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More Attention for “Death is Wrong” – Article by Reason

More Attention for “Death is Wrong” – Article by Reason

The New Renaissance Hat
Reason
April 12, 2014
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I like to see advocates setting forth to create small scale initiatives like the children’s book Death is Wrong and the associated fundraiser to distribute copies. At the large scale a broad advocacy movement for a cause in medical research isn’t a monolithic thing; it is made up thousands of such efforts, a tapestry of individual who each thought enough of the cause to stand up and do something about it. More of this is always a good thing, and working towards a cure for degenerative aging is the most worthy of causes that I know of.

Donating to the right sort of cutting edge research is one approach, and the one I favor, but equally we have to get out there and persuade more people to do the same. Money has to come from somewhere. There is always a balance between raising research funding to get the job done versus funding the cost of gathering more supporters and thus making it more likely that greater amounts of research funding can be obtained. Research results help to convince more people to fund more research, but there is never enough support in the early crucial stages – the really large amounts of research funding arrive after the most important work is done, as is the case for every trend.

The starting point for large amounts of future funding and rapid progress towards actual, real, working rejuvenation treatments is some mix of research funding and advocacy initiatives today, however. All such efforts should be encouraged, as it is through them that the longevity science community finds its way to a louder voice in the public sphere, a taller soapbox from which to persuade and educate. Aging is a horror, the greatest cause of pain and suffering in this world of ours, and we stand at the verge of being able to do something about it – but only if many more people come to think that this cause has merit and make their own contributions to help out.

Praise for Death is Wrong, a delicious transhumanist book for children – Review by Guilio Prisco

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Death is a disease, and hopefully future scientists, perhaps including the young readers of the book, will find a cure. Previous generations thought that death is inevitable, and invented delusional fake philosophies to make death easier to accept. This reaction is understandable – if you can’t avoid something, you look for ways to accept it – and explains all usual rhetorical babbling in praise of death: “overpopulation, make room for the young, death is a tool of evolution, boredom after a long life,” and the utterly idiotic “death gives meaning to life.” The book deconstructs all these fake “arguments” and calls them what they are: understandable but pathetic attempts to rationalize the inevitable.

Provocative strong messages get heard, and teaching children that death will be cured is very provocative in today’s dull, defeatist, politically correct cultural climate. I think writing for children forces to keep things clean end simple, without big words and endless caveats, cutting through the noise and getting to the point. Clear, clean, and simple communication focused on the core message, with qualifications and caveats (if they are really needed) in footnotes, is something that transhumanists should practice more, and writing for children is a good way to learn.

Spreading the Word That Death is Wrong

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Who could have thought a month ago that an illustrated children’s book on indefinite life extension would become a fiercely, passionately discussed phenomenon not just in transhumanist and futurist circles, but on mainstream publications and forums? And yet that is exactly what has happened to Death is Wrong – certainly the most influential and provocative of all of my endeavors to date. I am thrilled that it is precisely my pursuit of this most fundamental and precious goal – preservation of the life of every innocent individual – that has achieved greater public exposure, controversy included, than anything else I have ever done.

Review of “Death is Wrong” by Adam Alonzi

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Death can be cured. Let this sink into your brain, not because it is comforting, but because it is true. Even obvious truths will not gain acceptance unless we vigorously campaign against the falsehoods. Death is not something to embrace, and it is not something to ignore. To turn it into a matter of metaphysics or “bioethics” is insulting to those who, by no fault of their own, are burdened by the ailments of old age. There are many extraordinary men and women who could go on working for hundreds of years if their stars were not designed to dim so soon.

Reason is the founder of The Longevity Meme (now Fight Aging!). He saw the need for The Longevity Meme in late 2000, after spending a number of years searching for the most useful contribution he could make to the future of healthy life extension. When not advancing the Longevity Meme or Fight Aging!, Reason works as a technologist in a variety of industries. 

This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license. It was originally published on FightAging.org.

Bob Lane Reviews “Death is Wrong” on LifeVsDeath.com

Bob Lane Reviews “Death is Wrong” on LifeVsDeath.com

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
April 12, 2014
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Bob Lane has written an excellent post about Death is Wrong on his site LifeVsDeath.com. Read it here. Mr. Lane writes that “This is an important step in a long-term effort to win minds and change attitudes. I applaud the author’s efforts and plan to share a copy with my 15-year-old. […] Even if you don’t have children, please consider supporting the author in what he is trying to accomplish.”

Review of “Death is Wrong” by Adam Alonzi

Review of “Death is Wrong” by Adam Alonzi

The New Renaissance Hat
Adam Alonzi
April 7, 2014
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Death is wrong, and it can be defeated. Gennady Stolyarov’s new book, Death is Wrong, makes this powerful  idea accessible to everyone. Now that you have seen the phrase in print, it should not seem odd to you; the vincible visage of the Grim Reaper should seem less frightening. It is a primitive spectre, a monster to be unmasked in the venerable tradition of Scooby Doo. There is no more reason to believe in its inevitability than there is to believe in the Easter Bunny. This strange, wonderful and intoxicating idea should begin to sink into our brains, not because it is pleasant, but because it is true. Please support his Indiegogo campaign here.

Death can be cured. Let this sink into your brain, not because it is comforting, but because it is true. Even obvious truths will not gain acceptance unless we vigorously campaign against the falsehoods Death is not something to embrace, and it is not something to ignore. To turn it into a matter of metaphysics or “bioethics” is insulting to those who, by no fault of their own, are burdened by the ailments of old age. There are many extraordinary men and women who could go on working for hundreds of years if their stars were not designed to dim so soon.

What do you want to do with your life? This is the question Mr. Stolyarov poses to his readers. Whatever you wish to do is restricted by the time you have on this earth. This is restricted largely by your genes, even if you do all you can to mitigate the hand chance and meiosis have dealt you. The fountain of youth now is not far off. We no longer need to deceive ourselves with lofty philosophical discourses of dreams of a world after this one. Conventional “wear and tear” theories claim the body has a finite amount of repair resources, yet if this was true, exercise should greatly decrease one’s lifespan. As far as we can tell, moderate exercise fights aging as well as or better than anything in our still inadequate arsenal.

If the process is the result of unavoidable changes we should not expect to find animals which undergo negligible senescence. We should also expect animals of the same basic shape, type and size to age at approximately the same rates. American crows normally die before their eigth birthday; Kakapo parrots can live well into their nineties. Post-reproductive suicide may be viewed as a peculiarity of some species, but it also graphically illustrates the control genes have over the aging process. The goal of the Transhumanist movement now should be to convince as many people as possible of the viability of this research. Arcane mathematical tidbits from evolutionary biology, although more cogent, are less convincing than masses of salmon carcasses floating downstream or lowly tortoises who, for no obvious reason, live for centuries.

Knowing our quality of life is doomed to decay with each passing year, we do not always take full advantage of the opportunities available to us. Why play the guitar? Some people have been playing it since they were 12. It would be impossible to schedule it in between shifts at the lab and carting the kids around. An ambition is forsaken for lack of time. It is often irrational, as late is better than never, but humans are not always rational animals. The creeping fear of time is partially justified. Anger is more than justified. There is no reason we should not have more quality time to fulfill our aspirations. Paradoxically, coming to terms with the shortness of life can be more paralyzing than invigorating. Like so many falsehoods, carpe diem stems from deep but forgivable denial.

People, including history’s greatest minds, have tried to find ways in which they or their creations were eternal. These efforts amount mostly to confabulations. As much as this statement will be contested, I must make it: death makes life meaningless. If you cannot agree with this, at least concede that aging can make life intolerable. Before you dismiss this, keep in mind it is easy to pontificate about the value of old age when one is young. Creaking joints and failing organs may change your views. Our finest moments are when we feel eternal, yet feeling eternal is quite different from being eternal. Freud called it the oceanic sensation; the expansion of the self into the wider world. When someone knows with certainly they may live hundreds or thousands of years, these otherwise momentary delusions find firm ground on which to stand.

Death is Wrong - by Gennady Stolyarov II, Illustrated by Wendy Stolyarov

In the end our efforts are all for naught. From a cosmic perspective this may be so, and a pugnacious devil’s advocate may ask if there is such a thing as a “good” age to die, but one can forcefully and effectively argue that 75 is too young. 35 is far too young to begin losing one’s faculties, as many professions today require years of training. A man in the prime of his career should also be in the prime of his life. 20 is universally considered too young to die. So are 30, 40, and 50. Before we can even begin to enjoy the fruits of our labors, we are already declining. Before we can begin to understand a portion of the world’s treasures, we are growing old and tired. What a sad state of affairs! We desire lasting rewards, yet we cannot have them. The productions of an entire lifetime do not last, because the enjoyer of those productions and the accolades they have won eventually perishes. With his body, presumably, his consciousness also disappears into nothingness. Deadlines tend to force a person to work in a state of fear. Death is the ultimate deadline.

What of knowledge and talents? Why acquire knowledge when it can only be imperfectly transmitted to the next generation? Preserved in books, but there are already so many books. Immortality may not be necessary for society’s continued progress now, but with the constant expansion of information and the sprawling interconnectedness of different disciplines, it is reasonable to wonder if hyperspecialization is our salvation. Immortality and intelligence amplification will allow us all, to some extent, to become generalists capable of making sane and sound decisions for ourselves and society. Why invest in higher pleasures when the lower ones deliver immediate gratification?

Living for each day devolves into hedonistic stupidity. Why should we care about the consequences of our actions when, regardless of what happens to us, our stories all end in the same way? What was once a psychological necessity is now a hindrance to the greater good. What was once a rational position is now an effrontery to a sane approach to medicine. This is not say that research efforts dedicated to the cell cycle or the precipitating factors involved in autoimmune disorders are worthless – far from it! Rather it means that life extension in its own right ought to be a major area of inquiry. The totem must be smashed and the taboo crushed.

Yet whose decree are we following and why? Disease is our oldest foe. We are not complacent about hereditary illnesses that will only be cured after the perfection of in vivo gene therapy. Yet a lifespan of less than a century is blindly accepted as a physical limit by, according to polls taken by Theodore Goldsmith, a shocking number of scientists and laymen alike. Death is literally our mortal foe, but the amount of energy we have spent fighting it directly would not lead one to this conclusion. The biochemical changes associated with aging are the primary risk factors for diabetes, atherosclerosis, arthritis, and cancer. Yet, in spite of the undeniable correlation between aging and these diseases, research effort is directed mostly at treating them individually instead of addressing their underlying cause.

This is rooted not in a scientific sentiment, but in the unfounded assumption that death is inevitable. This stems less from skepticism towards modern medicine and more from historical superstitions that allowed our ancestors to cope with the mysterious and inhospitable universe in which they found themselves. Worse, there are throngs of secular and religious nihilists alike who actively spread the gospel of death. They erect altars to petty Molochs to distract themselves from their own worst enemy. It will be difficult to battle the most entrenched notion of all, but nothing worth having is easy to obtain. The end of suffering is the highest ideal. Why should we worship false idols any longer?

Should Transhumanism take precedence over the fight against Creationism? The answer seems painfully obvious. I do not care if a pig farmer in Alabama believes the Neolithic era was populated by dinosaurs. His ignorance has no dreadful ramifications for humankind. As an academic and popular movement, anti-aging should be the first and foremost topic of scientific discussion. The secular and sane world accepts Darwinism. There is no reason to suppose converting the remaining holdouts will benefit society in the least. The sane and secular world, however, is still largely unaware of the strides science is making toward biological immortality. Moreover, a small bit about intelligent design in a science textbook, while objectionable on moral grounds, will not do much more damage to an already broken school system.

Mentioning intelligent design in passing will do nothing to dumb down an already doltish student body. Advocates of evolution would be more helpful if they turned their energies to spreading numeracy and basic literacy. Both are in short supply. To spend a lifetime fighting against hopeless ignoramuses makes one an imbecile of the highest order. Let the ignorant tend to their own business while we welcome the age of wonders. Let this be a call to arms. Let this be a call to awaken and accept the foolishness of how humanity uses its resources. Rage against the dying of the light. Do not go gentle into that good night.

Adam Alonzi is the author of Praying for Death and A Plank in Reason. He is also a futurist, inventor, DIY enthusiast, biotechnologist, programmer, molecular gastronomist, consummate dilletante and columnist at The Indian Economist. Read his blog Cool Flickers.

“Exploring Capitalist Fiction” – Allen Mendenhall Interviews Edward W. Younkins

“Exploring Capitalist Fiction” – Allen Mendenhall Interviews Edward W. Younkins

The New Renaissance Hat
Allen Mendenhall and Edward W. Younkins
February 16, 2014
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This interview is reprinted with permission from Allen Mendenhall’s blog.

Read Mr. Stolyarov’s review of Dr. Younkins’s book, Exploring Capitalist Fiction.

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AM:       Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.  I’d like to start by asking why you chose to write Exploring Capitalist Fiction.  Was there a void you were seeking to fill?

EY:          The origins of this book go back to the Spring of 1992 when I began teaching a course called Business Through Literature in Wheeling Jesuit University’s MBA program.  Exploring Capitalist Fiction is heavily based on my lectures and notes on the novels, plays, and films used in this popular course over the years and on what I have learned from my students in class discussions and in their papers.

The idea to write this book originated a few years ago when one of Wheeling Jesuit University’s MBA graduates, who had taken and enjoyed the Business Through Literature course, proposed that I write a book based on the novels, plays, and films covered in that course.  I agreed as I concluded that the subject matter was important and bookworthy and that the book would be fun for me to write and for others to read.  I went on to select twenty-five works to include in the book out of the more than eighty different ones that had been used in my course over the years.  I have endeavored to select the ones that have been the most influential, are the most relevant, and are the most interesting.  In a few instances, I have chosen works that I believe to be undervalued treasures.

I was not intentionally trying to fill a void as there are a number of similar books by fine authors such as Joseph A. Badaracco, Robert A. Brawer, Robert Coles, Emily Stipes Watts, and Oliver F. Williams, among others.  Of course, I did see my evenhanded study of business and capitalism in literature as a nice complement and supplement to these works.

AM:       I assume that you’ll use this book to teach your own courses, and I suspect other teachers will also use the book in their courses.  Anyone who reads the book will quickly understand the reason you believe that imaginative literature and film have pedagogical value in business courses, but would you mind stating some of those reasons for the benefit of those who haven’t read the book yet?

EY:          The underpinning premise of this book and of my course is that fiction, including novels, plays, and films, can be a powerful force to educate students and employees in ways that lectures, textbooks, articles, case studies, and other traditional teaching approaches cannot.  Works of fiction can address a range of issues and topics, provide detailed real-life descriptions of the organizational contexts in which workers find themselves, and tell interesting, engaging, and memorable stories that are richer and more likely to stay with the reader or viewer longer than lectures and other teaching approaches.  Imaginative literature can enrich business teaching materials and provide an excellent supplement to the theories, concepts, and issues that students experience in their business courses.  Reading novels and plays and watching films are excellent ways to develop critical thinking, to learn about character, and to instill moral values.  It is likely that people who read business novels and plays and watch movies about business will continue to search for more of them as sources of entertainment, inspiration, and education.

AM:       Who are the intended audiences for your new book?

EY:          My target audiences include college students, business teachers, general readers, and people employed in the business world.  My summaries and analyses of twenty-five works are intended to create the feel of what it is like to work in business.  The premise of the book is that fiction can provide a powerful teaching tool to sensitize business students without business experiences and to educate and train managers in real businesses.  Studying fictions of business can provide insights to often inexperienced business students and new employees with respect to real-life situations.

In each of my 25 chapters I provide a sequential summary of the fictional work, interspersed with some commentary that highlights the managerial, economic, and philosophical implications of the ideas found in the work.  My emphasis is on the business applications of the lessons of particular novels, plays, and films.  This book highlights the lessons that an individual can take from each work and apply to his or her own life.  It is not literary analysis for its own sake.

I do not delve deeply into these novels, plays, and films in order to identify previously-covered and previously-uncovered themes in existing scholarship.  My book is essentially a study guide for people interested in becoming familiar with the major relevant themes in significant works of literature and film.  The book can also serve as a guide for professors who desire to expand their teaching approaches beyond the traditional ones employed in schools of business.

Of course, literary scholars can use my book as a starting point, catalyst, or reference work for their own in-depth scholarly studies of these and other works.  For example, I can envision a number of scholars, from a variety of viewpoints, contributing essays to book collections devoted to different literary works.  One possible collection that readily comes to mind would be devoted to David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross.  Other candidates for potential collections might include Howell’s The Rise of Silas Lapham, Norris’s The Octopus, Dreiser’s The Financer, Cahan’s The Rise of David Levinsky, Lewis’s Babbitt, Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Hawley’s Executive Suite, Lodge’s Nice Work, Sterner’s Other People’s Money, among others.  It would be great if some of the contributing literary scholars to these volumes would come from pro-business, pro-capitalist thinkers such as Paul Cantor, Stephen Cox, Ryan McMaken, Sarah Skwire, Amy Willis, Michelle Vachris, and yourself.  As you know most literary critics are from the left.  Those mentioned above celebrate individualism and freedom in place of collectivism and determinism.

AM:       What can be learned from business fiction?

EY:          Fiction can be used to teach, explicate, and illustrate a wide range of business issues and concepts.  Many fictional works address human problems in business such as managing interpersonal conflict and office politics; using different styles of management; the potential loss of one’s individuality as a person tends to become an “organization man”; the stultifying effect of routine in business; the difficulty in balancing work life and home life; hiring and keeping virtuous employees; maintaining one’s personal integrity while satisfying the company’s demands for loyalty, conformity and adaptation to the firm’s culture; communication problems a business may experience; fundamental moral dilemmas; depersonalization and mechanization of human relationships; and so on.  Fictional works tend to describe human behavior and motivations more eloquently, powerfully, and engagingly than texts, articles, or cases typically do.  Literary authors and filmmakers are likely to develop and present ideas through individual characters.  They depict human insights and interests from the perspective of individuals within an organizational setting.  Reading imaginative literature and watching films are excellent ways to develop critical thinking and to learn about values and character.

Many novels, plays, and films are concerned with the actual operation of the business system.  Some deal directly with business problems such as government regulation, cost control, new product development, labor relations, environmental pollution, health and safety, plant openings and closings, tactics used and selection of takeover targets, structuring financial transactions, succession planning, strategic planning, the creation of mission statements, the company’s role in the community, social responsibility, etc.  Assessing fictional situations makes a person more thoughtful, better prepared for situations, and better able to predict the consequences of alternative actions.  Fiction can address both matters of morality and practical issues.  There are many fine selections in literature and film which prompt readers to wrestle with business situations.

Older novels, plays, and films can supply information on the history of a subject or topic.  They can act as historical references for actual past instances and can help students to understand the reasons for successes and failures of the past.  Older literature can provide a good history lesson and can help people to understand the development of our various businesses and industries.  These stories can be inspiring and motivational and can demonstrate how various organizations and managers were able to overcome obstacles, adapt, and survive.  Fictional works are cultural artifacts from different time periods that can be valuable when discussing the history of business.  Many fictional works present history in a form that is more interesting than when one just reads history books.

Imaginative literature reflects a variety of cultural, social, ethical, political, economic, and philosophical perspectives that have been found in American society.  Various images of businessmen have appeared in fictional works.  These include the businessman as Scrooge-like miser, confidence man, robber baron, hero, superman, technocrat, organization man, small businessman, buffoon, rugged individualist, corporate capitalist, financial capitalist, man of integrity, etc.

AM:       How will your teaching approach change in your Business Through Literature course now that you have published your own book on the subject?

EY:          In the past students in this course have read, analyzed, and discussed novels, plays, and films.  Each student prepared a minimum of 6 short papers (2000 words each) on the assigned works.  Grades were based on these papers and class discussions.

I am experimenting this semester using my book in the class for the first time.  I am requiring each student to take notes on each chapter of the book to help them in bringing up topics for class discussion and in participating in class discussions.  Each student is also required to prepare and turn in three essay questions on each chapter.  These are turned in before each relevant class.  Grades for the class are based on class participation and two essay tests.

AM:       Isn’t the reverse also true that literature students ought to study economics or at least gain an understanding of business from something besides imaginative literature and film, which tend not to portray capitalists in a favorable light?

EY:          It would definitely be beneficial for literature students to study classes in business areas such as management, marketing, accounting, and finance.  It would help them somewhat if they took a course or two in economics.  Unfortunately, almost all college-level economics courses are based on Keynesian economics.  I would encourage anyone who takes such courses to read and study Austrian economics in order to gain a more realistic perspective.

AM:       You’ve written a great deal about Ayn Rand, and the chapter on Atlas Shrugged is the longest one in your book.  Rand can be a divisive figure, even, perhaps especially, among what you might call “libertarians” or “free marketers” or “capitalists” and the like.  But even the people in those categories who reject Objectivism tend to praise Rand’s novels.  What do you make of that, and do you think there’s a lesson there about the novel as a medium for transmitting philosophy?

EY:          I suspect that there are a lot of people like me who value “novels of ideas.”  There have been many good philosophical novels but none have been as brilliantly integrated and unified as Atlas Shrugged.  Rand characterizes grand themes and presents an entire and integrated view of how a man should live his life.  Rand’s great power comes from her ability to unify everything in the novel to form an integrated whole.  The theme and the plot are inextricably integrated.  Rand is a superb practitioner of synthesis and unity whose literary style and subject are organically linked and fused to the content of her philosophy.  She unifies the many aspects of Atlas Shrugged according to the principles of reality.  People from the various schools of “free-market” thought are in accord in promoting an appropriate reality-based social system in which each person is free to strive for his personal flourishing and happiness.

AM:       I want to ask about Henry Hazlitt’s Time Will Run Back, the subject of chapter twelve of your book.  Why do you think this book has not received much attention?  It has been, I’d venture to say, all but forgotten or overlooked by even the most ardent fans of Hazlitt.  Is the book lacking something, or are there other factors at play here?

EY:          Hazlitt’s novel may not be “literary” enough for many people.  However, in my opinion, the author does skillfully use fiction to illustrate his teachings on economics.  I think that the book also has a good story line.  Economics professors tend to shy away from using it in their classes.  Some may be so quantitatively oriented that they cannot envision using a novel to teach economics.  Others may perceive the Austrian economics principles found in Time Will Run Back to not fit in with the Keynesian economics principles found in most textbooks (and of course they are right).

AM:       Thank you again for doing this interview.  All the best in 2014.

Exploring_Capitalist_Fiction Edward W. Younkins. Exploring Capitalist Fiction:  Business Through Literature and Film. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2014.

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Dr. Edward W. Younkins is Professor of Accountancy at Wheeling Jesuit University. He is the author of Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundations of Free Enterprise [Lexington Books, 2002], Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond [Lexington Books, 2005] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.), and Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society: Toward a Synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism [Rowman & Littlefield Pub Incorporated, 2011] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.). Many of Dr. Younkins’s essays can be found online at his web page at www.quebecoislibre.org. You can contact Dr. Younkins at younkins@wju.edu.

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Allen Mendenhall is a writer, attorney, editor, speaker, and literary critic.  As of January 2013, he is a staff attorney for Chief Justice Roy S. Moore of the Supreme Court of Alabama.  He holds a B.A. in English from Furman University, M.A. in English from West Virginia University, J.D. from West Virginia University College of Law, and LL.M. in transnational law from Temple University Beasley School of Law.  He is a Ph.D. candidate at Auburn University, where he received a Graduate Dean Fellowship. He is managing editor of the Southern Literary Review and has been an adjunct legal associate at the Cato Institute as well as a Humane Studies Fellow with the Institute for Humane Studies in Arlington, Virginia.  He is a member of The Philadelphia Society and an associate of The Abbeville Institute and soon will serve as an ambassador for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).

He has studied at the University of London (Birkbeck College), the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham, Centro Universitario Vila Velha, Fundacao Getulio Vargas (Direito Rio), and the Tokyo campus of Temple University Beasley School of Law.

He is the author of over 100 publications in such outlets as law reviews, peer-reviewed journals, magazines, newspapers, literary journals and periodicals, and encyclopedias.  He lives in Auburn, Alabama, with his wife, Giuliana, and son, Noah, and blogs at The Literary Lawyer, The Literary Table, Austrian Economics and Literature, and TheMendenhall.

Review of Edward W. Younkins’s “Exploring Capitalist Fiction” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Review of Edward W. Younkins’s “Exploring Capitalist Fiction” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
October 12, 2013
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Exploring Capitalist Fiction, a new volume of literary analysis by Dr. Edward W. Younkins, offers perceptive, relevant, and engaging commentaries on 25 works of fiction which portray the business world and its relationship to all areas of human life. The novels, plays, and films featured in the book span 125 years of literary culture – from The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) by William Dean Howells to the 2010 Oliver Stone film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. This volume offers thorough coverage of both works that portray heroic entrepreneurs and economic liberty in a positive light – such as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Garet Garrett’s The Driver, and Henry Hazlitt’s Time Will Run Back – as well as works that are more critical of the business world – including Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt, Frank Norris’s The Octopus, and the Wall Street films. In each of his essays, Younkins provides a sequential summary of the fictional work, interspersed with commentary that highlights the philosophical and economic implications of major elements and integrates them with the historical context of the time period in which the work takes place.

Younkins is to be commended for emphasizing the value of fiction as a teaching tool for both students of business and individuals immersed in the business world. A thorough reading of the book’s Conclusion is highly recommended for attaining an understanding of the unique ability of fiction to communicate memorable lessons rooted in specific, richly detailed situations which render the conflicts, dilemmas, and options faced by individuals in the business world more palpable and engaging than would a sole reliance on lectures, case studies, and outlines of business and economic concepts. In addition, the Conclusion offers a fast-paced chronological overview of many more fictional works which address business themes and which have made their mark on the world of artistic culture.

As with his previous volumes, where Dr. Younkins provided integrated presentations of the thoughts of great philosophers and economists throughout the centuries, this book provides a refreshing focus on human flourishing and the application of the lessons of particular novels, plays, and films toward the improvement of both one’s own condition and the degree of prosperity found in the broader economy. This is not literary analysis for its own sake, but rather a book that highlights the lessons an individual can take from each great work and apply to his or her own life.

Younkins combines his support for free markets, entrepreneurial innovation, individualism, reason, and moral responsibility with an ability to point out the many valuable insights in those works which criticize capitalism as conventionally understood. He utilizes the insights of Austrian economics and his extensive knowledge of economic history to show how the bleak portrayals of businessmen and the business world in these books stem from the consequences of situations where the principles of honest free commerce and individual rights were violated. When critics of capitalism express their objections through fiction, they inevitably portray situations where fraud, corruption, morally questionable manipulation, corporatist special privileges, thoughtless conformity, and zero-sum thinking are involved. All of these are indeed negative attributes from the standpoints of free markets and rational philosophy as well, and Younkins’s analysis shows that the works of the critics do make valid points – provided that one understands that the system they are criticizing is the one that has actually prevailed in the Western world over the past century. This is the system which mixes aspects of capitalist free enterprise with significant aspects of corporatist cronyism as well as central planning. It is a system quite different from the free-market capitalism advocated by Henry Hazlitt, Garet Garrett, and Ayn Rand. Indeed, in Atlas Shrugged, the protagonists go on strike precisely against this sort of cronyist system, though one that is farther-gone than our own. In Tucker: The Man and His Dream, an excellent movie to which Younkins devotes  a chapter, this is also the system which attempts to suppress a genuine forward-thinking capitalist innovator, Preston Tucker, through the use of political force, motivated by the lobbying of the staid Big Three automobile companies.

For readers of all persuasions, Exploring Capitalist Fiction is an excellent means to appreciate the richness and variety of fictional portrayals of business, especially since the Second Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century. The book offers a concise introduction to many works and endeavors to motivate readers to seek out and experience the original novels, plays, and films. Hopefully, it will inspire many people to explore these great works of fiction, as it has already inspired me on multiple occasions.

Disclosure: The author received a free copy of the book in advance of publication.

This Isn’t the Way To Do Business: Review of John O’Hara’s “From the Terrace” – Article by Sarah Skwire

This Isn’t the Way To Do Business: Review of John O’Hara’s “From the Terrace” – Article by Sarah Skwire

The New Renaissance Hat
Sarah Skwire
October 6, 2013
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John O’Hara. From the Terrace. New York: Carroll and Graff, [1959] 1999. 897 pages.

John O’Hara’s From the Terrace, a sprawling novel of business and politics, traces the career of Alfred Eaton from his boyhood in small-town Pennsylvania to his work in business, banking, D.C. politics, and, finally, to his retirement in California. As Howard Thompson observed in his New York Times review of the 1960 film adaptation, its director “logically . . . settled for about fifteen years” of the story. And I’d like to focus in even more closely—on a single conversation.

After college and World War I, Alfred and his friend Lex Porter decide to start an aviation company. Lex and his family will contribute the funding, Alfred will serve as the business manager, and they will hire an outside designer. Their goal is to do for airplanes what Ford, Dodge, and others have done for cars. As Alfred explains in a conversation with his father:

“We’re not deceiving ourselves. All we know is that aviation is the coming industry in this country. In ten years everybody’s going to want aeroplanes.”

“Personally, I’d rather have some Dodge Brothers, common or preferred.”

“Who wouldn’t? That’s a sure thing, for those who like sure things, and I like sure things, too. But we’re hoping to be Dodges.”

With the perfect hindsight the 21st century offers, we know the enterprise is doomed from the moment we hear about it. Personal planes still haven’t replaced the car and aren’t likely to. But from the standpoint of an entrepreneur in 1920, it’s a pretty good idea.

It’s a pretty good idea, that is, until Alfred, Lex, and their designer Von Elm try to get down to business. While they begin with a fairly clear plan to “build a small aeroplane of up-to-the-minute design and highest quality workmanship, built to sell to men who could afford Rolls-Royce automobiles,” they rapidly move away from this plan into a deadlock between the demands of practicality and the desire for perfect design. Lex, who wants to experiment and constantly change designs, argues, “If we sell an aeroplane in, say, November 1921, and another one in December 1921, the December one may be so different that you wouldn’t recognize it as coming from the same maker.”

Alfred quite rightly protests that this is no way to do business:

Let’s not think we’re going to build custom-made aeroplanes. I don’t care how much we charge for the aeroplane, we’re not going to start making money until we can produce it in some quantity. We ought to build next November’s aeroplane and manufacture it, produce it, till we have, say, fifty sold. And a year later we manufacture the new model, with all those refinements you speak of. We don’t sit around waiting for some guy to come and ask us to build a special ship for him. We make fifty and sell them.

As he later points out, all this chopping and changing requires only one thing—and that isn’t entrepreneurship or business acumen. It’s an “inexhaustible bank account.” Lex’s response to such critiques is telling: “Jesus H. Christ! Are we going to build Dodges? I thought we were going to build a fine aeroplane.”

This criticism of the very company that Alfred calls a “sure thing” and that he takes as his model, along with the conflict the criticism suggests, are at the very center of their business. It leads to Lex and Von Elm buying expensive engines without Alfred’s approval. It leads to a rift in their perceptions of the business and their plans for its future, and it leads to the company’s eventual collapse.

In my last column I praised the entrepreneurial spirit. And I am an enormous fan of the guts and drive, the expertise and steadfastness necessary in order to start and run one’s own company. But not everyone should do it. Lex shouldn’t do it. He wants to build planes. He wants to design planes. He doesn’t care if he sells them.

We’ve heard a lot lately in the media about how everyone doesn’t need to go to college, and how the ever-growing burden of student loan debt sometimes turns out to have been a bad risk for students, particularly in our sluggish economy. But while I am deeply concerned about that, I am equally concerned about glossing over the rigors of starting, running, and maintaining a business. It would be irresponsible, no matter how much we love entrepreneurship, to let students think that it is somehow a sure road to success, or a straight line to the top, or easier and more certain than a college education. And not only is it irresponsible, it’s insulting to the entrepreneurs who know exactly how much work it takes to get to the top—or even the middle—of an industry.

Expertise in entrepreneurship, like expertise in metaphysical poetry or string theory, is hard to come by. You have to study it, work at it, fail at it, and then do it some more until you get it right. It is a great road for those who are drawn to it. But like metaphysical poetry or string theory, it’s not a road for everyone.

Sarah Skwire is a fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis.
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This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.