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Everything posted by Dante

  1. I think this discussion has missed what I see to be the money quote from that Swift interview, and it's not the one where he says that parents should think about how they're disadvantaging others by reading to their kids. He's describing the fundamental task of the philosophical work under discussion, and he describes it like this: He assumes that the moral default is perfect equality, and that any deviation from this outcome has to be justified on some independent moral grounds. He does indeed think that many parenting activities (such as bedtime reading) can be justified on independent grounds such as 'familial relationship goods,' but it's not the specifics of what he wants to allow or forbid that I find most troublesome. It's his overall approach, in which the default choice is to forbid any activities that produce inequality of outcomes, unless we have some independent reason for keeping them. In effect, he accepts Plato's framework of total state power over the family, but argues that it should refrain in some cases from using it (it always decides what to 'allow' or not, but it should allow certain independently justifiable activities). It reminds me a lot of Rawl's approach to distributional justice, where the default seems to be perfect equality of resources, and deviations from that standard have to be justified on the basis of making the poorest better off. If I recall correctly, Rawls was trying to defend some elements of liberalism from the assault by egalitarianism (much like Swift seems to want to defend certain familial goods against total equality of opportunity), but his basic approach was to assume egalitarianism as the moral default and carve out exceptions to it. Needless to say, I find this approach to be immensely flawed. Whether or not Swift would personally advocate for banning private school or not seems to me to be beside the point. Under his framework, all family activity is guilty until proven innocent. That is what is wrong with his approach, far more than the specifics of what activities he thinks are innocent or guilty.
  2. Well I'm late to this thread, and it appears to have become somewhat contentious, but I just wanted to post a resource that might be interesting for the original question. George Walsh, a philosopher who largely agreed with Rand's theses, maintained that she had misunderstood Kant on some fundamental issues. He puts forth his own interpretation of Kant (limited to the area of metaphysics) in contrast to hers, and catalogs the areas where he thinks they are in agreement, and where their significant differences lie. It is available online here: http://enlightenment.supersaturated.com/objectivity/walsh1/ The section "A Point of Misrepresentation" might be most relevant to this thread. It begins: It concludes with a summary of Rand and Kant's areas of agreement and disagreement. Overall, a very illuminating and interesting read, one that (I think) does a good job at contextualizing what Kant's goals were and why he took the path that he did.
  3. They are not striking simply because they face a few taxes and regulations. They are striking because they live under a truly totalitarian, evil government. Although it's common for fans of Ayn Rand to say that this or that new regulation sounds like it could have been ripped from the pages of Atlas Shrugged, the fictional government in the novel is actually far, far worse than the government that we have today. Recall that Ayn Rand was born in Russia and lived through the Russian Revolution and Bolshevik rule before escaping to the U.S. In the 40s and 50s, when she was writing Atlas Shrugged, the Soviet Union was growing more and more powerful and was openly praised by leftist intellectuals in America. Today, the idea of truly totalitarian government is pretty universally discredited in the Western world in favor of a mixed economy approach, but at the time she was writing this was not the case. Consider the more extreme regulations passed by the fictional government in the novel. At one point they pass a regulation that prohibits anyone from quitting his or her job, in an effort to stop the striking that is occurring. Consider that for a moment; making it illegal to quit one's job. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to call that a form of slavery; certainly it qualifies as forced labor. Another provision in that same bill seizes all intellectual property in the country and simply gives it to the government. It should be noted that this point is when the strike really takes off; this is when people start leaving their jobs and 'striking' in large numbers without ever meeting John Galt or hearing of his strike. It's such an outright violation of personal freedom that people simply refuse to comply. Later in the book, we discover that 'Project X' is actually a military weapon that is being developed for possible use on American citizens (to 'preserve peace and squash rebellion'). During the book's climax, Galt is actually tortured in order to try to press him into forced service to the government. This is a truly evil, unlimited government, bearing more resemblance to the Soviet Union than to America's government today. The book is purposefully written such that the audience only slowly discovers the true nature of the government. Although Galt has seen it right away and begins the strike before the book even starts, people only join the strike when they come to understand how truly evil the government and the altruistic ideology behind it are. These people aren't striking because the corporate tax rate went up from 35% to 40%. They're refusing to give aid to an evil government, one that does not acknowledge the right of its citizens to exist independent of their service to the state. We actually do see this kind of resistance to totalitarianism under every single government of this kind. We saw it in Nazi Germany, and in the Soviet Union. This is the reason that North Korea today has such a massive and active surveillance program for its own citizens, with microphones everywhere and huge numbers of informants. When the government is truly evil, trying to escape or resist is a common choice made by its citizens. Rand's contribution here is to note that, for a government run explicitly on the principle of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," the men of ability are the most heavily punished, and should be the first to resist.
  4. Wow, I hadn't even read this when I posted my last post but it proves my point exactly. I completely agree; owning the house inevitably gives you ownership of the dirt that it is on. Now you're attempting to separate the dirt from the land... but the dirt is the land. That's what land is. Defending property rights in buildings, agricultural fields, roadways etc is defending property rights in the corresponding land; you cannot defend one without the other, as is clearly illustrated here (even if you don't admit it).
  5. Air is almost perfectly non-excludable and non-rivalrous, and nearly impossible to assign private property rights over. Land is not. The examples you give for using the land without interfering do not use the land at all. Laying cables far below my land is not using my land; nor is flying an airplane over it. Owning a plot of land doesn't give you rights in an column of infinite height above and below your land. It gives you ownership over a limited region above and below the surface and no further; the limitations are defined by whether use of those areas interferes with your use of the land on the surface (i.e. with your building). Anything beyond that is simply not part of your property right in the land. The truth is that there is no concrete way in which other people can be said to 'have a say' in how the land is used without interfering with your property right in the building. Take two scenarios: 1) I own the building and the land beneath it. 2) I own the building but not the land. However, no one is allowed to use the land for anything that impacts my building without my consent. Name one thing that other people would be able to do with the land in 2) that they would not be able to do in 1). If you defend an absolute property right over someone's use of a particular piece of land (a building or a farm), this is indistinguishable from defending their property right in the land itself. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, they are not separable.
  6. You can separate them conceptually, for analytic purposes, but you cannot separate them in practice. To own a building is to own the land beneath it; you get to decide to what use that land is put and exclude others from using it for their own purposes. If you decide to transfer your property rights in the building, whoever you sell them to or will them to will also need the ability to decide how to use the land beneath and to exclude others from using it. Without this right, the building can be knocked down or removed from the land by anyone who wishes, as they have just as much right to the land underneath as you. The two are literally inseparable.
  7. And after you've built a building on the land, what if someone else wishes to use that same land for a farm? Are they entitled to knock down your building? If yes, then I hope you can see that the unraveling of all property rights proceeds in quick order. If no, then you've used the land for your own purposes, and have excluded the land from being used by others for their own various purposes. What is this if not a property right?
  8. One of the major themes of Atlas Shrugged is that active evasion, the refusal to know or see what one should (by all rights) realize is at the root of the evil that plagues the book. In the very first passage of Part II of the book, Stadler is talking to Dr. Ferris about Project X. After Dr. Stadler inquires about it, Ferris replies, "The work has to do with sound. But I am sure it would not interest you. It is a purely technological undertaking." Dr. Stadler: "Yes, do spare me the story. I have no time for your technological undertakings." Dr. Ferris: "May I suggest that it would be advisable to refrain from mentioning the words Project X to anyone, Dr. Stadler?" Dr. Stadler: "Oh, all right, all right. I must say, I do not enjoy conversations of this kind." Dr. Ferris: "But of course! And I wouldn't forgive myself if I allowed your time to be taken up by such concerns. Please feel certain that you may safely leave it to me." Stadler is in charge of the State Science Institute. His name has literally allowed its creation. And yet, he actively avoids involvement in Project X, because he doesn't want to allow himself to know what it's for. Later in the same conversation, he is discussing a book published by the Institute which declares that reason is a superstition. He assumes that it must be in error, because the only other motive for many passages in the book would be an attempt to convince people not to trust their own judgment, as a primer to get them to accept any government edict without question. He disregards considering this motive with the following statement: "I cannot permit myself to consider certain things as possible in a civilized society." Dr. Ferris' response is very important: "That is admirably exact," said Dr. Ferris cheerfully. "You cannot permit yourself." At heart, Stadler knows the use to which his scientific reputation is being put. He simply refuses to allow himself to realize it. Atlas Shrugged makes the point again and again that it is only by the sanction of the victim that evil is allowed to succeed. Evil is impotent in and of itself; it requires the cooperation of those men of ability in order for it to function. Dr. Stadler is the quintessential example of the man of ability who puts his ability in service of evil. It's not hard to damn people like Dr. Ferris, who actively seek to control and destroy the lives of others. It's much more important to make the point that none of it would be possible without the tacit cooperation of people like Dr. Stadler.
  9. He delivered the power of science into the hands of those people that wielded political power. His name single-handedly led to the creation of the State Science Institute (an institution whose evil nature is gradually revealed over the course of the book). Recall the passage when he is introduced as a character: "At the age of forty, Dr. Robert Stadler addressed the nation, endorsing the establishment of a State Science Institute. "Set science free of the rule of the dollar," he pleaded. The issue had hung in the balance... The name of Dr. Robert Stadler acted upon the country like the cosmic rays he studied; it pierced any barrier. The nation built the white marble edifice as a personal present to one of its greatest men." As the novel progresses, we (along with Dr. Stadler himself) gradually begin to discover the true nature of the State Science Institute that Stadler has created. The ultimate dramatization of this is Project X, a weapon that the Institute builds for the (totalitarian) government in the novel. Although the scientists that build it claim that it will be used to preserve peace and quash rebellion, by this point in the novel we know the true totalitarian nature of the government for whom this weapon was built. This situation is basically analogous to the scientists who worked on building the atomic bomb for the Germans during WWII. Those scientists knew, better than anyone else, the requirements that the human mind be free to think and pursue its own vision, and yet they use the products of science and reason to empower those who would destroy that freedom. This is one of the themes of the novel, that there is no division between the scientists here and the politicians. You can't just hide behind the excuse that, "I'm a scientist; I never actually hurt anyone." It is the responsibility of each individual to know to what purpose his labor is being put. Dr. Stadler defaults on this responsibility, and ends up enabling an evil government to create a weapon of mass destruction.
  10. You do know that second post is filled with references, right? BGE stands for Beyond Good and Evil, followed by specific page numbers...
  11. The Atlas Society recently published a blog post about Objectivism and the family, in response to a Salon article that referred to Objectivism as anti-family. The salon article can be found here, and the TAS response here. This prompted me to read the original TAS article that the Salon guy linked to, found here. I found the account of Objectivism and family relations highly unsatisfactory, particularly as applied to sibling relationships, and I decided that I wanted to write up the response below. In her article on family relations and Objectivism, Malini Kochhar attempts to lay out a view of familial relationships based on Ayn Rand's trader principle: "This principle holds that we should interact with people on the basis of the values we can trade with them - values of all sorts, including common interests in art, sports or music, similar philosophical outlooks, political beliefs, sense of life, and more. Trade, in this broad sense, is the only proper basis of any relationship—including relationships with members of our families." However, in her application of the principle, she fails to consider several highly significant sources of value in family relationships. I will focus mainly on critiquing her comments from the perspective of sibling relationships, although many of my comments also apply to the parent-child case. In her article, she states the following: Thus, in her view, it would be extremely unlikely for one to have the same kind of deep relationship with a sibling that one would have with a very close friend. This is because we cannot choose our siblings the way that we can choose our friends, and therefore it would be mere coincidence if we happened to be close. However, this is emphatically not the only possibly application of the trader principle to sibling relationships, and in fact it is highly rationalistic and ignores the most common factors that create strong bonds between siblings. The core of many sibling relationships, including my own, is shared experiences. Growing up in the same household strongly lends itself to a high level of mutual understanding among siblings. I have two sisters, and we all grew up under the same roof. They've seen some of my worst moments, and some of my best. They've seen my growth, all the way from elementary school to the person that I am today. They understand me like almost no one else does. In Objectivist terms, they provide me with a kind of psychological visibility that only they can. Certainly, as we've moved out of the house and away from each other, we are no longer intimately involved in each others' day to day lives, and there are others who know aspects of me and my life much better than they do. However, their particular understanding of me is extremely important to me. And of course, this understanding runs both ways, with me providing this particular kind of understanding to them as well. Thus, the value provided by this sort of understanding is mutual, as per the trader principle. Despite this understanding of one another and our shared experiences of childhood, we have grown up to be very different people. If you were to list our core values explicitly, you would probably conclude that we don't have many in common. Our adult interests are extremely varied, and even as kids we clashed like only siblings can. We each care about very different things, and even have quite different explicit philosophies (leading to some strong political disagreements). In fact, if I were to walk into an Objectivist convention, I could probably randomly pick someone out of the crowd whose explicit list of 'core values' would be closer to mine than those of my sisters. That kind of similarity is simply not what our sibling relationships are based on. Nevertheless, they completely exemplify Rand's trader principle, in every aspect. Unchosen family obligations play no part whatsoever. This is the problem with clinging to 'shared core values' as the one and only indicator of a true and deep relationship between people. It overemphasizes explicit philosophical convictions and interests over other important aspects of relationships, such as mutual understanding and shared experiences. It allows Kochhar to set up a false dichotomy between a relationship based on shared core values (which he describes as a 'rare coincidence' when it happens to occur among siblings) and a relationship based on familial obligation. It is indeed unlikely that two people who didn't choose to be siblings would share the same explicit philosophical convictions or the same list of core values. If this is the sum of one's measure of an appropriate relationship, then one is forced to describe strong sibling relationships as 'coincidence.' If the relationship does not fit this description, it must then be based on a reification of blood relation and familial obligation. But the value that I get from my relationship with my sisters is not simply a coincidence, and neither is it an expression of duty that we feel. It is precisely because we are siblings who grew up together that we have this sort of bond. It was their role in my childhood, and in my life since then, that is the source of the value that I gain from them, and them from me. Now certainly, none of this is a necessary consequence of being siblings. There are numerous situations where siblings will not have this kind of relationship (most notably, when they don't grow up together). However, the factors that lead to such strong sibling relationships are much more common than Kochhar's 'rare coincidence' type of relationship will allow. The trader principle's application in this case is much broader than he paints it to be. It is sad to me to see Rand's trader approach to human relationships, which I believe to be the correct one, artificially limited by the kind of values that can be traded. Doing so excludes some of the most important relationships in life, and gives credence to the viewpoint that Rand's philosophy as a whole doesn't have room to accommodate these relationships. In my view, it does; when these relationships are healthy, they are indeed based on the trader model, where both people get true value from the relationship. The limitation comes simply from an excessively narrow conception of what kinds of values are in play.
  12. A couple of points on this. First of all, I would strongly disagree that Shylock represents true justice in The Merchant of Venice. His whole motivation is a personal grudge against Antonio, and he attempts to use the laws of his time to carry out this vendetta. The proper counter-point to this sort of behavior is not blanket mercy or compassion, regardless of whether the individual deserves it. These are just two sides to the same false choice. The real alternative is true justice, which can include extending mercy and compassion, but only when the individual is deserving. Rand's own statements concerning compassion express this aspect: Mercy can also be appropriate in certain cases, but this must be determined by the circumstances of the case itself. For instance, we might be inclined to show mercy in a courtroom for someone's first offense, or if there were mitigating factors, whereas we should not show mercy to an unrepentant violent criminal. The idea that must be shed is that indiscriminate mercy or compassion, a blanket policy of always turning the other cheek, is the moral ideal. It is not.
  13. Objectivism requires, in a nutshell, that you do not attempt to gain values through dishonesty. This means more than simply ensuring that what you say isn't technically a lie; it requires that you endeavor to appeal to others' reason and intelligence rather than their stupidity and gullibility. In both of your examples cited above, the person is clearly behaving dishonestly, and in both cases it comes in the same form. The person is failing to disclose a fact that they know will be material to the decision of the person that they are tricking. In your original example, the guy clearly knows that he's going to leave this girl as soon as he sleeps with her, and he also knows that she wouldn't sleep with him if she knows this. He's deceiving her by withholding this fact and pretending that he has the intention of dating her. Similarly, the fact that some part will soon go out at great cost is a fact that is material to the buyer's decision to buy. Withholding it is fraud, and clearly dishonest. Objectivism holds that this method for gaining values will not serve your life and happiness in the long term. Relying on dishonesty to gain values requires that you seek out the dumbest and most gullible people to deal with, rather than the most intelligent and perceptive. It institutionalizes a fear of certain facts, namely the facts that will expose your lies, rather than encouraging an attitude of unreservedly confronting all facts of reality, which is the policy that one needs in order to be successful over the long term. Furthermore, relationships founded on dishonesty cannot become the kind of deep relationships that are integral to one's happiness, where another person truly sees and understands you. No short-term gains of one-night stands or car sales are worth this kind of life.
  14. From where I'm standing, it means that your posts typically make no sense whatsoever.
  15. McCaskey elaborates more on these claims in a draft of a book chapter on induction and concepts; the draft can be found online here: http://www.johnmccaskey.com/joomla/images/for-download/PittVolume.pdf In it, he provides an overview of the history of two competing ways of viewing induction: induction as justifying propositional inference vs. induction as forming correct concepts and definitions. Although the 'problem of induction' refers to the first view of induction, the second view was the prevalent one during Hume's lifetime. Thus, on page 15, McCaskey writes: "Eventually there was a turn away from Baconian induction [induction as forming proper concepts and definitions], but it did not start with David Hume. Hume wrote virtually nothing, or at least nothing critical, on what in his day was called induction. He said he intends to base the Treatise of Human Nature on the philosophy Bacon introduced. He uses the term induction there only twice, in both cases to defend some argument he is making. In none of the instances does Hume suggest he sees any problem with induction or has anything new to say about it. A century later, Whewell and his contemporary, John Stuart Mill, managed to write, between them, at least seven volumes on the history, theory, and practice of induction without finding it necessary to give Hume significant attention. As we will see, the association between Hume and induction is a result of developments in the late nineteenth century." These 'developments' mainly refer to a shift in an understanding of what induction is, from Baconian induction to induction as justifying propositional inference. I strongly encourage reading the entire paper. I think it greatly clarifies the nature of the scientific process by which we gain new knowledge, and explains how this process can be successful even when the 'problem of induction' as associated with David Hume remains unsolved.
  16. This might be of interest. I was just re-reading Robert Tracinski's "What Went Right?" series of articles, and he discusses Julian Simon at some length, tracing his impact on thinking about population issues and citing him as an example of an intellectual forming principles consonant with Objectivism first-hand, inductively, and therefore playing a positive cultural role:
  17. Just wanted to come in and share my two cents. I agree with the claim that inviting someone up to your place (for coffee, or whatever) after a date carries a sexual subtext. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with communicating one's intentions with subtext, rather than explicitly, so long as you are committed to making sure that there are no misinterpretations between you and the other person. I'll use this particular situation (from the OP) as an example. The man is clearly trading on the ambiguity of the situation in order to get her up to his room, by any means possible. He ignores numerous signs that she is reluctant, that she is really not interested in sex. He pressures her into drinking more than she's comfortable with (we can leave when you take the shot). When they're going back to his hotel, initially he just says "I know a place to get coffee," then he says it's his hotel but they have a coffee bar, and then he just leads her up to his room. Once she clearly starts saying no, he ignores her and keeps going anyways. In short, this is clearly not a case of honest misunderstandings. Throughout the night he's applying as much pressure as possible to get this situation to move along as far as he can possibly get, and by the end he's just forcing her. Clearly, this is not an example of an honest use of subtext to communicate one's intentions. That requires being cognizant of the fact that the other person might not interpret your subtext correctly, and thus being attentive to any signs that miscommunication is happening. In an actual scenario, it's not that hard to do, and it doesn't stop at inviting someone in. If after you invite her in, she's reluctant to move the situation along, doesn't seem to know what's going on, or (certainly!) if she resists anything you're doing, those are clear signs that she's misinterpreted your 'signals,' and you need to stop and explicitly figure out what she wants and what she's expecting. This is why I don't think this question of 'how widespread is this notion of coffee for sex?' is really the sticking point of the matter. If she hasn't understood your invitation in for coffee as an invitation for sex, you'll find that out pretty damn fast once you're both inside and you start trying to move things along. If you're truly committed to clear communication, and you're attentive to signs that the two of you are not on the same page, you'll know very quickly whether or not she's also thinking sex. In the wise words of Michael Scott:
  18. Objectivist journalist Robert Tracinski apparently lives in Cantor's district, here is his take on the primary: Why We Fired Eric Cantor
  19. You act as though she simply picked definitions that she subjectively liked the best. In fact, she developed an entire theory about the best way to form concepts and definitions, and then applied this theory to come to the concepts and definitions that she used in the rest of her philosophy. You've gotten this entirely backwards. The concepts and definitions that Rand used were not set as axioms; as I stated above, she lays out at some length her ideas about how concepts are to be formed. We are all free to determine for ourselves, and debate with others, the merits of her theory of concept-formation. In addition, for any one of the concepts that she uses, each one of us can use that theory to 'check her work'; to see if that concept was properly formed according to her theory. Far from closing off debate about definitions, Rand tackled these questions head on, allowing us to do the same. She and other Objectivists would agree with you 100% that most of the issues in philosophy involve arriving at the correct concepts in the first place. In fact, her most extensive and in-depth philosophical writing was on her epistemology, her ideas about how to do this properly. You might be right that to declare that there is a right way and a wrong way to form concepts is not as 'acceptable' in philosophy, but would be a problem with philosophy, not with Rand. And in fact, most philosophers implicitly accept the same view as Rand, by arguing extensively for their own definitions and concepts. Implicit in this exercise is the idea that there are right and wrong answers when it comes to concepts and definitions, and getting the right answers is essential to getting philosophy right. Far from sidestepping this debate, Rand engaged in it head-on, and each of us is free to do the same.
  20. It bears pointing out that corporate welfare, in the form of direct subsidies to corporations, is not the main form of crony capitalism. Most crony capitalism takes the form of more subtle influence of government regulation, in an attempt to put one's competitors at a disadvantage. Take the Dodd-Frank legislation as an example. The idea that a new massive government regulation, over 2000 pages in length, is actually going to help the "Too Big to Fail" problem by making companies smaller is laughable. Regardless of what the regulations say, the fact that there are 2000 pages of them with no legal precedent on how any of it will be interpreted by the executive branch or by the courts, makes it nearly impossible for small financial firms to comply with them. This gives large firms, with the resources to fund huge legal departments whose sole purpose is understanding and complying with the regulations, an advantage no matter what the content of the regulations are. This simple fact obviously doesn't escape the huge financial firms, and in fact much of the content of this bill was likely lobbied for by these very firms. The same is undoubtedly true of environmental regulation and every other form of government influence. This regulatory capture is the main negative impact of crony capitalism, far more important than direct government subsidies. Subsidies themselves are easy to count and easy for voters to understand, and are therefore easy targets for political opponents (observe the numerous uses of Solyndra as a cudgel on the Obama administration during the last election). The effects of influence on government regulation is much harder to quantify and therefore much more useful for corporations looking to benefit using the government. This type of influence constantly pervades every single proposed bill in any government, whether national, state or local. Crony capitalism of this type is a huge, huge problem.
  21. The question of the wage gap between men and women has been refuted time and again. This is a fairly good article that was written in response to President Obama claiming in the state of the union that women make 77% of what men make. In short, that number is just the median female wage vs. the median male wage. It does not control for different occupation choices, differential time off for raising children, different hours worked, different education choices, etc. Once you control for the really obvious stuff, the wage gap shrinks from 23% to 5%. In addition to being a red herring, this claim is also simply false. Don Bourdreaux and Liya Palagashvili address the claim here, in a recent WSJ op-ed. In their view, the 'decoupling' of wages with productivity is an illusion fostered by two mistakes. First, people fail to include fringe benefits, like health insurance. Fringe benefits make up 19% of the average worker's pay today, as opposed to 10% 40 years ago. This error tends to understate wage growth. The second mistake is to use different price deflators to correct for inflation on the two different measures. Although it's a more technical point, the way that analysts typically do this also tends to understate wage growth relative to productivity. When these common errors are corrected for, the gap between productivity growth and wage growth disappears. Even though both of these issues are sideshows in the debate over inequality (the real issue is the right to redistribute wealth in the first place), we shouldn't let them go unchallenged, because these claims are simply wrong. People who spread them are using misinformation and ignorance to advance their political agenda.
  22. The essay in the OP doesn't make a single reference to the purpose of the metaphysical/man-made distinction, the reason that Rand makes it in the first place. Ridiculous. The purpose of the distinction that Rand puts forth is to aid in one's moral judgment of facts. Specifically, it helps distinguish facts which can properly be judged (such as the structure and powers of a government) from those which cannot (such as the occurrence of a storm). This is a necessity for man for several reasons. Passing moral judgment on metaphysical facts (such as blaming a storm for the damage it caused, or blaming nature, or the universe, etc) is a waste of time and effort, and prevents the person in question from simply accepting reality as it is, which is necessary for living successfully. On the other hand, accepting man-made facts without judgment (such as accepting that one's country will always be ruled by a dictator, no matter what) prevents one from taking the steps necessary to change those facts. A populace that accepts the inevitability of dictatorship will never rise up for a better government. This is the purpose served by the distinction between the metaphysical and the man-made. Keeping this in mind, it's easy to see that the essay in the OP is superfluous at best. Regardless of whether the distinction between necessary facts and contingent facts makes sense, it cannot serve this purpose. Knowing that the course of a particular river could have been different, whereas 'A is A' could not have been, does not help me determine which facts to judge and which to simply accept. The famous serenity prayer, often spoken at AA meetings, speaks to the same fundamental human need: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference." Rand's distinction purports to give some wisdom as to how to tell the difference. The Modal distinction, valid or not, does not. It makes no sense to attempt to eliminate Rand's distinction without even making a passing reference to the purpose that it serves.
  23. Yeah, the movie definitely wasn't over an hour in, and if you walked out at that point you basically missed the point of the movie. ****SPOILERS FOLLOW.****** The theme of the movie, in my view, was the fantasy of 'something for nothing,' played out in its most extreme form. DiCaprio's character (Jordan Belfort) basically walks into a stock trading firm and figures out a way to make millions of dollars with nothing more than smooth talk (and fraud). For a lot of people, this is basically their ideal life, and the movie certainly indulges in showing this fantasy brought to life on the big screen (for most of the movie, in fact). DiCaprio effortlessly makes millions of dollars, sleeps around endlessly, takes every drug known to man, and soon 'trades up' from his original wife to a supermodel. The culture at his trading firm is animalistic, based around the employees indulging every base urge while being 'predators' with regards to their clients. Indeed, much of the mileage and all of the comedy in the movie comes from indulging in this scenario. Inevitably, however, it is revealed as the fantasy it is and all comes crashing down. By the end of the movie, he has lost his wife and his kids, his trading firm, and spent years in prison. Indeed, I remember being surprised at just how dark it got, with his character socking his wife in the gut at one point and trying to kidnap his daughter. The basic question asked of the audience is 'Would you want to have this life for yourself?' The movie holds nothing back when showing the 'attractive' side of this life (the women, the drugs, the consequence-free world). However, despite all this, once the movie has come full circle, few of us would trade places with Jordan Belfort. Although this character doesn't get much screentime, the foil to Belfort is the FBI agent who ultimately catches him. This guy spends his life chasing Wall Street traders that become ultra-rich from defrauding others, all the while himself making crap pay and taking the bus to work (which Belfort taunts him with just before attempting to bribe him). This is a man that could easily be envious of the rich assholes that he busts, but he isn't. He does his job and likes it, and the last scene of the movie (I think it's the last scene, it's definitely his last scene) shows him taking the bus to work after busting Belfort, and we see a small smile of satisfaction. Ultimately, we see that he knows something about life that Belfort didn't, which is why things work out for him. I can certainly understand getting tired of the movie's indulgence in the fantasy of Belfort's life, but that's not the ultimate point of the story, whether Belfort himself realizes it or not.
  24. Well my own research focuses on the National banking period in particular (1863-1913), so that's what I know the most about, but that is also when most of the nationwide panics occurred, so that might be of interest to you. There's a good paper available here that gives an introduction to the regulatory structure of the national banking system, by Bruce Champ . There are also a few other papers in that series that discuss the national bank note puzzle and silver certificates. Also, Banking Panics of the Gilded Age is the most recent comprehensive study of financial panics during the National Banking period, and the role of the New York clearinghouse in responding to the panics. It's a bit academic, but it might also be interesting to the layman. Here is an online article on the National Banking period that provides a brief overview and also cites numerous other academic sources. Hopefully in a year or so I'll have a paper out on one particular financial panic during this period.
  25. When a particular argument requires a caveat in order to be correct, it's not unreasonable to expect someone making that argument to include the caveat.
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