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dream_weaver

The God of the Machine

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The God of the Machine, by Isabel Patterson

I thumbed through this back in the 90's. It has been a more interesting read after re-immersing myself in Ayn Rand's literature over the past several years. Here's a couple of highlights that stood out in the first third of the book.

Informed and thoughtful Americans remained aware that the savage in his original condition did obey a moral code although he had no government. Being acquainted at first hand with the limitations of a primitive culture, such men of intellect had no desire to revert to savagery in quest of a sentimental illusion; what interested them was the reasonable question: if government did not prevent crime and enforce virtue, what did it do? If in certain conditions government could be dispensed with altogether, why and to what extent was it actually necessary in any condition?

Pg. 65

Essentially, this boils down to the question: What is the purpose of Government?

By this view, men are neither wholly "noble" nor incorrigibly bad, but rather imperfect creatures gifted with the divine spark and so capable of improvement, perhaps in the long run of "perfectibility." This is essentially a secular application of the Christian doctrine of the individual soul, born to immortality, with the faculty of free-will, which includes the possibility of sin or error, yet equally enabled to strive toward salvation, its heritage. Let anyone who does not recognize the connection of these principles try to rewrite the Declaration of Independence without reference to a divine source of human rights. It cannot be done; the axiom is missing. A philosophy of materialism can admit no rights whatever; hence the most grinding despotism ever known resulted at once from the "experiment" of Marxist communism, which could posit nothing but a mechanistic process for its validation. The Christian idea was necessary to the concept of freedom. The Roman idea was indispensable for the form—a government of laws and not of men. The question posed by the absence of government in savage society had to be dropped for the time being, because nobody recognized it as a matter of engineering; and it cannot be expressed otherwise. It is of course a moral problem, since it concerns the relation of human beings; but the specific relations involved are those which include time and space. The organization of actions over time and space constitutes the science of engineering.

Pg. 69-70

Written in 1943, 14 years prior to the publication of the 12 year effort to write Atlas Shrugged, along with numerous mentions in her letters and journal notes about "The God of the Machine", I can't help but wonder if Isabel threw down the gauntlet, so to speak, with regard to my bolded passages.

Government by force is a contradiction in terms and an impossibility in physics. Force is what is governed. Government originates in the moral faculty.

Pg. 72

In a hyperbole that I am fond of asking at times: If the right questions lead to the right answers, where do the wrong questions lead? — I can't help but wonder how much influence Isabel Patterson may have held given the numerous references that Ayn Rand attributed to her in letters, journal entrees and subsequent articles (The Objectivism Research CD-Rom.)

 

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"Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong, and disfigure their faces with black paint, it denotes that their hearts are black, and then they are often cruel and relentless, and our old men and women are unable to restrain them. Thus it has ever been. Revenge by young men is considered gain, even at the cost of their own lives, but old men who stay at home in times of war, and mothers who have sons to lose, know better."

Chief Seattle described an indisputable physical phenomenon, a diversion of surplus energy. Obviously primitive war can be begun and carried on by impulse on the part of the fighting men. In the conditions, it could not be conducted by any other means. If the young men were in militant mood, nothing could conceivably restrain them except persuasion. They are the force.

Pg. 74

The recent violent events at Berkeley has a partial echo of this and brings to mind Rand's article The Cashing-In: The Student "Rebellion".

These children are not facing the powerless Indian council of war. They are exemplifying the Intellectual Activist's "triumphant release of the primordial brute."

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I'll add this caveat here from The Objectivist Newsletter: Vol. 3 No. 10   October, 1964:

Regretfully, I must warn you also about the book's flaws; they are far less than its virtues, but they are there. The book suffers from a faulty organization. It is not written as a consecutive, systematic presentation of a case, but more as a series of essays dealing with various aspects of the theme. This creates a certain confusion, particularly at the start, in the first three chapters.

Granted, this excerpt is from chapter 8, and the considerations are being made from two different cultural perspectives.

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Providing a little context (from page 13):

What the past shows, by overwhelming evidence, is that the imponderables outweigh every material article in the scales of human endeavor. Nations are not powerful because they possess wide lands, safe ports, large navies, huge armies, fortifications, stores, money, and credit. They acquire those advantages because they are powerful, having devised on correct principles the political structure which allows the flow of energy to take its proper course. The question is, how; for the generator and the possible transmission lines and available outlets to either benefit or destruction are always the same. The only difference between past and present in respect of energy is quantitative, a higher potential available at a higher flow, which makes a wrong hook-up more appalling in its effect by the given ratio, becoming apparent literally in a world explosion. The principles of the conversion of energy and of its appropriate mechanism for human use cannot change; these are universals.

Isolating this element:

The question is, how; for the generator and the possible transmission lines and available outlets to either benefit or destruction are always the same.

One can take the liberty to derive:

Human beings, in conjunction with the philosophy of their culture, can only serve towards benefit or destruction. This is always the same.

 

Taking one further point from this excerpt:

The principles of the conversion of energy and of its appropriate mechanism for human use cannot change; these are universals.

Consider modifying "of its appropriate mechanism" to "of its appropriate or inappropriate mechanism." If the right questions lead to the right answers, where do the wrong questions lead? It should follow then, that the right answers lead to the appropriate mechanisms, whilst the wrong answers lead to the inappropriate mechanisms. — just sayin'.

 

The final consideration on this excerpt is:

The only difference between past and present in respect of energy is quantitative.

The relationship between "quantitative" and "measurement" is the "what" that is being counted. With regard to "energy", the "what" is, as far as I know, yet philosophically ambiguous.

Edited by dream_weaver
added (from page 13)

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On 2/3/2017 at 0:00 AM, dream_weaver said:

"Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong, and disfigure their faces with black paint, it denotes that their hearts are black, and then they are often cruel and relentless, and our old men and women are unable to restrain them. Thus it has ever been. Revenge by young men is considered gain, even at the cost of their own lives, but old men who stay at home in times of war, and mothers who have sons to lose, know better."

Chief Seattle described an indisputable physical phenomenon, a diversion of surplus energy. Obviously primitive war can be begun and carried on by impulse on the part of the fighting men. In the conditions, it could not be conducted by any other means. If the young men were in militant mood, nothing could conceivably restrain them except persuasion. They are the force.

Pg. 74

The recent violent events at Berkeley has a partial echo of this and brings to mind Rand's article The Cashing-In: The Student "Rebellion"

I don't think this passage is anti-opposition or advocating only peaceful protest.

It's saying that youth expend more energy in the face of wrongs - and those wrongs might be real or imaginary. Right or wrong, they are fighting for ideals that older men and mothers have stopped fighting for. Youth are a force to be reckoned with.

That is how the American Revolution happened. The colonists destroyed tea, complained about the British, broke the law on purpose. The British wanted obedience, but that wasn't enough to restrain their "children" throwing a "'tantrum".

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4 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I don't think this passage is anti-opposition or advocating only peaceful protest.

This was put on record by a famous chief, old Seattle, who had been instrumental in uniting a number of Pacific Coast tribes. When the white men came, he saw that his people were done for. In a valedictory oration, acceding to a treaty, he explained, recapitulating the function of the chief simply as matter of fact: "Youth is impulsive. . . ."

Early American's had viewed the Indian tribes as being without government. From where they came from, and what they had been taught, the Indians lived in a way was not supposed to be possible.

it was a profound shock to discover that crime was rather less prevalent among savages with no government than in a society with authoritarian government minutely applied. The savages practiced most of the lay virtues: courage, hospitality, truthfulness, loyalty, perhaps even chastity. True that they made war and were sometimes cruel, but Europeans made war and legalized torture. pg. 64

The young Indian men were moved by vengeance rather than the ideal that was gathering heat in the hearts of the colonists. The old Indian men and women saw otherwise because they held to the ways of tradition passed down for as long as they could remember. Yes, the ire of the young men could not be held in sway by the council of the elders, generating a force which could not be contained nor directed by the councils frame of reference.

The protesters are like the young Indian men, in that they are moved by the emotion of the moment, brought about by the teaching they have been exposed to. In this way, the violence of the protest is a regression to a more primitive form of conflict resolution. This is why I characterized it as the "triumphant release" or perhaps the advance "of the primordial brute."

Edited by dream_weaver

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This has to be re-stated, for the simple meaning of the statement that the right to life and liberty are inalienable has been forgotten or deliberately obscured. Persons unaccustomed to attach exact meanings to words will say that the fact that a man may be unjustly executed or imprisoned negates this proposition. It does not. The right is with the victim none the less; and very literally it cannot be alienated, for alienated means passing into the possession of another. One man cannot enjoy either the life or liberty of another. If he kills ten men he will not thereby live ten lives or ten times as long; nor is he more free if he puts another man in prison. Rights are by definition inalienable; only privileges can be transferred. Even the right to own property cannot be alienated or transferred; though a given item of property can be. If one man's rights are infringed, no other man obtains them; on the contrary, all men are thereby threatened with a similar injury. pg. 89

She goes on from here to take Jeremy Bentham's "the greatest good of the greatest number" to task. Meanwhile, Mark Scott's line, "If you don't know your rights, you don't have any" is brought back into clear focus through this passage.

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1 hour ago, dream_weaver said:

In this way, the violence of the protest is a regression to a more primitive form of conflict resolution. This is why I characterized it as the "triumphant release" or perhaps the advance "of the primordial brute."

I don't think so, I mean, the teaching they're most exposed to is actually endless dialogue and compromise. The passage you cited is clearly not saying a violent reaction is always wrong. Of course it would appear to be a regression in either case. You took a quote on page 64 which shows that some Europeans regressed from reason and persuasion. Dialogue and reason was no longer available to the natives. The colonists did the same thing. If the other side refuses to listen, reason doesn't work. King George only grew worse.

What matters if the wrong they are fighting really is wrong.

I'm not sure if you disagree.

EDIT: Patterson seems to quote Chief Seattle because she likes what he said.

Edited by Eiuol

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I'm not clear on your position here. Are you implying that the protesters that vandalized and set fire to the buildings had a well reasoned case forming the basis for their protest that was not being listened to?

Edited by dream_weaver

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19 minutes ago, dream_weaver said:

I'm not clear on your position here. Are you implying that the protesters that vandalized and set fire to the buildings had a well reasoned case forming the basis for their protest that was not being listened to?

No, just that they aren't childlike for protesting in that manner. I bet many had a case to offer, but felt that their rights were violated, so chose this instead as a response. I'd rather emphasize that their view on rights is wrong, therefore the response was unjustified. Their view on rights is probably childlike though (e.g. wahh education is a right, it should be free!) Otherwise, we'd end up saying to always stick to persuasion and that the American Revolution was an emotional temper tantrum.

In general, it might be primordial, but that's on the rights violator for causing. Whether the violator really is a violator is another issue. It seems like Patterson agrees with me on this part.

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I was using "children" as a pejorative. Since the age of reason, better reasoning has been available, just not availed to. In the case of the Indian braves, they were acting according to their traditions and upbringing. Patterson's passage on rights came later in the book, and the simple meaning, as she iterates, seems to have been forgotten or deliberately obscured. In this case it seems the "right" demanded by the protesters is veto power over the school's right to set the venue for a particular speaker.

Edited by dream_weaver

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I don't follow what you're getting at. You seemed to be saying that things like a violent resistance are always wrong and used Patterson and Rand as support for that. Thus calling the students here children. But Patterson didn't suggest in your quotes that resorting to force at times is always wrong - just that youth are more likely to protest with force despite "tradition". As I remember about Rand, she seemed to be against the style of protest but still focused on the students' having baseless claims.

So I mention the American Revolution to show that the issue isn't the act, it's the why.

I want to read the rest of Patterson's book, it looks cool. From what I read before, it's good information, but not good at creating a moral foundation to individual rights. She seems insightful as far as recognizing rights as the fundamental concern of politics.

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I used a particular protest, elements of which reminded me of Miss Rand's article. Both took place at Berkeley. Both were directed toward aspects disagreement with the policies of the administration. It would be quite the hasty generalization to go from two particulars being wrong to "violent resistances are always wrong."

Patterson's consideration of old Seattle's speech characterized how an elder statesman of the Noble Savages viewed the young braves. I did not look for supporting documentation to find commentary about the recent Berkeley incident that might characterize the protesters in a similar vein.

I'm enjoying re-reading Patterson's book. Seeing some of Miss Rand's comments in her review of the book points out Patterson's reliance on engineering terms creates the impression of a metaphorical discussion. And with metaphor in mind, some day Rand should reach the status of Pytheas, albeit without the loss of her books.

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