gold standard, a holder of the currency would be able to demand gold for it, under a US dollar standard, a holder of the currency would be able to demand US dollars for it. The idea is that the local currency will have value by virtue of its being able to be exchanged for something else of value. This may sound strange, since after all, today's US dollar is not backed by anything, but in much of the world, the US dollar has much more stable value than any local currencies. Note that the foreign government (or other entity that decided to issue currency backed by dollars) does not actually print or mint US currency. (I'd be very surprised to find out I was mistaken on this point.) What it prints instead are units of its own currency, which it's then obligated to redeem for US currency. So it creates no obligation on the part of the US government, or indeed on the part of any holders of US currency. For example, if I am owed a debt in US currency today and somebody offered me Ecuadoran money as payment, claiming that it's "just as good", I could refuse to accept it. (Presumably the Ecuadoran government could force Ecuadoran citizens to accept it, but that's another issue.) Using US dollars as a "reserve currency" like this creates more demand for them, so if anything, it would tend to make the dollar more valuable. And I don't believe the US government could do anything to stop it even if they wanted to. After all, if US dollars are owned by foreigners, it's up to the owners of those dollars to use them as they see fit. Note that if a government goes on a US dollar standard, it is then limited in how much currency it can issue, since if it issues too much, it won't have the dollars to pay out when holders of the local currency demand them. So it's a brake on local inflation, in a somewhat lesser way than the gold standard was. It definitely makes the value of money less subject to the whim of politicians. However, there's always the question of whether the government will stay on the dollar standard. That is, they could at some point in the future decide by fiat that they'll no longer pay out dollars. Or that they won't pay out as many. Devaluation, in other words. I believe this is what Argentina did a few years ago, with the result that holders of Argentine currency were not given the US dollars they'd been promised. (Exactly analogous to the Devaluation of the US dollar in the 1930's: FDR decreed that holders of dollars would not receive as much gold as they'd been promised. The difference is that in one case, the US dollar is the entity backing up something else, and in the other case, the US dollar is the entity being itself backed up.)
  22. Near the start of this topic, two people (OldGrayBob, Thoyd Loki) briefly mentioned that they thought Nikola Tesla was a greater genius than either Einstein or Newton. Since I found no further discussion of this point, I'd like to know: why do you think he was the greater genius?
  23. Here's agreement with Burgess Laughlin on the benefit of Objectivist groups. Indirectly, they can help spread the philosophy by providing a positive experience to Objectivists; they can also be a good place to learn more about the philosophy, and provide good examples of people who are living their lives according to Objectivist principles. I also agree that it's very important to have high standards in deciding whom to invite to join your group. There's nothing more relaxing and stimulating than spending an afternoon with other Objectivsts. And there's nothing more frustrating than going to a gathering promoted as being somehow Objectivist, only to find instead such people as libertarians, prophets of doom, people who have an ax to grind who are looking for an audience, or other assorted cranks. New friendships, new knowledge, new ways of looking at old problems, new ideas for books to read or activities to try..... these are a few of the things one can gain from interacting with other Objectivists.
  24. The manufacturer of these "liberty dollars" is indeed tacking on a huge premium if he's selling one ounce of silver (worth about $7.50 now) for $10. If somebody owed me $10, I would most certainly not accept something with only $7.50 value as payment. As others have pointed out, there are undoubtedly ways of buying silver or gold without paying such a hefty premium. Historically the fee levied for the coining of money is called "seigniorage"; when nations were on the gold standard, I'm pretty sure seigniorage was a very small percentage.
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