In another productive and transformative year for The Rational Argumentator, I have been able to realize a series of long-held ambitions. New and improved editions of Eden against the Colossus, The Best Self-Help is Free, and Implied Consent have all been released since TRA celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. In addition, the Guide to Stolyarovian Shorthand renders my unique system of efficient note-taking available to the public for the first time. Furthermore, numerous new articles, YouTube videos, and links to Resources on Indefinite Life Extension have been created and published, along with several new and even more remastered musical compositions. This has been a year of rejuvenating the accomplishments of the past while also shaping the future with new creations. I continue to experiment with and implement new approaches for spreading rational enlightenment to all who are willing. My Open Badges on Indefinite Life Extension are a proof of concept of what could be possible when it comes to motivating free, open-source education that produces externally verifiable outcomes. Of course, developing and expanding the system of Open Badges in any range of conceivable subjects will require a considerable amount of time and exertion of effort. However, TRA now has an embedded system for developing multiple-choice quizzes whose completion will result in the awarding of an Open Badge.
Total eleventh-year visitation for all TRA features was 1,077,192 page views, compared to 1,302,774 during the tenth year and the peak of 1,398,438 during the ninth year. While this was a decrease, it is still a higher number than was observed during any of the first eight years of TRA’s existence. TRA’s lifetime visitation stands at 6,746,360 page views.
I attribute the recent trend in reduced visitation to a decrease in new publication activity. During its eleventh year, TRA published 208 features, compared to 306 during its tenth year. The rate of publication slowed because of an unusually turbulent year, both in terms of events that affected me directly and took me away from a more steady publication regimen, and in terms of larger attention-absorbing, paradigm-shattering developments on a world scale, such as the recent revelations of Orwellian NSA surveillance of the general population.
Still, the fact that visitation slipped by less (a decrease of 22.97%) than the number of published features (a decrease of 32.03%) shows that TRA’s content remains sought-after and relevant, perhaps especially so in light of the very troubled and troubling era in which we live, when the direct threats to our personal liberty and privacy continue to mount and to become unavoidably palpable. The message that individuals have rights, that their lives have inherent value, that no “national security” or “greater good” can trump that value, needs to be proclaimed with renewed urgency and commitment. An alternative to the status quo needs to emerge through intellectual, technological, and political innovation, and it needs to emerge sufficiently soon that the Orwellian boot on the face of mankind does not stamp it out forever. The comprehensive surveillance regime unleashed in secret by the Bush and Obama administrations has no historical parallels; it is what the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century could only have dreamed of. At the same time, an increasing disconnect has occurred between the actions of national-government politicians and anything resembling what the people actually think: witness the rampant war hysteria that the Obama administration is currently attempting to stir up for a pointless, counterproductive invasion of Syria that would already be one of the least popular military undertakings in US history.
What can be done to change the political and cultural status quo to anything resembling sanity – even the kind of sanity that could have been said to characterize the 1990s in the United States? Hundreds of distinct approaches, implemented by millions of individuals, are most certainly required. This problem is not easy; the world took a wrong turn, probably sometime around September 11, 2001, when the fear of “terrorism” led the political leaders of the Western World to use an infinitesimal threat to justify restrictions and invasions of personal liberty and even bodily integrity, which would have been unthinkable in any other context. After the economic collapse of 2008 and the subsequent bailouts of politically connected cronies, it seemed clear that the national governments of the world have sided with the “men of pull” – as Ayn Rand would have called them – against everybody else. A free system which rewards merit and undermines stagnant hierarchies of rent-seeking privilege was not allowed to manifest itself. Instead, the very people who caused the world to take a wrong turn remain in charge.
While changing the current state of affairs is no easy task, I can confidently say that, in a hypothetical world where all humans were philosophically inclined, informed on current events, concerned with questions of morality, and interested in continual learning and self-improvement, the wrong turn would never have been taken. In a world that suddenly found itself filled with such enlightened individuals, the harms of the status quo would quickly be undone. The goal of The Rational Argumentator is to assist such enlightened individuals, both those who already are and those who might become enlightened through their independent intellectual explorations. While we are far from a world filled with purveyors of philosophical enlightenment (in the 18th-century sense of that term), every individual who becomes a true rational intellectual and a person of moral conscience can take us one step closer in that direction.
Pervasive NSA surveillance, fortunately, is no threat to TRA, because TRA has always been a publicly accessible endeavor. As I have written previously, if those employed by the NSA and other spy agencies throughout the world were to read information on The Rational Argumentator, this could only benefit humanity by possibly exposing these individuals to ideas of rationality and moral conscience. The truly troubling aspect of universal surveillance is that it seeks to pry into the communications that we do not wish to disclose to anyone and everyone – private e-mails, phone calls, social-media conversations, financial transactions, and search terms. It is reasonable and justified for individuals who wish to preserve a shred of privacy to change their approach toward such communications. However, as far as TRA is concerned, its work can proceed unimpeded, for its message is meant to reach as many people as possible, NSA agents or not.
However, the recent revelations of NSA spying did lead me to reconsider one matter from my March 2012 statement, “A New Era for The Rational Argumentator”. I no longer consider social-networking sites, such as Facebook or Google+, to be effective ways for individuals to create custom repositories of knowledge. While it is still the case that individuals can access content somewhat tailored to their interests through such networks, the fact remains that the networks have been co-opted through NSA backdoors into their systems. The companies running these networks are no longer benign free-market entities whose goal is to exchange value for value with their customers. Rather, the original market-oriented purpose of these companies has been subverted in favor of becoming privatized arms of the surveillance state. Perhaps these companies had little choice but to comply with requests to spy on their users; observe the fate of Lavabit, whose founder tried to stand on principle and refuse such intrusions. The fact remains, though, that it is not prudent to rely for one’s information and philosophical development solely on sources whose role to gather information about one can affect one’s life far more than any of their incidental ability to give information to one. Does this mean that one should abandon all social networks or even Facebook and Google+? I am not advocating this, though I do advocate extreme prudence on these networks. The path-dependency and network effects are too great at present for such abandonment to be a practical choice for many people, myself included. Rather, I wish to emphasize the continued importance of self-contained online information repositories that do not vary based on the visitor and do not seek to do anything to the visitor other than provide content and elicit feedback in public comments. The Rational Argumentator is just such a source, and I hope in the coming months and years to increase its rate of publication and resume its previous modus operandi of publishing both original content and some of the most thought-provoking content that has appeared elsewhere, relying on TRA’s excellent network of authors and articles published under the Creative Commons License. If I can convince you to access TRA directly (rather than only through a social network) on a routine basis as part of your quest for knowledge and edification, then my planned endeavors will be successful.
You will see, in the coming months, the realization of still more ambitious projects, some of which are presently underway. Through all of the changes, improvements, and revitalizations of past materials, I can make you the same promises that I have made throughout TRA’s lifetime: that I will retain all content ever published on TRA; that I will continue to vigorously promote the ideas of liberty, reason, and technological progress; and that this site shall always remain a haven for high intellectualism and civilized discourse. In whatever way I can, I hope to make this magazine a valuable asset to those of us who have the most at stake in the outcome of the continuing and accelerating race between technological progress and authoritarian intervention.