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Tom Rexton

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  1. Please don't be so hostile and be a bit more charitable in your interpretation of others' argument. Some here have been rather emphatic of their points, but nowhere have I seen any attempts to argue against you by non-rational means. Just because several of us think differently about the effects and power of ideas, you should not accuse us of being unthinking, blind followers who act as a mob. (See your statements I highlighted in bold.) If you're still willing to engage this argument, let me elaborate on some points. It's not simply a matter of either 1. People blindly following whatever ideas are implanted into their heads by figures of authority, intellectuals or others. OR 2. People acting and thinking rationally most or all of the time, immune to nonsense and to bad philosophy. You seem to lean towards number 2. But number 2 is clearly false given the history of mankind. Looking at the history of ideas and philosophy in particular, and then looking at the subsequent history of mankind, surely you must at least acknowledge that people can be convinced and moved to action by philosophy? Have you looked at the ascendancy of Christianity in the Dark Ages? The Scientific Revolution and Industrial Revolution following the Age of Enlightenment? The waves of socialist/communist revolutions following the 19th century? How do you explain these events? The reason philosophy has such a powerful impact is because it is PHILOSOPHY. Do you fully understand what that means? Philosophy is the fundamental view of existence, of man and man's relationship to existence. Do you know the relationship between man's life and philosophy? Man needs philosophy to guide his life. His nature is unlike that of other animals: he cannot act automatically and cannot be guided by instinct. He cannot act short-range and without thought. He is a rational creature in need of guidance--how to acquire and justify his knowledge (epistemology), how to conduct his life (morality), how to live with others (politics), etc... He needs philosophy to live. Philosophy directs the most fundamental aspects of man's life. If you understand this much, then you understand the distinction between philosophy and mere ideas. People can be highly compartmentalized and be rational in other aspects of their lives. Hence, many people can reject nonsense when it comes to a lot of practical matters concerning reality, and yet still be deeply irrational when it comes to, say, morality. But such individuals are highly vulnerable, because it is ultimately their philosophy that guides them over the course of their life. If the predominant philosophy in society stresses adherence to authority (or whims, feelings, and other non-rational sources) in matters of knowledge and morality, then the individuals within that society will be highly susceptible to bad ideas and will more or less act like a mob. They will be easily spoon-fed and moved to act like robots. But on the other the other hand, if the individuals in that society are largely rational and independent thinkers because they hold a rational philosophy, then of course they will be immune to nonsense and even bad philosophy. It is true that most people to some extent think and acquire their ideas by rational evaluation. If they have managed to survive to adulthood at all they have some common sense and can think logically to at least a limited extent. However, they do not acquire their philosophy as Ayn Rand did. Most people are nowhere near the kind of system-builders that, say, Aristotle or Kant was. And this is not in any way due to a failure or defect in themselves. After all, to develop such a full-blown philosophical system particularly when it is in opposition to the predominant philosophy, would require a staggering level of intelligence and a life devoted to intellectual pursuits (e.g., a professor, writer or scientist). Instead, most people--from housewives to CEO's--absorb most of their philosophical premises from the society around them. They certainly choose which philosophy to accept. But they do not create the menu of philosophies presented to them. This is why philosophers are so influential. They are the ultimate source of philosophy, which is not mere ideas but the kind of ideas that guides man's life, that directs his thoughts, his actions, his plans. In some ways, if we work towards promoting a rational philosophy for society, in which people act and think rationally and independently, we will diminish the power of philosophers. In such an ideal scenario, bad philosophers have weak or no influence. But we can never diminish the power of philosophy itself. That is inextricably tied to man's nature. I implore you to evaluate the ideas Ayn Rand presented in her speech "Philosophy: Who Needs It?" Have you read that essay? Do you at least understand (if not agree with) its points? If you do, then you'll know where many of us are coming from. I've probably belabored the point in this thread on the movie Avatar. Now how does this apply to the movie itself? Well, for those of us who already have a rational philosophy, we can enjoy it for what it is, acknowledge its achievements and ignore its irrational elements--as you yourself seem to do. If most Americans were of a similar mind, then the movie would be largely harmless. But I believe much our society has been brought up otherwise. This is why I think the movie has a more harmful effect than you think. It is because of the effects of bad philosophy and the re-emergence of religion since the end of the Enlightenment that has made Americans very vulnerable to bad ideas. Please do not think that I'm arguing that this movie will single-handedly bring about the second Dark Ages. I do not think it's any more harmful than your typical movie with a bad philosophy. But nevertheless I think it is harmful because people are taking its ideas---nonsensical and inconsistent as they may be with its plot and characters---seriously. And they are taking it seriously because they have been conditioned to do so by bad philosophy.
  2. We should be very concerned about the ideas that Cameron is promoting through this movie. Art--especially of the popular variety such as movies, music and literature--are the principal means by which the ideas of philosophers and other intellectuals are spread to the public. Why do you think dictators and authoritarian governments prohibit, regulate and fear this activity most of all? They do not so much fear the intellectual, whose esoteric ideas are not easily understood by the general public, as they fear the people who spread such ideas to the public in a way that they can comprehend in terms of their own values. This is one of the main reasons why Ayn Rand has been such a powerful and influential philosopher. Rather than publishing technical works in obscure philosophical journals, she wrote novels that reach and resonate with the general public. She is both a philosopher and an artist--a very potent combination. But the ideas of a philosopher can be spread by others. Very few people today--even philosophy majors--have likely read the works of Immanuel Kant. His ideas were not disseminated primarily by his published works--obscure and arcane as they are--but by others and especially writers, teachers, artists and the like who were able to reach a wide and general audience. Jim Cameron is no serious philosopher; that much is obvious. But he is an influential mouthpiece for bad ideas, and will be particularly pernicious to those who do take ideas seriously, namely budding intellectuals, philosophers, and future leaders. The anti-evolution and homophobic Christian right you mention are very cognizant of this fact as well. But unlike them, I do not, and I doubt that anyone on this forum does as well, advocate the use of force to censor such bad ideas. That is a crucial distinction, and I find it very disturbing that you would lump our discourse on this thread with their "arguments" as way to portray it in a negative light.
  3. The severity of the Great Depression was a consequence of destructive economic policies instituted after Coolidge. It was a result of the interventions of Hoover, FDR and Congress that aggravated and prolonged a typical recession--which have occurred dozens of times before Coolidge--into a decade long catastrophe. Coolidge is no more guilty of the Great Depression than previous presidents were for the recessions that occurred in their time. Moreover, at the time of Coolidge, economists were still debating the causes of business cycles and the Austrian economists have just recently published their business cycle theory (which was not really fleshed out until after Hayek, anyways). As such, Coolidge can hardly be blamed for not being well-versed in technical economic theory written in the Austrian language. Furthermore, it was not the "bubble" of the 1920's that set the stage for the Great Depression. At best you can argue that the Fed's policy set in motion a boom-bust cycle (of course), as it always does. But that did not determine the severity of the Depression at all. You are seriously mistaken if you think that it was the low interest rate of the 1920's that determined the Depression's depth and duration. It did not have to be so bad--even with the Fed's inflationary policy in the 1920's. The government could have responded to the recession of 1929-1930 as they did in previous recessions: cut the budget, rein-in spending, keep their hands-off and wait for the economy sort itself out. But of course they didn't. And no, the boom in the 1920's was not fake or false. It was real economic growth with enormous beneficial consequences for the nation. And it was not undone by any of Coolidge's doing. During the 1930's when the government raised taxes, kept wages high, practically banned international trade, destroyed the gold standard, passed the New Deal, and so on, they were certainly not valiantly trying to save the economy from Coolidge's faults or omissions. They were destroying it.
  4. Be very careful in ascribing the "purpose" of any biological feature or behavior or actions of a living organism. One of the ways in which evolution works is by adapting organs or actions suited for one purpose to another function. It's called "exaptation"--look it up in any decent biology textbook. It's also possible for a physical trait or action to serve more than one purpose--as John Link points out in an earlier post. Nothing in reality excludes Nature from giving sex other purposes besides reproduction. In fact, many biologists who study the sexual behavior of higher mammals, such as dolphins and Bonobo's, find evidence that sexual acts serve social functions. If Nature can use the pleasure of sex to create and maintain social bonds among other mammals, why not in humans, who have even more complex social relationships? Given this, you simply cannot argue that Nature dictates a strictly reproductive purpose for sex and thereby claim that "there is no reason to have sex" with someone whom you deeply admire and value if you don't intend to have children with them.
  5. Inflation is actually falling despite the Fed's attempts because banks worldwide have been contracting credit (the main means of monetary expansion in a fractional reserve banking system). The erosion of existing banks' capital and the failure of several banks are working to shrink the money supply, so even though the Fed is pumping hundreds of billions into the system we will not face high inflation (or for that matter hyperinflation) anytime soon. We are facing a scenario where the demand for money-balances has skyrocketed while the money supply has shrunk or is barely keeping up even with the Fed's efforts. Not surprisingly (at least to me), the dollar has rallied massively as gold and other commodities have fallen substantially. Just look at the direction of prices in general--gas, housing, food, commodities, many ordinary consumer goods--they're stalling or falling. This is equivalent to the dollar gaining value. And as you mentioned, these hundreds of billions the Fed is pumping into the system is not even a net increase in money because they've been withdrawing hundreds of billions from the system by issuing government securities to finance these "rescues". The worry, of course, is that when the economy finally recovers and banks begin to expand credit once more, these trillions of dollars the Fed has added will begin to take effect.
  6. Where have you been?

  7. He also disparages the oracle's prophecy as mysticism, and pleads that the Ephors use their reason (not the oracle's babbles) to approve of his plan. Surely you remember that scene? So no, he wasn't just referring to Persian mysticism. He may have said, "pray, we don't..." whatever misfortune may happen, but this is no more harmful that the everyday expression of relief "Thank God!"
  8. These are interesting facts you point out. Could you give some references that I could read further? (no Wikipedia entry; that is not an authoritative source.) The movie presents only the agoge practice in Sparta, though. I didn't catch any other reprehensible practice Spartans may have had, so it doesn't change my judgment of the movie at all. However, your description of Spartan life might make me think otherwise of the real Sparta.
  9. I don't particularly discount their value given their practice of slavery. Almost every society up to the end of the Enlightenment practiced slavery. Even Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves! Would you say they didn't "really" fight for "freedom" because of this? Are the Declaration of Independence, the War for Independence, and the Founding Fathers vile "beyond comprehension" because of this? One can say, after all, they were merely fighting to be masters of the imported African slaves, and not slaves to the British parliament. Ancient Greece was no ideal society, either. They owned slaves. Only the (property-owning) men were citizens. Women were only marginally better off than slaves. They had a government that was truly democratic (mob-rule), not capitalistic. Nevertheless we admire them. Why?
  10. Nah, the French government is sitting on the third (or fourth) largest nuclear arsenal in the world, after the USA and Russia (and perhaps China). If they are under threat of being supplanted by a Caliphate, we'll have no choice but to invade France ASAP to prevent those 350 french nuclear warheads from landing in the USA.
  11. As great as the Free State Project may sound, I suspect it will continue to fail to garner any true supporters. Most Objectivists have made their lives here in the United States. Their jobs, their productive career, their friends and families--all their primary values reside here and cannot be moved easily (if at all). To ask them to tear themselves away from their primary values (because the hypothetical island-state/city-state will likely be so tiny and isolated that it will not have the enormous opportunities for productive careers there are in the United States) would be to ask them to act selflessly, to sacrifice their values for something that would be akin to a "greater good"--wholly contrary to Objectivism! State-building is the least likely scenario--simply because of the hardships and difficults involved. It will likely remain a mere possibility until the entire world is TRULY in dire conditions.
  12. "Believe" is just another one of the concepts corrupted by modern philosophy and religion. I think it is a valid concept, like "selfishness", that can be reclaimed from the clutches of irrational epistemology. "Believe" simply means "to consider as true." This definition does not indicate motives or reasons for consider something true, and does not need to.
  13. If you all sincerely believe that Western Civilization is inexorably in decline, then a capitalist civilization on some other planet is out of the question for at least the next 500 to 1000 years, because technological progress will soon stop (it has already slowed down in many ways) and then retrogress, as it did in the West when the Roman Empire collapsed. An interesting question then is, to what level could Western Civilization collapse? Back to Medieval feudalism? Or even more primitive tribalism?
  14. I assume you're not too familiar with Objectivism; otherwise, you wouldn't have attributed backwardness fundamentally to politics, technology and geographical determinism ( found in "Guns, Germs and Steel"). Objectivism holds that philosophy is the primary and fundamental cause of human history. (This doesn't mean that other factors don't have any effects.) Therefore, the Middle-East's backwardness is fundamentally a result of the wholly anti-man, anti-life, anti-reason philosophy (Islam) of Moslems. Christianity was just as virulent as Islam in the Dark Ages, but it was largely blunted by 500 years of the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment. Islam, too, was blunted briefly by an exposure to ancient Greek philosophy in the Middle Ages, during which Islamic civilization progressed. But that was soon extirpated by the rise of fundamentalism just as Europe was on the verge of the Renaissance.
  15. I really don't think you do, because the definitive answer to your question lies in Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology--which you seem to have read nothing about. The fundamental reasons for Objectivism's atheism is 1. In metaphysics: the principle of the primacy of existence and the law of identity 2. In epistemology: sense perception of reality as the base of knowledge reason as the only means of knowledge logic as the fundamental method of knowledge The metaphysical principles are the primary reasons for rejecting the existence of God--any god. The principle of the primacy of existence precludes the existence of any supernatural, conscious being responsible for the creation and/or maintenance of the universe. The law of identity precludes the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient being. The epistemological principles preclude any means and method of knowledge other than logical reasoning from sense percepetion (e.g., faith, feeling, intuition, etc.), so the whole claim that "God is supra-logical" is itself nonsense and can be dismissed with no second thoughts. To truly understand these principles (and therefore understand Objectivism), you'll have to do some indepth study and reading of Ayn Rand's writings, and not rely solely on forums such as this. I'd highly recommend you read Ayn Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand for a more thorough explication of the aforementioned principles. [edited for spelling and grammatical errors, and added the last sentence]
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