Elias presents ... a worm!    Thoughts on family, philosophy,
and technology


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Emailing my congressmen

Dear Senator/Representative,

Please take a stand against every version of the "bail out" under consideration. The fundamental cause of the housing boom and bust was government interference in the marketplace; more interference cannot now help. We have to accept that those investments failed -- pushing papers and enacting arbitrary powers in Washington will not bring back the actual wealth that has been lost. I believe the only possible solution to this crisis is for the government to quickly perform an orderly deregulation of the financial and housing markets, so that the free minds of a free market may find and utilize the real wealth that remains in the economy. Please take a courageous stand against those calling for a vast increase in central planning during this time of crisis.

Thank you,
Brad Williams
Portland, Oregon


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pragmatism and Disaster: Read the headlines

From an upcoming article by Dr. Tara Smith entitled The Menace of Pragmatism:
[O]f course truth exists, says [William James], but truth is not a stagnant property. Rather, an idea becomes true—“truth happens to an idea.” Truth “lives on a credit system” in his view; what a truth has going for it is that people treat it in a certain way. The true is the “expedient,” “any idea upon which we can ride.” Any idea is true so long as it is “profitable.”
And yesterday, in an analysis, by James V. DeLong, of the current financial crisis and the pending government bail-out:
[T]here are fewer villains in this tale than the news and the political campaigns would lead one to believe. Three basically good things - the securitization of consumer credit, the extension of credit down the economic ladder, and the invention of derivatives - have combined, and the resulting mix turned out to be explosive. Well, live and learn, and do better next time. But first, ensure there is a next time.
This author doesn't seem bothered by the absurdity of his own analysis, that three "basically good things" somehow led to a global economic disaster. Why? Essentially he's claiming that the world is so complex (which means: unknowable) that we just have to "live and learn." This is the philosophy of pragmatism. Accordingly, it was not absolutely right or wrong for the government to have coerced the marketplace (via Fannie Mae and the like) so that billions of dollars were invested in high-risk mortgages which have failed spectacularly. And it is not absolutely right or wrong for the government, next, to confiscate a nearly unimaginable amount of wealth from taxpayers in order to bail out the investors (which means: to pretend we still have that cake we just ate). Instead, we just need to try things, solve problems as they pop-up, and keep moving ahead as best we can.

Notice the contrast between how "reasonable" this way of thinking is supposed to be with its actual, catastrophic results.

Pragmatism is the flawed thinking method (while altruism is the content) behind the housing boom, the subsequent bust, and the Marxist-Keyensian solution in the works. Pragmatism is a fundamental part of our culture, but is so unreasonable it can only lead us from one disaster to the next. As Dr. Smith says:
While pragmatism presents itself as a tool of reason and enjoys the image of mature moderation, of common sense and practical “realism,” in truth, it is anything but realistic or practical. Pragmatism has become a highly corrosive force in people’s thinking. And insofar as it is thinking that drives actions—the actions of individuals and correlatively, the course of history—as long as a person or a nation is infected by a warped philosophical approach, genuine progress will be impossible.


Friday, September 19, 2008

On Abortion

The fundamental fact relevant to the legality of abortion is that an embryo or fetus is a dependent part or outgrowth of a woman's body, and thus hers to keep or destroy. Since it is only potentially an independent individual, an embryo or fetus has no individual rights, including no legal claim upon the sustenance it needs from the mother's body. A baby obtains individual rights only upon individuation, i.e., when he or she is born.

Because an embryo or fetus is an extension of a woman's body, the decision to give birth or to abort is profoundly personal. The choice confronting a pregnant woman is between two intense and potentially dangerous medical events, as well as between two starkly different versions of the rest of her life, both emotionally and financially. For her, the stakes could not be higher.

In light of this, I disagree with the criticism that "abortion-rights advocates keep hiding behind the phrase 'a woman's right to choose.'" Rather, by focusing on the issues of personal choice and whose-body-is-it-anyway, abortion-rights advocates are identifying the central fact that a woman's body and life are indubitably her own to do with as she pleases. The advocates have, in effect, correctly based their position upon the fact that a pregnant woman's choice is metaphysically personal -- and as such there can be no legal basis to question it, least of all on behalf of the potential future person of the embryo or fetus.

For these same reasons, I am repulsed at the spectacle of Objectivists who think it is their place to publicly comment on the morality of a specific woman's choice to give birth or to have an abortion. It does not actually matter what statements a woman has made to the media, or whether or not her child is expected to have a health problem: outsiders are simply not privy to the personal values and private reasons by which she made her decision, and publicly speculating about them is irresponsible and rude.


Monday, September 15, 2008

I'm out

The god-awful Charlie Gibson interview of Sarah Palin has disabused me of any notion that there is anyone or anything worth voting for anymore. That such conceited ignorance (figure that one out) and unblinking spinelessness could create, not just a tenable candidate for VP, but an instantaneous national celebrity, says all I need to know about the hopelessness of our culture. Obama and Palin are two halves of a very bad joke, and our lives are the butt.

As I watch these creatures spit up word salads designed to appeal to everyone except themselves, I don't think about them -- they don't actually exist in the way that matters; I think about Roark and how absurd the rest of the world is compared to an individual with a soul, that is, with an absolute love of his own life.

Labels: ,

Study Groups for Objectivists

SGO, open to all Objectivists, has completed its first study group, covering chapter 5 of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. It was a great success with six contributing members, and I gained clarity on some points in the chapter.

I developed the SGO software from scratch using C# and db4o. I like to have complete ownership of an implementation like this, because it lets me experiment with improved architectural elements -- such as using an object database (db4o) rather than a relational database, and trying my hand at Domain Driven Design.

Two study groups are slated for the rest of this year. I'll be moderating one covering the first half of Ayn Rand's lecture and essay, "The Objectivist Ethics."

Here's my final post in the study group we just completed:
The challenge question I assigned myself a few weeks ago was this: Most people would think that knowing a word's definition is more than you need to know to understand a word, i.e., that one doesn't need to be able to formally define "justice" in order to understand what it is. How do we know that this is wrong?

One theme of chapter 5 is that knowledge is contextual: every element of one's knowledge is built upon and supported by other elements of one's knowledge, all the way down to one's actual perceptual experiences. Chapter 3 showed one way in which knowledge is contextual: conceptual hierarchy. For example, the concept "furniture" cannot be grasped before grasping concepts such as "table" and "chair" -- because tables and chairs are not similar enough in immediate perception to warrant "furniture" as a first-level concept; but "table" and "chair" as concepts are similar with regard to the more abstract distinguishing characteristic of "furniture": tables and chairs can support the human body and/or other objects. So, "table" and "chair" (or similar) are part of the cognitive context which is necessary to grasp "furniture". See 3.12 (chapter 3, paragraph 12).

The principle that knowledge is contextual has much broader application than just conceptual hierarchy. She gives an example at 3.13: "habitation" is not a unit of "furniture", but it is part of the necessary context for grasping "furniture" as an adult.

How is the contextual knowledge which supports a concept specified? By defining its units. A definition makes explicit the concepts and relationships one must grasp to distinguish a concept's units. When there is some question as to exactly what the essential characteristic of a concept is, and one just "kinda" feels what he or she means by a word, the concept is not actually retained because it has become unhinged from those other pieces of knowledge needed to identify its units.

Given the nature of concepts, no concept can exist on its own in one's mind, it must be properly related to the rest of one's knowledge -- which means in practice that it must be immediately definable. Otherwise it is at most an approximation of knowledge.

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 04, 2008


All three of the convention speeches I've seen have made me laugh: the Obamas', for their promises of the impossible, e.g., health care for all while lowering the tax burden on the middle class; and Palin's, for pointing out how laughable the liberal views on the economy and foreign policy really are. After Palin's speech last night, I think the democrats will be surprised to lose again in November. Six months ago I would have considered this virtually impossible, but it seems McCain will be able to distance himself from the Bush Establishment just enough, and things in Iraq are looking up just enough.

Still, I can't vote for anyone who opposes legal abortion, a fundamentally evil position. No matter what else their views: no vote. Those embracing such an absolute and absolutely clear rejection of individual rights -- and of reason in preference of faith -- must be granted no shred of support.