Thursday, May 28, 2009

Objectivist Roundup

The latest Objectivist Roundup has been posted over at Ramen & Rand.

For those that do not know, this is what is known as a "Blog Carnival." The purpose of such is to gather links to the best blog posts or so of authors that share an interest or theme. In this case, the Roundups gather together posts from authors that are supporters of the philosophy known as Objectivism.

If you have enjoyed my posts then perhaps you might enjoy some of these articles.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Proofs that Ideas Matter

In the climate of today where people assert that ideology is an unjustifiable prejudice and that ideas matter not, only immediate action, I present to you two articles showing the contrary. Ideas not only do matter, but are vastly more powerful than people currently conceive and are necessary for living a proper life.

The first article is that of a millionaire that chased down a petty thief using his helicopter, all in the name of the principle of property rights. If more men were as passionate about principles as this man has demonstrated himself to be, evil would be thoroughly defanged. It is by compromise and discarding ideas at "convenience" can evil sink its baby teeth deeper and deeper and defeat the good.

The second article is even more inspirational, for it is about how the Canadian leader of the Ku Klux Klan disavowed his racist views after reading the writings of Ayn Rand while in prison:
He read a book a day, but was transformed by the words of Ayn Rand. A Russian-American Jew, Ms. Rand was a champion of individualism, and her writing challenged Mr. McQuirter to see the world as a collection of individuals rather than a map of racial groups. "It gave me a way to view the world differently," he said.
This goes to show that even the most seemingly ideologically lost people can be transformed if exposed to the right ideas.

If people continue to treat ideas as dispensable entertainment for the erudite, then nothing but inconsistency and suffering will be possible.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dr. Dolittleism in Foreign Policy

Last Saturday morning I happened to catch glimpse of a cartoon called The Replacements while reading the paper. By the time I had walked in on the episode, the two main characters, a brother and sister, were talking about the brother's bullying problem. At one point the sister exclaimed "Well, I'm going to show you that everyone can be reasoned with" and proceeded to let into the brother's bedroom the very bully he had been complaining about. The sister walked out of the room, to let them "work it out", and then the bully proceeded to beat the brother out of his senses.

The lesson is obvious: not everyone can be reasoned with. It is obviously very typical of a children's cartoon for characters to be characterized as astoundingly ignorant in some way, if just in only one area of knowledge. In this case, the sister was portrayed as being ignorant of the psychological workings of a vicious bully, even going so far as to letting a bully into her home to beat her brother within the confines of his own bedroom, all under the pretense that it was the logical thing to do in order to solve the bullying problem. Though there is something more tragic than this fictional situation: the ignorance of the sister has a very real counterpart in uncartoon-like people, the people in charge of handling U.S. foreign policy.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, has announced the successful testing of a long-range missile capable of traveling 1,200 miles. This should be unnerving news for any possible targets within that range, but then again, why should anyone be surprised? As of far, nobody has done anything productive to actually try and stop Iran, and other hostile nations, from developing such weapons. Of course, unless you take into account diplomacy and count that as "productive".

Truth be told, when negotiating with dictatorships, diplomacy has never worked and will never work. The error committed with diplomacy is the same error the sister above has made: believing everyone is capable of being reasoned with. To be more exact on a philosophic level, the error is a failure to distinguish between human-like animals and actual humans.

In the context of all the evidence we have available to us, the distinguishing characteristic of humans, the characteristic that distinguishes humans from other types of animals, is that humans possess the faculty of reason, the faculty which can focus on reality and integrate and retain knowledge on a wider scale than any other animal. A wild animal's mind can only work with instinctual knowledge and memorized actions. Humans can go beyond that by learning the nature of reality itself, rather than just merely acting within reality, and can develop their minds indefinitely, up until death.

Keeping this in mind, it is literally possible for a human to retrogress into an animal. No, not in the sort of science-fiction fashion where a man will walk into a machine at one end and come out a chimpanzee the other. A man ceases to be a man when he dispenses with his distinguishing characteristic, his faculty of reason, and therefore his mind. A mindless man is an animal.

The men who maintain and control dictatorships are men that have dispensed with rationality in the belief that it is irrational to treat men as rational. They have given up on trying to deal with men with logical persuasion, that is, reasoned arguments, and have instead resorted to the only option left: brute, physical force. There are no other alternatives.

A consequent implication of man's distinguishing characteristic is that it leads to the conclusion that rational persuasion as the proper way to deal with other men; a consequent implication of other animals' lack of a faculty of reason is that the only way for them to deal with other animals is by physical force. Humans use mind; animals use violence.

It goes without saying how humans have, and must, deal with animals. Despite all your protests, your pet dog will not stay where you want him to without being retrained on a leash. Despite all the PETA advertisements about how meat is murder, a lion will not be persuaded to cease eating meat, and killing to get it. Despite all the talking you do, a cockatiel will never understand the conversation.

It may be difficult to tell when a human has ceased being a human, but the moment comes when a person ceases to think and refuses to think. It is important to note that the actual refusal to think is an important aspect. By refusing to think, the person has given up his mind and rationality, and therefore his humanity, literally. When that has happened it does not necessarily follow that the person must be dealt with by force, only when he decides to use force, but it does follow that he can only be persuaded like an animal can: emotionally. All the logic in the world will not make such a person agree with you unless what you say stir his emotions so.

This is why diplomacy with hostile dictatorships will not work. Those in charge of a dictatorship have reduced themselves to the level of an animal. Certainly they do pretend to act like humans and may even convince themselves that they are human, but it is not so. By making violence as the rule to deal with people they follow the law of the jungle not the law of the city.

We can already see what fruit diplomacy has bore. That is, none. No matter all the chastising, negotiating, and agreements that goes on, nothing less will impede those that operate on violence than the *only way* they leave themselves open to be dealt with. They are impervious to being chastised because they have given up their mind and therefore the only thing that could grasp the rationale behind the chastising. Negotiation never satisfies them because of the nature of compromise between good and evil: in a compromise in moral issues, good loses absolutely and evil wins absolutely as well as being encouraged to demand more compromises. Agreements are non-binding to them because "the end justifies the means"; they have lost belief in reason and only use it as a means to duping others into going along with them.

So long as our Dr. Dolittle politicians fail to distinguish between how to properly deal with a human and how to properly deal with a human-like animal, these human-like animals will be able to develop their power. For such an error, we may pay the price.

Edit: Changed Doolittle to Dolittle.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Vagueness and the Road to Power

This article regarding the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act brings up justifiable concerns for the possibility of using it to censor speech. The article is so well formed that I only need to bring up one addition: the only laws needed are laws that protect individual rights. If one chooses to associate with a person that aggravates one's existing psychological problems, then the fault lies with the person with the problems, not the associate. The only time an associate would be at fault (and thus legally and morally responsible) for harm is when an infringement of individual rights is involved.

But, to bring our knowledge out from the concrete level and turn it into a principle, this is a good example of how a *vague* law can give a politician(s) way more power than the law states it will give them. Such is accomplished by employing legal terminology that is either undefinable, insufficiently defined, or applies to different persons in different ways.

In this case, the article states, the offending passage is here:
Even Sanchez's attempt to define the term "cyberbullying" poses problems, said UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh.

"The bill defines it as 'using electronic means to support severe, repeated and hostile behavior,' but what does 'severe, hostile and repeated behavior' mean?" he asked.
Anyone can easily look up electronic and repeat for a definition that can be understood and employed by all in the exact same fashion, but, as the question states, what qualifies as "severe" and "hostile"? While one is able to come to an objective definition to be understood by all, these are concepts, when applied to behavior, denoting evaluation and therefore are employed differently by each person according to his own ideas, values, and standards.

To illustrate, imagine a football stadium where, currently, the majority of the spectators are loudly booing one of the teams. One person may evaluate this to be "hostile" behavior against the unfavored team while another person may merely evaluate it to be playful sportsmanship and a demonstration of team loyalty. One person may evaluate brushing one's teeth for an entire five minutes to be "severe" while the person engaging in such an act, plagued by worry, may evaluate it as a just barely sufficient amount of time. Many people can view the same phenomena, but the majority, if not all, will reach different evaluations of that same phenomena.

It is in this sense that this law being proposed is a nonobjective law, a law that is not clearly defined and delimited. Such a law is nearly impossible to follow. The only way a perpetrator will know he has broken such a law is...after he has broken it and is being prosecuted for it.

Even being careful not to offend, i.e., walking on eggshells is not enough to try and protect oneself from such a law worded like this. Even if one were to word an online criticism of another politician's proposal in the most polite way humanly possible, the politician being critiqued may take offense that they are being critiqued to at all and may be able to bring up legal charges. The only absolute protection is self-censorship.

If this law passes, people will be able to exercise their dictator fantasy by claiming to have had their feelings hurt.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Objectivist Round Up

The latest Objectivist Round Up has been posted over at Try Reason!.

For those that do not know, this is what is known as a "Blog Carnival." The purpose of such is to gather links to the best blog posts or so of authors that share an interest or theme. In this case, the Roundups gather together posts from authors that are supporters of the philosophy known as Objectivism.

If you have enjoyed my posts then perhaps you might enjoy some of these articles.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Post Script to The Power of Epistemology

In my previous article it was discussed how bad epistemology can actually threaten one's own life, case in point, how emotionalism on the part of one scientist (Ancel Keys) may have lead to the suffering and death of millions. Now we have another example, non-life threatening, of how bad epistemology can possibly lead to the permanent extinction of actual facts:
When Dublin university student Shane Fitzgerald posted a poetic but phony quote on Wikipedia, he said he was testing how our globalized, increasingly Internet-dependent media was upholding accuracy and accountability in an age of instant news.

His report card: Wikipedia passed. Journalism flunked.

The sociology major's made-up quote — which he added to the Wikipedia page of Maurice Jarre hours after the French composer's death March 28 — flew straight on to dozens of U.S. blogs and newspaper Web sites in Britain, Australia and India.
Again we come upon the case where a single epistemological poison can invalidate the entire system, the poison being, this time, a failure to maintain an active mind.

Every credible researcher should know that Wikipedia should not be used as a primary source. If it be used at all, it is best to go straight to the sources cited section and treat the site as if it were a mere gathering of links to reference material.

Because of the journalists' laziness they unintentionally mislead their readers, and if their error had gone unnoticed then the error could have become self-perpetuating:
"I am 100 percent convinced that if I hadn't come forward, that quote would have gone down in history as something Maurice Jarre said, instead of something I made up," he said. "It would have become another example where, once anything is printed enough times in the media without challenge, it becomes fact."
What then, referencing the question posed last time, should we do now that we have been confronted with another conundrum of bad testimony? First off, every journalist that went to the Wikipedia entry and copied that quote should lose their credibility for such a failure to exercise proper journalism techniques. As I said before, what takes one minute to do may lead to consequences that take one decade to undo. The lazy journalists do have the opportunity to regain their credibility, but it will take a long time to achieve it in the eyes of those holding a healthy system of epistemology.

The journalists that quoted the other journalists, however, are much more innocent. They are among those who have been duped by those they thought to be credible but turned out to be incredible. If they want to keep their credibility (and, in actuality, enhance it), they should disavow those particular sources and offer a correction to those they mislead.

The bad news is, however, that many news sources try to take advantage of whatever bad epistemology its own consumer base may have as to try and make the situation go unnoticed so that the consumers are never aware of an error occurring. For example, my own local newspaper has/had a section devoted to corrections that is so small and difficult to find within the newspaper that I wonder why they included it at all; the majority of times I could not tell if it was there or not.

So protect your mind. It is being assaulted from bad epistemology much worse than this, all around.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

The Power of Epistemology: The Fat Controversy

This is rather "old news", but I would like to point out this lengthy article by Gary Taubes regarding the fat/cholesterol controversy, amusingly titled What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?. I bring it to attention because I think this is one of the greatest demonstrations of the power of epistemology, how bad epistemology can be fatal.

In short, nearly everything we have heard about fat and cholesterol is wrong. To paraphrase Taubes in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories, the whole fat-and-cholesterol-is-bad-for-you thing was started by a scientist named Ancel Keys who based his theory on the assumption that Americans were switching from a diet high in carbohydrates to a diet high in fat and cholesterol and that heart disease incidents were increasing as a result. But no such evidence existed. At the particular time he formed the hypothesis, agricultural data was unreliable and heart disease was just becoming easier to diagnose (making it appear as if rates were increasing). While one may forgive him this error, what makes Keys an evil (not speaking hyperbolically) scientist is that he would rationalistically dismiss evidence that was contrary to his theory or refuted it absolutely. When our Sisyphean politicians were confronted with his hypothesis, it consisted of nothing but data that supported it, when no evidence supported his theory (keeping the context of the entire body of evidence), and thereby won by default. The results of the doctrine can be seen today in the nation's current unhealthiness: the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

What we can observe is how damaging and outright fatal a bad system of epistemology can be. To be clear, epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of human knowledge, how humans acquire and validate knowledge. A good system of epistemology will lead one to the truth and, as a corollary, will allow an immeasurably greater probability for successful action; a bad system of epistemology will steer one away from the truth and allow an immeasurably lower probability for successful action. Ancel Keys held a bad epistemology in the sense that he was not *truth oriented*.

It is true that in order to be a scientist he had to hold a somewhat healthy psychological-epistemology or else he would progress his career none at all, but he allowed a single poison that made the whole system worthless: emotionalism. By the time he had formed his hypothesis, he became prejudice to it and would not dare face the fact that he could have been wrong. When confronted with contrary evidence he dismissed it by saying things such as the evidence was not relevant or significant, or that the scale of the study was not big enough to establish causal links. When confronted with evidence that agreed with his hypothesis but *could have the same objections assigned to them so as to dismiss them*, he accepted it. It became too late to repent when ignorant politicians ran with the theory.

But, of course, the damage cannot be considered irreparable until the human race goes extinct. You can rejudge your own nutritional prejudices by checking out Taubes's Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health and see how nutritional knowledge has retrogressed and the bad scientists behind it. I also recommend the blog Mark's Daily Apple.

The knowledge of a several-decades' long deception may concern some people: if Ancel Keys was dishonest and unreliable but able to keep people ignorant of proper nutrition for several decades, how can one trust testimonies at all? Such a worry is not without merit considering how common dishonesty is.

Simply put, to protect oneself one must pay attention to both reality and how a particular source states its conclusion. If a person were to tell me that he witnessed a bullet magically turning at a right angle as soon as it touched a cop's nose, I would ignore him out of hand since his assertion contradicts reality. If a person were to convince me of a position by supporting it with data but I found out later that the data was falsified, distorted, or out of context, I would permanently discontinue consulting that person, correct the conclusions I had based on his position, and notify all persons that I had unintentionally mislead (so as to maintain my own reputation as a credible source). If a person were to state to me that he advocated lying in order to achieve political ends, well, he makes it easy, does he not?

All in all, the most exhaustive and proper solution is to study formal epistemology, especially formal logic. Seeing that Ancel Keys probably caused the death and suffering of many who followed his bad advice, is it not enough to convince that there needs to be a proper method of learning?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Triumph of the American Imagination: A Book Review

I have been thinking that perhaps I have been running off far too many negative articles since the conception of this blog and should integrate the habit of writing positive ones now and then, lest I sadden my readers into not getting out of bed. For my first positive article I will be doing my first book review, a review of Neal Gabler's biography of Walt Disney titled: Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination

I picked up this book just out of pure curiosity as to why Disney was so popular. It is regretful for me to admit this, but I never gave justice to any sort of Disney product during my childhood. Now having satisfied my curiosity, I am supremely glad I have picked up this book, for it has made my life wealthier. It is my outmost recommendation to read this book not just for a pleasure read, but for the admiration of a hero.

While the 800+ page thickness of the book may make one think that it is an exhaustive look at the entirety of Mr. Disney's life, it is actually a book focused only on the essentials, including:
  • The conception of Mickey Mouse,

  • The work on Snow White, the first ever feature-length animation,

  • The development of Fantasia,

  • The events leading up to Walt Disney shifting his interest from animation to the formation of an amusement park, Disney Land,

  • The plans for EPCOT, Walt Disney's final major project, which never left the planning and funding stage due to Disney's passing away.
For those that are interested in a more detailed look at a certain project or a certain period, one is encouraged to look to the works citation section at the back of the book, for there are literally hundreds of sources cited, spanning over two-hundred pages. Indeed, Mr. Gabler asserts to have actually attempted to read the entirety of all Disney information available.

Overall, one can expect to obtain at least three values from the reading of this biography:
1.) The pleasure of the reading,
While Mr. Gabler writes in a very intelligent fashion, he never goes so far as to seem erudite in an intimidating sense, meaning that this book may be considered both a serious work of scholarship and a colorful word portrait of a life lived. The length of this work only serves to deepen the impression that Walt Disney is still alive, making his death at the end more difficult to bear.
2.) A deeper appreciation of past Disney productions,
If I may classify a certain aspect of my childhood, I would say that I was among those unimpressed with how great everything was. My birth placed me in the era of Michael Eisner (formally known as The Disney Animation Renaissance), but I would have none of it. Now having read the present biography, I have been giving Disney classics a second chance and am enjoying them thoroughly, perhaps an enjoyment deeper than if I were a child. The best way to better enjoy things may be to see what work goes into it.
3.) The traits of a hero,
I endorse the reading of not just this work, but of any good biography to see how great men are made. Aside from analyzing what happened in Disney's life, Gabler analyzes how things happened, so one may learn what traits lead to Disney's successes and hardships accordingly, such as his tremendous work ethic resulting in his staying ahead of competitors and his mistreatment of his employees resulting in the collapse of his first studio and the strike in the next. One can then work to integrate the good habits and be wary of the bad ones.

Aside from observing traits, the third value also serves as *emotional fuel*. It is understandable to see how one can sometimes get burned out, frustrated, and end up wondering if the highest goals are obtainable at all. One of the easiest and most potent of the remedies is to read of a person who thought he could, and did. To see how the greats dealt with their frustrations, setbacks, and tragedies can give us the power to deal with our own.

All in all, this book is so well crafted that I can think of but two superficial criticisms. First, from time to time Gabler has an awkward way of transitioning to quoted speech; he will be going in narrative mode in one sentence and then seemingly randomly quoting someone the next. Second, at the beginning of the book some of the sources that are quoted seem to be irrelevant to the topic at hand, or it is at least difficult to figure out why they are relevant, such as the opinions of a journal leaning on a certain side of the political spectrum. Otherwise, this book is nearly without vice.

To conclude, this book is a wonderful tribute to a man who provided more ways for people to enjoy life, and will be worth reading to those that have either enjoyed Disney products in the past or want to see by what means Walt Disney had attained his success and status. One can hope that this book will make way for a second animation renaissance.

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