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  1. Recently, several media outlets have made a connection between Ayn Rand and Donald Trump. They have made this link based on an interview in which Trump stated, “It [The Fountainhead] relates to business (and) beauty (and) life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything.” Going further, several media sources have made the claim that Trump is stacking his cabinet with people who share Rand’s views because some of them have read her novel Atlas Shrugged. In drawing such parallels, media pundits are likely not focusing too much on the particulars of Trump’s actions and policies, many of which fly in the face of Rand’s stated views—from his overt racism, to his proposal to criminalize flag burning, to his promises to protect welfare programs, to his proposed expropriation of money from Americans to fund infrastructure spending. Rather, they are making a broader claim about Trump’s overall approach to morality and values, which they believe is an embodiment of Rand’s ideal of selfishness. In making this claim, the media appears to consider Trump and his cabinet members “selfish” in the sense that they are willing to say and do anything (including using the power of government) to achieve the ends they want to achieve, with no regard for others. Yet this understanding of selfishness is fundamentally at odds with Rand’s own conception. Instead of using any means whatsoever to achieve his or her ends, Rand held that a rationally selfish person is one who uses his or her own mind to the best of its ability to survive, thrive, and achieve personally chosen goals through his or her own independent thought and effort, and by engaging in voluntary, win-win relationships with others. In order for all individuals to survive and thrive, Rand held that their government must enact policies that unconditionally protect their individual rights, including the rights identified by the American founders: life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Setting aside the question of whether Trump and his acolytes are rationally selfish in their own lives, it’s clear that many of Trump’s proposals ignore individual rights in favor of defending the so-called collective prosperity of the nation. To use Rand’s terms, Trump rejects individualism and espouses collectivism in the form of nationalism. In the economic realm, several of Trump’s policies, including his abandonment of the TPP and his proposed tariff on goods from Mexico, prevent individuals from participating in volitional economic interactions without paying a hefty fee. These policies and others that Trump has proposed, which are examples of economic nationalism, prioritize protecting the alleged interests of the nation over the legitimate rights of the individual to trade freely. If Trump had really been influenced by Rand, he would know that free trade is the hallmark economic policy of a rights-protecting government. But instead, since his policies protect the group or the nation over the individual, they are ultimately another form of collectivism, as Rand defined it. When it comes to personal liberties, specifically abortion, Trump has stated that he thinks the government should punish women who choose to have an abortion and 100% outlaw it. According to Rand, abortion is a highly private medical decision. But Trump would rather this decision be made arbitrarily by the state or by the collective decision of voters. In either case, the policy undermines an individual woman’s right to make choices that affect her own body. By contrast, Rand called abortion a “moral right” for women everywhere, writing: “who can conceivably have the right to dictate to [a woman] what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?” But it’s not just Trump’s avowed policies that are collectivist; it’s also his racist, xenophobic attitudes. Rand called racism “the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.” Trump has revealed his racism on multiple occasions, such as when he called Mexican immigrants all manner of vile names throughout his presidential campaign, ignoring the fact that most Mexican immigrants are decent, hard-working, honest individuals who are not criminals. Likewise, when a Mexican judge ruled against Trump, in a lawsuit dealing with Trump University, his immediate response was to question the judge’s decision because of his race. Trump’s damning of an entire ethnic group, such as Mexicans, on the basis of their country of origin, is plain and simple racism. And Trump’s racism reveals the ugly nature of collectivism, in that it utterly disregards the individual’s beliefs, values, and actions, automatically attributing to an individual both the best and worst characteristics of the collective group or race of people with which that individual is associated. In stark contrast to Trump and his positions, a truly rational and selfish person, in Rand’s sense of these terms, would understand the need for individual rights to be protected and would reject collectivism in all its manifestations. Rand viewed humans as rational and independent entities capable of making decisions for themselves; Trump views humans as sheep needing to be shepherded, or (in the case of non-Americans) as wolves that need to be walled off to protect said helpless sheep. Rand’s view is individualistic; Trump’s is collectivistic. Hence it is clear that Trump is far removed from Rand and from her distinctive conception of rational self-interest; instead, Trump falls squarely in the collectivistic and irrational realm. Therefore, we must fully disaffiliate Ayn Rand and her philosophy from the statements, actions, and policies of President Trump, regardless of Trump’s alleged infatuation with Rand and her characters. * * * For more on this subject, we recommend Ari Armstrong’s post at Freedom Outlook. Creative commons-licensed image courtesy of Flick user Gage Skidmore. The post Is Donald Trump Really Selfish? appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  2. Elan Journo is Director of Policy Research at the Ayn Rand Institute, author of Winning the Unwinnable War: America’s Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism and co-author with Onkar Ghate of the book discussed here: Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism: From George W. Bush to Barack Obama and Beyond. Journo and Ghate’s book was the subject of a recent controversy at UCLA where students and administrators sought to have it banned on the grounds that the title was “inflammatory.” * * * As soon as I opened your book, I immediately noticed that ARI has been writing about America’s crippled response to Islamic totalitarianism since 2001. As a country, have we really been pursuing an ineffectual foreign policy for fifteen years? At its root, what has been wrong with our foreign policy? American foreign policy has been a disaster. Immediately following 9/11, the U.S. could easily have ended the jihadist menace, but instead our troops—who are the best trained, best equipped warriors in the world—end up mired in what our leaders openly admit are unwinnable wars. It’s been fifteen-plus years since the attacks of September 11, and this enemy remains undefeated. Moreover, it’s a marker of the confusion and evasiveness of U.S. foreign policy that the nature of the enemy is still a subject of debate. It’s not just Al Qaeda, or ISIS, or scattered factions. We face an ideological movement. The enemy is defined, not primarily by their use of terrorist means, but by their ideological ends. They fight to create a society wherein every last detail of the individual’s life is dominated by Islamic religious law or sharia—a cause inspired and funded by patrons such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and above all, Iran. In our book, we call this political-ideological movement Islamic totalitarianism. In our culture, however, we’re at a point where many people don’t understand why the response to 9/11 was ineffectual, nor that there’s a definable enemy, nor what can be done to defend ourselves. Some now doubt that we can ever end the jihadist threat. Many people lay the blame for this debacle on the military, which is a monstrous injustice. Taken together, you can see why people might feel demoralized. In our book, we explain what went wrong and what to do about it. The fundamental problem, we argue, lies with the philosophic ideas shaping—and undercutting—American foreign policy. In particular, irrational ideas about morality have led to a destructive foreign policy. This a bipartisan, longstanding problem. That kind of explanation may surprise people, but the fact is, moral ideas play a crucial and rarely appreciated role in policymaking. Our culture’s conventional ideas about morality have subverted our ability to understand the nature of the enemy we face, to define our self-interest, and to defend ourselves. Despite being militarily and economically the most powerful nation on earth, the United States lacks a coherent foreign policy, let alone a conception of our self-interest. What we show in the book, in fact, are the many ways in which American foreign policy has been self-sacrificial. A very poignant example of the lack of a self-interested foreign policy is the way in which our government controls soldiers in the field through what you call “battlefield ethics” and the laws of war. Can you briefly explain why it’s wrong to issue a blanket prohibition against something like bombing non-military buildings? My co-author Onkar Ghate has a piece early in the book on the issue of civilians in war, and we deal with the issue of morality on the battlefield in a number of pieces (in my prior book, Winning the Unwinnable War, the topic receives considerable attention, too). The basic issue here is that a proper government should protect the lives and freedom of its own citizens. The only moral justification for war is self-defense, and if the government has taken the momentous step of going to war, it must enable the military to defeat the enemy threatening our lives. That perspective sets a moral framework for what soldiers should and should not do on the battlefield. Contrary to what many people think they know about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, in reality, our soldiers were subject to the rules of engagement (the battlefield ethics, in effect) that systematically prevented them from using all necessary force to win, to crush whatever threats we faced—and even to protect themselves. You can find lots of news reports, for example, noting how—in line with Washington’s battlefield ethics—American forces were ordered not to bomb key targets such as power plants, and to avoid firing into mosques (where insurgents hid) lest they offend the sensibilities of locals. This has many destructive results. It contradicts our government’s proper function. In effect such rules of warfare subordinate the lives of our own troops to the lives of enemy fighters—along with civilians in the war zones. It’s morally wrong for our government to put Americans in harm’s way, but prevent them from advancing the notional mission and protecting their own lives. There’s a great deal more to say—including the debilitating effects of such rules on the morale of our own fighters, even as it hands the enemy a huge advantage. I encourage your readers to explore the book for more. Shifting gears a little bit, your book suggests that one of the major failings of U.S. foreign policy has been the attempt to introduce democracy to conquered countries like Iraq. Why isn’t democracy the solution? George W. Bush called his policy the “forward strategy of freedom.” A more accurate name is the democracy crusade. And, as my colleagues and I predicted from the outset, it was a debacle. But I challenge the premise of the question: why think “democracy” is the solution? Facing an enemy seeking to harm us, the government’s primary task is to eliminate that threat. That’s what would protect our lives and freedom. That’s what should have been our government’s goal. That’s the solution. Our task is not to make the Middle East, or any other part of the world, peaceful, unoppressed, and prosperous. So, as we argue at length in Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism and in Winning the Unwinnable War, the basic purpose of Bush’s democracy crusade was irrational and contrary to our self-interest. To ask what went wrong with the democracy crusade is to ask a loaded question. The only thing that the American spread of democracy in the Middle East could achieve was to strengthen and empower the region’s ascendant ideological movement, the Islamist cause, which we should be fighting to defeat. And indeed, Bush’s policy encouraged that enemy. “Democracy” is a much-abused and misunderstood idea, and that sowed confusion about what Bush’s policy sought to do. We untangle those confusions in the book and explain why the spread of “democracy” was contrary to American interests. One of Bush’s premises was the fantastical idea that everyone, everywhere yearns for freedom. That idea is false, however; just look at the appeal of Islamic totalitarianism. And the fact that it is so easily refuted offers you a clue to how Bush’s policy was grounded in self-delusion, not reason. The U.S. and other western nations are very friendly with nations like Saudi Arabia, which you call “The Other Islamic State.” If democracy is not the solution in the region, what’s wrong with working with countries like Saudi Arabia if doing so serves one of our wider goals such as stability in the region? This question is a great illustration of a false alternative firmly embedded in how people think about foreign policy—a false alternative that highlights the uniqueness of an Objectivist approach. The question comes down to: Either we uphold some kind of idealistic policy — for example, the democracy crusade — that’s in fact selfless and destructive, or else we throw aside moral principles and ideals and instead pursue what’s seen to be in our self-interest and thus “practical.” And because such “interests” are divorced from moral judgment, some people wonder, why not deal with such monstrous regimes as Saudi Arabia? What this boils down to is: be moral or be practical. Ayn Rand rejected that view: it was a false choice, albeit one that people find unavoidable given the moral views they hold. This moral/practical dichotomy crops up everywhere, not only in foreign policy. This false alternative stems from a (wrong) view of what it means to follow moral principles: the default view is that morality is equated with selfless service to others, which is contrasted with the conventional view of what it means to be concerned with one’s own interests. The latter is seen as base, even amoral, but “practical.” Ayn Rand comes to morality with a fundamentally different framework. She advocated a morality of rational egoism, and in her view to define and pursue one’s self-interest requires thought and the guidance of objective moral principles. On her premises, there’s no moral/practical dichotomy either in ethics or in foreign policy. To unpack your question further, let’s take each element in turn. What should our policy be toward Saudi Arabia? The starting point for that is to judge the Saudi regime by an objective moral standard: is it a free society? are its actions friendly toward us? In fact, the Saudi regime is an oppressive monarchy distinguished by its imposition of Islamic religious law. Moreover, Saudi wealth has fueled the proselytizing for the Islamic totalitarian movement, for decades. It is a scandal that the U.S. treats that regime as an ally. There’s much more to say about it, but that should be enough to indicate that a truly self-interested approach would be far different. We touch on this in the book, and I look at another regime, Pakistan, that has also been undeservedly treated as an ally, and what a principled approach looks like. Let me say a brief word about the issue of regional “stability,” which you raised in the question. “Stability” is a slippery term, and it’s difficult to think of a period of “stability” in the Middle East. Quite the contrary: that region has been ravaged by coups, revolutions, civil wars, inter-state wars, guerilla insurgencies — for decades, and long before the U.S. was a major factor in the area. In my view, our interest is not primarily regional stability but protecting the freedom of Americans. Our chief concern should be fending off, and when necessary retaliating against, hostile forces emanating from that region. As you note, the oppressive nature of the Saudi regime is often ignored by our foreign policy makers, but lots of college students are part of the movement to divest from Israel because of alleged human rights violations. Given that, is it appropriate for the U.S. to continue to support Israel in the ways that we do? My upcoming book on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict answers that question in detail. But the short answer is: No, we shouldn’t continue down the current path because U.S. policy toward Israel is a train wreck—a mess of conflicting motives, aims, and short-range goals. The net result is harming our interests because our policy fails to evaluate the moral standing of the adversaries in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict properly. A conventional view today is that the U.S. is strongly supportive of Israel. In certain narrow ways, Washington has been supportive, but it has also done a lot to subvert Israel. A true picture of U.S. policy would have to include the fact that American policy has empowered our enemies in the region. What’s needed is a principled backing of Israel, for its virtue as a free society facing a common foe, the Islamist movement. My view of the conflict, and America’s stake in it, is indicated in a talk I gave a couple of years ago, which I encourage your readers to watch on YouTube. The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which you mentioned, has captured the imagination of many students. But I regard that movement as negating justice, rather than upholding it. The leaders of the BDS movement single out Israel, which is basically a free country, for alleged wrongs, but there’s no comparable outrage at actual, well-documented, incontestable violations of individual rights by the Middle East’s various theocracies and dictatorships. That should set off an alarm in your mind, if you care about justice and freedom. In our conversation today we don’t have time to dig into the wrongs Israel has been accused of, and to form a view of the conflict and the moral standing of the adversaries, you would have to look into those accusations; I examine the major issues in my upcoming book. If your readers are interested in the BDS issue, I did a podcast with an expert on the subject, Dr. Asaf Romirowsky. Do you see a direct link between The West’s failure to confront Islamic totalitarianism abroad and the increasing threats to free speech and safety at home? Absolutely. These two issues are entwined. The failure to defeat this enemy has been compounded by our repeated appeasement of its assaults on the freedom of speech. Had we defeated the Islamic totalitarian movement years ago, had we shown its ideal to be a lost cause, it’s hard to imagine any of its foot-soldiers daring to carry out a massacre such as we saw at French magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015. And this pattern goes way back. Two significant episodes in that pattern were the 1979 hostage-taking of American diplomats in Iran, and the 1989 Iranian bounty put on the head of the British author Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. For years we at ARI have been at the frontlines in the battle over freedom of speech, and my colleague Steve Simpson sums up our view of the dynamic in his superb book, Defending Free Speech. He discusses that issue in the book’s Introduction, which you can read online for free. You’ve documented how deeply entrenched the problems are and the size of the threat, but you don’t see any of our current political parties as offering appropriate solutions. What can people who are interested in a solution do? The problems with American foreign policy stem from the influence of irrational philosophic ideas, and it will take considerable work to change direction. But it’s doable. The starting point is to understand the situation. So I encourage people to educate themselves. Read, understand the key issues, and speak up—when and where you judge best. My hope is that Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism and Winning the Unwinnable War can help people make sense of American foreign policy since 9/11, and thereby empower them to be more effective advocates for their own ideas. * * * Follow Elan on Twitter for a chance to win one of 15 copies of his book Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism. Click here to enter the sweepstakes. The post Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism: An Interview with Elan Journo appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  3. STRIVE’s Objectivism Q&A on Sunday, February 5th stretched nearly an hour overtime while students eagerly discussed several issues in politics, property rights, epistemology and more with Dr. Harry Binswanger and Dr. Gregory Salmieri. Dr. Binswanger is the author of How We Know and The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts, and was an associate and friend of Ayn Rand in her last years. Dr. Salmieri is the co-editor with Alan Gotthelf of A Companion to Ayn Rand, the first volume to offer a comprehensive scholarly treatment of Rand’s entire corpus. The two experts applied their vast knowledge of Objectivism to treat each question with characteristic thoroughness. One student was interested in applying Rand’s political philosophy to the controversial topic of antibiotics. They asked: should legal barriers be placed on the usage or sale of an antibiotic if its usage will likely breed bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotic, thereby denying others from enjoying its benefits? Is this a case where an individual’s freedom should be limited for the good of society? To begin with, Dr. Binswanger rejected any reference to ‘the good of society.’ Only the rights of individuals are at stake in any such instance. Using an interesting analogy, he also questioned whether individual rights are in fact violated here. He asked rhetorically whether the government should be able to prevent you from putting a lock on your door, because criminals will then be more likely to break into your neighbor’s house which doesn’t have a lock. “The fact that you protect yourself from something bad, meaning someone else might get hurt instead,” Dr. Binswanger explained, referring to the use of antibiotics, “does not mean you have violated their rights.” Addressing the issue from another angle, Dr. Salmieri proposed that a lot of cases where the system of rights doesn’t seem to apply, or where there appears to be market failure, are actually cases where there hasn’t been creative thinking about how the principle of property rights applies in that realm. He explained that, because a drug-patent lasts only twenty years, the owner is incentivized to sell as much of it as he can within a short period, thus accelerating the likelihood of antibiotic-resistant bacteria developing. However, “the continued value of the patented product depends, not only on the initial intellectual act of coming up with it, but on the continued management of the frequency of usage of it.” Therefore, Dr. Salmieri suggested that the solution might be to increase the duration of the patent “for as long as the drug continues to have medical use.” Politics was a recurring theme throughout the Q&A, with one student asking if it is justified to vote for the “lesser of two evils” in an election. Dr. Binswanger and Dr. Salmieri were unanimous on the point that “if there is a clear lesser of two evils, you should vote for the lesser evil.” Additionally, Dr. Salmieri recommended finding at least a minimal way to think of the better candidate as a positive rather than merely a lesser negative. For instance, if Obama were running against Hitler, you could say that Obama has at least some vestige of respect for human life. Another student asked what the philosophical takeaway would be from imagining a hypothetical Martian who perceives reality with an entirely different sensory apparatus than our own. Dr. Binswanger answered that, while the Martian may perceive colors as sound, or heat as vibrations, the information picked up by its senses would still be the same information that we pick up with ours. “Neither one is right, neither one is wrong. They’re both just different ways of responding.” The crucial takeaway is that sense-perception is always ‘valid’ in that it presents us with information about reality. The question of validity – of ‘right and wrong’ – only arises with regard to our conclusions about the information we receive. The similarities between the Martian example and the phenomena known as synesthesia were also discussed. While it was acknowledged that the two have much in common, Dr. Salmieri noted that synesthetes often perceive something in addition to normal sense-perception – such as having particular colors associated with particular numbers. This, however, is most likely the result of a strong association formed in early years, and therefore does not tell us about perception. At STRIVE’s next Objectivism Q&A, Dr. Gregory Salmieri will once again be joining students live to answer their questions about Ayn Rand’s philosophy. We highly encourage you to tune in on Sunday, March 19th, from 4:30 – 6:00 PM PST. Be sure to sign up here and submit your questions in advance! The post Objectivism Q&A Recap: A Conversation with Harry Binswanger and Greg Salmieri appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  4. At The Undercurrent, we recently launched #SelfishAndHappy, our national initiative rallying college students to write to their campus papers explaining how reading Ayn Rand has benefited their life. We’ve committed to posting well-written submissions on the TU blog. * * * The following is a letter to the editor from Tyler Ashby, a student of psychology, YouTube podcast host of Objectivist Discussions, and moderator of the Objectivism Q&As at STRIVE. Like many Americans, I was raised Christian. Growing up, God was the center of the universe, and so I sought to learn everything I could about him. Around the age of 13, I began studying the works of famous apologists who argued for the existence of God and the validity of his doctrine. As a consequence of my devotion, I became very fundamentalist, convinced that if the Bible were true, it should be the guide to my life. However, the more I studied, the more I began to experience a deep sense of cognitive dissonance. I felt something was terribly wrong with the code of ethics that I was learning. I was being taught that one’s purpose in life is to serve others, but a value I held even more strongly was that I had a right to my own life and liberty. This contradiction led me to seriously reevaluate my convictions. At age 16, I began dropping the arguments for God’s existence that I had studied one by one, as the criticisms I had encountered struck me as too compelling to ignore. Eventually, I saw flaws in the last argument I had and I dropped my belief in God rather abruptly. In doing so, however, I had taken a sudden step into personal chaos and uncertainty. I started reading Ayn Rand, along with many other philosophers, around the time that I was leaving Christianity, in the process of becoming an atheist. I did this because I knew that I needed help. I knew very well what the consequences of killing God were, so to speak. It meant abandoning the basis for my entire view on morality and how I came to understand the world. After all, according to the Christian worldview, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.” I understood the necessity of having an explicit philosophy, or of having an integrated view of existence as Rand would put it. She argued that everyone has an implicit philosophy, a set of ideas and premises that directs how one thinks and draws conclusions about the world. Even if one isn’t self-aware enough to identify their most basic convictions, there are fundamental ideas and values one must either accept or reject in the process of living one’s daily life. As a Christian, I believed my purpose was to serve God’s will and serve others as a consequence. I became confident in my convictions by praying to God and trusting the gut feeling that came from that. I judged the actions of others based on biblical scripture, pride and self-esteem were indistinguishable but nonetheless sinful, and moral guidance primarily meant what I ought not to do. Without a belief in God, however, the basis of all those convictions was lost. So, I turned to secular philosophers to find help in reshaping my view of life. The New Atheists such as Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens were incredible inspirations to me, but I found their cases for morality to be unsatisfying. They argued that benefiting human life should be the purpose of morality because it’s intuitive and useful, but I felt this argument was inadequate. Rand’s argument was a lot more persuasive to me because it detailed how moral values are necessitated by the requirements of man’s life, how pursuing one’s goals in life requires taking a particular, moral course of action, and how this gives rise to human life as the standard of value. What attracted me to Rand’s philosophy was that it argued that reason can be a means to discover morality, and also that reason can be a means to knowledge, that one can be confident in their understanding of the world. Morality didn’t feel like a compromise of rationality, and as a consequence, my moral values were something that I could refine or reconsider, rather than merely dogmatically assert. I was also more confident in asserting myself in moral arguments about politics and other issues because I no longer had to argue from a religious faith I struggled to prove. I had secular reasons for my views, and those reasons applied to everyone, not just those within a religious sect. Rand’s philosophy gave me a new focus in life: living the best life that I could for myself, without the guilt of knowing that I could never do enough to make others happy. I could strive for my own happiness, not by ignoring others in the process, but by befriending only the people that I care about, those that bring value to my life, not take it away. This was a life to be celebrated, not a vale of tears, with many achievements to be made and values to be created – and this life was mine to live on my own terms and for my values. I came to see virtue as primarily a means of achieving positive values, not negating what’s evil in the world. Justice for example, to me, is not primarily about punishing criminals, but about promoting and building up the virtuous people around you. Honesty is not primarily about not lying, but about allying yourself with the facts of reality, and accepting that doing so is the only way we can succeed and thrive. I’ve benefited the most from Rand by obtaining a better grasp of what I want from life and knowing how to achieve it. To conclude, I’d like to say that I’ve been greatly inspired by Rand’s profoundly positive outlook on life, and so I’ll share a quote from Atlas Shrugged that’s stuck with me since the day I read it: “Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.” The post #SelfishAndHappy Submission: Tyler Ashby appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  5. STRIVE’s Online Mentor Q&A Program aims to provide students and career-oriented young people with opportunities to learn from real-world, active professionals about everything from crafting a purpose to setting and pursuing goals, to the myriad life lessons they’ve picked up in pursuit of their dreams. Here, TU Writer, Julian Hook, reports on the latest session with businessman Kendall Justiniano. * * * At STRIVE’s first Mentor Q&A of the new year, students were surprised to find out that Kendall Justiniano does not, as a rule, make New Year’s resolutions. An accomplished chemical engineer, businessman, and longtime Ayn Rand enthusiast, Justiniano is currently a business director for PolyOne Designed Structures and Solutions LLC. With his track-record of success, making and fulfilling resolutions is something he obviously has had a lot of experience with. However, he explained that picking just one particular time out of a year to set goals has never made much sense to him. “I like the idea and I like the spirit of making resolutions because it’s an aspect of evaluating where you’re at and trying to paint a picture of where you want to be… But I just find that I’m doing that a lot more often than once a year.” He also observed the widespread expectation that a New Years resolution will go by the wayside by February. “Frankly, I feel that goal pursuit is a lot more important than that. I don’t want to trivialize it.” As it turned out, goal setting and value-pursuit were two major themes of the Q&A session. When asked if there were any primary guiding principles that have been most important to him and his success, he outlined a framework (indirectly inspired by Leonard Peikoff’s course “The Art of Thinking”) that he finds particularly useful. Simply put, the framework involves breaking value-pursuit down into four activities: defining one’s values, discovering the means of attaining them, doing the work and, finally, reflecting on and assessing the course one is on. For instance, the first activity involves asking such questions as “What are the things that are most important to me; what are the things I want to pursue?” The second activity follows from the first. It involves asking “if there’s a particular career I want to pursue, what do I have to do to get to it?” The third one involves the actual practice of pursuing one’s values, “whether through education, training, or being out in the workplace.” As for the fourth activity, it involves “spending time to figure out if what I’m doing matches with my values.” “It’s really a kind of mindfulness framework if you will. Normally, in the course of a day, I do all four of those things.” Related to the second stage in this framework, Justiniano shared a practical tip for discovering what’s necessary to achieve success in one’s chosen field. If you find someone who has already achieved success in the career you are pursuing, he recommended taking the time to solicit a 30-45-minute interview with them. “I have never found a ‘no’ behind that.” He also recommended asking for the names of two or three other people in the field to follow up with. “You can very quickly come to a much deeper level of understanding [of your chosen career] simply through that process.” In response to a student’s question about re-evaluating goals, Justiniano also touched upon the problem of how to know when it is time to quit. He emphasized that passion is often a more important factor than talent. “Feeling a sense of reward is absolutely critical in maintaining your motivation.” On the other hand, if you feel that the issue is your level of talent, you might want to try sticking with it. “In general, if someone is able to paint a good path, and they are diligent, and they continue to find reward from it, I find that most people can be successful.” Of course, success doesn’t come without experiencing failure along the way. But Justiniano stressed that failure is simply “a part of what’s going on every day,” and that it stops being the disaster most people want to make it when you start to become more reflective about your life. “When you realize there’s nothing wrong with failure and that it’s a big part of learning, you suddenly get a positive outlook over a lot of things in life where before you might have gotten down on yourself.” Towards the end of the Q&A, Justiniano reaffirmed how immensely valuable Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism has been to him. As someone who works in heavy industry—largely fossil fuel based—he remarked that his job is assaulted from all sides of the culture. Rand’s philosophy provided him with a valuable moral sanction on this front. “Just to know that what I did was right and good and valuable and that I love it for the right reasons was incredibly empowering.” The post Mentorship Q&A Recap: A Conversation with Kendall Justiniano appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  6. Hone your Writing. Learn about Objectivism. Get Paid. The Undercurrent seeks applications from qualified students to become part of our growing team. This spring we’ll hire up to two interns to work collaboratively via email with our editorial team, producing content for TU’s blog. Selected interns will be paid by the article, with more money being paid for articles that require more work. Who: College students seeking experience writing about Objectivism What: Paid internship, up to $300 for three to four blog posts When: Spring 2016 (February-May), applications due February 20 Description: Selected interns will participate in the process of producing content for our edited blog that communicates an Objectivist analysis of politics and culture. The internship program permits students to engage with the publication through the production of two types of content: reporting pieces and editorials. Those interested can apply here. Requirements: Write three to four pieces for TU’s blog and have them approved for publication by our editorial staff. The requirements of the internship can be fulfilled either by writing one editorial piece and three reporting pieces or two editorial pieces and one reporting piece. Editorial pieces will be paid at the rate of $125 each and reporting pieces at the rate of $50 each. Questions: [email protected] The post Spring 2016 Editorial Internship: Apply Today! appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  7. Objectivism Q&As is a new program by STRIVE that features experts in Objectivism answering questions by students interested in learning and understanding Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Students have the opportunity to ask their questions one-on-one with Objectivist intellectuals and are able to follow up on their questions for further clarity. The goal is that students around the country can have direct access to the scholars most qualified to improve their grasp of Objectivism. * * * Last Monday, Dr. Gregory Salmieri answered questions from students as part of Objectivism Q&As. Dr. Salmieri is an Anthem Fellow and a lecturer in philosophy at Rutgers University. As part of his most recent project, he served as the co-editor of A Companion to Ayn Rand, which is the first volume to offer a comprehensive scholarly treatment of Rand’s entire corpus. The intellectuals featured in Objectivism Q&As, including Dr. Salmieri, are personally invested in making sure that students have a chance to expand their knowledge and walk away bringing something new to their own lives and to those with whom they interact. During the Q&A, one student asked Salmieri about an event in Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, where the protagonist Howard Roark, displeased with the state of his career, stopped working as an architect and found a job in a quarry. The student wondered if he would make the same choice if he could never return to the profession he loved. “He doesn’t really know for sure whether he’ll be able to come back,” Salmieri explained, “but he’s very confident that he will… and he has reasons for thinking that it’s not worth continuing to work in the kinds of jobs that are immediately available to him.” Salmieri discussed the risk analysis Roark did before making the choice that he did and explained how knowing the direction of one’s life and career path can help in making such decisions. Salmieri also answered a question about a curious statement by John Galt in Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged. When a friend was worried about John Galt, Galt replied, “Of course I’m alright, professor. I had to be. A is A.” The student was wondering if Galt believed that no accidental harm could come to him or that his well-being was somehow pre-determined. Salmieri replied by saying, “It stands out to me as a little bit of an odd line.” He described some of the ways that Ayn Rand may have intended it to be read, such as a casual comment among friends. He also discussed the philosophical implications of the line, such as the role of luck in a person’s life, and how one should view accidental tragedies. Ayn Rand’s novels weren’t the only topic of questions during this session. One other question was whether life is suffering as some philosophies argue, given the kind of struggles and hardships inherent in living, or whether it’s true that the universe is benevolent as Rand argues. In his answer, Salmieri dismissed the religious ideal by saying that “the Garden of Eden is awful…that is not a good life, that is not a human life.” He explained that the kind of effortless, unproductive leisure found in such depictions of paradise is not a fitting way of life for humans. As Salmieri put it, “Life is about achievement, and achievement is an effortful thing, and often that effort is very pleasurable.” In contrast to most religions, Rand’s view of life was that the pains and suffering that one encounters in life are incidental and do not define man’s life. Rather, the life of a rational being is one of purposeful struggle towards a noble goal, with one’s ultimate goal being the fulfillment of one’s life. The Objectivism Q&A program will feature many more Objectivist intellectuals, including Dr. Harry Binswanger, who is the author of How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation, has been an instructor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center since 1994, and was a personal friend to Ayn Rand during her later years. We highly encourage you to tune in on Sunday, February 5th at 1 pm PT/ 4 pm ET and ask questions of Greg Salmieri and Harry Binswanger. The post Objectivism Q&A Recap: A Discussion with Greg Salmieri appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  8. In the Spring of 2016, we launched our first campus writing initiative, #CapitalistAndProud. With the successful conclusion of #CapitalistAndProud in December 2016, we’re proud to announce our latest initiative: #SelfishAndHappy. In partnership with STRIVE, we’re calling on our readers everywhere to write to The Undercurrent to explain their answers to the question: How has reading Ayn Rand benefited your life? Ayn Rand’s revolutionary morality of selfishness has impacted the lives of countless individuals since she first published The Fountainhead in 1943 and Atlas Shrugged in 1957. We’re hoping that you have a story to tell about reading Ayn Rand and how being exposed to the morality of selfishness changed your life. To encourage submission, we’ll publish well-written pieces on our blog, which will make them eligible to win a cash prize of $100. Pieces should be between 650-750 words in length and be your original work. All submissions for the writing contest should be sent to [email protected] Concurrently, our partner organization, STRIVE, will be running a social media contest. Those interested should submit a short video between one to five minutes in length explaining their answer to the same question used in the writing contest. Videos will be shared on social media and STRIVE will select one winner to receive a prize of $100. Submissions for the social media contest should be sent to [email protected] Visit STRIVE’s Facebook page to learn more. Don’t forget to chime in on our Facebook page and tweet us @tundercurrent. Creative commons-licensed image courtesy of Flickr user Elvert Barnes. The post Announcing #SelfishAndHappy: A New Campus Writing Initiative appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  9. At The Undercurrent, we recently launched the second iteration of #CapitalistAndProud, our national initiative rallying college students to write to their campus papers explaining why they support capitalism. We’ve committed to posting well-written submissions on the TU blog. * * * The following is a letter to the editor from Justin Kendall, a second year student of sculpture at the Florence Academy of Art. It is a sin to write this. Ayn Rand penned these words in 1937, depicting a world in which it was considered evil to think, to dissent, to be an individual. In today’s world, to say the name Ayn Rand, to hold the view that capitalism is the only economic system consistent with liberty, peace, and prosperity, is an aberration of the highest order. To do so as an artist is practically unthinkable. Opponents of capitalism invariably dismiss it as an exploitative enterprise and claim its practitioners to be avaricious villains. This is eminently false. And in order to understand why this is eminently false, one must examine the ethical premise of capitalism. Capitalism is a political and economic system in which a country’s trade and its industries rest in the hands of private owners rather than the state. This system inherently rests on the ethics of rational self-interest. The popular conception of self-interest, or selfishness, is one of a corrupt, thieving, heartless specter, whose lot in life is to exploit and injure anyone to achieve its ends. This has been and continues to be a desolating intellectual conflation, contributing to both the stagnation and regression of societies all over the world. The true meaning is precisely the opposite, because self-interest can only be achieved through mutually beneficial and voluntary relationships. Opponents of capitalism shift the goalposts in the debate by omitting “rational” from the context of self-interest. Everything of value, indeed the whole of human survival and flourishing, is a product of the mind, of our capacity to think and to reason. To think, we must be free. We must be left alone. The primary focus of altruist and collectivist ideologies is to use compulsion by the state, or the mob, to interfere in our lives. The enemy of the mind is force; it is coercion. Indeed, it is observable, here in reality, why a human must be free of force. The use of physical force and compulsion negates your ability to pursue and create values. Can you conceive of Thomas Edison inventing the lightbulb—bogged down by government regulation? Or Andrew Carnegie rapidly advancing through company ranks by arriving early to his twelve-hour shift to teach himself to decipher Morse code without transcribing it first (a feat attained by only one other individual in the country at the time)—subjected to union work hours? You can’t think under a threat of force; you cannot act in your own self-interest confined to leg irons. Just as one would not add a small amount of poison in with their cream and coffee, there can be no compromise between statism and liberty. Correctly understood, capitalism seeks to remove the initiation of force from all interpersonal relationships, preserving and upholding the individual’s natural rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of their own happiness. If properly practiced, capitalism accomplishes this by leaving room in the free market for any given consumer to trade with any producer the consumer chooses. I am deeply disturbed by what I see on college campuses today. I am deeply disturbed by the principles routinely espoused by Western thought leaders and so-called intellectuals. The Income Inequality Alarmists, the Social Justice Warriors, the Fight For Fifteen, the You-Didn’t-Build-That speech, the popularity of Thomas Piketty and Paul Krugman, the Sanders “revolution”—they all seek to levy physical force on human relationships in various ways. From proclamations limiting or altogether suppressing speech and assembly, to regulations governing the action of private business owners, this alleged common-good-seeking, centrally-planned non-wisdom of administration and authorities hinder and inhibit creation, production, and growth. These positions are anti-intellectual, they are anti-reason, they are anti-freedom, and they are ultimately anti-life. They seek to rob the individual of the fruits of his labor and give these fruits to those who did not labor. By contrast, the economic and political freedom that individuals would enjoy under laissez-faire capitalism turns success into a matter of choice, not chance. It rests upon merit rather than privilege, with the marketplace rewarding ability and ambition instead of impotence and mediocrity. In The Fountainhead, Ms. Rand reminds us that, “throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision un-borrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time…They fought, they suffered, and they paid. But they won.” Self-interest demands hard work. For one to know and understand what is in their self-interest requires both careful examination and constant effort. The pavers of those once-new roads we walk along today did not build and create by way of whim or lassitude, but by the relentless and single-minded application of their minds. Unswayed by personal failure, public opinion, critics and colleagues, the government truncheon, or even the Pope, the true greats of the past and present overcame many challenges. In pursuing their highest values, their existence meant struggle. Titans such as Carnegie, Rockefeller, Gates, Jobs—or Michelangelo—responded to those challenges with vigor. I believe an important role of the artist and the artistic community at-large is to embrace a different set of values, a different philosophy, because philosophy matters. And if art is subject to the creator’s judgement and view of reality, then artists—painters, writers, filmmakers, sculptors—are uniquely situated among the public to make better ideas, the ideas of freedom, of liberty, of capitalism, properly understood and more palatable to the American people and the rest of the world. If you continue thinking altruism is an effective and appropriate moral code, then statism will be the ultimate political extension of such action. If you realize that you have a right to your own life, that the pursuit of your happiness and flourishing is a moral good, then it may be time to embrace a different system. That freedom to think, to create, to speak, and to pursue the values that I deem vital to my life is why I am capitalist and proud. The post #CapitalistAndProud Submission: Justin Kendall appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  10. This piece originally appeared in our Fall 2016 Magazine. In it, Celeste Hook, a freshman at Okanagan College in British Columbia compares the teaching methods of her Grade 7 Lit Class with that of her class in Grade 12, and how one helped her see fiction as inspirational and instructive, while the other left her confused and empty. * * * IT WAS IN GRADE 7, but I still remember my excitement like it was yesterday. I was reading the scene in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in which one of the main characters, Dagny Taggart, stands in the engine room of her company’s locomotive on the debut run of a newly-completed railway, the John Galt Line. Dagny feels a pure and joyful exaltation as her creation races across the continent, understanding that the train’s motors are “a moral code cast in steel.” I might have been holding my breath too, so close was I to understanding how Dagny’s joy was tied to the engine’s power, but by the end of the chapter I couldn’t quite put it into words. Later in class (in my family’s living room, since I was homeschooled) I discussed the scene and the events leading up to it: Dagny’s enormous struggle to build the railway, the seemingly-insurmountable opposition she faced, and her ultimate triumph on its opening day. We discussed it for a while, returning to key passages in the text for clarification and careful analysis. Soon, with my teacher’s help, Dagny’s thoughts and emotions of the scene began to make more and more sense to me. The principle I couldn’t quite put into words was taking shape before me. I saw that the various parts of the motors were united by a single purpose—to convert energy into motion—which ultimately culminated in the train’s motive power. Likewise, Dagny’s actions up to that point had been consistently driven by her determination to build the railway, which finally culminated in the intense joy she felt upon her project’s completion. I realized that Dagny’s happiness had to be earned through achieving—not passively receiving, or worse, renouncing—her values; that happiness cannot be without cause, for it is the reward of purposeful, value-directed action. Even more, I realized that Dagny’s business-success was a profoundly moral accomplishment: the moral code metaphorically “cast in steel” was one that holds a person’s life as the standard of value, and the achievement of his or her values as the purpose of life. Learning literature in homeschool was an experience full of such realizations. I discovered themes and principles in works of fiction that could be applied to choices I was faced with in my own life. I expanded my awareness and appreciation of the world by viewing it through other, perhaps more perceptive, eyes. I even gained a deeper understanding of what makes a character heroic, or contemptible, or somewhere-in-between, and used these literary experiences to reflect on and improve my own character. Literature class for me growing up, like every other subject in its own way, was about learning how to live. But when I stepped into my first public-school classroom in Grade 12, I soon found to my surprise that this objective was tragically absent. Studying Shakespeare’s Hamlet in high-school was an indiscernible mixture of hunting for symbols, metaphors, character-foils, and sundry other literary devices, while systematically failing to identify the ideas and principles they conveyed. Although the study of literary devices can greatly enhance one’s grasp of the themes and life-lessons contained in literature, their value is easily lost when they are treated as ends in themselves. The result left me feeling confused and even empty. We examined, for example, the symbolism of poison throughout the play. This amounted to scouring the text for mentions of or allusions to poison and relating these instances nebulously to the theme of ‘corruption.’ Then we were tasked with memorizing all of them for an exam. But why is the symbolism of poison important? I remember asking. Isn’t it part of discovering what Shakespeare is saying about the world at large, and perhaps even our own lives? No answer. And there wasn’t an incentive to find one, because the question on the exam was simply: Identify five instances where poison is alluded to in Hamlet. My classmates and I were told that Laertes, a young nobleman who seeks to avenge the murder of his father, is one among many character-foils for Hamlet. But the inquiry really ended there. Why is understanding the similarities and differences between Laertes and Hamlet important, though? Isn’t it because the contrast between them can help to illuminate what Hamlet shows us about human nature, honor and revenge? Again: no answer. And it didn’t seem to matter, because the question on the exam was merely: Name at least three character-foils for Hamlet. In the end, if Hamlet is a story rich with insights about human nature and morality, these were of no importance to that class. What was important was rote memorization of the story’s concrete particulars; list them on the exam and move on. Ultimately, that class was an embodiment of the two attributes that Dagny Taggart, standing in her train’s engine-room during the debut run of the John Galt Line, recognized as being “radiantly absent” from the train’s motors: the causeless and the purposeless. I think that education has a unique objective: to develop our minds so we can identify, pursue, and achieve our values. Literature, by recreating reality according to the author’s view of existence, can show us an inspiring image of certain values which we may in turn seek in our own lives, upon reflection. Indeed, with the right training we can discover, in great works of art, principles to guide us and heroes to inspire us. But when learning is divorced from living—when there is no answer to the questions “Why?” and “What For?” —the result is a mind that functions without cause or purpose. Like a motor which, if properly directed, could power a speeding train across a continent, but instead exhausts itself in a basement, so a human mind has the potential to create values and achieve happiness—or simply rust out. I believe that education can and should empower us for the former, and therein lies its crucial, practical value. [TU] * * * When she’s not studying literature and philosophy, Celeste employs her skills as a studio musician to compose and produce her own songs. She is currently a first-year student of philosophy at Okanagan College in Kelowna, British Columbia. * * * Flicker image courtesy of Carlos Porto with permission. The post To Love Or Not To Love Literature appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  11. TU reader Sam Goodman of Carleton University in Ottawa recently published this piece in her school’s newspaper. In it, she comments on free speech issues on college campuses at large, and the spirit of the University of Chicago’s latest acceptance letter penned by its Dean, John Ellison. TU is happy to provide a platform for student letters and editorials. Opinions expressed in them are not necessarily the opinions of the TU Editors. Please send submissions to [email protected] for consideration. * * * University is a time of exploration and trying new things. It is a time in one’s life where one is free to taste everything on the menu that university has to offer. John Ellison, the dean at the University of Chicago, took this exploration a step further by promoting the university’s firm commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression in their latest acceptance letter. In this letter he wrote, “members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn, without fear of censorship.” Ellison goes on to explain that he does not mean that harassment or threats are acceptable. He is simply encouraging disagreement when it arises and the discomfort that comes with it. In this situation, why should one have to retreat to a safe space? It is important to deal with the discomfort and learn how to argue for oneself because once you leave university, that is what it is like in the real world. I can see why safe spaces and trigger warnings were created. It is important to be sensitive towards other people, but it is a very slippery slope. Where do you draw the line between appropriate censorship and going too far? Is there even such thing as appropriate censorship? We live in a country that prides itself on having free speech. There are countries around the world that still arrest journalists, and where free speech is prohibited. We should be celebrating what the United States of America and Canada have to offer, including the free speech that had to be fought for. According to the paper Ellison attached to the university’s letter, academic freedom is “a principle that requires us to defend autonomy of thought and expression in our community, manifest in the rights of our students and faculty to speak, write, and teach freely.” A university’s mission is to provide a space for learning. Learning and freedom of speech go hand in hand, since it is very difficult to have one without the other. If every guest speaker that might be controversial is canceled, students might miss out on a life-changing lecture, or at the very least, one where they learn valuable information. If every time an argument erupted and students had to leave the room to retreat to a safe space because there were differing ideas, there would be no arguments. It has been proven that when one is able to defend their stance, they strengthen it further. If there is harassment or bullying going on, then it is important for someone to step in and deal with it. But the solution is not to have a place where students are free from any confrontation or disagreement, because that is not realistic in life. Ellison did not mean to offend anyone. His purpose was to create a diverse campus and show how the University of Chicago is for complete freedom of speech. It is human nature to disagree, but unless it escalates to the point of harassment, there is no harm in being able to fully express oneself. There should not be limitations in a free country, especially not in a university environment, where the whole point is to get out of your comfort zone and learn as much as possible. How can you do that when you are living in constant fear of being censored every time you speak? University is supposed to prepare you for adulthood, and it cannot do this with boundaries put in place. * * * The post Letter to the Editor: “A Student’s Right to Speak, Write, Listen, Challenge, and Learn” appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  12. Dr. Greg Salmieri holds a fellowship in philosophy at the Anthem Foundation and currently teaches at Rutgers University. His published work focuses on Aristotle’s epistemology and ethics and Ayn Rand’s philosophy and novels. Of special note here, he is coeditor with the late Allan Gotthelf of the forthcoming Companion to Ayn Rand, the first volume to offer a comprehensive scholarly treatment of Rand’s corpus (including her novels, philosophical essays, and her analysis of the events of her times). Sydney Hoff of STRIVE had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Ghate on his upcoming talk at the 2016 #AynRandCon, titled Seize the Reins of Your Mind: The Objectivist Theory of Free Will. * * * Can you share some background information about yourself and why you chose to go into academia? As a child, I was always interested in big ideas. And I wanted a life that combined teaching, writing, and thinking about fundamental questions—questions about what sort of world we live in, about the standards for thinking, and about how we should live. Even early on I associated that sort of thinking with the word “philosophy,” but I didn’t think there was such a job as “philosopher”—at least not in the modern world. And I didn’t see any place where I could have that kind of a career. Frankly, I found it depressing. When I got to college, I found that that those sorts of discussions were taking place in the philosophy department, and that some of the professors had just the sort of mix of activities I’d always wanted in my career. How did you discover Objectivism? I discovered Objectivism twice, actually. The first time was when I was in junior high, as I was developing an interest in politics. My parents were what are sometimes called business conservatives—pro-business and anti-welfare, without a strong position on social issues—and I absorbed some of those ideas from them. But I was always looking for the principle behind things, and so my thinking was developing in a more radical direction. A relative told me that I sounded like Ayn Rand and gave me a copy of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. I read it during a period when I was reading other political books by authors across the ideological spectrum, and it was definitely my favorite. But it didn’t lead me directly to read more by her. I gradually became less interested in politics and more interested in ethics, thinking about my own life and the lives of people around me, rather than the society that I was in. When I went off to college, I knew that I was interested in philosophy but I had scattered knowledge of the field. I began attending the philosophy club meetings on my campus, and I was told by my fellow members that my thinking was very similar to that of a certain professor: Allan Gotthelf. They said he was a good resource on a number of topics that interested me (art, emotions, philosophy of mathematics), and added, “But you’ve got to put up with that fact that he always wants to talk about Ayn Rand.” I thought, “Wow! I really like her too!” In fact, some issues in the history classes I was taking that term re-sparked my interest in politics and I had been thinking of re-reading Capitalism. So I spoke with Allan, took one of his classes and read a bit more by Rand as part of the coursework. That got me interested in reading more and over the course of the next year, I read everything by her. By this time, I’d decided to major in philosophy, and so I was also starting to read the classics in the field—Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Hume, Kant, etc. Allan was a great teacher and resource to me throughout this process. We eventually became friends and worked together. Was Allan a mentor to you? Yes, I would say so. Was he the biggest inspiration for you in your college career? In terms of career path, he was one of several. Other professors, including some with whom I didn’t have much in common ideologically had a big impact as well. But I admired the way they taught or the fact that they were writing books expounding their own ideas and that these ideas were getting debated on campus. At that time Allan was doing mostly scholarly work on Ancient philosophy rather than writing on philosophical issues directly. Eventually, I gravitated in that direction as well, and he was definitely an influence in that. But it’s not the sort of work I envisioned myself doing when I first thought about being a philosopher. You wrote a book with Allan, entitled A Companion to Ayn Rand. Tell me about it. Note: Students, you may request a free copy of this book, here. There are many “companions” to different authors, and I like that genre. The books address their audience as people who are intelligent and educated, but who are relatively new to the author in question. They want to take the author seriously and relate him to the rest of their knowledge, and they’re looking for experts on the subject to fill in some of the context they need for that sort of thinking. This book is the first book on Rand whose central and sole purpose is to aid someone in that process. It is for someone who is exploring a lot of ideas, including Rand’s, and trying to figure out what is true. We’re not arguing for Rand’s specific positions, but rather serving as a guide and facilitating people who want to study her as part of a wider study of philosophy—or of some related field or issue. Rand was very much about tying philosophy to life—seeing philosophy as a tool for living on earth and something that comes out of your reflections on life. This book works to convey that, to help those exploring these ideas to understand what Rand was all about. Books in this genre are usually multi-author collections. That is the case here. Allan and I edited it by gathering people who are especially knowledgeable about Rand and getting them to write something about her. Onkar Ghate, amongst others, was also a contributor. The title of your talk is “Taking Responsibility for Your Own Happiness.” Why should we? Do people overlook this? Sadly, I think so. Most people don’t think much about their lives as a whole. They make decisions in the short and medium scale, from a very constrained set of options that are obvious and obviously available to them. They don’t put a lot of thought into what they want out of life as a whole, what a life can be like for them, and what their priorities are. Or they don’t think about it early enough. It is an important thing. Most people aren’t thinking, “What is most important to me, and how can I lead my life so as to get it?” Yet this is one of the most important questions you can ask. In my talk, I will discuss the ethical side of this issue; Gena will discuss the psychological methods surrounding the type of thinking involved in the issue (read about her talk here). You could have a conference on free will and discuss the topic in a very dry, unmotivated, academic manner, considering only the neuroscientific evidence, or metaphysical theories, for and against free will. But those discussions are only valuable because the question of whether we have free will or not matters. It matters to us what we have control over, what we have a choice about. It matters to us because we are people leading our lives —who need to make choices and know what we are responsible for, what we should hold other people responsible for, what we can and can’t accomplish, and what we should take pride in doing. In my talk, I will emphasize two key things. First, I will emphasize what, in your own thinking, can you take control of, and how can you take control of, your own mind and thinking? How can you avoid being a pawn of the ideas that you were brought up with? Onkar will discuss this further at the conference in his talk entitled “Seize the Reins of Your Mind” (see here). I will also emphasize how to apply this to your life, so that you aren’t just someone who does whatever someone like you is “expected” to do—what your parents, the culture, statistics, and so-on expect. But rather you are someone who recognizes that you have a finite amount of time to live and you don’t want to waste it! What are the pillars of Rand’s ethics, how can they help us understand how to become happy? That’s a big question. As a human being, one lives by reason. And reason’s role in your life is not just calculating how to satisfy whatever desires you happen to have, but one of conceiving of a whole life for yourself that is worth living, that you find inspiring. And that has to be a life, since we are creatures that live by reason, that features your capacity to think. Developing your mind and using it to its fullest is central to life. It also has to be a life such that the various things you do are integrated around some purpose. So that you are not like a ship adrift, pursuing one thing now and another thing later, without it ever adding up to anything. You need there to be some kind of sum that your life adds up to where you see yourself growing and making progress towards something. This something needn’t be concrete, but it has to be some kind of direction that you can see things adding up to and leading towards. Then, you have to own the fact that what you’re pursuing is your own vision of what you want out of life. What you are pursuing is your own happiness. And you have to have created the life, and yourself, in such a way that you can be confident that you are capable of achieving it and that you are worthy of achieving it. This all ties back to Objectivism’s three cardinal virtues: reason, purpose, and self-esteem. What do you hope students will gain from your talk? What is the takeaway? There are a few key things that I hope students take away from my talk. I hope they have a more fleshed out version of my answer to the previous question about Rand’s ethics and how understanding and living by them will enable us to achieve happiness. I also want students to gain a lens through which they can view the other topics, such as those that are more political or applied. One thing that philosophy can do for you is help you to see how other topics fit into a larger whole. Political topics address what kind of society we need to lead this kind of productive, meaningful, valuable life. Psychology topics address what techniques can help us lead this kind of life. I hope my talk connects the others in this way so that they become part of a larger system, rather than separate things in a vacuum. I hope my talk helps students to see the interconnection and commonalities between all of these topics. Lastly, I want to help students appreciate and engage with Rand’s work better, a small dose of the kind of help the Companion offers. I want to help them better put their fingers on the things in Rand’s works that resonate with them, and help them to think more clearly about those things. What is the first step toward being a happier person? Well, one good step is going to this conference. How do you become happy? What’s your personal strategy? Well, a detailed strategy on how to go about this is more Gena’s topic. That said, here’s what I think is helpful: Notice when you are just ‘going with the flow’ of what’s expected of you—by other people or yourself, based on some conventional view of what your life has to be like – but you’re not moving towards something that excites or interests you. For example, going to college because everyone else does after high school, picking a major because it seems the most convenient out of a small list of options, or taking a class because it’s the one that people in your major take—that’s going with the flow and acquiescing to expectations. Similarly, try to notice when you feel like you’re on a kind of track, rather than making progress towards something you’ve picked out and picked the means to. When you notice this—and we almost all find ourselves in this sort of position sometimes—ask yourself to think, ‘What do I want?’ You have to take the reins. You have to take charge. There are a number of times I remember doing this. In my first year of college, I had to decide what I wanted and how I could relate what I was doing at the time to these goals. At several points in my career, things weren’t going exactly as I had hoped and I had to think about how to reorient. Look for those moments when what you’re doing is following a script rather than pursuing something you love. And then devise and follow a plan to shift your actions so that your moments are out of passion, not duty. How would you boil down your ideas on happiness? What Rand and I mean when we talk about happiness is not just the pleasure you might feel in a moment. Rand described it as non-contradictory joy. An emotion that comes from achieving deeply held values, and knowing that the achievement of each of these values furthers your achievement of everything else that you want out of life, rather than conflicting with it. To have that experience is to have a certain kind of life. To have that kind of experience, that kind of emotion, and the kind of life that that emotion is the experience of, you need to possess a consistent and achievable hierarchy of values. Your values have to be integrated with one another such that achieving one helps, rather than frustrates, the others. And of course they all have to be things that it’s possible for you to work towards and achieve Your own day-to-day life and action have to be integrated around their achievement, so that your life isn’t a random bunch of motion, but instead a progression towards this goal. Any closing remarks you’d like to share? Just that I’m looking forward to meeting all the students at the conference. I’ve been to a number of conferences like this before, and I find that even when the programming is excellent (as I think it will be here), the informal discussions outside of the sessions are often more valuable. They give you a chance to really work through ideas in live, real-time conversation with people, which is something you can’t do with a book or even a YouTube video. It’s a value for the students, but for the speakers as well. So I’m looking forward to chatting with the students, and I hope you’ll all feel free to ask me questions or strike up a conversation if you see me. The post Taking Responsibility for Your Own Happiness: An Interview with Greg Salmieri appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  13. Dr. Onkar Ghate is a senior fellow and the Chief Content Officer at the Ayn Rand Institute. He has written and lectured extensively on philosophy and serves as Dean for the Institute’s Objectivist Academic Center. Sydney Hoff of STRIVE had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Ghate on his upcoming talk at the 2016 #AynRandCon, titled Seize the Reins of Your Mind: The Objectivist Theory of Free Will. * * * Hoff: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to be involved with the Ayn Rand Institute? Ghate: As an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, I studied economics and philosophy, and then I pursued a PhD in philosophy from the University of Calgary. ARI had previously offered advanced seminars to graduate students in philosophy, but after their first batch of students, they had stopped doing so for lack of demand. So, when in graduate school I wrote a letter to them letting them know that if they started up those seminars again, they would have at least one interested participant, me. Soon after, I happened to be in Los Angeles, where ARI was located at the time, and arranged to visit the executive director, which helped them put a face to the name in the letter. Happily, that spurred them to start up the seminars again, and that’s how my real involvement with ARI began. A few years after I earned my PhD, ARI invited me to teach an undergraduate course for them. After that, when Yaron Brook became executive director, I was his first hire. Now I’m the senior fellow and chief content officer at ARI. I’ve taught philosophy for over ten years at our Objectivist Academic Center, and I’ve contributed to many books on Rand’s fiction and philosophy. I didn’t pursue my PhD with the intention of working at ARI—I actually wanted to land a university teaching position and worked in the financial industry while searching for one—but I’m certainly glad I ended up at ARI. How did you discover Objectivism? I discovered Objectivism in high school. We had public speaking assignments in English class every year, and I had become interested in philosophical issues, especially the nature of good and evil, so I did my presentation on that. My older brother then told me that if this was the kind of issue I was interested in, I needed to read Atlas Shrugged. I did—in about three days—and then bought all of the Rand books that I could find, reading them cover to cover. Why talk about free will? How does this issue impact students’ lives on campus and beyond? There are at least two major, related reasons why free will is important to students’ lives. First, today we are bombarded with the perspective of determinism: that some combination of external facts, such as your upbringing, education, genetics, culture, and race, determine your fate. Now I don’t think this is true. But against it, it is not enough to say that you have some freedom. The real question to ask and answer is: In what does that freedom consist? Objectivism offers a unique perspective on the power you have over your life. It argues that your basic choice—to think or not to think—gives you considerable but delimited control of your mind and life. Understanding this helps you understand in what ways your development—and the course of your thinking and life—is under your direct control. Second, the issue of free will is important to the whole realm of ethics and morality. Ethics and choice go together. There is no point in saying that you should do X or you shouldn’t do Y if it isn’t within your choice to do X or to refrain from doing Y. You can hold yourself and others morally responsible only for that which is directly or indirectly chosen, directly and indirectly under one’s control. It is easy but damaging, for instance, to blame yourself for something you cannot actually control, or not to blame yourself for something that you could actually control. For this reason, there is a lot of value to be gained from having the right perspective on free will. I think this issue particularly resonates with students because you’re all in the process of making big decisions about life—What should I study? What kind of career and life do I want? What kind of person do I want to become? By what standards should I judge myself successful or unsuccessful? A proper perspective on what you can and cannot directly control should inform and illuminate all these important decisions. What do you hope students will gain from your talk? As I indicated, I hope students begin to learn how to set standards based on what is and is not open to their direct choice and control. It’s easy and not uncommon to have unrealistic standards by which you judge yourself and others. For example, you may be a student thinking about your future career. Most of your friends are very set and certain about their own desired career paths, but you’re not. Maybe you reproach yourself a bit for this; you feel a bit inadequate. But, morally, I don’t think this is a matter open to direct choice. You can’t simply will yourself onto a career path. This is an example of being too hard on oneself. But it is also possible to be too easy on yourself, to think, in effect, that I’m just not a person with a strong career passion, and leave it at that. That’s being too passive and deterministic. If you want a career, there definitely are things that you can begin to do that are in your direct control. To learn to navigate this kind of issue in life, which comes up all the time, I think requires a proper perspective on free will. The Objectivist perspective on free will helps one sort out these kinds of issue, and I hope students leave with increased clarity on that. How would this talk have helped you when you were 18-21? Well, related to what I just said, this talk would have helped me in evaluating myself and others. In particular, instead of being too hard on myself and others, I would have had a more accurate assessment. Any closing remarks? I’m excited about meeting everyone who’s choosing to come to the conference, especially the newcomers. Rand has an account of free will that they likely have never encountered before, and I think it’s a powerful and illuminating one. I’m eager to share and discuss it. * * * To learn more about the 2016 Ayn Rand Conference, visit the STRIVE website here. The post Seize the Reins of Your Mind: An Interview with Onkar Ghate appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  14. This article is reprinted with permission from the Harry Binswanger Letter, a paid discussion forum for Objectivists, moderated by Dr. Binswanger. For more information or to sign up for a free trial, visit: http://www.hbletter.com — Ayn Rand’s achievement in philosophy is so immense that to do it justice in an article would take an Ayn Rand. From “existence exists” to a new definition of Romanticism in art; from the theory of universals to the nature of self-esteem; from the role of the mind in production to the esthetics of music; from the metaphysical status of sensory qualities to the need for objective law-like a philosophical Midas, any area she touched turned to knowledge. And all this from a novelist, a novelist who found that to define her concept of an ideal man she had to answer basic philosophical questions, and that each answer she reached confirmed, strengthened, and added to her previous answers, until she had formulated an invincible philosophic system. That system, Objectivism, has many distinctions: its originality, its independence of philosophic tradition, its integration—but these aspects become irrelevant in light of what is most distinctive about Ayn Rand’s philosophy: it is true. One of the greatest and rarest of philosophic achievements is to add a valid concept to the language. Ayn Rand left us a whole vocabulary. She formed new concepts—e.g., “psycho-epistemology,” “sense of life,” “concept-stealing.” She took traditional terms, gave them rational definitions, and transformed then into the solid girders of her intellectual structure—e.g., “reason,” “essence,” “selfishness,” “rights,” “art.” Then there were the floating abstractions, the package-deals, and the anti-concepts (three more of her terms) that she demolished—e.g., “duty,” “extremism,” “the public interest.” Blasting away false alternatives, she drew her own distinctions in terms of essentials: “the primacy of existence vs. the primacy of consciousness,” “the intrinsic and the subjective vs. the objective,” “the metaphysical vs. the man-made,” “selfishness vs. sacrifice,” “errors of knowledge vs. breaches of morality,” “economic power vs. political power. ” In an age that scorns consistency and integration, Ayn Rand created a unified, hierarchically ordered system. Consider, for example, her definition of capitalism: “Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.” Supporting that definition is a theory of individual rights: “A ‘right’ is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.” Supporting that, in turn, is a theory of morality, of the nature of principles and their role in human life, of man’s nature, of freedom, and of society. And supporting each of these elements there are further principles—e.g., supporting her concept of freedom is the distinction between initiated and retaliatory physical force, the connection between voluntary action and free will, the relationship of free will to the law of causality, the basis of causality in the law of identity, and the relationship of the axiom of identity to the axiom of existence. Such is the power, and the glory, of Ayn Rand’s thought. Words are the tools of thought. Today, when philosophers are staring blankly at these tools, while the best among them are trying to use saws as hammers and the average ones are “proving” that saws do not exist, Ayn Rand created the intellectual equivalents of the electron microscope and the computerized laser drill. In the explosion of philosophical knowledge Ayn Rand produced, I would single out six landmarks—six breakthroughs representing the major turning points in philosophy: The primacy of existence The theory of concepts The theory of free will Man’s Life as the standard of morality The moral basis of individual rights The psycho-epistemology of art… To continue reading, visit the blog Value for Value. Creative commons licensed image courtesy of Flickr user david_jones. The post Ayn Rand’s Philosophic Achievement: Guest Post by Dr. Harry Binswanger appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
  15. In anticipation for the Ayn Rand Student Conference this November, we tapped Gena Gorlin on the shoulder to share a sneak preview of her upcoming talk. It explores how students can think and go about achieving long-term, personal happiness. * * * Before we begin, could you tell me a little bit about yourself? I completed my Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia and my doctoral internship training at Brown University. I am currently a research and clinical postdoctoral fellow at Boston University’s renowned Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). I have extensive experience conducting psychotherapy with distressed young adults and high-performing athletes and professionals. I’m also a graduate of ARI’s 4-year Objectivist Academic Center program, a former campus club founder and president, and a proud founding member and current board member of TU / STRIVE. I spend most of my spare time either swing dancing, catching up on the past 50 years’ worth of great TV shows, writing songs and poems, playing violin, or singing (mostly vocal jazz these days, though, fun fact, I did get a year-and-a-half of conservatory training in opera performance a long, long time ago). How did you discover Objectivism? In 8th grade, my English teacher assigned The Giver. I had already read it several times, so I asked if I could read something else. My teacher suggested I read Anthem. I loved it, but thought it was probably a one out—no author writes more than one book that good. I didn’t think about it again until my freshman year of high school, when I was unhappy with my social life and priorities and I was searching for answers. I read Perks of Being a Wallflower, which happens to quote The Fountainhead. That reminded me of Ayn Rand and how much I had enjoyed Anthem, so I asked my dad to bring home a copy of The Fountainhead from the library. The rest is history. Why talk about happiness and psychology? How does this apply to students’ lives on campus, and why should they care? It isn’t obvious or automatic to know how to choose your goals or values. I’ve worked with a lot of college students and college is a really pivotal time to decide how things will go. Of course, you never reach a time when you can’t turn your life around, but college is your window of opportunity to get started in the right direction because it’s your first time autonomous from your parents, deciding what classes to take, how late to stay out, who to live with, etc. You’re so free to explore and try different majors and styles of thinking and ways of life. College is this really unique opportunity that you could either benefit or fail to benefit from depending on what tools you have and how self-aware you are. It’s a time to seize the reins and become intentional and purposeful about how you manage your motivations and the habits that you form—not just basic habits like doing laundry and going to bed on time, but also mental and emotional habits, like whether you spend time dwelling unconstructively on setbacks and failures, or whether you’re able to regain confidence and spring back into “action” mode. In short, it’s a prime time to work towards success and long-term happiness. Happiness is often dismissively thought of or regarded as this easy, cheap, superficial pursuit. It’s really important to realize what an exacting and difficult and noble pursuit it actually is. Part of the challenge is to figure out how to integrate long-term planning and goal-pursuit—which is, of course, a major focus of our college years, and properly so—with the conscious experiencing and enjoyment of the here-and-now. Just as it’s unhealthy to neglect the consequences of our current actions on our long-term, future happiness, so it’s equally unhealthy to focus on chasing future ends at the expense of ever living in the present. To take seriously the pursuit of happiness as your “moral purpose” (Ayn Rand’s radical idea) is to strive for it in every moment of your life, and not just as some distant future end to which your daily misery is the means. But to strike this balance between future-based planning and present-moment savoring is a delicate and complex science, as I will be discussing in my talk. How do happiness and psychology relate to free will? Our psychological health and happiness crucially depend on our willingness to take active responsibility for those aspects of our mental and physical life we do control, such as the focus of our attention in any given moment, or the voluntary actions that we take. Just as crucially, it depends on our ability to relinquish control and practice serene acceptance of those aspects we do not control, such as how we feel in any given moment, or the unhelpful thoughts that occasionally pop into our minds. Thus understanding the nature and scope of our free will—that is, of what we do and do not control—is central to the pursuit of happiness. In a sense, our free will is our most powerful weapon as human beings: it can elevate us to great heights or it can destroy us, depending on how we wield it. My talk will provide the initial sketch of a “how-to” guide for wielding this weapon more confidently and effectively, and for maximizing its positive impact on our life and happiness. What do you hope students will gain from your talk, and what can they do to change the culture on their own campuses? I hope students will be able to apply the tools and strategies I discuss, and notice their lives improving as a result. I hope they observe themselves growing more confident and courageous and see the fruits that follow from that. Relatedly, by consciously identifying the importance and possibility of shaping one’s own life in a way that leads to happiness and doing so intentionally, these students will serve as role models. They can spread the word on their campuses in a way that allows for this idea and relevant methodology to spread. They can be change-agents, leading by example. My talk will also normalize various forms of unhappiness. Depression and anxiety are normal. Embracing free will and becoming happier is a process. The first step is to be honest with ourselves and accept and embrace all the ways in which we aren’t there yet. Face reality. There is no shame or weakness in facing the things that make us unhappy or currently aren’t going well. In fact, it takes a lot of courage. I want to emphasize this in my talk, because I think it is something many college students need to hear. In essence, I want to help the students who come to my talk to be change-agents for themselves. They have agency over whatever change it is that they want to make. They can be agents in their own lives and then they can become agents of change in their own local campus culture and beyond. How would this talk have helped you when you were 18-21? A lot! I get better with each additional strategy and insight I pick up, in ways I wouldn’t have imagined because I didn’t know there was so much to learn about happiness. I wish I could have known about these skills sooner because I would have had that much more time and leisure to enjoy their fruits. These skills are both surprisingly learnable and surprisingly difficult. You can do it, but it won’t be quite as easy as you may expect! That said, don’t ever settle for something that isn’t quite you or quite good. Use these skills to find the happiness you deserve. Any closing remarks? I want to say that I’m deeply grateful for the life-long friendships, inspiring mentorships, and countless personal and professional growth opportunities that my involvement with ARI and TU/STRIVE has afforded me. I am, in fact, an infinitely happier person thanks to the existence of these organizations and I’m excited at the chance to serve as a kind of ambassador to the newest generation of student leaders and intellectual activists joining our incredible community. Welcome, you guys, and I can’t wait to meet you at AynRandCon! [TU] The post Taking Responsibility for Your Happiness appeared first on The Undercurrent. Link to Original
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