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Ayn Rand’s Heroic Life – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Ayn Rand’s Heroic Life – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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I first encountered Ayn Rand through her nonfiction. This was when I was a junior in high school, and I’m pretty sure it was my first big encounter with big ideas. It changed me. Like millions of others who read her, I developed a consciousness that what I thought – the ideas I held in my mind – mattered for what kind of life I would live. And it mattered for everyone else too; the kind of world we live in is an extension of what we believe about what life can mean.

People today argue over her legacy and influence – taking apart the finer points of her ethics, metaphysics, epistemology. This is all fine but it can be a distraction from her larger message about the moral integrity and creative capacity of the individual human mind. In so many ways, it was this vision that gave the postwar freedom movement what it needed most: a driving moral passion to win. This, more than any technical achievements in economic theory or didactic rightness over public-policy solutions, is what gave the movement the will to overcome the odds.

Often I hear people offer a caveat about Rand. Her works are good. Her life, not so good. Probably this impression comes from public curiosity about various personal foibles and issues that became the subject of gossip, as well as the extreme factionalism that afflicted the movement she inspired.

This is far too narrow a view. In fact, she lived a remarkably heroic life. Had she acquiesced to the life fate seemed to have chosen for her, she would have died young, poor, and forgotten. Instead, she had the determination to live free. She left Russia, immigrated to the United States, made her way to Hollywood, and worked and worked until she built a real career. This one woman – with no advantages and plenty of disadvantages – on her own became one of the most influential minds of this twentieth century.

So, yes, her life deserves to be known and celebrated. Few of us today face anything like the barriers she faced. She overcame them and achieved greatness. Let her inspire you too.

Kudos to the Atlas Society for this video:

A Totalitarian State Can Only Rule a Desperately Poor Society – Article by Ryan Miller

A Totalitarian State Can Only Rule a Desperately Poor Society – Article by Ryan Miller

The New Renaissance HatRyan Miller
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I recently finished Anthem by Ayn Rand. In this short novella she tells the story of Equality 7-2521 (later called Prometheus), a man living in a dystopian collectivist society which has eclipsed the individual to such a degree that words such as “I” and “my” no longer even exist. The story is about Prometheus’ discovery of himself as an individual and of the world as it was before.

In this society babies are taken immediately from their “parents”, who were assigned to one another by the Council of Eugenics for the sole purpose of breeding, raised in the Home of Infants and then in the Home of Students, and then finally assigned their life-long profession at the age of 15 by the Council of Vocations. Everything is done for the supposed benefit of your brothers, preference is not allowed, superior ability is not allowed, and back-breaking toil is praised as such and not as a way to improve your own or humanity’s situation.

Dictatorship Means Poverty

But what is striking about this story is how accurately it portrays how the world would look under such life-throttling conditions. The Home of the Scholars is praised for having only recently (100 years ago) (re)invented marvels such as candles and glass. Since the times before the “Great Rebirth” and the discovery of the “Great Truth”—namely, “that all men are one and there is no will save the will of all men together”—humanity has, in reality, lost the progress of thousands of years and has reverted back to a time before even such basic utilities as oil lamps or clocks.

But Ayn Rand’s genius is that this is exactly what would happen to the world should it ever discover and truly act upon this “Great Truth.” Yet this is not typically how dystopian stories portray this type of society. Stories such as Brave New World1984The GiverDivergentEquilibrium, and many others, all love to show some type of ultra-technologically-advanced world in the backdrop of total or near total oppression, suppression of the individual, and enforcement of conformity.

Despite the almost total (and often drug-induced) destruction of individual will, drive, and creativity, these societies have reached unprecedented levels of technological competence. This is especially true when one considers when many of these stories were written.

In Brave New World, written in 1931, everyone has a personal helicopter, science has advanced to such a degree that mothers and fathers are no longer necessary parts of the breeding process, and everyone is kept docile and happy by the apparently side-effect lacking drug Soma.

In 1984 (published in 1949) there are two way telescreens, miniscule microphones and cameras, and speak/writes which turn whatever you say into text. In the other stories technology is advanced enough to, among other things, control weather (The Giver), give kids serum-induced psychological aptitude tests (Divergent), and to completely suppress emotions (Equilibrium). In addition to these there are countless other inventions or practices in these stories and the many others of the dystopian future genre.

Invention Requires Freedom

The question that needs to be asked, however, is who invented all these things? These marvel feats, which in the stories are often used for the end of some malevolent goal, are really all potentially awesome, or at least highly complex and complicated, inventions or innovations. Their conception and ultimate realization would have required years of thought, testing, failure, tinkering, and then success—things which all require individual ingenuity, creativity, and the incentives arising from the prospect of individual pride and gain.

Every great break-through in history was achieved by some odd-ball going against the grain or traditionally accepted view of things in their particular field. If they had done things the way people had always done them, they would never have had the ability to think outside the box and discover or create a unique solution to the problem at hand. Inventors and innovators need their quirkiness, eccentricity, social awkwardness, or will and ability to stand up to the existing order. And they need that coupled with the idea that they have something to gain.

But all of these stories, to different degrees, have built societies that destroy our differences, our emotions, our passions, our ability to think differently, and our incentives to create if were even able to.

So where do these advanced societies come from? Sure they could drink from the well of wealth created by the society that may have preceded it, but only for a while. It would eventually dry up. And without new generations of ambitious and intelligent dreamers, tinkerers, outside-the-boxers, there would be no one around to rebuild the wealth. This is the world that Ayn Rand creates in Anthem. The hopeless world without individuals.

The existence of advanced societies in many dystopian stories is reminiscent of the problem with the thinking in our world today and in the past: the thinking that things “just happen”—that innovation, invention, and progress are phenomena which occur naturally, regardless of conditions. Though the worlds portrayed in these other novels are far from desirable, the progress alone that the societies in them have reached is a reflection of this idea that most people, at least passively or unknowingly, buy into.

In reality the world would look much more like that of Anthem.

 

ryan_miller

Ryan Miller is a University of Michigan graduate, freelance translator, and aspiring blogger. He is also a Praxis participant in the September 2016 cohort.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Would Ayn Rand Wear a School Uniform? – Article by Edward Hudgins

Would Ayn Rand Wear a School Uniform? – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
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My 5-year-old daughters were very excited. My wife had taken them to the craft store to buy T-shirts with sketches on them that they could color themselves with special markers. They couldn’t wait to wear them to nursery school to show their friends!

But many schools still look not only to dress codes but even school uniforms to meet a number of serious problems in the education system. Is this an assault on individuality? What would Ayn Rand do? Would she wear a uniform? Or would she say, “My dress is none of your business”?

Dealing with the discipline deficit
Private schools can set their own standards, and some—Catholic ones, most notably—require standard garb. But such requirements are more problematic in government schools. (Let’s grant that government shouldn’t even be running schools.) Still, the question here is, what are the pros and cons of uniforms?

The problem is well known. In spite of increased spending, academic achievement by most semi-objective measures like SAT scores is flat at best. Worse, teachers often aren’t allowed to discipline or expel disruptive students, and administrators aren’t allowed to fire subpar teachers.

Worse still, many schools are plagued by violence. Some, with metal detectors, security guards, and barbed wire, look more like prisons!

Many see dress as part of the problem.

Kids often judge one other by what they wear. Not sporting the latest fashion for 15-year-olds? Loser! Bullying is a serious problem in most schools, and the frumpy or unstylish are most often the target of insults. And kids are assaulted and even killed for their overpriced Air Jordans. Then there are the kids who wear their pants down, exposing their rear ends, or who otherwise resemble circus freaks in part of the gangsta culture.

School uniforms could remove dress as a source of superficial judgment and much of the associated social dysfunction. Students would be encouraged to judge one another by the content of their character. And uniforms can give many kids a sense of order and personal discipline.

Expressing one’s individual identity
So who could object? Well, I could, when I was a baby-boomer high school activist many decades ago. My dress was conservative, but I didn’t like seeing The Man hunting down my peers in the hallways for too-short skirts or too-long hair. Let’s grant that the boomers turned out to be a problematic generation.

Still, my little girls like choosing the outfits they will wear each morning to school. They have a sense of how they want to look. So far they haven’t wanted to dress like pole dancers or hookers. They are more concerned about who wears the owl and who wears the mermaid T-shirt!

And when kids progress to adolescence, they are finding their own identity and experimenting with their appearance and much else. Seriously, is a little bit of purple hair and a few tattoos really such a problem? Does forcing them to conform really help them mature? Or does it simply instill in them a hatred for all authority and standards?

Educating for values and virtues
This brings us back to Rand, specifically the Objectivist ethics she espoused. Education isn’t simply pouring facts into the heads of students; it is about moral education.

It is about teaching and training students to think, to value reason above all, and to cultivate the virtue of rationality. It is teaching them to value productive work as the central purpose of their lives. It is teaching them to value honesty—always facing objective reality. It is about teaching them to value independence—judging with their own minds. It is about teaching them to value integrity—living in accordance with their values. It is about teaching them to value justice—to give others what they have earned, not only in a commercial sense but a spiritual one as well.

Today’s schools and culture have failed to instill these values. This failure, in addition to the normal challenges of growing to adulthood, is why some parents find school uniforms, in some contexts, to provide something of a substitute. Many choose to homeschool to cut through the entire mess of schools as institutions.

But all parents rightly concerned about their children’s education should focus first on instilling in them the values and virtues they’ll need to live flourishing and prosperous lives, and to defend those values in the culture and to every teacher, school administrator, and politician to create a society worthy of virtuous individuals.

Explore

Sara Pentz, “Education for a New Enlightenment.” June 1, 2007.

Schools for Individualists: TNI’s Interview with Marsha Familaro Enright.” February 4, 2011.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

Which Culture Can Make 120 Years Old the Prime of Life? – Article by Edward Hudgins

Which Culture Can Make 120 Years Old the Prime of Life? – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
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Emma Morano, age 116, is the last person alive born in the nineteenth century. New cutting-edge technologies could mean that more than a few people born at the end of the twentieth century will be in the prime of life when they reach that age. But this future will require a culture of reason that is currently dying out in our world.
emma_morano
Is the secret to a long life raw eggs or genetics?
Signorina Morano was born in Italy on Nov 29, 1899. On the recent passing of Susannah Mushatt Jones, who was born a few months before her, Morano inherited the title of world’s oldest person. She still has a ways to go to best the longevity record of the confirmed oldest person who ever lived, Jeanne Calment (1875-1997) who made it to 122.Every oldster offers their secret to long life. Morano attributes her feat to remaining single, adding that she likes to eat raw eggs. But the reason living things die, no matter what their diet, is genetic. Cellular senescence, the fancy word for aging, means the cells of almost every organism are programmed to break down at some point. Almost, because at least one organism, the hydra, a tiny fresh-water animal, seems not to age.

Defying death
Researches are trying to discover what makes the hydra tick so that they find ways to reprogram human cells so we will stop aging. As fantastic as this sounds, it is just one part of a techno-revolution that could allow us to live decades or even centuries longer while retaining our health and mental faculties. Indeed, the week the Morano story ran, both the Washington Post and New York Times featured stories about scientists who approach aging not as an unavoidable part of our nature but as a disease that can be cured.

Since 2001, the cost of sequencing a human genome has dropped from $100 million to just over $1,000. This is spurring an explosion in bio-hacking to figure out how to eliminate ailments like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. We also see nanotechnology dealing with failing kidneys. New high-tech devices deal with blindness and other such disabilities.

An achievement culture and longevity
But this bright future could be fading. Here’s why.

The source of all human achievement is the human mind, our power to understand our world and thus to control it for our own benefit; Ayn Rand called machines “the frozen form of a living intelligence.”

But America, the country that put humans on the Moon, is becoming the stupid country. Despite increased government education spending, test results in science and most other subjects have remained flat for decades. On international ratings, American students are behind students in most other developed countries. It’s a good thing America still has a relatively open immigration policy! Many of the tech people here come from overseas, especially India, because America still offers enough opportunity to make up for its failing schools.

Apollo_11_nasa-69-hc-916am

The deeper problem is found in the prevailing values in our culture. In the 1950s and ‘60s many young people, inspired by the quest for the Moon, aspired to be scientists and engineers, to train their minds. Many went into the research labs of private firms that became the production leaders of the world. It was a culture that celebrated achievement.

Today, many young people, perverted by leftist dogma, hunger to be political enforcers, to train themselves in power and manipulation. Many go into campaigns and government to wrest wealth from producers to pay for “entitlements,” and to make the country more “equal” by tearing producers down. A growing portion of the culture demonizes achievement and envious of success.

Were they to live for 120 healthy years, individuals with the older, pro-achievement values would find their souls even more enriched by their extended careers of achievement. But individuals in the newer, anti-achievement culture would find their souls embittered as they focused enviously on degrading their productive fellows.

All who want long lives worth living need to not only promote science but also the values of reason and achievement. That’s the way to create a pro-longevity culture.

Explore

Edward Hudgins, “Google, Entrepreneurs, and Living 500 Years.” March 12, 2015.

Edward Hudgins, “How Anti-Individualist Fallacies Prevent Us from Curing Death.” April 22, 2015.

Bradley Doucet, “Book Review: The Green-Eyed Monster.” March 2008.

David Kelley, “Hatred of the Good.” April 2008.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

Is Trump a Howard Roark? – Article by Edward Hudgins

Is Trump a Howard Roark? – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
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Roark vs. TrumpDonald Trump recently said he’s a fan of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead. Even if you haven’t read it, a reflection on the key characters in that excellent work will help you understand much of what’s wrong with The Donald. Not wishing to write a book-length treatment on the subject, I’ll focus on just one thing that’s relevant to the presidential election: how one treats others.

In an interview with Kristen Powers, Trump said of The Fountainhead, “It relates to business … beauty … life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything.” (Here he’s right!) He identified with Howard Roark, the novel’s architect hero, loosely based on Frank Lloyd Wright. Trump builds buildings too, so no doubt a novel on the subject would interest him. But much of the resemblance between Roark and Trump ends there.

Roark treats people with respect
Howard Roark loves the creative work of designing buildings for the purpose of seeing them built just the way he designs them. His work is his source of pride. He doesn’t work for the approval of others.

Roark must struggle because in his world established architects simply want to imitate the styles of the past, mainly to impress other people who, for the most part, aren’t particularly impressed in any case.

Roark must find individuals and enterprises that want his buildings. But he is quite clear that “I don’t build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build.” He does not bastardize his buildings—sticking columns or balconies on them just to make sales. He has his standards. He is honest with his prospective clients and tries to educate them. He respects them enough to treat them like intelligent individuals. If they can’t accept his style, that is unfortunate, but Roark will not pander. Roark has integrity.

Wynand panders to the lowest
Another major character in the novel is Gail Wynand, who rose from nothing to build a chain of “Banner” newspapers. Wynand is good at what he does but what he does is not good. He builds his empire by appealing to the lowest common denominator among his readers. He is a yellow journalist who feeds them scandal, sensation, and schlock. He sees his readers as basically stupid and irrational, and his idea of success is not to appeal to the best within them but, rather, the worst, assuming they deserve nothing better.

And that is how Trump approaches prospective voters in his political campaign. It’s all a sensationalist, headline-grabbing show. It’s saying the most outrageous things to appeal to emotions on the assumption that his audience can’t or doesn’t want to actually think.

Which works?
But there is a major difference between Wynand and Trump. Wynand wants power over others but his sense of self-worth is not dependent on the adulation of the mob he wants to rule. Trump, on the other hand, seems to drink up the applause of his audience, and if someone challenges him, it’s personal and rates the response of the most insecure playground bully.

By contrast, in The Fountainhead, when the novel’s most malicious villain who has tried to block Roark’s career approaches him and asks “What do you think of me?” Roark responds, “But I don’t think of you.” That’s true self-esteem!

Which approach works better: Roark’s career built on dealing with people based on reason, or Wynand’s career built on treating people like idiots? Read The Fountainhead to discover the intriguing answer you probably already suspect. In terms of Trump’s political career, it will depend on how many voters prefer to be treated like idiots rather than with respect.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

Being Good for Goodness’ Sake – Article by Bradley Doucet

Being Good for Goodness’ Sake – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance HatBradley Doucet
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“Dear Santa,” begins an Internet meme that’s been making the rounds, accompanied by some innocent-looking drawing of a small child or a woman decorating a tree, “I’m writing to tell you I’ve been naughty and it was worth it, you fat, judgmental bastard.”

Fair enough, I say. Who died and made Jolly Old Saint Nick the arbiter of all things good and bad, anyway? And frankly, the extensive surveillance that’s he’s gotta have going on 24/7, 365 days a year, is more than a little bit creepy.

But if I reject the authority of the guy in red to tell me what to do, does that mean I can do whatever I please? Just gather as many resources and as much power over my fellows as I can, by whatever means I choose, fair or foul, even becoming top ape of the tribe if possible?

Such a life, no matter where you end up in the pecking order, is frankly impoverished. I don’t have anything against material riches per se, but we humans are not merely animals; we are rational animals. This doesn’t mean we are always or automatically rational, but rather that we have the ability to reason instead of being swept along exclusively by impulse and instinct.

Yet reason is not merely a tool, our particular means of getting what we need to survive, akin to another animal’s claws or teeth or brute strength. It is that, but it is also much more. Having the faculty of reason, we also have a psychological need to use it not only to better our lives, but to determine what constitutes a good life. It may be going too far to say that the unexamined life is not worth living at all, but the unexamined life is surely less than optimally satisfying.

So, what makes a good life? Physical pleasure is one good thing, to be sure, but only one, and its pursuit can distract us from the more subtle and deeper satisfactions of being human. Acquiring knowledge and learning skills, making and appreciating art, and cultivating relationships with others all take us beyond the simple pleasures we have in common with the beasts.

Even this does not quite capture what it means to live a fully human life, though, because it ignores the issue of dealing with others. Given that other human beings, like me, tend to want pleasure and knowledge and art and relationships, I am more likely to get these good things for myself if I treat other people with respect, cooperating and trading with them. To say the same thing another way, there are instrumental reasons for acting in an ethical manner in one’s dealings with other people.

These reasons do carry a certain weight. But it’s conceivable that one could lie, cheat, manipulate, and force others to give one what one wants, or some close enough facsimile, especially if one is smarter or stronger or richer or otherwise more resourceful than the norm. Are there any deeper reasons, besides the instrumental ones, not to trample the rights of others if one has a fairly good chance of getting away with it?

The answer, of course, is yes. For one thing, like most humans, I care about other people and their interests. Admittedly I don’t care equally about all 7.3 billion of you. Some of you, I don’t even know. Still, I don’t want to do you harm if I can avoid it—and lying to you, cheating you, manipulating you, or initiating force against you are themselves harms, however I may try to disguise this fact and keep anyone, myself included, from recognizing it.

And even more fundamentally, from a certain perspective, it’s also a matter of self-respect. Using deception, manipulation, or force to get what I want from other human beings—instead of treating them as the rational animals they are, with interests and goals and plans of their own—is quite simply beneath me. Respecting others’ rights is intrinsically valuable to me because of what it does to me if I violate them: I become less fully human.¹ I lose face with myself, and all of my pleasures become shadows of themselves: sour when they should be sweet; pale instead of bright and bold; a little out of tune.

Living a fully human life does not mean foregoing the animal pleasures. It does not mean sacrificing your interests to those of others. But it does mean striving to live a rational life, which implies living with honour and recognizing the basic humanity of your fellow human beings—whether or not some dude at the North Pole, or anywhere else, is watching.

1. This idea, and indeed the inspiration for the present short article, is from the second half of Roderick T. Long’s “Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand,” Objectivist Studies, No. 3, The Atlas Society, 2000, p. 51: “To violate the rights of others, then, is to lessen one’s own humanity.”

Bradley Doucet is a writer living in Montreal. He has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also is QL’s English Editor.
Refuting Ayn Rand’s “Immortal Robot” Argument – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Refuting Ayn Rand’s “Immortal Robot” Argument – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II

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Here I refute an argument that has been leveled against proponents of indefinite human longevity from a surprising direction – those sympathetic to the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand. Some advocates of Ayn Rand’s philosophy believe that indefinite life would turn human beings into “immortal, indestructible robots” that, according to Ayn Rand, would have no genuine values. Both of these claims are false. Indefinite life would not turn humans into indestructible robots, nor would an indestructible robot with human abilities lack values or motivation for doing great things. In Ayn Rand’s own words, “Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.” (John Galt’s speech in For the New Intellectual, p. 135)

Rand’s “immortal robot” argument is found in “The Objectivist Ethics” (The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 15): “To make this point fully clear, try to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals.”

The “immortal robot” argument needs to be challenged because it originates from Ayn Rand, who otherwise espouses numerous rational ideas. I myself agree with most of the fundamental principles that Ayn Rand advocates. However, in some of her particular reasoning – at least, if applied to the wrong context – she can be off-target in such a way as to retard further progress. The often-leveled argument, derived by contemporary non-transhumanist Objectivists from the above-quoted passage, is that achieving indefinite longevity would turn human beings into Ayn Rand’s description of the “immortal, indestructible robot”.

In responding to Rand’s argument, several points can be made in relation to prolonging human life indefinitely and lifting the death sentence that hangs over all of us. First, at no point in time will human beings become the “immortal, indestructible robots” that Ayn Rand describes. The simple reason for this is that our existence is physical and contingent on certain physical prerequisites being fulfilled. The moment one of these physical prerequisites is lacking, our existence ceases. This will always be the case, even if we no longer have a necessary upper limit on our lifespans. For instance, biomedical advances that would greatly expand human lifespans – allowing periodic reversions to a more youthful biological state and therefore the possibility of an indefinite existence – would not turn humans into indestructible robots. There would still be the need to actively turn back biological processes of decay, and the active choice to pursue such treatments or not. People who live longer by successfully combating senescence could still get run over by a car or experience a plane crash. They would retain potential vulnerability to certain perils – such as death from accidents – although, as I have explained in “Life Extension and Risk Aversion”, they may be more diligent in seeking to greatly reduce the probability of such outcomes. If it is ever the case that death by senescence and the myriad diseases which kill many human beings today can be averted, then human beings will try to avert the other possibilities of death – for instance, by developing safer modes of transportation or engaging in fewer wars.

It is possible to significantly reduce the likelihood that one can be destroyed, without ever eliminating the theoretical potential of such destruction. Furthermore, because human beings have free will, they always have at least the hypothetical option of choosing to undermine the physical prerequisites of their own lives. In my view, no sane, rational being would actually choose to pursue that option, but the option is there nonetheless. For anybody who seeks to commit suicide by immediate or gradual means, or by refusing to take advantage of life-prolonging techniques once they become available, there is virtually nothing in the world that could prevent this, apart from rational persuasion (which may or may not be successful).

Even with indefinite longevity, human beings will always be vulnerable to some actual or hypothetical perils or poor choices. Moreover, when we manage to avoid one kind of peril, other kinds of perils may become more pressing as they come into the frame of awareness of longer-lived beings. If we do manage to live for hundreds of thousands of years, we will be far more subject to long-term geological changes and fluctuations of the Earth’s climate, such as the cycle of ice ages, whereas today humans do not live long enough to experience these massive shifts. Most of us today do not worry about the consequences of huge glaciers advancing over the continents, but humans who live for millennia will see this as a pressing problem for their own lifetimes. Likewise, the longer we live, the greater the likelihood that we will experience a global cataclysm, such as a supervolcano or an asteroid hitting the Earth. Human ingenuity and resources would need to be devoted toward confronting and even preventing these perils – a highly desirable outcome in general, since the perils exist irrespective of our individual lifespans, but most humans currently lack the long-term vision or orientation to combat them.

Moreover, the need to reject the “immortal robot” argument when discussing indefinite life extension does not stem solely from a desire to achieve philosophical correctness. Rather, we should recognize the potential for actually achieving meaningful, unprecedented longevity increases within our own lifetimes. For instance, the SENS Research Foundation is a nonprofit biogerontological research organization whose founder, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, has outlined an engineering-based approach to reversing the seven principal types of damage that accumulate in the human body with age. (SENS stands for “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence”.) Dr. de Grey has stated that, with proper funding, there is approximately a 50 percent probability of these rejuvenation treatments being developed 20-25 years from now. (The 20-year figure is presented in this transcript from a recent NPR interview of Aubrey de Grey – quoted in “Discussing Science and Aging: Aubrey de Grey and Cynthia Kenyon at NPR” by Reason at FightAging.org.) The SENS Research Foundation is not the only entity pursuing radical life extension. Major commercial efforts toward research into reversing biological aging – such as Calico, created and funded by Google (now Alphabet, Inc.) – have been launched already. Thus, it is premature to conclude that death is a certainty for those who are alive today. Medical advances on the horizon could indeed turn many humans into beings who are still potentially vulnerable to death, but no longer subject to any upper limit on their lifespans.

It is therefore ill-advised to pin any ethical justifications for the ultimate value of human life to the current contingent situation, where it just so happens that human lifespans are finite because we have not achieved the level of technological advancement to overcome senescence yet. If such advances are achieved, common interpretations of the “immortal robot” argument and its derivative claims would suggest that life for human beings would transform from an ultimate value to some lesser value or to no value at all. This implication reveals a flaw in arguments that rely on the finitude of life and the inevitability of death. How is it that, by making life longer, healthier, and of higher quality (with less suffering due to the diseases of old age), humans would, in so doing, deprive life of its status as an ultimate value? If life is improved, it does not thereby lose a moral status that it previously possessed.

Yet another important recognition is that some animals have already attained negligible senescence. Their lifespans are de facto finite, but without a necessary upper limit. Suppose that evolution had taken a different course and rational beings had descended from tortoises rather than from primates. Then these rational beings would have negligible senescence without the need for medical intervention to achieve it. Would their lives thereby lack a type of value which the proponents of the “immortal robot” argument attribute to human lives today? Again, a conclusion of this sort illustrates a flaw in the underlying argument.

But suppose that a true immortal, indestructible robot could exist and be identical to human beings in every other respect. It would possess human biological processes and ways of thinking but be made of extremely strong materials that did not deteriorate or that automatically renewed themselves so as to rapidly, automatically repair any injury. Ayn Rand’s argument would still be mistaken. Even if death were not a possibility for such a being, it could still pursue and enjoy art, music, inventions, games – any activity that is appealing from the perspective of the senses, the intellect, or the general civilizing project of transforming chaos into order and transforming simpler orders into more complex ones.

The fear of death is not the sole motivator for human actions by far. Indeed, most great human accomplishments are a result of positive, not negative motivations. Rand acknowledged this when she wrote that “Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.” At least in the short term, you do not need to do much to avoid death. You could just sit there, stay out of trouble, eat, drink, keep warm, sleep – and you survive to the next day. But that is not a full life, according to Rand. Obviously, one needs to avoid death to have a full life. Survival is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Many thinkers sympathetic to the Objectivist school, such as Edward Younkins, Tara Smith, Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen, Tibor Machan, George Reisman, and Lester Hunt, have extended this insight to conclude that survival is not enough; one should also pursue flourishing. (Younkins provides an excellent overview of this perspective in “Flourishing and Happiness in a Nutshell”.)

I concur fully with the goal of flourishing and recognize the existence of numerous positive motivations besides mere survival. For example, the desire to see oneself create something, to witness a product of one’s mind become embodied in the physical reality, is a powerful motivation indeed. One can furthermore seek to take esthetic pleasure from a particular object or activity. This does not require even a thought of death. Moreover, to appreciate certain kinds of patterns in existence, which are present in art, in technology, and even in games, does not require any thought of death. Many people play games, even if those games do not contribute anything to their survival. This does not mean, however, that doing so is irrational; rather, it is another creative way to channel the activities of the human mind. Via games, the human mind essentially creates its own field of endeavor, a rule system within which it operates. By operating within that rule system, the mind exercises its full potential, whereas just by sitting there and only doing what is absolutely necessary to survive, the mind would have missed some essential part of its functioning.

Creating art and music, undertaking scientific discoveries, envisioning new worlds – actual and fictional – does not rely on having to die in the future. None of these activities even rely on the threat of death. The immortal, indestructible robot, of course, might not engage in precisely the same activities as we do today. It would probably not need to worry about earning its next meal by working for somebody else, but it could still paint a painting, just because it would like to see its mental processes – in this scenario, processes greatly resembling our own – have some kind of external consequence and embodiment in the external reality. Such external embodiment is a vital component of flourishing.

Fear of death is not the sole motivator for human action, nor the sole prerequisite for value, as Ayn Rand acknowledged. There is more to life than that. Life is not merely about survival and should be about the pursuit of individual flourishing as well. Survival is a necessary prerequisite, but, once it is achieved, an individual is free to pursue higher-order values, such as self-actualization. The individual would only be further empowered in the quest for flourishing and self-actualization in a hypothetical environment where no threats to survival existed.

While we will never be true immortal robots, such immortal robots could nonetheless flourish and truly achieve life. As a result, the “immortal robot” argument fails on multiple counts and is not a valid challenge to indefinite life extension.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

On Viewing 2001: The First Transhumanist Film – Article by Edward Hudgins

On Viewing 2001: The First Transhumanist Film – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
November 20, 2015
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I recently saw 2001: A Space Odyssey again on the big screen. That’s the best way to see this visually stunning cinematic poem, like I saw it during its premiere run in 1968. The film’s star, Keir Dullea, attended that recent screening and afterward offered thoughts on director Stanley Kubrick’s awe-inspiring opus.

2001-space-odyssey-objectivism-transhumanism

He and many others have discussed the visions offered in the film. Some have come to pass: video phone calls and iPad tablets, for example. Others, sadly, haven’t: regularly scheduled commercial flights to orbiting space stations and Moon bases.

But what should engage our attention is that the film’s enigmatic central theme of transformation is itself transforming from science fiction to science fact.

From apes to man

The film’s story came from a collaboration between Kubrick and sci-fi great Arthur C. Clarke. If you’re familiar with Clarke’s pre-2001 novel Childhood’s End and his short story “The Sentinel” you’ll recognize themes in the film.

In the film we see a pre-human species on the brink of starvation, struggling to survive. An alien monolith appears and implants in the brain of one of the more curious man-apes, Moonwatcher, an idea. He picks up a bone and bashes in the skull of one of a herd of pigs roaming the landscape. Now he and his tribe will have all the food they need.

We know from Clarke’s novel, written in conjunction with the film script, that the aliens actually alter Moonwatcher’s brain, giving it the capacity for imagination and implanting a vision of him and his tribe filled with food. He sees that there is an alternative to starvation and acts accordingly. The aliens had juiced evolution. Kubrick gives us the famous scene where Moonwatcher throws the bone in the air. As it falls the scene cuts ahead to vehicle drifting through space. Natural evolution over four million years has now transformed ape-men into modern technological humans.

From stars to starchild

In the film, astronauts discover a monolith buried on the Moon, which sends a signal toward Jupiter. A spaceship is sent to investigate, and astronaut Dave Bowman, played by Dullea, discovers a giant monolith in orbit. He enters it and passes through an incredible hyperspacial stargate. At the end of his journey, Bowman is transformed by the unseen aliens’ monolith into a new, higher life form, an embryo-appearing starchild with, we presume, knowledge and powers beyond anything dreamt of by humans. He is transhuman!

starchild-2001-space-odyssey

Kubrick and Clarke are making obvious references to Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. In that book Nietzsche offers a vision of a human going through three transformations, ending up as a child. “Innocent is the child . . . a new beginning . . . a first movement . . . a holy ‘Yes’.” The child is the creator and the potential for the creation of new values. And, of course, Kubrick used the introduction/sunrise music from the Richard Strauss tone poem named for Nietzsche’s work in the film’s famous opening; in the scene when an idea dawns in the brain of the ape-man; and at the end, when the human is reborn as the starchild. This is as over-the-top symbolism as there ever was!

From evolution to creation

In 2001 natural evolution and alien intervention transform ape-man, to man, to übermensch. Today, we humans are taking control of our own evolution and are beginning to transform ourselves—but into what?

Futurists like Max and Natasha Vita More and Ray Kurzweil have given us the transhumanist philosophy, the idea that we humans can and should use technology to overcome our biological limits, enhancing our physical and mental capacities. Scientists, researchers, and engineers today are doing just this.

They are creating advanced bionic implants and prosthetics to replace lost limbs or body parts. They are working on brain-machine interfaces that could better merge the two. They are experimenting with actually implanting information into brains. They have genetically engineered certain cells to attack only cancer cells. They are working to program nanobots to do the same. And they are understanding the deep mechanisms that cause cells over time to break down, and are exploring ways to “turn off” this process—that is, to actually stop aging. Could we engineer superbrains for real, eternally young übermenschen in decades to come?

Today, the fundamental theme of 2001, human transcendence, is being made real by we humans rather than by alien monoliths. So when you next see this classic film, you might see still see the starchild as a piece of evocative fiction. But you can appreciate that we humans are putting ourselves on a path to something in the future beyond anything dreamt of by humans.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

Ayn Rand and Friedrich A. Hayek: A Side-by-Side Comparison – Article by Edward W. Younkins

Ayn Rand and Friedrich A. Hayek: A Side-by-Side Comparison – Article by Edward W. Younkins

The New Renaissance HatEdward W. Younkins
August 1, 2015
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Ayn Rand and Friedrich A. Hayek did more than any other writers in the Twentieth Century to turn intellectual opinion away from statism and toward a free society. Although they are opposed on many philosophical and social issues, they generally agree on the superiority of a free market. Rand’s defense of capitalism differs dramatically from Hayek’s explanation of the extended order. In addition, Hayek approves of state activity that violates Rand’s ideas of rights and freedom. The purpose of this brief essay is to describe, explain, and compare the ideas of these two influential thinkers. To do this, I present and explain an exhibit that provides a side-by-side summary of the differences between Rand and Hayek on a number of issues.

In their early years of writing, both Hayek and Rand were dismissed by intellectuals, but they were heralded by businessmen. Hayek began to gain some respect from intellectuals when he published The Road to Serfdom in 1944. He wrote a number of scholarly books, attained formal academic positions, and earned the Nobel Prize for economics in 1974. Rand never did write scholarly works or hold a formal academic position. Her philosophy must be extracted from her essays and her fiction.

Hayek was read in college classes sooner, and to a much greater extent, than was Rand. He was viewed by intellectuals as a responsible and respected scholar, and Rand was not. His vision of anti-statism was more acceptable to intellectuals because he called for some exceptions to laissez-faire capitalism. In his writings he permitted concessions for some state interventions. In his immense and varied body of work, he touched upon a great many fields, including anthropology, evolutionary biology, cognitive science, philosophy, economics, linguistics, political science, and intellectual history. During the last 25 years or so, Rand’s works have been increasingly studied by scholars. There is now an Ayn Rand Society affiliated with the American Philosophical Association and a scholarly publication devoted to the study of her ideas—The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. In addition, her writings are now being covered in college classes.

A Summary Comparison

Exhibit I provides a summary comparison of Rand and Hayek based on a variety of factors and dimensions. With respect to metaphysics and epistemology, Rand holds that “A is A” and that reality is knowable. Contrariwise, Hayek argues that reality is unknowable and that what men see are distorted representations or reproductions of objects existing in the world. The skeptic Hayek goes so far as to state that the notion of things in themselves (i.e., the noumenal world) can be dismissed. Whereas Rand’s foundation is reality, the best that Hayek can offer as a foundation is words and language.

Hayek supports the view that the human mind must have a priori categories that are prior to, and responsible for the ability to perceive and interpret the external world. He adds to this Kantian view by making the case that each individual mind’s categories are restructured according to the distinct experiences of each particular person.   Each person’s neural connections can therefore be seen as semi-permanent and affected by his or her environment and experiences. The mind’s categories evolve as each specific person experiences the world. According to Hayek, there is pre-sensory knowledge embedded in the structure of the mind and the nervous system’s synaptic connections which can be further created and modified over time. For the neo-Kantian Hayek, knowledge always has a subjective quality.

Reason for Rand is active, volitional, and efficacious. It follows that she sees rationality as man’s primary virtue. She sees progress through science and technology as the result of the human ability to think conceptually and to analyze logically through induction and deduction. Rand also contends that people can develop objective concepts that correspond with reality.

In his philosophy, Hayek relegates reason to a minor role. He argues for a modest perspective of people’s reasoning capabilities. He contends that reason is passive and that it is a social product. Hayek’s message of intellectual humility is primarily aimed at constructivist rationalism rather than critical rationalism. As an “anti-rationalist,” he explained that the world is too complex for any government planner to intentionally design and construct society’s institutions. However, he is a proponent of the limited potential of critical rationalism through which individuals use local and tacit knowledge in their everyday decisions. Hayek views progress as a product of an ongoing dynamic evolutionary process. He said that we cannot know reality but we can analyze evolving words and language. Linguistic analysis and some limited empirical verification provide Hayek with somewhat of an analytical foundation. His coherence theory of concepts is based on agreement among minds. For Hayek, concepts happen to the mind. Of course, his overall theory of knowledge is that individuals know much more than can be expressed in words.

Rand makes a positive case for freedom based on the nature of man and the world. She explains that man’s distinctive nature is exhibited in his rational thinking and free will. Each person has the ability to think his own thoughts and control his own energies in his efforts to act according to those thoughts. People are rational beings with free wills who have the ability to fulfill their own life purposes, aims, and intentions. Rand holds that each individual person has moral significance. He or she exists, perceives, experiences, thinks and acts in and through his or her own body and therefore from unique points in time and space. It follows that the distinct individual person is the subject of value and the unit of social analysis. Each individual is responsible for thinking for himself, for acting on his own thoughts, and for achieving his own happiness.

Hayek denies the existence of free will. However, he explains that people act as if they have free will because they are never able to know how they are determined to act by various biological, cultural, and environmental factors. His negative case for freedom is based on the idea that no one person or government agency is able to master the complex multiplicity of elements needed to do so. Such relevant knowledge is never totally possessed by any one individual. There are too many circumstances and variables affecting a situation to take them all into account. His solution to this major problem is to permit people the “freedom” to pursue and employ the information they judge to be the most relevant to their chosen goals. For Hayek, freedom is good because it best promotes the growth of knowledge in society. Hayek explains that in ordering society we should depend as much as possible on spontaneous forces such as market prices and as little as possible on force. Acknowledging man’s socially-constructed nature, he does not view individuals as independent agents but rather as creatures of society.

According to Rand, the principle of man’s rights can be logically derived from man’s nature and needs. Rights are a moral concept. For Rand, the one fundamental right is a person’s right to his own life. She explains that rights are objective conceptual identifications of the factual requirements of a person’s life in a social context. A right is a moral principle that defines and sanctions one’s freedom of action in a social context. Discussion of individual rights are largely absent from Hayek’s writings. At most he says that rights are created by society through the mechanism of law.

Whereas Rand speaks of Objective Law, Hayek speaks of the Rule of Law. Objective laws must be clearly expressed in terms of essential principles. They must be objectively justifiable, impartial, consistent, and intelligible. Rand explains that objective law is derived from the rational principle of individual rights. Objective Law deals with the specific requirements of a man’s life. Individuals must know in advance what the law forbids them from doing, what constitutes a violation, and what penalty would be incurred if they break the law. Hayek says that the Rule of Law is the opposite of arbitrary government. The Rule of Law holds that government coercion must be limited by known, general, and abstract rules. According to Hayek certain abstract rules of conduct came into being because groups who adopted them became better able to survive and prosper. These rules are universally applicable to everyone and maintain a sphere of responsibility.

Rand espouses a rational objective morality based on reason and egoism. In her biocentric ethics, moral behavior is judged in relation to achieving specific ends with the final end being an individual’s life, flourishing, and happiness. For Hayek, ethics is based on evolution and emotions. Ethics for Hayek are functions of biology and socialization. They are formed through habits and imitation.

Rand advocates a social system of laissez-faire capitalism in which the sole function of the state is the protection of individual rights. Hayek, or the other hand, allows for certain exceptions and interventions to make things work. He holds that it is acceptable for the government to supply public goods and a safety net.

For Rand, the consciousness of the individual human person is the highest level of mental functioning. For Hayek, it is a supra-conscious framework of neural connections through which conscious mental activity gains meaning. He states that this meta-conscious mechanism is taken for granted by human beings. The set of a person’s physiological impulses forms what Hayek calls the sensory order. Perception and pattern recognition follow one’s sensory order which is altered by a person’s own perception and history of experiences

Aristotle is Rand’s only acknowledged philosophical influence. They both contend that to make life fully human (i.e., to flourish), an individual must acquire virtues and make use of his reason as fully as he is capable. Hayek was influenced by Kant and Popper in epistemology, Ferguson and Smith in evolutionary theory, Hume in ethics, and Wittgenstein in linguistics.

Although Rand and Hayek are opposed on many philosophical questions, they generally agree on the desirability of a free market and are among the most well-known defenders of capitalism in the twentieth century. The works of both of these intellectual giants are highly recommended for any student of liberty.

 Exhibit I

A Summary Comparison

 

Rand

 

Hayek

Foundation Reality Words and Language
Knowledge Reality is knowable. Skepticism – The idea of things in themselves can be dismissed.
Reason Reason is active, volitional, and efficacious. Reason is passive and a social product.
Progress Based on power of human reason and conscious thought Evolution and social selection
Analytic Method Logical analysis, including induction and deduction Linguistic analysis and empiricism
Theory of Concepts Objective concepts that correspond with reality Coherence or agreement among minds
Freedom Positive case for freedom Negative case for “freedom”
Free Will Man has free will. Man is determined but acts as if he has free will.
Subject of value and unit of social analysis Individual happiness Perpetuation of society (i.e., the group)
The Individual Independent Dependent—man is socially constituted
Rights Based on the nature of the human person Created by society through law
Law Objective Law Rule of Law
Ethics and Morality Rational objective morality based on reason and egoism Evolutionary and emotive ethics based on altruism which is noble but cannot be implemented because of ignorance. Established through habits and imitation
Desired Social System Laissez-faire capitalism Minimal welfare state that supplies public goods and safety net
Highest level of understanding and mental functioning Consciousness of the Individual Meta-conscious framework—neural connections
Philosophical influences Aristotle Ferguson, Smith, Kant, Hume, Popper, Wittgenstein
G. Stolyarov II Interviews Kyrel Zantonavitch, Author of “Pure Liberal Fire”

G. Stolyarov II Interviews Kyrel Zantonavitch, Author of “Pure Liberal Fire”

On March 7, 2015, Mr. Stolyarov invited Kyrel Zantonavitch, the author of Pure Liberal Fire: Brief Essays on the New, General, and Perfected Philosophy of Western Liberalism and founder of The Liberal Institute, to discuss his original philosophical framework and its relationship to Objectivism, Classical Liberalism, Austrian Economics, Libertarianism, and Transhumanism. Mr. Zantonavitch was asked challenging questions regarding his ideas and provocative approach, as well as the objectives of his philosophical system. The intense discussion – which, in some places, became a debate – highlighted both areas of agreement and areas of disagreement between Mr. Stolyarov and Mr. Zantonavitch.

Pure Liberal Fire is available on Amazon here.

The website of The Liberal Institute is here.

Mr. Stolyarov’s review of Pure Liberal Fire  describes Mr. Zantonavitch’s thinking thus: “There is perhaps not a single thinker in the world more fearless than Kyrel Zantonavitch. Pure Liberal Fire is the direct, provocative distillation of his thoughts on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, economics, culture, religion, and the history of philosophy – including Objectivism and Classical Liberalism. Zantonavitch seeks to evoke a pure, true liberalism, and he shows no mercy for ideologies and attitudes that constitute its antithesis. He certainly leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind about where he stands on the issues addressed – and each article within the book employs an abundance of superlative expressions – be they positive or negative. When Zantonavitch praises, he really praises – and the same goes for when he condemns.”

Mr. Stolyarov’s response to Mr. Zantonavitch’s approach is characterized by the following comment: “Zantonavitch’s approach and style would entail achieving a fiery, dramatic, immediate deposition of everything (every person, every policy, every idea) he considers evil, dangerous, or damaging. My view of reform is more surgical, focused on getting the sequence of steps right so as to minimize the damage inflicted during the transition while ridding the world of the disease of bad policies (and, in a more long-term fashion, through persuasion and free-market education, also ridding it of bad thinking of the sort that motivates bad policies).”