Sunday, November 27, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: The Hidden Context of the Book and Film

Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates. - Mark Twain

There was nothing else even remotely interesting at Blockbuster -- so we rented ATLAS SHRUGGED.

Well, after all,  I often talk about Ayn Rand and her passionate followers, who have effectively taken over the U.S. Libertarian movement, influencing much of the rhetoric we hear from the American Right... (even though no libertarian policies have ever been actually enacted during Republican rule). I've published both scholarly papers and popular articles about Rand's fiction and philosophy.

So, I thought, why not give her acolytes one more shot at selling me on her biggest, most-central tale? An honest person does that. Whereupon, with a sigh, but opening my ears and mind, I slid the disk into the player....

== For the record ==

First a couple of honest disclaimers:  (1) It may seem that I am aiming most of my critical attention, lately, at "right-wing authors." (Recently, I dissected Frank Miller's travesty "300," showing how it tells outright historical lies in service of a deeply anti-American theme. ) But I do notice foibles of the left, as well.  For example, I promise soon to offer up that long-awaited piece about James Cameron's beautiful but misguided film, AVATAR.

(2) As one of the few sci fi authors who delivered a keynote at a political party convention - indeed it was the Libertarian Party - I may seem somewhat of a "heretic" to the Rand-followers who now dominate the LP. But no one can deny my ongoing campaign to get folks to read Adam Smith, the founding sage of both libertarianism and liberalism.

Like Smith, I believe in fair and open and vigorously creative competition - the greatest innovative force in the universe and the process that made us.  Encouraging vibrant, positive-sum rivalry - in markets, democracy, science, etc - is one reason to promote universal transparency (see The Transparent Society ), so that all participants may base their individual decisions on full knowledge. That positive aim - also preached by Friedrich Hayek - should be the goal of any sane libertarian movement... instead of fetishistically hating all government, all the time, which is like a poor workman blaming the tools. Anyway, a movement based on hopeful joy beats one anchored in rancorous scapegoating, any day.

(Adam Smith favored feeding and educating all children, for the pragmatic reason that this maximizes the number of skilled, adult competitors, a root motive of liberalism and a role for government that is wholly justifiable in libertarian terms.)

For my full, cantankerously different take on the plusses and minuses of contemporary libertarianism -- and other oversimplifying dogmas -- have a look at this essay: Models, Maps and Visions of Tomorrow.

Only now, with due diligence done, let's get back to ATLAS SHRUGGED: THE MOTION PICTURE.

== Rand's Books... and the Movie ==

Despite my low esteem of Ayn Rand's simplistic dogma, I do rate THE FOUNTAINHEAD as by far her best book. In its smaller and more personal scope, that novel offered a pretty effective (if melodramatic) portrayal of  uncompromising genius having to overcome the boneheaded doorkeepers of art and architecture -- two realms that are always beset by bullies and villainy.  In that tale, the hero's adversaries came across as multi-dimensional and even somewhat plausible, if also a bit cartoonish. Indeed, the 1950s Gary Cooper movie was pretty good, for a Rand story.

Alas, in contrast, ATLAS SHRUGGED takes on civilization as a whole -- all of its institutions and enlightenment processes, top to bottom -- calling every last one of them corrupt, devoid of hope, intelligence or honor. Moreover it proclaims that the vast majority of our fellow citizens are braying, silly sheep.

(Consider this irony; a movement propounding that all people can and should think for themselves also teaches its adherents to openly despise their neighbors as thinking beings. A party that proclaims fealty to market forces also holds that the number of deciders and allocators can and should be very small. In other words, you can have Hayek or Rand. Not both.)

But pause a moment. How does the book hold up, strictly from the perspective of writing and art? Well... I won't mince words. ATLAS SHRUGGED royally sucks as a novel, with cardboard characters, rivers of contrived coincidence and dialogue made of macaroni. (Can you dig a 70 page SPEECH?) Of course, none of those things matter if your taste runs to an endless smorgasbord of indignant resentment. (A scientifically-verified drug high!)  In which case the speechifying is mother's milk.

Heck, the left produces plenty of polemics just as turgidly tendentious. In fact, the previous paragraph pretty much described Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

Am I letting politics bias my judgment of Rand's literary qualities? The intellectual maven of conservatism, William F. Buckley, a founding light of modern libertarianism and also a noted novelist, called Atlas Shrugged "One thousand pages of ideological fabulism; I had to flog myself to read it."

Given such source material -- and universal boos from both critics and the viewing public -- was I surprised to find that the movie version of Atlas Shrugged bites, at the level of basic film 101 storytelling?  For example, it is only in the last five minutes that the director deigns to clarify a core villain. As for the "heroes"... well, their famously emotionless "I don't give a crap" mien may work for campus geeks. But not in cinema, where passion propels.

(A deeply ironic and smirk-worthy "oops" appeared on the cover of the DVD version, blurbing ATLAS SHRUGGED as a saga of "courage and self-sacrifice" -- which would be the ultimate Randian sin!)

== A High Point ==

One sequence of this film does stand out.  I'm a sucker for lyrical cinematography, especially when it involves beautiful scenery, or else a love-ode to fine technology.  And there's about ten minutes in ATLAS SHRUGGED when we get both, as the male and female leads ride their new super-train along shimmering rails made of miraculous metal, speeding across gorgeous Rockies and over a gasp-worthy bridge.

The emotional payoff -- two innovators triumphing over troglodyte naysayers by delivering an awesome product -- portrayed Rand's polemical point in its best conceivable light.  I am all for that aspect of the libertarian dream. Indeed, it is the core theme that makes THE FOUNTAINHEAD sympathetic and persuasive.  So, for ten minutes, we actually liked the characters and rooted for them.  Significantly, it is the portion when nobody speaks.

Alas, though. The film then resumed a level of simplistic lapel-grabbing that many of us recall from our Rand-obsessed college friends -- underachievers who kept grumbling from their sheltered, coddled lives, utterly convinced that they'd do much better in a world of dog-eat-dog.  (Using my sf'nal powers, I have checked-out all the nearby parallel worlds where that happened; in those realms, every Randian I know was quickly turned into a slave or dog food. Sorry fellows.)

Ah well. Let's  set aside the pathetic storytelling, crappy direction and limp drama to appraise the film on its own, intended merits. On what it tried to be. A work of polemical persuasion.

== The Core Polemical Purpose ==

ATLAS SHRUGGED is, after all, an indictment of modernist, enlightenment, Smithian-liberal civilization. To Rand, this "great experiment" has all been one big mistake, doomed to expire from its own internal contradictions.

I use that Marxian expression deliberately. For, in significant dialectical ways, Ayn Rand was deeply influenced by Karl Marx -- virtually an acolyte, in fact. She kept essentially intact Marx's scenario of bourgeois decadence, guild protection, capital formation, conspiratorial competition-suppression, class-narrowing business cycles and teleologically inevitable divergence between the worker and owner castes.*

The chief difference is that Rand - a Russian emigre - stops short at the penultimate phase of Karl's projection - the moment of pinnacle capitalist consolidation - freezes it and calls it good. Tearing out and throwing away all hints of the next and final stage prophesied by Marx.

That's it, actually. Rand, in a nutshell. You might grasp the stunning parallels at once... if anyone my age or younger had ever bothered to actually read and understand both Rand and Marx. Well enough to draw obvious conclusions. Alas, our grandparents were far, far better-read than we hyper-opinionated moderns. (See what happens - in an ingenious interpretation - when Rand and Marx recombine.)

Hence, Ayn Rand shows us society making one dismal choice after another -- an endless chain of socialist or bourgeois-oligarchic or meddlesome-statist outrages against individual initiative. Endearingly, Ayn Rand despised all three of those centers of villainy equally, portraying them uniting to pass laws that punish or seize companies who "compete too well."

Indeed, if I ever witnessed our nation enacting the kind of insane bills that are reported in this film (piled one-after-another, every five minutes), heck, I'd be looking for John Galt myself!

Yes, I'm enough of a libertarian to know that foolish things do happen! Witness Europe, mired in nanny-state entitlements, eight week vacations and a "right to retire" as young as 55.  Self-defeating regulations prevent companies from firing workers, with the consequence that they seldom hire new ones. As for the movie's heroine, Ayn Rand chose a railroad heiress for good reasons. The old Interstate Commerce Commission (dissolved by the democrats in the late 1970s, but still a horror when she wrote) was the classic exemplar of a government bureaucracy "captured" by lordly oligarchs and used as a tool to squelch competition.

In other words, the endless litany of "leveling" crimes against creative enterprise that roll across the page/screen in ATLAS SHRUGGED aren't entirely without real-world analogues. Her fictional betrayals of creative enterprise are based on a genuine complaint... that Randites regularly exaggerate more than 100-fold, alas, into caricatures and absurd over-generalizations.

To see this danger expressed far better - and more succinctly - than Rand ever managed, read the terrific Kurt Vonnegut story: Harrison Bergeron. Other expressions of legitimate libertarian worry can be seen in the fiction of Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. They have a point.

Okay, the core concern is a valid one and somebody in society should keep warning us! Though ideally, someone with common sense and proportion, alas.

I mean, gee whiz. Ayn Rand railed against the ICC... and it was eliminated. Canceled, rubbed out, utterly erased - along with the grotesque Civil Aeronautics Board - by the very same democratic processes that she and her followers despised. Competition among railroads was restored and it was done by a mix of pressure from a savvy public and resolution by genuinely reform-minded politicians. If Ayn Rand were writing the book today, a railroad would not have been her chosen archetype.

I wonder: did anyone making the film ever ponder this? Did any Randians notice at all?

== A Remarkable Chain of Ironies ==

I guess I sound pretty harsh. Only now, let me do one of my famous contrary swerves and openly avow something that Ayn Rand gets right. Despite gross exaggeration, she pretty much nails the basic problem!

Almost every time the book or film depict some betrayal of human competitive ingenuity, it happens like this:

A conspiracy of "old money" oligarchs gathers in conniving secrecy, exerts undue political influence and misuses government power for their own, in-group self-aggrandizement. Except for a few, pathetic union stewards, the ruination of market forces is stage managed from the top. The squelching of entrepreneurial enterprise and the corruption of trade is always executed by villainous old-guard capitalists. Moguls who don't want any rivalry from rambunctious newcomers.

Now think about that. Socialists do come under derision from Rand, but mostly as ninnie, do-gooder tools of the scrooge-oligarchs!  In fact, this is where her followers get things right.  Anyone who considers the long, lamentable epic of human history will recognize this as the ancient pattern, pervasive across 99% of cultures -- with the most prevalent sub-version being feudalism.

What Randians never explain is how getting rid of constitutional-enlightenment government will prevent this ancient curse from recurring. (Were the oligarchs stymied in ancient China, Babylon or Rome, where liberal constitutions were absent?) Indeed, enlightenment governments are the only force that ever kept the feudal sickness partially in check. Exactly as prescribed by Adam Smith.

(Name another society that ever made more libertarians, hm?)

In other words, by her very own premise, the answer isn't for creative people to "go on strike." It is to fix the tool (government) by yanking it out of the hands of conspiratorial criminals who have improperly seized it.  You do that with transparency, with light (as Hayek prescribed). Not by blaming the tool and throwing it away.

== You Are Getting Very Sleeeeepy... ==

Oh, but more ironies abound! Here you have a polemic about individualism, that portrays one accomplished CEO after another "gone missing"... dropping out of sight after each one listens to a solitary pitchman from a utopian community, who croons "Come. Follow me and joiiiin usssss."

Um, let's see. When have we heard that before? Drop everything. All your past loyalties and the companies you've built. Stop fighting for your family or country. Listen to this incantation and follow our charismatic leader to the special society he has built, just for the exclusive elect, like you.

Good lord, does she have to make the hypnotism-cult thing quite so explicit? So very much like Jim Jones and David Koresh? Did you know that Rand-followers who recite her catechisms light up exactly the same parts of the brain as other true-believers pronouncing passages from the Bible or Koran or Hindu Sutras? And these are not the corners of cortex used by scientists while performing analytical or "objective" reasoning.

But you don't need any of that to conclude we're dealing with a cult. Just follow the recruitment process used by John Galt. Who surreptitiously sabotages successful companies in order to drive their owners into his arms! Who then deliberately vandalizes and cripples the nation's ability to feed itself or engage in commerce that he doesn't control, in order to wreck any possible competition with his elite enclave. Oh, criminy.

Yes, I'll admit that Ayn Rand at least portrays technology as good. That gives her points over the dismal Tea Partiers, or Fox, or the equally dismal (though less-numerous) science haters of a ditzy-fringe far left.  Alas though, she treats technology like something magical. Lone inventors weave a spell and suddenly there's a new metal or new motor. The vast intricacy of collaboration, development, supplier networks, and infrastructure is both a topic to Rand and an excuse for incantatory over-simplification.

But it is science that truly gets short shrift. Ayn Rand's lack of any reference to scientific research that might support or falsify her assertions about human nature should send alarm bells clanging. Her ignorance of Darwin or human biology, for example, is almost identical to Marx, but much less excusable, given when she lived.

Nowhere, either in Atlas Shrugged or subsequent libertarian cant, is there acknowledgment of the immense stimulative role of U.S. government financed R&D, especially in fields of pure science that would never have attracted investments from anyone looking to a "return horizon."  Indeed, I have long yearned for a second national debt clock to be set up, this one showing what the public debt would be now, if only the taxpayer had received normal levels of royalties from rockets, satellites, communications, fiber optics, computers, pharmaceuticals, and the internet. Well? Wouldn't that be fair and businesslike? Tellingly, while many scientists have a fiercely competitive libertarian streak, almost none who are in the top ranks ever hold any truck with Ayn Rand.

The analog to Rand is not the scientist Darwin, but the rhetorician Plato. Sure, she claims to prefer Aristotle. But in both verbal process and incantatory reasoning style, she is Plato's truest heir.

==Ayn Rand on Privacy==

All right, veering briefly aside from Atlas Shrugged, let's see what Rand says about privacy, a topic I happen to know a lot about:

"Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men." 

Of course, there is a level at which Rand is simply stating the obvious. That autonomy and long lives arose as our technology and civilized complexity improved. When food surpluses were meager, only a tiny aristocracy could be subsidized and unchained from the land. But a mixture of science and continental peace mixed with our ability to trade goods and services till even science fiction authors can now pretend we are producers of a primary product, worthy of being fed by farmers.

As for the quote itself: as usual, Ayn Rand mixes some core truths of the Enlightenment with mystical teleology.  The rise of the individual - never steady or even - has been a core theme of the West, ever since the Renaissance, and especially the Enlightenment. But this progression isn't fated, ordained or even natural.

Rand looks at a couple of hundred years and one quarter of the planet, and assumes the trend is unstoppable. But Huxley and Orwell - backed up by Malthus and Darwin - showed us what's "natural."  The diamond-shaped social structure that we take for granted can all-too easily slump back into the oligarch-dominated pyramid.

Only Enlightenment methods ever offered an alternative hope. Rand followers take it for granted. Indeed, they assume that we can dismantle the processes and structures that Adam Smith prescribed, that made the Enlightenment work in the first place.

They bear a burden of proof that we would not just slump back into the condition that prevailed, for thousands of years, before Smith and his colleagues came along.  In America, that slump is already well underway.

== The Posterity Problem ==

I saved the best for last, hoping that at least a few libertarians - those most-favored with our greatest human trait, curiosity - have hung with us to this point.

(Are any of you still present?)

Elsewhere, I've revealed the biggest and most telling red flag about Ayn Rand - one that I've not seen mentioned elsewhere. It is that none of her uber role-model characters, at any level or in any way, ever indulge in the most basic human project --

--  bearing and raising and loving and teaching children.

Out of 1000 pages, just one of them glances briefly at a mother - a baker, an enlightened and awakened proletarian who is not a member of the elite caste. She gives a short riff about preferring Randite education methods in Galt's Gulch over public schools. That is it for procreation. As for the New Lords - several dozen of them, all dynamic Rand-heroes of the future - not even one of them bothers to pass his or her genes forward in time. Nor do any of them take responsibility for, or even mention, this essential investment in time. And this from the "life-centered" philosophy.

There is a reason that Rand consistently avoided any mention of procreation among her new-lord caste -- because writing-in even one member of a next-generation would shine searing light upon the biggest flaw of her hypnotic spell, revealing that her "fresh" tale is actually the oldest one in the human saga.

Let me explain.  It is glaringly simple.

We all know this about aristocracy -- that it seldom breeds true. In the past, royal or aristocratic houses would grow fat, lazy and decadent. England's Plantagenets managed to stay virile for 400 years but most lines devolved much quicker. Oligarchs had to make inheritance-of-privilege state policy. They gave top priority to quashing open markets, science, democracy or equal justice - because any of these liberal processes might engender new competitors to rise, afresh, from below, exposing the spoiled grandkids to dangerous rivals.

Yet, even so, there was some churn! A violent form of social mobility.  Inevitably those decadent houses got toppled by new, fresh blood. By vibrant competitors who grew lean and tough in exile. Who trained and gathered their forces in the woods, then swooped in to storm the castle.  And thereupon established a new lordly line.

Deep below her superficial adherence to Marxist teleology lies this ancient cycle, far older than the enlightenment, or even writing. It is the very essence of what Ayn Rand stands for.  Her characters are the brash, virile, sturdy, innovative barbarians, born free and ready to seize destiny in their own two hands, ripping fortune out of the clutches of pathetic old-fart lords who are spent and bereft of cleverness or might. It's the oldest story, writ-new and draped with modernist garments. Even in her portrayals of sex, the closest parallel is a godlike Viking who kicks down the door and takes what he desires. Because he is the grandest thing in all directions. And because he can.

It is an ancient mythos that resonates deeply in our bones and especially within pasty-skinned, pencil-necked nerds, who picture themselves as Achilles, as John Wayne, as Ender Wiggin, as Harry Potter or some other demigod. An old, old formula that was mined by A. E. Van Vogt and L. Ron Hubbard and Orson Scott Card and so many others.

But therein lies a problem!  It's the romantic Phase One of this old cycle that Rand admires - the rise of a self-made buccaneer who seizes lordship from decadent, inbred fools.

Phase Two - what happens next - she never talks about. She averts her eyes and the reader's attention.

Why do none of Rand's characters ever have kids? Because theose kids'll inherit the olympian status wrested by Howard Roark or by Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden. Sons and daughters of demigods, they will assume privileges and power that they never earned through fair competition. They will take lordship for granted as a right of blood, and use it to squelch new competitors from rising to face them on a level playing field. Until their own decadent line has to be toppled, amid war and waste and pain.

It's what happened in 99% of human societies. Ayn Rand faces a steep burden of proof that "this time it'll be different." A burden she never picks up. Rather, she shrugs it off.

If there are offspring, then the reader might become consciously aware of this inevitable outcome. and realize: "Hey, I've seen this before. It's the same old boring-human pattern, and nothing new, after all."

== The Problem Is People... ==

Oh, but maybe I am reading too much into this aversion toward kids. After all, as the recent film reminds us, Ayn Rand was pretty much an equal opportunity hater of people, in general. (As evidenced by her passionately-admiring defense of the horrific murderer William Edward Hickman.)

Just look at how brothers are portrayed in ATLAS SHRUGGED.  Always treacherous, small-minded, parasitical and craven. Clearly, Rand is no Nazi, no believer in the paramountcy of blood. Sons, daughters, brothers and sisters? Neighbors? Strangers? Spouses? Co-workers? Civilization? Bah, who needs em. Who needs anybody?

Well? I said she ignores Darwin and this is consistent! Reproductive success? Fie and feh!
Her ubermensch demigods are less like "lords" - obsessed with establishing an inherited clan of privilege - than they are pirates - superior in boldness and in mind, going wherever they like, taking what they deserve by the very essence of what they are.

And hey, doesn't everybody love a pirate?

Yoho. That's the life for me.

==================================

*Followup notes:
1) Someone pointed out a more powerful example of de-regulatory goodwill on the part of the US government, which was, till around 1990, the principal owner, developer and subsidizer of the Internet. Picture the moment when a few dozen government guys - and advisor/consultant outsiders - sat down and decided to BACK OFF... to simply give the Internet to the world, instead of clutching-close this potential source of vast power. It was one of the greatest episodes of voluntary de-regulation in the history of the world. (I was living in France, using the French "minitel" alternative to the Internet, so I know how that might have gone.)

And yes, re-coalescence of top-down control over the Internet remains constantly a danger, from malignant efforts like SOPA. But the key lesson of the Internet - plus the dissolving of the ICC & CAB and Barack Obama's recent commercialization of the US space launch system - is that freedom-oriented policies can be negotiated within the institutions of a vast and overwhelmingly successful continental democracy. (And generally, the ones most willing to negotiate are democrats.) The demonization of those institutions, first by Rand and now by Culture War, portraying them as inherently incapable of reason or pro-freedom redesign, is illogical and a churlish example of flat-out ingratitude. 

Worse, from a Randian perspective, it is refusal to pay legitimate debts.

2) Hold the presses! I just thought of another major deviance that Rand took, separating her from Marx in a quirky ironic way...beyond her belief in Nietzschian ubermenscen and her denial of Marx's final teleological phase. There's also her approach to the Labor Theory of Value (LTV). Oh, she bought into LTV, hook, line and sinker! But in ways the Master would find utterly heretical. 

Now, here I am going to give Ayn Rand some cred, because clearly, she recognized what Marx did not, that LTV is complete crap when it comes to all labor hours being equally valuable. That's baloney and one of Marx's most glaring mistakes. Only then, like many converted heretics, she plunged to the opposite extreme, while staying on the same axis! Positing that some peoples' time and labor must be deemed almost infinitely more valuable, not just in a market scarcity sense but in pure, platonic essence. It is a third major departure from Marx... 

...but let's not get carried away. Because her scenario is still entirely based on LTV! Think about it. The great crime of the dire-enemies who are called "looters" is to steal labor value from the good guys in order to maintain society's capital base - precisely the same situation described by Marx! Only in her story, the theft is not from proletariat workers but from geniuses, necessitating their own revolution to reclaim that value! Sure, she turned 180 degrees the cast of characters who are the heroes. But the underlying principle and scenario - LTV theft from the productive caste, followed by revolution against the thieves and their recovery of stolen capital - is utterly the same. That is utterly pure Karl Marx.

It is the master's tale... with an M. Night Shamalayan twist! Oh, my.

3) Yes I gave short shrift to one aspect of Atlas Shrugged that Rand probably considered paramount, That is the book's keynote role as a philosophical and psychological polemic. She blames wrong action on wrong thinking, attributing to all of Galt's enemies an addiction to "death-loving" drives. All those who disagree with Galt (and Rand) are, in effect, dismissed as psychopaths who are fixated on achieving death. Note how this makes them inherently evil and unworthy of negotiation, by virtue of of their core platonic essence. (There's Plato again!) There's nothing human about such people.

What's fascinating is where this take us in regards Ayn Rand the Marxist. I describe how her chief departure from her mentor is where she excises what comes next. After portraying Marx's ultimate capitalist consolidation and finalization of capital formation with great fidelity, she omits entirely his final step - revolution of the skilled proletariat.  But how? Now vastly outnumbering the owners, with no middle class left to sap dissent, and with both state and church neutered, what's to stop them?

Well, replace the old church with a new one! Rand posits that the New Lords will not only be brilliant inventors and terrific managers, but also vastly enlightening priests. They will correct wrong thinking and replace it with right-thinking. With a philosophy that encourages life (even though there are no kids.) At which point the prols will not rebel, because their faith is now pure. Yes, it is a Randian faith - in themselves and in a system that challenges them to 'strive for life!' Nevertheless, it truly is awesome to see that her rejection of her mentor, Karl Marx, consists entirely of thwarting his final stage by enthralling the masses with a stunningly-persuasive incantation... or opiate... of uniform thought. A catechism of pure, unchanging and permanent Truth

Wow.

----

314 comments:

1 – 200 of 314   Newer›   Newest»
Chetmo said...

First: Disagree about "The Fountainhead"... While superior to (and less pedantic than) "Atlas Shrugged", it's still not as good as her "We, the Living" which should be up there w/ Pasternak's "Dr. Zhivago" when talking about novels based on the Russian Revolution...
Second: comments about piracy are interesting considering: a) Rand's positions on Intellectual Property & b) her oft mentioned fascination with a statue of a Viking holding it's sword forward (again, see "We, the Living")
Third: Read Shermer's "The Unlikeliest Cult in History", have we? Shermer has since retracted claims, but his arguments are actually quite sound....
http://www.2think.org/02_2_she.shtml

Tony Fisk said...

As Jack Sparrow said of his zombified ex-colleagues: 'Interesting'.

(Always liked this image. The article's not bad either)

David Brin said...

In Atlas Shrugged a viking (swedish) pirate is quite prominent. He raids mercy ships bringing food and gold to starving Europe and "returns" the gold to the strikers in Galt's Gulch so they can use it to feed themselves while waiting for civilization to collapse.

Please do link to that site where Rand and Marx recombine:
http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/393124.html

http://bradhicks.livejournal.com
/393124.html

Rob Perkins said...

Give you this much, David: You covered more material and made your points in a much shorter span of time and space than John Galt could with a magic radio from a hiding place.

If you want Rand, start with "Anthem". The manipulation is easy to see with that one.

Finally, I love trains. Anyone who can build them fast without too many boondoggles has my respect. But as my anti-light-rail friends are fond of pointing out, the numbers just don't pencil out, ever, without a government subsidy. Ironic, eh?

Wesley Mouch said...

Rob, just how well do the other transportation systems pencil out without their billions in subsidies?

The Vagabond said...

I've not read anything by Rand since 1977, and then it was foisted upon us unsuspecting eighth graders. I know, I know; I should, if only to counter the inanities of her ideas and those of her acolytes.
But I can't, I just can't.
So, thank you, for doing what I, myself, am loathe to; view this movie, and offer your critique.
By the way; CAPTCHA - "surge". I'm sure that means something.

Wesley Mouch said...

Oh, I should read http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/393124.html ?

Or maybe I should start with Anthem?

Stefan Jones said...

To save costs, "Atlas Shrugged: Part Two" will consist of Xtranormal animations and webcam footage of John Stossel's Lionel set.

David Brin said...

Gets confusing Stefan! Brad Hicks means something different by AS partII:

http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/393124.html

"SHrug Harder!"

Stefan Jones said...

I know, I read Hick's essay a while back. I might have shown it to you at the time!

My post above was a snark about the second part of the movie version, which doesn't look likely at this point.

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

David says: "Witness Europe, mired in nanny-state entitlements, eight week vacations and a "right to retire" as young as 55. Self-defeating regulations prevent companies from firing workers, with the consequence that they seldom hire new ones!"

David, can't we have that for just a little while, please? And after all, the real unemployment rate in the USA looks like Western Europe's anyway, and they sure get a lot back from their governments compared to Americans, who just get an Empire that is really outside most Americans' needs...

David Brin said...

Mitchell, there is a lot to admire in Europe... and much to disdain. For years, all we would ever hear is the former, never the latter.

Sure, I think we need to be more like them in certain limited ways. Perhaps SOMEWHAT in re health care.

But the ETHOS over there is horrendously anti-ambition and anti-work. I lived two years in Britain and two in France. No one ever wanted to talk about anything other than their vacations! They found it bizarre that Americans actually LIKE to work! That we choose professions and - if we're lucky and smart - we get to pour passion into them.

Don't ever admire the yang of another culture without open-eyed awareness of their yin.


STEFAN I got your point (snork!) about the lionel train set. It was a goon un!

David Brin said...

Funny how John C. Wright never replied. I even sent him a courtesy email. Someone alert me if he ever does?

Geez have you been reading his stuff? He's starting to make OS Card look like a Secular Humanist Revival Leader!

soc said...

Dr. Brin, are the Germans any different? I keep hearing about how they're hardworking and efficient and the economic engine of Europe. Aren't they the ones snorting about having to bail out the lazy, corrupt Greeks?

Carl M. said...

There are plenty of good reasons to blast Rand (and I have). No need to blast her for the wrong things! Ayn Rand loved the U.S. Constitution. It's in her essays (which are better than her fiction generally). Note how the President of the United States is never on camera in Atlas Shrugged. The main government villains are unelected bureaucrats.

Rand, like Marx, took some ideas from Adam Smith and ran with them too far. In Rand's case, she took the idea of self-interest leading to social benefit. Externalities and public goods problems were outside her knowledge domain.

Ayn Rand was a naive anti-barbarisn. She believed that Man as production man, would have no contradiction between self-interest and the general welfare. While the market does produce such wonderful win-win situations, they are not universal. And a screamingly obvious example is raising children. That's why family gets such a negative portrayal in her works.

----

As for the Libertarian Party, it was more influenced by Rand at its founding than later on. Murray Rothbard successfully hijacked the party and last I checked Rothbardian views were predominant. (Ron Paul's core following is even more Rothbardian.)

---

Kudos for you for grasping that Rand was attacking the Oligarchy as well, and she was not a right winger in the blue blood mold. However, I think you underestimate the fact that she was a radical classical liberal. Both in the novel, and more so in her essays, she believed that wielding reason was a matter of choice. The heroes in Atlas Shrugged had relative super powers because most people in her scenario were embracing irrational philosophies and thus crippling their minds. (See her essay "The Comprachicos") Ayn Rand esteemed the sand shoveller at the steel mill over the rich heiress dabbling in yoga. There is a rather cool scene in the book where Rearden and D'Anconia get dirty furiously containing a molten steel spill. Rearden offers D'Anconia a job, telling him he is wasting his time as a playboy.

--

You could power a small city by hooking a dynamo to Rand's corpse's response to the movie. Rand was a movie geek and a screenplay writer before she sat down to write Atlas Shrugged. She would have been horrified at the klunky rendition, and even more horrified by the amount of alcohol drinking in the movie. Randian heroes smoke tobacco and drink caffeine. Alcohol would be for the Reason-shirking villains. Also, Rearden was way to pretty: wearing tailored suits and "working" in an artsy office. In the book he was a nerdy engineer type who spent his evenings in the lab after managind his company during the day. His wife was in charge of the glamour and socializing. He admired his wife and his wife had contempt for his geeky ways.

---

As for the speeches, they better than the plot. (But the best part of the book is the tramp's story of Twentieth Century Motors.) Were I to recommend Rand, I'd start with Anthem and then point to some of her better essays. Rand, like Marx, was at her best in attack mode.

---

Extra credit: compare the opening scene in Atlas Shrugged with the opening scene in Fyodor Gladkov's Cement.

Chetmo said...

of course Rand was a classical liberal! (at least, at first) She was tutored in Classical liberalism by Isabel Patterson:
http://www.cato.org/special/threewomen/paterson.html

One of her first friends she'd dump when disagreements arose...

Chetmo said...

comment about European conditions:
I certainly wouldn't want to look for work in France, these days...
http://www.economist.com/node/21538733

François Marcadé said...

I have not seen the movie or the DVD (It is not distributed in the UAE). However I have the Trailer, and it is also in the photograph illustrating your article. I can Help noticing that the Train really looks like the Eurostar. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurostar
It would be ironic that Dagny’s train would be represented by a piece of rolling that was developed specifically for a project that has required the backing of 2 governments (France and UK). Furthermore it is based on the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) which was a project completely subsidized by the, then nationalized, railways with tax money.

Jennifer said...

Everyone's posting these big long comments but not me, all I want to say is that I love it when you rant, haha :)

John Kurman said...

I'll wait for the musical:

"Shrugged!"

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Nowhere, either in Atlas Shrugged or subsequent libertarian cant, is there acknowledgment of the immense stimulative role of U.S. government financed R&D, especially in fields of pure science that would never have attracted investments from anyone looking to a "return horizon."


Actually, she does acknowledge exactly that, but with the diametric oppposite value judgement from yours.

Later on in "Atlas Shrugged" (I'm sure this doesn't fall in the first film), the villainous scientists produce some sort of nebulous energy weapon which is then predictably used as a threat over nearby communities in order to enslave them. During the scene in which this awesome weapon of statist tyranny is unveiled, Rand (as narrator) takes great pains to drive home the point that private industry would NEVER have produced such a monstrosity because there would have been no reason for invstors to sink money into a project with no conceivable return on investment for them. Only evil statist government could have conceived such a project, and only evil statist government could, through theft (taxation), have financed it.

In Ayn Rand Fantasyland, a world run in the fashion of selfish industrialists whose crativity is entirely in the service of their own profit would be free of such doomsday weapons precisely BECAUSE there is no "return horizon".

Her conclusion is as insane as my formerly-rational conservative buddy arguing that corporations are run in so rational a manner that the type who demands privilige by rhetorically asking "Do you know who I AM?" never gets anywhere. But strictly speaking, she DOES address the subject.

LarryHart said...

Carl M:

Note how the President of the United States is never on camera in Atlas Shrugged.


Mr. Thompson wasn't the president?

Then what was he?

LarryHart said...

Carl M:

You could power a small city by hooking a dynamo to Rand's corpse's response to the movie. Rand was a movie geek and a screenplay writer before she sat down to write Atlas Shrugged. She would have been horrified at the klunky rendition, and even more horrified by the amount of alcohol drinking in the movie. Randian heroes smoke tobacco and drink caffeine. Alcohol would be for the Reason-shirking villains. Also, Rearden was way to pretty: wearing tailored suits and "working" in an artsy office. In the book he was a nerdy engineer type who spent his evenings in the lab after managind his company during the day.


As a fan of superhero comic books who has seen the genre utterly debased by movies, I could have warned any fundamentalist Rand fans what would have happened. There are certain sensibilities that just HAVE to be a part of a big-budget Hollywood film. It's why the DVD jacket had to extol it as a tale of "courage and self-sacrifice", because that's what is considered "uplifting" in a Hollywood production.

Likewise, while Rand specifically admired the cigarette, there is absolutely no place for good guys smoking in a 21st century movie (Think of the children!). And male heroes have to be svelte and metrosexual.

Ultimately, wishing for a movie of "Atlas Shrugged" is as futile as was wishing for a movie of "Watchmen". It's the perfect example of comic writer/artist Dave Sim's maxim that "Sometimes, you can get what you want and still not be happy."

Rob Perkins said...

@Wesley, based on what I know, no public transit system pencils out without subsidies. No long-haul transit system, either, for all I know, except passenger airlines, and I'm not entirely sure about that one either.

sociotard said...

Here's a fun one for Mr. Transparency:

Netherland Researchers make new version of Bird flu. Just as lethal, way more contagious.

Now Keim, who chairs the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), and other members of the body, have a very difficult decision to make. Fouchier wants his study to be published. So does virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka, who led similar research in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Tokyo, and reached comparable results. And it is up to NSABB to give them the green light.

Many academics and biosecurity experts are naturally cautious about releasing information which could provide any bioterrorist with a ready recipe to hold the world to ransom. Some argue that such work should never have been done in the first place and call for international monitoring of potentially harmful research.


So, if they release the research, they can get thousands of scientists around the world to make solutions to the threat, but if they can keep it secret, they can stop bioterrorists from going all 12 Monkeys on us.

Just goes back to your ratio of insanity comment

David Moisan said...

I'm a liberal, but I thought Marxism of the Right was a very cogent critique of libertarianism.

I've noted myself that the most well-known Randian on the North Shore of MA, Barbara "Prop. 2-1/2" Anderson, has been reading from a lot of left-wing protest authors, just as a lot of Tea Partiers have suddenly discovered Saul Alinsky.

Uvroi: A new sunscreen lotion.

Jim Stiles said...

D. Brin:

"I may seem somewhat of a "heretic" to the Rand-followers who now dominate the LP."

Back in the 1990's when I was a member of the West Virginia Libertarian Party, I could not point to one Objectivist (Rand cult member). I know that they exist in the national Libertarian party, but is it fair to say that they dominate? Nor do they dominate either Libertarian journal of record, Liberty or Reason.

Jim Stiles said...

Carl M.:

"As for the Libertarian Party, it was more influenced by Rand at its founding than later on. Murray Rothbard successfully hijacked the party and last I checked Rothbardian views were predominant. (Ron Paul's core following is even more Rothbardian.)"

Agreed, Murray Rothbard has more influence in the LPUS and in the Ron Paul campaign now, then when he was still living. For the most part, this is a good thing.

Carl M. said...

@Larry: My memory may be faulty on this; it was a long time ago when I read the book. I don't recall any scene with the president in it, only mentions by other characters. But I could well be wrong.

Bodhipaksa said...

David: regarding "anti-work" sentiment in the UK, if self-employment is any barometer of entrepreneurial spirit, it's worth noting that 12% of the working population in the UK are self-employed (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/4129610.stm), while only 10.9% of the US population is self-employed.

David Brin said...

Carl thanks. In a very abstract sense Rand spoke well of the US Constitution, though from a perspective that claimed that everyone but her interpreted it wrong. And she showed a very high American government official called "head of state" or something like that, which was a clear stand in for the "president."

I totally agree that Rand esteemed hard work and truly admirable proletarians who "thought right." But there are several aspects to this

(1) that it helped her to mentally stave off Marx's "next step" that she tore out of her dialectic - where the prols simply topple the final-stage consolidated capitalists - something she knows that they CAN do, at any time. Indeed, after engendering worldfwide starvation, the only thing that can save Galt & co is if they can talk the prols into "right-thinking."

(2) In GONE WITH THE WIND there are loyal negroes who are praised to the sky for their doughty, hobbit-like values. This can be very very patronizing.

Sure, I know Dagny & Hank have earthy, non-aristo qualities. You'd expect that in buccaneers! In fact, I hated that the film always had Dagny strutting in fashion-runway designs, even when supervizing a railroad crew!

Anyway, I very much enjoyed your response. You're our resident expert in these matters. Though my knowledge of Marx gives me some insights to Rand that I'm amazed no one has noticed before.

David Brin said...

JK: "Shrugged!" Har!

LarryHart: Yes, she called the govt's energy weapon vile... but earlier she had written the script for a film idolizing the Manhattan Project and saying that only free men could have come up with the atom bomb!

sociotard: 12 monkeys virus. Argh.

Jim Stiles: I accept that from a Randian perspective, Randians do not dominate the LP. I accept that Rothbard is more widely cited. But still. you ignore the essence.

To Smithian pragmatists, Government is a different method for solving problems - one that involves getting a consensus from the greater mass of citizens to act in cohesion to attack a problem in some centrally planned way. That is not in-itself vile, only dangerous and potentially addictive.

Indeed, we are gradually finding out what govt and markets do well. Govt can charge in and attack ACUTE problems very well. Feed these kids right now! Kill Hitler! Its approaches tend to fester or get "captured" when they are set up to deal with CHRONIC problems, that are best devolved to market forces, which can be tweaked to incentivize attacks on those problems.

Clearly insurance companies are the ideal long term replacements for the FDA OSHA etc... but they are cowards who have captured current regulations. Barry Goldwater tried to re-jigger things so that insurance would start moving in and making the FDA & OSHA "wither away." He was fought down by captured GOP legislators.

The curx: It is perfectly reasonable for libertarians and their party to be the social force the cries out skepticism toward government-planned "solutions" and to be the wing that proposes alternative ones that emphasize markets and individual initiative. Or the force that negotiates in order to maximize the market contribution and to set expiration dates upon government "solutions."

What is not legitimate... and 1% election returns reflect this... is to simply screech and howl that govt is a disease and that the "problems" that govt agencies deal with are not problems at all. That cult of indignation as a drug high spans across Rand-followers and Rothbardians alike. The LP will go nowhere while in that fever.

Bodhipaksa, why do you think Britain stayed out of the Euro?

greg byshenk said...

"But the ETHOS over there is horrendously anti-ambition and anti-work."

This seems absurdly extreme when applied to an entire continent of 500M people, having significantly varying attitudes toward just about every subject one can imagine.

If what you say about your experience is true, then I can only say that it is unfortunate that you fell into such a dull circle.

LarryHart said...

Carl M:

@Larry: My memory may be faulty on this; it was a long time ago when I read the book. I don't recall any scene with the president in it, only mentions by other characters. But I could well be wrong.


I don't think "Mr Thompson" is actually CALLED "President", but that does seem to be what he is. At least, I always took him to be the leader of the American government in the book, if only because there must have been some reason he is only ever called "Mr. Thompson".

And if that's the President, or "the President", then he is indeed on camera at a few key junctures.

It is HIS speech that John Galt pre-empts with Galt's own 3-hour dissertation.

Then, Mr. Thompson is the one who personally escorts Galt to his prison suite at the Wayne-Falkland Hotel, and who explains to Galt why he (Galt) needs him (Thompson): "Without me, you can't leave this room alive."

Finally, Mr. Thomspon is present for the climactic press conference where they try to claim that John Galt is helping them solve the nation's economic problems. It is when this press conference falls apart that Galt is whisked away to the torture device in New Hampshire (though to his credit, I suppose, Mr. Thompson is not a part of THAT).

And strangely enough, though this couldn't possibly have been intentional in 1957, the date of Mr. Thompsons aborted speech is...November 22, the same date that a real-life President would soon have a speech pre-empted in a much more horrendous manner.

Doug DeJulio said...

I remain convinced that one of the main reasons to read "Atlas Shrugged" is, folks who have done so get way more of the in-jokes in the "Illuminatus!" trilogy.

anne.ominous said...

Great article. I suppose in part I feel that way because your assessment of Rand so closely resembles my own. She was horribly pedantic, and obsessed over certain issues to the extent that she lacked a more valid, broader viewpoint.

I too had to practically flog myself to read Atlas Shrugged. It is grossly repetitive and pedantic. It's like being whacked with a hammer again and again and again while being asked "did you get the point?"... when you could hardly have missed it the first time around.

As I have mentioned before, my experience with the Libertarian party has not been the same as yours, although I certainly admit that some of them probably belong in the Anarchy party than the Libertarian. But that's a problem with the individuals in question, not the party philosophy per se.

I have only one minor issue, and that is the implication that the government built the internet. That's kind of like saying the U.S. auto industry was based on military research into land ironclads.

DARPA created ARPAnet. That much is true. But industry built the internet, not government. Nevertheless, I can still agree that the public has benefited greatly from the rold government did play in its creation.

David Brin said...

larryhart, yes Rand was ambivalent about the completely abstract aspects of the US Constitution and institutions like the Presidency. recall that in 1957 the president was the archetype unifier, Ike, and indeed until Nixon, there was a level at which even opponents stood up with reverence with the president entered a room.

Today, note how Perry and others ONLY refer to President Obama as "the current occupant of the White House." This is the identical spirit to the secessionists of 1861, who refused to grant that the other side could ever have a legitimate "turn."

Anne, I think you downplay the extent to which, still in 1992, the US govt was the principal owner, developer and subsidizer of the internet. The moment when a few dozen government guys - and advisor/consultant outsiders - sat down and decided to BACK OFF... to simply give it to the world... was one of the greatest moments of voluntary de-regulation in the history of the world.

And I have never seen it credited as an example of state wisdom in any libertarian media or by any libertarian thinker. Ever. Just as they will never admit that democrats killed the ICC and CAB and can be negotiated into making other good-faith deregulations, if dealt with in a fair and open manner.

Ken Burnside said...

Does anyone else beside me get a deep belly laugh out of the Ayn Rand postage stamp?

1) Her face is used to drive "taxation for the benefit of the state!"

2) The image of her face is done in Soviet Propagandist Style.

Anonymous said...

From the 1939 Doc Savage novel, Dagger in the Sky, with a plot that eerily predicted Atlas Shrugged: “Our motives for doing this, you may or may not know, are – well, they
are idealistic…”
“Idealistic?”
B.A. Arthur [one such industrialist] cleared his throat. “The world today is a turbulent,
war-ridden place. In no country, no nation on the face of the earth,
are property rights unhampered by taxation. I am an American citizen,
for instance, and when I die, the United States government plans to
take over half my fortune in inheritance taxes – which means they will
take some seven hundred million dollars, in spite of all my lawyers
can do to the contrary. Granting, of course, their taxation had not
made me a pauper before then.”
B.A. Arthur scowled before he continued.
“Government meddling – you find it everywhere. Take the New York
Stock Exchange, for example – what do you find? Government regulation
everywhere you turn. The banks? Deposit insurance – eating up the
banker’s legitimate profit. Utilities? Government competition forcing
rates down until return on capital is cut to a measly seven or eight
percent.”
Doc Savage looked around the table and said, “The point is that you
fellows – you very wealthy men – don’t like the way the world is
today. That it?”
“Exactly”
“And you propose?”
“To take over the mountainous portion of Cristobal – a perfect
place to live, if ever there was one on the face of this earth….”
“And then?”
“We will create a sanctuary for wealth,” B.A. Arthur said grimly.
“There will be no income tax, no inheritance tax, no tax on any
business enterprise of any size. There will be no regulations.
Operating from such a country, we will soon make it the financial
center of the world.”
“What about the natives of Cristobal?”
“Oh, them? They will be shown their place.” B.A. Arthur suddenly
pounded the table. “There will be none of this damned rights-of-labor
stuff! No unions. The first time the fools go on strike, we’ll have
them shot down. That’ll teach them!”
Doc Savage remained emotionless, asked, “And where do I come in?”
“We need brains. We might hire yours.”
“What makes you think I would work for you?”
“You’re one of those idiots who spends his time trying to make a
better world, aren’t you? Well, we’re offering you the chance of your
lifetime.”
Doc Savage shook his head.
“You won’t do it?” B.A. Arthur exploded. “But we’ve kept your
friends alive solely in hopes of getting your good will in the end.”
“No.”
“And why not, you idiot?”
Doc said, with no noticeable excitement in his voice, “This whole
setup is rather hideous. It’s selfish and ugly. It is simply a case of
rich men – men more wealthy than anyone has a right to be – trying to
keep their money and get more.”

Randy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Randy said...

Obligatory: xkcd: Sheeple

@anne.ominous: As a loyal defender of pedantry, I must ask, are you sure you aren't confusing pedantry with pedagogy or demagogy or some such? It doesn't sound like pedantry is really what you're talking about at all.
(And yes, I'm being pedantic in questioning your use of the word.)

James said...

The biggest problem I see with a lot of people who champion the "free" market is they base their ideas on Ayn Rand's fairy tales and have never read Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Adam Smith should be required reading for anyone who wants to really understand economics.

Marino said...

dear Mr. Brin
Dunno about the EU anti-work ethos, because we don't talk shop. I love my job, I'm a librarian...but, as ol' Karl Marx came in the debate, remember what he said: ideology is a form of overgeneralization. So, you're a writer and a political theorist, and it's your job, it's interesting and mind-opening, and I'll be happy to invite you to dinner and hear you speaking about it, but you shouldn't generalize.
I'm sure that listening at me about conversion of library databases, proper restoration of a book warehouse against a mold onset or arranging the details of a shipment and delivery of new shelves (what I did on the workplace this afternoon) would rate as "cruel & unusual boring", while maybe the landscape or the food of my last hiking vacation on the Alps (ONE week) would be better subjects...

Tony Fisk said...

I think the problem ubermensch Galt types would face in the real world is the one Ricardo Semler defines in the following equation:

Eff. IQ = IQ + EQ + SQ - EGO

In short their self-centered arrogance would blind them to the blandishments of the types Doc Savage faced down.

On '12 monkeys virus': I think the responsible thing to do is hold off on general publication until an effective vaccine is developed! However, this assumes that people working on vaccines have access to the virus.

I would be interested to see how they rated 'contagion', an article I recall reading a while back suggested that contagious flu viruses tend to bind to sites found in the upper respiratory tract. Easy come-easy go. It also means the body has time to get its act together before more vital organs are infected. Contrariwise, a more lethal virus sets up shop in the lower reaches/lungs, so has caused considerable damage before you know it. This requires a more prolonged/concentrated exposure.

Thus H5N1 doesn't seem to have spread significantly, whereas 'hog's breath' went through the Australian population like a dose of salts.

There are exception to this, of course.

(In a similar vein, the forecast guano storm doesn't appear to have eventuated. Early days? Other fora? No interest?)

cerslec: ineffectual herbal remedy for summer colds (hack! wheeze! snuffle!)

vallwarrior said...

"In other words, by her very own premise, the answer isn't for creative people to "go on strike." It is to fix the tool (government) by yanking it out of the hands of conspiratorial criminals who have improperly seized it. You do that with transparency, with light (as Hayek prescribed). Not by blaming the tool and throwing it away."

This paragraph stands out in a very good post. I see the paralysis of our government by the right, to be the same as trying to destroy it. It seems childish.

David Brin said...

Marino, your hints at great librarian knowledge set my juices rolling. I respect skill. Your skill and passion for your work. Tell us more! ;-)

Read this Shrugged satire:

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/atlas-shrugged-updated-for-the-current-financial-crisis

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/
atlas-shrugged-updated-for-the-
current-financial-crisis

Eric J said...

anne.ominous, I don't think you remember 1992 that well. There were commercial on-line services, Compuserve, Dow Jones Information Service, the Source, Prodigy, and American On-line. They had been around, in some cases, for a decade or more. In that decade, most of them progressed from a text based services that provided bulletin boards (forums in modern parlance) and email into text based services that provided BBS and email. They cost $30 a month, for the basics. Additional services, like aviation weather, stock quotes, and many games were extra. There was no evidence that these companies were doing anything to build an interconnected network, nor is there any reason to believe they would have, had the government not done it for them already.

At the time the Internet connected universities, government agencies, and computer/telecom companies. Had the government maintained its control, it would have stayed at that level. So David is 100% right that voluntary (or was it Congressionally mandated?) deregulation allowed the Internet to become what it is.

Eric J said...

It's not ambition that makes Americans not talk about vacations, American's don't talk about vacations because they don't get them.

Especially in this economy. I know a person with 20 years work experience and a master's degree that gets 3 weeks of combined sick+vacation leave. On top of it, his employer uses their vacation leave for them by sending them home early one or more days a week. The employer does not reimburse for any time the employee is forced to stay late (because the work load is such that it can't be accomplished in 40 hours). And, of course, employees are not allowed to take time without pay. But he's happy to have a job anyway. I'm guessing such a situation is rare in the ambitionless parts of Europe.

Anonymous said...

Have you seriously just defended a book (The Fountainhead) in which the hero of the story blows up poor people's houses out of spite?

David Brin said...

Fountainhead is a manifesto and declares - and does - many awful things. But it works as a novel and it gets the essence of something that Rand says that contains - if you squint hard - a valid truth.

The arts are inherently harsh, competitive and vicious. And I don't mind that. Heinlein was right: creative matters should be competitive... while human needs (especially preparing children for capable competitiveness) should be free.

Tooch said...

David,

I can see all your points about the movie, my g_d that is a very big book to try fit in to something that a person sit through. But, I have to say you must have used the cliff notes in your comments about "Atlas Shrugged" the book and what Ayn Rand was trying to say.

First off anyone who "follows" Rand is missing the point at best or is just like the multitude in Life of Brian who scream "Yes we are all individuals". No one can be a "Objectivist" and follow anyone but their own rational objective reasoning. Hence, it would be very difficult to come up with a "Objectivist" party. Any form of collectivism would be or should be suspect.

John Galt never did any convincing or coercion to get any of the "producers" to strike. They simply listen and came to there own conclusion. No one held a philosophical gun to their head.

And you definitely missed the section were a mother in "Galts Gulch' explains why she made the decision to raise her children outside of the "altruist" world.

Saying Ragnar raided mercy ships is a oversimplification. The so called mercy ships really contained products that were diverted from the open market and sent to feed the black market in europe. The gold that was obtained by selling the products to the very black marketeers that would have gotten them anyway was put in trust for repayment of income tax of the strikers. Income tax in the novel and by Objectivist standards is looting. It was not used to feed themselves. (they had farms and industry in the valley)

It's a big book to slog through and it's easy to miss the points she is trying to make. But, everything is explained there (which is the problem).

I think that we all could do with a little "at who's expense?" when we are coming up with social programs. And I don't think that Adam Smith thought that we would have such economic feedback loop as we have in our government. Ideas such as Rand's call for a economic separation from the state in Atlas Shrugged might just be looked at anew.

It is interesting to note that Rand did give a way to fund a government that did not violate free trade of goods and services. (income tax does as we have no way of refusing the services we do not want or use) It was based on the service of justice. Now any contract is protected by law and the administration of justice is automatic. Some breaks a contract and you have the right to your day in court. But, what if you are only protected by law and courts if you paid for the protection? Contracts would still be legal but you could not enforce them in a court of law. Now every credit card transaction would be a contract so, what credit card company would not want to protect the transaction? Billions and all with a fair trade of money for service. Just a thought and that is the point of the book, thinking.

David Brin said...

Tooch said: "First off anyone who "follows" Rand is missing the point at best or is just like the multitude in Life of Brian who scream "Yes we are all individuals". No one can be a "Objectivist" and follow anyone but their own rational objective reasoning."

Oh my. Tooch have you read about the cult Rand built around herself! The catechisms! The declarations of her perfection and infallibility! Please, please read up on her and Brandon etc and prepare to be amazed/appalled.

"a mother in Galt's gulch." You miss the point again. That mother is NOT a demigod. I spoke of the problem of inherited godlike lordly status. That mother is just a cipher used to preach.

Roger Collins said...

"Consider this irony; a movement propounding that all people can and should think for themselves also teaches its adherents to openly despise their neighbors as thinking beings."
Not all that ironic. Individuals in a free society, responsible for their own decisions, spending their own money, are a lot smarter than the same individuals in a collectivist society, dependent on elite decision makers spending other people's money.

Carl M. said...

@Eric. Regarding the Internet you are invoking the common liberal non sequitur of "because the government did it we needed the government to do it." It is a near opposite of the common libertarian false slogan that "government doesn't produce anything."

A government agency invented the Internet Protocol, yes. ARPANET was the original core of what became the Internet. Government produces something, and it was very valuable. It does not follow that there would have been no other meta network had the Internet not been launched by DARPA. Maybe. But we do not know this.

Look up BITNET and UUCP (Unix to Unix copy). The latter was used for email and USENET. Mail and discussions hopped between networks outside the Internet.

It's been a very long time since I used GE's Genie, but I believe it offered some Internet connectivity way back. Didn't use it much because the connection charges were high. They were higher back then for true Internet service, but deep pocked universities were paying the bills so it looked free to students using it back in the late 1980s.

Michael Vassar said...

I don't think that Rand's followers ever claimed that people can or should think for themselves. Hayek's followers are Libertarians, Rand proclaimed hers to not be, and understood that she was a radical 50s Republican blending Mostly Nietzsche and Aristotle with a bit of Loche. Buckley and Rand were rivals, so it's silly to treat him as a fair critic for her. Personally, I'd say that it's silly to characterize Atlas as a single novel at all. Better to think of it as two novels, one very insightful but middlebrow, the other painfully bad. Of course, like you, I see Rand as basically a closet Marxist. I also see Marx as a closet Randian though. He does call the last stage a 'specter hanging over Europe' after all. Since I see Marx as basically right, her portrayal of the world rings true. One major thing that neither of them saw (both fairly Aspergers maybe?) was the productive purpose of bourgeois decadence. Robin Hanson understands that fine. Cooperation is *hard*.

About children, Rand obviously didn't understand that drive, but she intentionally does have someone raising children in Galt's Gultch. The phenomenon that happens in the next generation is pure Nietzsche, so if she doesn't know about it, I don't know why not.

Eric J said...

@Carl: You're right. Except for the fact that both UUCP and BITNET were non-commercial co-ops primarily on government computers. Fido was the first "public option", and it was communistic, too. It worked OK if you didn't mind email being slower than snail mail. Telenet/PC Pursuit? That was commercial, but didn't go much of anywhere because there was no where to go, but to a slow modem on each end.

The only example of a commercial networking technology catching on for internetworking was HEPNET, which used DecNET protocols. But that was on government computers and networks, too. And the commercial solution was primarily used because high energy particle physicists had too damn much money to use the low cost solution.

The commercial networking providers saw internetworking as a disaster. There was no way they would have enabled that. And to them it was because it gave their subscriber base other options. On-line computing was about providing new options and charging for each one.

Of course, once the internet was unleashed, the market could do what markets are supposed to do, drive margins to zeros and provide everyone with what they want. Not quite, of course, there are still too many provider monopolies, but it's better than what we had.

But I don't see any reason that Compuserve would have gotten together with Prodigy and said "Let's make a network that anyone can hook up to and open it up to everyone." As a Ferengi would say, there's no profit in it. Like evolution, markets operate on the level of the individual or the company. Decisions are not made upon the good of the whole, only on whether if works for the individual/company.

It would be good for both Cheetahs and Gazelles if they didn't have to run so fast, but they aren't going to get together and decide on a speed limit. That would be the equivalent of the internet forming without the government.

Tony said...

This was a really fun an interesting piece, but I wish you would've touched upon the biggest historical irony of all:

Atlas Shrugged is historical fiction. The characters are more or less modeled after the Robber Barons of the 19th century, with Dagny Taggart as Cornelius Vanderbilt and Hank Rearden as Andrew Carnegie.

These men's fortunes weren't built "triumphing over troglodyte naysayers by delivering an awesome product", but were largely funded by government money used to pay the railroads. The process for Carnegie's product was stolen from Bessemer. But this is indeed the penultimate irony when it comes to character placement.

John Galt, the resolute capitalist who swore that he would never live his life for another man or allow another man to live their life for him, was modeled after Nikola Tesla.

Tesla is about the biggest example of an altruist in human history. When Westinghouse was trying to commercialize his AC electrical system and couldn't make enough money to support the endeavor, Tesla tore up his patents. The man died alone and penniless despite having come up with what is perhaps the most important invention since fire.

Anonymous said...

I think you are way to kind towards Ms Rand.  I have read almost all her books and articles and the uncompromising ruthlessness of her fantasy worldview can't be exaggerated.  She invented yet another one of those fanatical  dogmas that the twentieth century seemed to foster.  There is a point in Atlas Shrugged where she literally dismisses all of humanity except her supermen as simply not mattering.  Pretty chilling.   The biggest irony about Atlas Shrugged is that it focuses on railroads, which were the most heavily government subsidized industry in US history before the airplane and a let's see the automobile through highway construction.   Like many libertarians and conservatives she was pro science and rationality to the extent they supported the dogma.  I only wish the .01% would Atlas Shrug themselves off to their secret mountain valley and let the rest of us get on with reality.

David Brin said...

Carl M... yes, you are right that markets can do great things. Were I refuting myself I would say that Bell Labs had a 50 year run of doing spectacular pure research without being bothered by short ROI horizons. Still, it wasn't the govt making of the internet that I was gushing over. It was their sudden, enlightened decision to let the child go!

Isn't that govt at its best? Govt is good at dealing with ACUTE problems. When the situation needs a CHRONIC answer, we should always look to see if markets can be re-tweaked to provide. Some needs, alas, are non-fungible. Mass education, infrastructure... and we now see health care. Chronic problems that require govt.

STill, I think my chronic-acute thing has real value.

Eric J, you describe exactly the world as the French saw it when they introduced Minitel. For a brief span, the French were VASTLY more connected than Americans were, with 75% of French homes containing this little monitor unit that would let you check mail and tickets and weather, all govt provided for a small fee. Logically it seemed far better than Compuserve. But then the miracle happened.

Tony... wow! Great literary-historical insight! Cool. Post of the day.

Folks was I really too kind to Rand? Geez, though the Marx thing was pretty to the heart.

John said...

RE your response, the Bible has it too:

Isaiah 14:13-15 "For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.

Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit."

For reference, I am LDS and as such believe the time is come in which nothing will be withheld. The ideas expressed by you and the singularity-ians are not contrary to my faith, though some of the motivating desires may be.

P.F. Bruns said...

Dr. Brin, this was full of stunning insight and well worth waiting for. Thank you very much!

For me, the big problem I've always had with Rand was that she consistently ridiculed any social construct based on interdependence and cooperation--in short, most of civilization. Yes, individual achievement should be praised, but the Thomas Edisons and Frank Lloyd Wrights and Marie Curies were not born in a vacuum (and Edison is remarkably Galt-ish from what I've read). Brilliant ideas often come from singularly talented individuals, but it takes lots of people working together to implement them--and the individuals themselves are hardly self-made. I know that's a bit simplistic of me, but there I am.

And if I may be a bit facetious, the only reason I'd find John Galt is to tell him to stay lost. We're all better off without him.

David Brin said...

Alas, Galt reaches out and sabotages what he cannot have. His minions cripple the rails and wreck the roads. As Bill & Ted say - most-heinous.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi David
Re - American work ethic
I have lived and worked in the UK, NZ and USA
(also worked in Germany)

The Americans talked a lot more about work - they belittled the Brits for their shorter working week

However after a while I noticed that while they claimed to work long hours it was always
- but today I have too leave early because..

60 hours worked one week gave bragging rights for years!

Americans TALK more about their work - not convinced that they work more

Stefan Jones said...

I'd like to plug a book that may sound like it has nothing to do with this discussion, but its central message is a refutation of one of the tenets of Rand's thought.

How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand

It is a book about architecture. Not a coffee table book showing inspiring and notable works of renowned architects, but a survey of structures high and low . . . and how actual use changes them. Or how they fail to change, and become despised and unable to support their intended use.

Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings were beautiful and inspiring, but they often suck. They leak, they are expensive to heat, hard to retrofit with modern infrastructure, and they are hard to live in.

Great and useful buildings require input from people, not just the lofty vision of uncompromising geniuses.

Would it be much of a stretch to suggest that the institutions of everyday life work best when they conform to the needs and concerns of everyday people, not the visions of ubermench?

soc said...

I read somewhere that Germans work fewer hours than Americans but are just as productive. Reason? Americans socialize more at work, while Germans simply work. It's one thing to be passionate about your work, quite another thing to spend long hours "working" at work(regardless of productivity) simply because that's what is expected in the culture.

Also, Germans are more likely to understate the number of hours they spend on a project while Americans are more likely to overstate.

Again, this is simply from reading, anyone have any first hand knowledge about this?

The Ubiquitous said...

Regarding a past point about a less violent world today as compared to centuries previous: Could you source this claim? I've heard of a similar claim by Pinker, but it's been pretty well debunked. Quoting this link provided finds the following point:

"Roth ... argues that given modern medicine—emergency response, trauma surgery, antibiotics, and wound care—three out of every four people murdered before 1850 would probably survive today."

Obviously, violence is not merely murder, but murder is the most constant metric we have available.

Regarding the point about sexism, refer to the same Women in the Days of the Cathedrals as well as the clear fact that Christendom instituted whole orders of consecrated virgins, hardly a counterpoint to pagan temple prostitution. This, even ignoring the dubious extent that temple prostitution existed, was certainly the first time women were not considered merely breeding material in the Western World. (I don't know enough about, say, Aztecs or the Indus or China or Africa to extend the claim.)

Regarding the point about racism, I didn't know racism qua racism existed before the Enlightenment. As I've read, it came from the curiously modern innovation of slaves as chattel rather than as chain gang. By curiously modern I mean, as seems to be the pattern, resurrected pre-Christian vices.

----

More on topic, whatever Ayn Rand's vices, at least her atheism had some sense of structure, denounced some things worth denouncing and with appropriate force, and was not the sentimental mush Dawkins and crew offer. I don't know if she could be more backwards if she tried, but at least she stood on something that looked solid.

David Brin said...

Ubiq, I can tell that you were never trained in science or any of the related arts of logic. To say that that absolute mess of an article "debunked" anything, let along Steven Pinker, is incredible. A mishmash of broad assertions and absolutely weird, illogical meta statements.

Fact: during WWII we know thousands died every day. And thousands of US servicemen per week.

In the Korean war each figure dropped by an order of magnitude. In Vietnam another order of magnitude.
"War" today is horrifically expensive but the rates of actual death are still declining at a steady pace.

Anecdotes about a few aristocratic nuns "prove" that women were EQUAL TO MEN IN THE MIDDLE AGES? Do you listen to yourself?

You are clutching at straws in a desperate effort to deny the palpable existence of human-wrought progress. Why? Is that possibility so desperately terrifying to you? It is what good men and women wanted for thousands of years. If it might be coming true at last, why are you angry?

Hay-zeus! Who the heck spoke up for Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists? Did you hear me defend those savagely hate-filled religious zealots?

Al said...

David - when you're right you're really, really right - and when you're wrong, you're really, really wrong - and as usual, this rant has a bit of both.

Always entertaining though.

In case you hadn't noticed, many of the "anti-government" forces are actually pro-government - they just want _limited_ government; and as for government education - government _funding_ of education is great , but government _providing_ education - well, monopolies are famous for the level of service they provide.

I do agree that there is room for collaboration between smart libertarians, smart liberals, and even (gasp!) smart conservatives - but the operative word is "smart". At present, you're more likely to find smart people among libertarians because the masses aren't aware of them yet - but you can be sure that eventually they will. Hopefully the new levels of support will allow libertarians to accomplish a few important tasks before that movement also descends into stupidity. (Curiously, a century ago many of the smartest people were socialists - but by the 1940s they had naturally moved on.)

Also, Reason Magazine occasionally offers praise to the Democrats for deregulating the airlines, so the occasional successes of the Left are not swept under the rug.

duncan cairncross said...

"Roth ... argues that given modern medicine—emergency response, trauma surgery, antibiotics, and wound care—three out of every four people murdered before 1850 would probably survive today."

If you were talking about accidentally killing somebody - that would make sense
Murder is a bit different
If you are going to murder somebody you don't stop half way!

By that logic three out of every four present day "murders" would result in the victim surviving

Rob Perkins said...

For what it's worth, I'm LDS too and I think the ideas about the singularity are so much hooey. Any LDS can't possibly believe we'll be leaving our bodies behind, for one. In our doctrine, we get 'em back!

99 comments in a day... wow.

I was involved in the middle of the Internet's domain name goldrush, working for a newspaper company in the mid-90's back when domain names cost $35/year and you had to buy two years at a time. The only company who issued 'em was Network Solutions, and they were lobbying hard for the government not to "confuse the issue" by opening a market they were handling perfectly well.

Heh. Now you can get 'em for between "free" and ten bucks, and there's self-governance with respect to who gets which domain name. Honestly, the lawsuits are few and far between compared to the volume of sales and trades around domain names. And people keep innovating.

So when David points to that as an example of government doing right, (and doing it with Democrats in power), he's correct!

duncan cairncross said...

Returning to the medieval murder rate
I have read a study on murder in primitive tribes (I think it was in one of Jared Diamond's books)
The rate was astounding over! half of total deaths were due to violence,

This reducing trend is obvious over the last hundred and fifty years or so where we have good data

So given this I would expect medieval society to have a much higher murder rate than the Victorians - who had a much higher rate than we do now

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

LarryHart: Yes, she called the govt's energy weapon vile... but earlier she had written the script for a film idolizing the Manhattan Project and saying that only free men could have come up with the atom bomb!


So we weren't in a desperate arms race with Hitler over who developed the A-bomb first?

And I suppose the no "People's State" could possibly have put Sputnik into orbit at just about the same time her novel was seeing print?

Rand is apparently one of those people for whom any and all new data inevitably confirm what she already believed. I've seen that sort of thing too often to count--for example, all of the idelogues for whom 9/11 "changed everything" by demonstrating that everything they already belived is even more correct than anyone had ever imagined! When "Cerebus" writer Dave Sim was a secular humanist, his "reason" led him to conclude that feminism was the root of all irrationality. When he fell in love with Scripture and became a monotheist, then monotheism demonstrated...that feminism was the root of all irrationality.

Rand is no different.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Today, note how Perry and others ONLY refer to President Obama as "the current occupant of the White House."


And remember how apoplectic their side used to get when someone referred to Bush as "The Current Occupant". Despite the fact that (whether you agree with them or not) the anti-Bushies were making a point about the legitimacy of his election whereas the anti-Obamies are making no greater a point than that they personally don't like the guy.

LarryHart said...

Anonymous:

Have you seriously just defended a book (The Fountainhead) in which the hero of the story blows up poor people's houses out of spite?


Hey, I despise Ayn Rand as much as anybody here, but I agree with Dr Brin that "The Fountainhead" is a more readable book than "Atlas Shrugged".

In defense of the Howard Roark character:

1) When you say "blow up poor people's houses", you make it sound like he went on a violent rampage. No, he blew up a housing project building UNDER CONSTRUCTION. Nobody was living there. Nobody had their property destroyed. He even made a point of luring the lone security guard away so that even that one human being would not be harmed.

2) He had personally designed the building for NO PAY under a contract which provided him with only a single item of remuneration...that his archtectural design would not be altered. Since that single condition was violated, he "took back" the building. Harsh? Perhaps, but what would YOU prescribe in that situation?

Michael O. said...

I keep reading about Pinker, and while I have to say that I have not read his book, I'm just not buying his claims.

Mr. Brin, you keep mixing time periods when writing about Pinker and about Wright's post, which I find frustrating because it's no logical argument to compare apples to oranges, or use reduction in violence over half of the 20th century as if it extrapolates back into the Middle Ages. Sure, WW2 was incredibly violent and wars since have not been; but most of the major battles of the Middle Ages had casualties in a few thousands (but of course population was lower, military technology was less effective, etc. - and from the other side, nobody set up concentration camps). May as well say it's cyclical or random or, as I think, we just don't have the proper information to compare the 20th century - where we have an abundance of good data - to the 11th - where we don't (and casualty data could go either way - some MA totals are definitely inflated, as a propaganda tool). And I don't think Pinker's got the data either.

LarryHart said...

I can't help but notice that Rand's fictional characters, Hank Rearden and Francisco D'Anconia, handled it much better when the object of THEIR desire chose another lover than Rand did herself.

To the several folks who mentioned that there is indeed a mother who chooses to raise her children in Galt's Gulch--that single paragraph stands out precisely because it is the ONLY place in the book where childrearing is mentioned, and is done so grudgingly. It's as if Rand realized that she had to mention childrearing SOMEWHERE, but she had no interest in the topic, and no real notion of how it would be done. She doesn't offer details on how it would work--just a vague sort of faith that it is better for children to be raised away from exposure to misguided altruism.

My impression (and yes, this is only MY impression) the first time I read the book is that she would have preferred to leave childrearing out of the book altogether, but she knew the question would come up.

And I find it ironic that her heroic characters (Dagny and Hank) can discuss something as fundamental as enjoyment of a good meal as being a rational concern only--that there would be no "point" to eating unless one was "stoking one's engine" for a productive purpose. But these same heroic characters are sexual dynamos with absolutely NO biological purpose or consequence to their copulation. All their sexual prowess combined doesn't produce so much as a single pregnancy.

MKHutchins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

"I think the ideas about the singularity are so much hooey. Any LDS can't possibly believe we'll be leaving our bodies behind, for one. In our doctrine, we get 'em back!"

I never said I agree with the religion of the singularity. However, the idea that there are increasing scientific progress and that this progress is good and to sought after is completely in accordance with the doctrine. That this progress will lead up to the end of the world as we know it is also in accordance with doctrine (though not in the way they are thinking about it).

As I said, some of the desires are not in accordance with the doctrine.

Eric J said...

Ubiquitous,

"Past as paradise," and denial of social/political/technological progress are easily recognizable as both the dogma of far-right conservatism and conservative Christianity. They both require that things have been getting worse and will continue to do so until either the Tea Party gets elected or Jesus comes back.

That form of conservatism is incompatible with reality. Even with things as bad as they are, things are better than they were a century ago or two centuries or three .... You might want to visit there, but you wouldn't want to live there. Especially if you're not a rich white man.

It is possible to form a logical and consistent conservative philosophy. You just can't base it on the way things were being superior. You'd probably be labeled a liberal by any modern American "Conservative", though. A modern American conservative isn't even allowed to say that it's possible to be too conservative.

Eric J said...

With liberal application of technology, the end of the world as we know it happens every day. So far it hasn't been that bad.

tooch said...

David,

I see you got my point. I of course know all about the infrastructure that was built around Rand. It happens with messiah's . (the meaning of my Monty Python quote) That is why you will rarely know or recognize any true "Objectivist". Why should you, its just another way of looking at the world. An extreme one that is harder on the practitioner than the public. (whoever or whatever that is)

What I think is important is the dialog that this is generating. Remember when people disagree in the end some are right and some are wrong. But, if they are all honest everyone profits by learning.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post's follow-up notes:

Rand posits that the New Lords will not only be brilliant inventors and terrific managers, but also vastly persuasive priests. They will correct wrong thinking and replace it with right-thinking. At which point the prols will not rebel, because their faith is now pure.


One part of "Atlas Shurgged" that doesn't work for me, even on the book's own terms, is that the heroes are so supremely competent, not just in their own areas of expertise but across the board--except where the plot requires them to be grossly unaware of the obvious.

So you have Dagny completely unaware that she might be FOLLOWED to Galt's apartment, and Rearden completely cluless as to what "his man in Washington" might be up to. Even Rearden's inability to come up with the "Gordian Knot" game-changing surprise solution to his and Dagny's being blackmailed over their affair--Dagny just admits the affair publically and defuses the whole blackmail thing--makes him appear more clueless than I'd expect of a Randian rationalist hero.

David Brin said...

Al said: "At present, you're more likely to find smart people among libertarians because the masses aren't aware of them yet ..."

ALas, if only that were true. In fact, libertarianism is right now an isolated cult of smug underachievers, instead of the moderate/pragmatic mass movement that could offer market-oriented solutions as counterweights to the democrats' sincere statist ones.

Instead, there are shrill, unbacked cries that the problems that the state addresses don't exist! Or that they'll simply go away, if the state goes away. That is choosing indignation over the hard work of innovation and negotiation. It is immaturity.

And a damn shame, because the dems have repeatedly proved their goodwill and willingness to negotiate deregulation. WHat libertarians do is portray liberals as dogmatic statist ideologues and they are not. Alas, dogmatic people tend to assume their opponents are just like them. But liberals are fixated on the PROBLEMS... not on insisting only the state can fix things.

I do separate true Smithian liberals from genuine leftists, of course. Dingbats.

You do make a good point that the state should ENSURE mass education, but does not have to run it as a monopoly. I wish the record of charter schools and home schooling were better, but so far we have seen no profound improvement from them.

Duncan, John Wright would toss out the documented extreme murder rate in tribal societies, claiming that "christendom" was the shining exception.

LarryHart, in fairness, I think Eisenhower deliberately LET the soviets put up Sputnik first. I am alone in this conspiracy theory. But it is cogent. Ike was desperate to shine light across the world, as a way to reduce tensions and mistakes and save us from nuke-war. After the failure of the U2 program, he foresaw spy satellites. But if we launched first, there'd be screams over National Airspace Sovereignty. No one even mentioned it when the USSR launched first. He got his way and saved us all. We are alive right now because of that.

Thanks Tooch

rewinn said...

I will say one nice thing about libertarians: sometimes they support civil liberties.

If you think it's a bad idea for our government to have the power to imprison Americans for life, with no appeal to a court, you should Call TODAY, don't just email, your Senator to demand support for the Udall Amendment to s1867.

On this, I agree with Senators Paul and Sanders. What a madcap couple!
----

@ Eric J said...
"It would be good for both Cheetahs and Gazelles if they didn't have to run so fast, but they aren't going to get together and decide on a speed limit. That would be the equivalent of the internet forming without the government."
In a thread of excellence following an article of excellence, that comment is Most Excellent!

---

@Tooch said...
"
Now every credit card transaction would be a contract so, what credit card company would not want to protect the transaction?"


ALL of them.

What would happen then is what happens now: the companies contractually require the customer to submit to the law of an unfriendly jurisdiction (a small one, easily purchased by the companies), and the customer usually loses.

Lorraine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

I think Eisenhower deliberately LET the soviets put up Sputnik first. I am alone in this conspiracy theory...

Interesting theory.

Nonetheless...

Rand didn't say that a free people would win the race to produce such techhology with the "People's State" breathing down their necks as it happened. Her point was that the un-free state would be incapable of the technological act of creation itself.

It's a nice fantasy, but both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany demonstrate it not to be the case.

LarryHart said...

Al:

At present, you're more likely to find smart people among libertarians because the masses aren't aware of them yet...


There's great irony at work in the present fascination among mainstream Republicans and Tea Partiers with "Atlas Shrugged".

It seems to me that it is the GOP rather than the "socialists" who are grasping at straws, trying one thing after another to demonstrate that their government-shrinking, Supply-Side theories actually work. And the GOP latching onto Ayn Rand, bringing her works into the fold, and showing them off as their own...it smacks eerily of Mr Thompson's administration latching onto John Galt, bringing him into the fold, and showing him off as their own.

You can almost hear the GOP congressmen and presidential candidates going:

"Do you want them to think we agree with that?"

"Do you want them to think we DON'T?"


And the true Rand believers should take their own book as a cautionary tale as to how they'll be treated when their usefulness to the mainstream party is used up.
T

LarryHart said...

P F Burns:

For me, the big problem I've always had with Rand was that she consistently ridiculed any social construct based on interdependence and cooperation--in short, most of civilization. Yes, individual achievement should be praised, but the Thomas Edisons and Frank Lloyd Wrights and Marie Curies were not born in a vacuum (and Edison is remarkably Galt-ish from what I've read). Brilliant ideas often come from singularly talented individuals, but it takes lots of people working together to implement them--and the individuals themselves are hardly self-made. I know that's a bit simplistic of me, but there I am.


Rand pretends that Galt, Dagny, Wyatt, Rearden, and the rest of the industrialists don't NEED anyone else because they have the brainpower to support their own lives with no one's help but that which they freely trade value for.

Sounds impressive, until you remember how much of their lives depend on the fact that Midas Mulligan happened upon a hidden region of the United States that was awashed in hitherto-unclaimed gold, oil, iron, farmland, etc.

David Brin said...

Lorraine... why the link?

LarryHart, in fact, the Nazis were lousy at actual science. Never even imagined short wave radar and so didn't even build detectors to alert U Boats at the surface at night that they were in a beam sent by a looming hunter-plane.

The Soviets had decent science in certain categories and crappy in others. Parsing which is instructive!

LarryHart said...

Oh, and that scene in the novel when a steam train is about to go into an eight-mile long tunnel and suffocate everybody on board, and we get a litany of each passanger's statist beliefs which inexorably led to this fate...

If I ever read that scene again, I'll be hearing it in Herman Cain's voice. "If the train you're on is horribly suffocating you to death, blame yourself!"

Anonymous said...

Re Brin's "I think Eisenhower deliberately LET the soviets put up Sputnik first. I am alone in this conspiracy theory. But it is cogent. Ike was desperate to shine light across the world, as a way to reduce tensions and mistakes and save us from nuke-war. After the failure of the U2 program, he foresaw spy satellites. But if we launched first, there'd be screams over National Airspace Sovereignty. No one even mentioned it when the USSR launched first."

IIRC Mike Gruntman at the University Of Southern California ( see his web site at http://astronautics.usc.edu/faculty-staff/gruntman/ ) said pretty much the same thing at an informal breakfast meeting I had the good luck to attend last August.

He said the he grew up in "Star City" in the old USSR and came to the United States decades ago so IMO there's a pretty good chance that he knows more about "both sides" of the USSR-USA pioneering efforts in space exploration than anyone else.

--ToddR

Lorraine said...

Sean: Steve Jobs is not a sorcerer unless you're a cargo cultist, which is to say, scientifically illiterate. That people have a sense of "post-industrial techno-magic" points not so much to people's need for mystery as their need for education.

Anonymous said...

@LarryHart - "It's a nice fantasy, but both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany demonstrate it not to be the case."
Not so fast.
While it was an American scientist who built the first practical liquid fuel rocket, it was the Society for Spaceflight (Verein fur Raumshiffahrt) in Germany that led the way to the A-4/V-2, which was developed during the Third Reich. Even the V-2's predescessors were far superior to what Goddard and his meager team were building outside of Roswell, New Mexico during the same time period. Von Braun and crew solved many complicated problems, though they did so on groundwork laid by Goddard; they saw it through. During the same period, Korolev in the USSR was also making tremendous headway with his liquid fuel projects, and like the work being done by the VfR, his group (GIRD, later RNII) was making tremendous strides as well (here in the Land of the Free, Home of the Ironic, rocketry simply was not taken seriously).
Look at what the Germans did for aeronautics during the Second World War - swept wing, delta wing, forward swept wings, jet fighters, bombers and recon. The best tank to come out of World War II was Russian, the T-34. Our missile development during the 1950's? Pffft. Compare that to what the Soviets did; their R-7 ICBM would become the launch vehicle for Sputnik 1, and still serves as the first stage for the Soyuz.
You'll notice a common theme, though...
The Vagabond

LarryHart said...

The Vagabond as "Anonymous":

What makes you think you're disagreeing with me? You seem to be saying that the Nazi Reich and the Soviet Union contributed mightily to space flight. That was my point as well--to take issue with Ayn Rand's assertion that ONLY a free people could possibly do so.

rewinn said...

"Rand pretends that Galt, Dagny, Wyatt, Rearden, and the rest of the industrialists don't NEED anyone else because they have the brainpower to support their own lives with no one's help but that which they freely trade value for...."

In addition, there is the Malcolm Gladwell "Outliers" angle on how people become extraordinarily successful. With the advantage of being based on a much broader dataset than Rand's work, Gladwell points out that the top 1% of anything (whether industrialists or guitar bands) includes millions or tens of millions of people and even among the top 0.0001% of anything, there are still a heck of a lot of them.
Gladwell's data support the idea that, while there is no substitute for talent and hard work and the freedom to benefit from both, they are insufficient without the right group to support the geniuses.

---

Somewhere in Atlas Shrugged a sculptor waxes rhapsodic about the pleasure of creating a drill bit, which lead me to wonder just how much he charged the driller. I'm sure it would have been a very good drill bit indeed but if he wanted to feed himself without taking advantage of previous generations' discoveries in metallurgy, it wasn't going to be pretty darn expensive. And let us hope that the garauntors of his barstock's quality were less selfish than the private bond rating agencies of 2008.

Anonymous said...

@LH - "What makes you think you're disagreeing with me?"
Tell me, why do you think that?
-The Vagabond

Tooch said...

Rewin,

The difference is that there would not be such a jurisdiction. Contracts would only be able to be submitted for jurisprudence that have paid for the protection. And that protection would be at government level. That would fund a strict constitutional based government. (One that only has the functions that are based on the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Not the massive welfare state we have now.)

LarryH,

It is true that Ike wanted the soviets to be first. David is correct about the Air Sovereignty. That is why he picked project Vanguard over the Huntsville team. Van Braun and his team there had a Jupiter C prepped and ready under a tarp with a different project designation just in case. (Sure, wink, wink. Ike was a army general not a Admiral) They knew the Navy project Vanguard was behind the eight ball.

Oh as for Rand saying that the soviets were incapable, far from it, she just said that they could achieve while the rest of the state was starving or at the Gulag or in the case of Nazi germany the camps.

David,
Your welcome.

Anonymous said...

@LH
What I was trying to point out was that while these would lead to spaceflight, there was a common theme; they were all developed as weapons initially, though for both Von Braun and Korolev, they were a means to an end. While I agree with you, it seems that the one thing governments are almost always willing to stand behind are weapon systems.
"Killing other people; it's our job."
-The Vagabond

David Brin said...

Yes, the Germans were superb engineers. But they were never even remotely close to getting a Bomb. I once yelped during a TV show about the Bomb, which showed briefly, without explanation, a still photo of the apparatus that Heisenberg was building to test U235 in a tank of heavy water (because they had been too dumb to realize carbon worked better as a neutron moderator.) The cludged arrangement of shiny metal cubes *tied at approximately calculated distances with knotted rope(!!!)* plunged through my eyes into my physicist background and thence into my spine, all in an instant!

If they had had enough heavy water to actually try that thing, they might have poisoned half of whatever city they were in. And ironically, then they'd have had a crude (nasty dust) weapon.

No, they were dopes, Thanks be to God.

rewinn said...

@Tooch wrote ...

"The difference is that there would not be such a jurisdiction. Contracts would only be able to be submitted for jurisprudence that have paid for the protection. And that protection would be at government level. That would fund a strict constitutional based government."

Let me see if I understand the parts of your proposal:
1. You are proposing that we fund government by taxing contracts; basically, this is a sales tax.
2. You propose to avoid the problem of regulatory capture of adjudicatory bodies at the state level by putting the scheme under the control of the national government.
3. You propose to reduce government expenditures to the level that can be sustained by the national sales tax.

If I have correctly characterized your proposal:
#1 is not a new idea. Sales taxes are pretty common and well understood.
#2 means giving up our federal system. States that can't fund themselves would become at best arms of the federal government. This may or may not be a bad idea but let's be explicit about it.
#3 is a policy prescription that has nothing to do with #1 or #2. It recognizes that the taxes from #1 are inadequate to support a modern government. We (...I assume you're an American ...) actually had such a government pre-income tax, and it suffered regular and painful crises. The only nation in history that has succeeded with that prescription is Vatican City, and it sells a product that doesn't scale well.

Tooch said...

Rewinn,

First off I am not proposing this. This was an interesting proposition that Ayn Rand proposed to fund a modern government without income tax. Income tax is looting, because you are paying for service you may or may not want and you have no way to opt out. So what can you do the fund a modern Constitutional government without looting? The idea is that governments provide the service of jurisprudence, it dispenses objective justice. Why not fund it by making people who need the service pay for it. Hence, a cost for contracts. You can still have a contract without paying for the service thus "opt out" but no court of law for you. This way it is a fair trade not looting.

So we are not suffering painful crises now with a income tax government? I fail to see a connection. Crises will happen income tax or no, they will just be different.

I have another question, lets all see if we can answer it.

How many laws does it take to govern a free nation?

Do we need limits?

David Brin said...

How many laws does it take?

See my analysis at: http://tinyurl.com/polimodels

We are in the awkward middle phase of our march from Locke's implicit to Heinlein's explicit social contract.

Failure to grasp this notion, and instead to BLAME and hate this intermediate phase, is the main loonyness and sadness of modern libertarianism

rewinn said...

" Income tax is looting, because you are paying for service you may or may not want and you have no way to opt out....

Every part of that is false:

1. If you live in this nation without paying for its upkeep, then isn't the looter ... YOU?

Yes. You would profit from the sweat and blood of our ancestors and your neighbors, but refuse to pay your share. You would take the benefits and refuse to make a contribution.

That's fine; we aren't a slave state; you are free to go. You can "opt out" with your feet. You don't want to play, fine; take your ball and get off the field; renounce your citizenship and emigrate. You did nothing to earn your citizenship except be born, so you lose nothing by leaving.

2. In a democracy, you have complete control over where your taxes go. If they go somewhere you don't "want", then try harder next time ... or leave.

3. Income is by contract (...otherwise it's a gift...) and therefore you may consider income taxes as just another sales tax, where the thing being sold is your labor.

Tooch said...

David,

I am glad to see how enlightened you are. Distilling down the laws to the absolute min you get exactly what was proposed in the declaration of independence. I comes down to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"

Life - man must not initiate violence against man.

Liberty - you can own the fruits of your labor and dispose of them as you will.

Pursuit of Happiness - You can strive to make yourself happy

As a wise man once said and I paraphrase, "that is the whole of it... the rest is commentary"

David Brin said...

So read about the trend from implicit to toward explicit social contracts. Learn this spectrum. Picture yourself a primitive - somewhere above a caveman or feudal knight or medieval priest - somewhere in the middle. Somewhat more enlightened than your ancestors who lived according to Locke's crude contract ("rule me well, oh king, or I will rise up and kill you!")

But not so arrogant/stupid as to claim you are ready to do all contracting explicitly and signing at age 19, the way your super, computer-enhanced descendants will do, with full knowledge of human nature and its delusional flaws and how to run a planet and civilization.

If you really do think you are already that end product, fine, then go to Somalia and do without Lockean government! Persuade all the locals to sign contracts with you. An ubermensch ought to be able to do that right quick!

Till then, how about going along with an intermediate-phase society that's done damned well at producing and protecting and delivering general justice and doing science and encouraging competitive creativity. One that seldom calls upon us to obey blindly, but instead welcomes your criticism and input...

...almost as if you -- or I, or any politician -- were actually mature adults -- something we most definitely and profoundly are NOT! Not yet.

I am less interested in howling ungratefully at the nation that succored and protected me than I am in IMPROVING it via the processes that gradually formed as we progressed across 200 years. Better men than me slapped together this makeshift, intermediate phase, using positive-sum methods that often cancel out human delusions and additively bring us closer to our goal.

It is my job -- and yours -- to MAKE IT WORK. To use better, calmer, less-sanctimonious libertarian thought to balance the worthy but excessive moralizing of liberals, in positive sum ways that enhance both freedom and goodness in a world that desperately needs a lot more of both.

To above all help MAKE those grandchildren who will be so smart and savvy and good and wise and inventive -- mixing competition and cooperation and compassion *just right* so that government can finally - having served its purpose - truly wither away.

Not amid ungrateful jeers, but with thanks and a nostalgic nod toward the flags that protected all of us, while we did wrangle and fuss.

It is MOVEMENT IN THAT DIRECTION that matters. So long as we keep getting better in a transparent world, I do not need perfection. I need it all to function. In need to get better and I need my neighbors to do that. (And I'll not persuade them to get better by calling them "sheep.")

I do not care for loony-simplistic experiments. Like "oh! Let's tear down the edifice and see if maybe no-government will work THIS time! Even though it never, ever, ever worked before."

I am not in this for me... or the drug high of indignation (I fall into it, all too easily.)

I am in this for great and good and amazing and free descendants who may look back and nod nostalgically at me. At you too.

Come on. How can anything matter as much as that?

Tooch said...

Rewinn,

You are taking this way to seriously. I am simply trying to say there are other ways to fund a legitimate government without income tax.

If I did pay income tax and I used the services of the government I would be either a looter or illegal alien. But, these days what does that term mean "illegal alien" and for that matter what does citizenship mean? For the record I am a proud citizen of the US and pay taxes at a high rate. But as far as services go the "illegal aliens" get far more than me. So don't get on a high horse about "looters" unless you are prepared to do something about it. This issue has made the term "citizen" a mockery in this country.

2. Complete control? Who are you kidding? We live in a republic remember? We have representatives not a direct democracy and they listen to the good of the "public". Please don't get me wrong I love my country. But don't insult my intelligence.

3. Interesting, that is a way of looking at it. Then the service I am getting it the whole government. Thank you, I knew that this was a worthy discussion.

Tooch said...

David,

Well said.

There is nothing that can matter more than that.

Just one question that we all must face.

When you say "make it work" . We all must ask "how?" and figure it out. Not everyone is doing that. But, they will eventually.

Tony Fisk said...

Tooch said:

If I did pay income tax and I used the services of the government I would be either a looter or illegal alien.

You are either taking serious hallucinogens, or have omitted a 'not'. I suspect the latter.

====

This self-reliant ubermench stuff of Randian legend reminds me of a observation by Tim Flannery in 'Here on Earth' (p126).

"...Put in an Aborigine's place, we'd be as lost as white rabbits in the wilderness; our tenure in the world most likely counted in days rather than months.
The reverse, however, is not true. History shows that hunter-gatherers can learn to do any of the jobs our society offers. I've flown in a helicopter piloted by a New Guinean who was born into a society all but innocent of metal. And history is replete with examples of academically gifted Native Americans and Aborigines... But regardless of their accomplishments, almost all of them went back to their own culture. The truth is that hunter-gatherers find the loss of liberty we routinely endure to be insufferable... And for one used to being his own provider, warrior and law-enforcer, our daily round is interminably boring.
Yet what has happened, time and time again, when we feeble cogs in the mechanisms of complex societies meet the superbly competent hunter-gatherers? It is the poxed, incompetent weaklings who triumph, leaving the splendidly strong and well-nourished bones of the hunter-gatherer in the dust."


Which is a long-winded way of suggesting that super-heroes are a form of nostalgia.

(Flannery then goes on to point out that many animals, humans included, have lost a substantial fraction of their brain mass as a result of domestication. Not sure that's good news!)

David Brin said...

Go anywhere in the world and you will find native peoples who wear their traditional garments...

...five or six times a year. Or to dance for tourists. Sorry, the rest of the time it is T-Shirts and flip-flops and gasoline-powered scooters.

I'll match that New Guinean helicopter pilot (certainly a bright/adaptable fellow, an alpha) with Bear Gryls.

Tony Fisk said...

I must confess that I thought of Bear Gryls as well!

Elsewhere (and for other reasons) Flannery remarks that inter-tribal warfare in the NG highlands was (in the mid eighties) a ritualised affair with spears and bows. These days it involves automatic rifles.

The point being made, I think, was that HG types are perfectly happy and able to take on the trimmings of civilisation, but feel stymied by its deeper commitments, to a larger group of people. (won't get into the 'stickiness' of those trimmings here)

My point is that the notion of the 'super-hero' seems to have a parallel with the independence and self-reliance of the 'noble savage'. Many accounts of an (alpha) HG in their teens /early twenties note their god-like physiques. It doesn't last though.

KateGladstone said...

The assertion that "none of her characters" have children is contradicted by Part Three, Chapter Two of ATLAS SHRUGGED (in which we encounter the children of one character).

David Brin said...

KateGladstone, this has already been dealt with. One brief page showing a LOWER caste woman saying "this is good for children too!" does not do a thing except prove the point!

Procreation is for the lower orders. It isn't Dagny or any of the supermen who have kids. Rand is never cornered into answering the question, what to do about inherited aristocracy?

She runs like hell away from it.

David Brin said...

Jiminy. Can you believe it? Randians admit there are kids - the most important of all human projects and products - on ONE PAGE of a mammoth volume prescribing how human beings are supposed to live!

Even if you leave aside my theory for WHY she avoids the topic - the greatest flaw in her entire edifice - this counts as a glaring, titanic-screaming alarm bell.

Or is it? If her lords follow her example, and unbreed themselves out of the gene pool?

Feh, chewed on this enough. Slumming. I've got a far better novel to edit tonight! And then contemplate some smart stuff by the real geniuses. The scientists.

Tooch said...

Tony Fisk

Thank you for pointing that out. No drugs, not my style, just thinking faster than I type. Proof reading what a concept!

Much ado about nothing... Übermensch and Randian philosophy, remember its a novel people! You do not need to be superman to use reason instead of emotion. It's competency and knowledge that counts.

Tooch said...

David,

Get to the better novel... Thanks for letting me play in your garden of ideas. Interesting viewspoints everyone!

Till the next topic..

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Tooch

You don't have to "have a contract" to benefit from society

Your income tax pays for the system that prevents me and my hairy friends from taking over your house and your woman

we don't take your car either!

A biologist once told me there was a name for a solitary human in history
"Cat Food"

KateGladstone said...

What makes the woman in the bakery "lower caste" in your view? Do you(or did Rand, or should I) think that there is something "low" about being a star-actress-turned-baker, married to an economist who moonlights as a linesman? (This is, after all, the same book in which a hero disagrees with a villain's reference to "lousy jobs" by noting that "There are no lousy jobs — just lousy people who won't do their jobs.")

> Procreation is for the lower orders. It isn't Dagny or any of the supermen who have kids.

The actress-turned-baker is a Gulch invitee.
How does being a Gulch invitee place one in "the lower orders?"

You stated that Rand could not depict children in the Gulch because that would poke a hole in her story.
Rand depicted children in the Gulch.Their mother's baking does not somehow make the children not count.

Re the vexing matter of inherited aristocracy: Rand at least made a valiant stab at it, in the chapter where young Francisco states to his playmate Dagny that he won't be allowed to inherit the family title and estate unless he first meets some very high standard of achievement, such as building (unaided and incognito) a profitable business. Making the inheritors of a title pass a strict performance-test — as Francisco says, the title is earned and not simply inherited — is hardly what I'd expect of an author "running th hell away" from considering the problem.

KateGladstone said...

David Brin — so we see happy kids on one page of a novel (and miserable kids elsewhere: e.g., in the chapter where Hank and Dagny search out the abandoned factory, and are at one point beset by a horde of starving children). Do you believe that all novels must include children, and/or that children of the "lower orders" do not actually count? Are the other authors you criticize for not wanting to write much about children?
Whatever your answers, I know I could learn much from seeing how you'd analyze some of the info here — http://theautonomist.com/atnmst/jrnl_ii.php?art=110 —
about Rand and children (e.g., the paragraph mentioning her niece "Docky").

David Brin said...

Guys! I have gone crazy with my after-notes in the Ayn Rand article (above)! This whole "disciple of Marx" thing is rich! go see what I discovered.

Tooch: "It's competency and knowledge that counts."

Sorry, when was that ever true OTHER than our society? In most others, competence and knowledge came in a distant fourth and fifth, behind Luck, Birth-nepotism/class-status, and Treachery. You are proclaiming a queer kind of love of Enlightenment Civilization. Raised in its unprecedented fairness, you seem to assume that it is a law of nature.

It isn't

Good lord, KateGladstone, are you going all egalitarian on us? The baker woman is not gonna be a lord-owner. Hence the PURPOSE of Rand omitting children (diverting attention from inherited lordship) doesn't come into play. Would you please understand what it is you are arguing against, before proclaiming you've refuted it?

"You stated that Rand could not depict children in the Gulch because that would poke a hole in her story. "

No that is an absolute lie. It is a towering strawman lie. Show me where I said that. I look you in the face and call you a liar.

Your next paragraph (finally!) gets to the point. At last, getting to the matter at-question.

So, you are counting on all of the new lords to do this "earn it" thing - disowning their kids if they fail to achieve greatness entirely on their own- despite 6000 years of proof that actual lords, in real life, never do that? Never ever have?

You are proclaiming that THE failure mode that ruined freedom and competition for 6000 years... inherited lordship... will suddenly vanish with the wave of Ayn Rand's hand?

David Brin said...

Seriously, this KateGladstone person proves my point. So detached are Randians from Darwin that they cannot even conceive of the power that reproductive success has had over human history.

Kings getting armies of 10,000 virile young men to march off to protect the old fart's harm for him? That is powerful stuff!

Six millennia of history, in which ensuring not only inheritance of lordship but also cauterizing hope for the peasant sons and daughters, so they could not rise up and compete... this was THE major occupation of the owner caste for 99% of the time...

... and Ayn Rand armwaves it away. Apparently, the cantos is that Dagny and Galt will be "different" about this. Without ever explaining - though hinting perhaps once - how this might take place. How is biology overcome? And Darwin defeated?

By talking both of them to death, apparently.

KateGladstone said...

I'm not a Randian, so my statements prove nothing about Randians.

KateGladstone said...

Re:
"The baker woman is not gonna [sic] be a lord-owner"
How do you know that? And why do you imagine it matters?

Re:
"No that is an absolute lie. It is a towering strawman lie. Show me where I said that. I look you in the face and call you a liar."

Here's where you say that:
"There is a reason that Rand absolutely and consistently avoided any mention of procreation -- because writing-in even one member of a next-generation would shine searing light upon the biggest flaw of her hypnotic spell, revealing that her 'fresh' tale is actually the oldest one in the human saga."

Please explain how writing in two members of a next generation adds up to avoiding any mention of them. If you'd written "She hardly mentions a next generation in the Gulch," I'd have agreed with you there ... but "hardly" isn't "never."

For the record: I find I agree with you (once you pointed it out!)that are present political and economic woes are largely due to our being partway through a transition from implicit to explicit social contracts.

David Brin said...

The topic was the only characters who mattered, the only ones Rand cared about, her ubermensche New Lords. And what their offspring would inherit.

Some Randians have disputed my "assertion" that Rand never mentions children being raised at Galt's Gulch... an assertion that I never, ever made. But they cite one page wherein a woman - a baker - goes on about how her kids will be raised without the poison of public schools.

Amid 1000 pages, this sole reference to humanity's most important and central activity is a side note in which Rand says "Oh!  And my followers will also do that kid-raising thing better, too!" http://theautonomist.com/atnmst/jrnl_ii.php?art=110

And this disproves... what? Featuring a minor character who is never destined to be one of the New Lords, the scene has nothing, no bearing whatsoever on the issue I actually raised... which is the inheritance of lordship that absolutely obsessed every ruling caste since the first clay tablets.  Inheritance and squelching the opportunities of young peasants to compete with the heirs.

An obsession that is consistent with Darwin and all known biology, reinforced each time a lord stole from his peasants enough to support yet another pregnant mistress, or a king added to his harem. Alas, Ayn Rand relentlessly pretends she has never heard of that Dar... Dar... Darweeen fellow.

I am through dealing with this person's slippery evasions. I have work to do. If she's uninterested in the topic that I actually raised, then by all means let her raise her own.

Paul451 said...

Tooch,
Re: Voluntary contract (sales) tax as a charge for government service. A couple of points:

1. It would need to be a double tax, both sides of the contract would be free to not pay it. Otherwise one side is essentially forcing the tax onto the other. The tax would give you the right to initiate suit against the other party.

2. What about transactions where the contract is implicit? Such as simple over-the-counter purchases. What's my protection against fraud, poisonings, etc, if I don't have an explicit contract forbidding such things, and I can't pay a tax on such small purchases (unless the business voluntarily provides a way)?

3. What about civil torts that don't arise from contractual disputes? Such as when you crash into my car?

4. What about government services that are not simply tortious? Like police (and criminal courts), fire dept, defence, etc?

5. How would you administer commons? Roads, rivers, airspace, national parks, etc.

6. Since the decision to pay the tax is essentially like the decision to buy insurance, why does the service provider have to be the government. Why can't it operate exactly like commercial insurance? The government would need to adjudicate disputes between you and your judicial-provider, but that would be less often, hence a smaller cost, hence a smaller tax.

Anyway, it's a fun idea to play with, but like a lot of these ideas, once you tried to apply it it would end up more complex than what we have now.

Lorraine said...

Oh, great, now the word "autonomist" has also been co-opted by the right.

LarryHart said...

Tooch:

Income tax is looting, because you are paying for service you may or may not want and you have no way to opt out. So what can you do the fund a modern Constitutional government without looting? The idea is that governments provide the service of jurisprudence, it dispenses objective justice. Why not fund it by making people who need the service pay for it. Hence, a cost for contracts.


It's an interesting theory, and I'm not dismissing it outright, but I do see some problems with it.

What possible guarantee is there that this version of government would dispense "objective justice"? It seems to me to be self-evident that the highest bidders (the 0.1%) would be able to pay for the judgements they want. What would the other litigants do? Go to the competing court system instead? There isn't one.

What I'm more curious about, though, is whether Rand had a similar "pay for service" model for the military. How do individuals pay for the military protection that they want without having the funds for undesired adventurism or boondoggle weapons systems "stolen" from them?

We've talked here before about such things as fee-for-service fire departments, and I'm not a fan. Why? Because the economic model forces a community to be the kind of people who stand by and watch a disaster unfold while feeling no impetus to help--in fact, to be required by contractual obligation NOT to help. I'd rather our society not go down that road. That's not who we are. Of course, Ayn Rand thought that that was PRECISELY who we (Americans) are, or at least what we SHOULD be. So obviously, the value judgement depends on your point of view. I'm not saying you can't make an economic argument for pay-for-service government, but I don't think it's a good idea.

How many laws does it take to govern a free nation?


Depends what you mean by "free" and by "nation" (and to some extent, by "laws").

Seriously, it takes NO laws to protect the freedom of the bully. Are his victims "free" because there is no government dictating their actions, or are they oppressed by the bully? If society protects the victims from the bully, are they trampling on the bully's "freedom"?

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

So, you are counting on all of the new lords to do this "earn it" thing - disowning their kids if they fail to achieve greatness entirely on their own- despite 6000 years of proof that actual lords, in real life, never do that? Never ever have?


Tangential to the point, but according to one of your characters, that was the Holnist ideal of democracy. "My own sons must kill to become Holnists, or else scratch dirt to support those who can." As I've said before, some of the most three-dimensional villains I can remember.

David Friedman said...

James Said:

"Adam Smith should be required reading for anyone who wants to really understand economics."

Let me disagree with that. Smith is certainly worth reading, but he didn't have a consistently worked out economic theory. For that you have to wait for Ricardo or, for a more up to date version, Marshall.

David Friedman said...

Duncan comments on murder rates among primitives and in the Middle Ages.

For the primitives, you might want to look at Keeley's Warfare Before Civilization. He argues, I think convincingly, that primitive warfare typically killed more people relative to population than modern warfare, and that primitives were good at it.

We don't have good data on medieval murder rates, but I did come across one study which suggested, that for a particular place in England at a particular time, the rate was about ten times as high is in the 19th century. That's by memory, and I haven't been able to find the source with a quick search. It might possibly be in:

Ted Robert Gurr, "Historical Trends in Violent Crimes: A Critical Review of the Evidence," in Crime and Justice: An Annual Review of Research v. 3, Michael Tonry and Norval Morris eds.

But I don't have the book here to check.

LarryHart said...

Tooch:

I comes down to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"
...
As a wise man once said and I paraphrase, "that is the whole of it... the rest is commentary"


Other wise men said "The devil is in the details".

At lowest remove, what happens when the inalienable rights of individuals come into conflict with each other? Me personally, I'd be happy (in the sense of "pursuit of happiness") to live off the land on a virgin continent with abundant resources. Other people are only "happy" (in the same sense) when they can lay a claim to OWNERSHIP of significant portions of that land and those resources. What should the law be when their pursuit of happiness involves thwarting mine (and vice versa)?

In more detail...

Life - man must not initiate violence against man.


That's too simplistic of what is required for a right to life. The preferred capitalist method for acquiring low-cost services is to withhold the means of survival from those who don't agree to your terms. That's not "violence" per se, but it is an affront to the right to life.


Liberty - you can own the fruits of your labor and dispose of them as you will.


Is it ok for man to claim ownership of the available food and other means of survival, and then force other men to trade for those things on their own terms? Is a man who can't feed, clothe, or shelter himself except at a landlord's suffrance truly free?


Pursuit of Happiness - You can strive to make yourself happy


Again, this works better on a desert island than in a civilization full of other people. A certain subset of them ONLY find happiness in exerting power and privilege over others. To put it very simply, the happier I am, the more miserable they are. Whose pursuit of happiness does the law interfere with in order to protect the other's?

Robert said...

One thing I found interesting about the excerpts presented here about "Atlas Shrugged" is how the arts appear to be considered unimportant to the inhabitants of the Gulch. Take, for example, our actress-turned-baker, who was invited to join the elite for? Her baking skills, apparently, and to be a next-generation brood mare to have the children Galt and the uber-elites won't lower themselves to having (as parenting is not a worthy pursuit for the uber-elite high leaders).

It's obvious the actress was invited to the Collective due to her apparent intelligence and ability, which were apparently wasted in the acting profession. But does the book talk about artistic endeavours (outside of the artistry of architecture, so long as the artistry of architecture is functional)? Are painters or writers attributed the same level of importance as the industrial innovators? (Mind you, I've not read the book so this is a specific question to those who read it and may know.)

When you consider you have an economist moonlighting as a linesman, it seems obvious that there is a labor shortage in the Gulch. In short, only intelligent and selfish individuals willing to share Galt's views were invited or forced to join (by destroying their livelihoods so that their alternative to starving was to join the Collective). No "serfs" need apply. Of course, when you consider that people are being forced to function outside of the fields they chose for themselves - an actress as a baker, an economist as a linesman, and so on... well, doesn't that look suspiciously like the Soviet Union? Where you don't work where you want to... but where the State deems it necessary for you to?

And thus... when you consider Galt and crew does their best to destroy a corrupt capitalist society and then subsides off of food shipments that they did not pay for... if I am recalling my history correctly, the failure of collectivization of Soviet farms resulted in widescale starvation... and at one point the West was sending food shipments to the Soviets so to avert a war for resources (food in this case). Galt and crew, diehard capitalists... became what Rand hated the most. I wonder if anyone pointed this out to her....

(Please note, I am fully aware I may be wrong about these thoughts. I just found it amusing and thought I'd add my two cents worth.)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

But does the book talk about artistic endeavours (outside of the artistry of architecture, so long as the artistry of architecture is functional)? Are painters or writers attributed the same level of importance as the industrial innovators? (Mind you, I've not read the book so this is a specific question to those who read it and may know.)


Twice that I can think of...once good and once bad.

There's an artist who is living off of friends, but who whines to Dagny about how all the tasks he is expected to perform in order to earn his keep (such as cooking dinner) get in the way of his muse. This is probably in line with what you are expecting Ayn Rand to say about artists.

BUT...

There's also a music composer--I forget the character's name now, but he gets decent screen time in the book (much moreso than the woman with the children, for example), and he is considered a peer by the other genius elite at Galt's Gulch. Dagny had heard this composer's "fourth symphony" which he created just before dropping out of society, and she recognized the composer's hand in an unknown tune that she hears being whistled by one of the industrialists who has (unbeknownst at the time) already been to Galt's Gulch. The tune turns out to be a "fifth symphony" that he created AT the secret hideaway.

David Brin said...

Paul the details of wrangling how to run a society of explicit contracts constitute a fascinating mental exercise... and proof that we're not ready for such a world, yet.

But we are ready to talk about it. That's something!

If I were charting it since Locke's day, I'd say we're over 50% of the way there... currently perhaps cresting at the bureaucratic peak, a time when government - our tool for mediating the transition - may be at its most complicated. (I hope so!)

If libertarians saw this process of Lockean evolution - instead of simplistically screeching hate at the tool we're using to evolve - they might finally recognize that a well-watched bureaucracy can be a GOOD thing... counterbalancing the depredations of 5000 mogul golf buddies who are in no way justified to be "allocators"while cheating and conniving and insider trading. As they did in Smith's day.

The proper libertarian role is to keep the pressure up! Always toward the explicit/de-regulated goal... constantly challenging the masses with "think for yourself/ do it yourself" opportunities. Then the Libs might be a genuine positive force.

Yes, insurance companies are the obvious models for helping busy people handle a complex/explicit world. Goldwater thought so. But they are so $#! lazy today that they are a poor inspiration.

Tooch... income tax WILL be "looting" in an explicit world. Like moses, we might glimpse that world. But now? We are still tribesmen living in Locke's implicit contract. If you really think the king is oppressing you, rally others to topple him! If they refuse? Sorry. Darwin says, be part of the tribe. Darwin says, open the wallet and pay up.

LarryHart, yeah. My holnists were disciples, all right.

David Brin said...

David Friedman is right. Smith was not strictly-speaking an economist. His role as a philosopher was to rip off the blind-folks that Plato and all the essentialists had kept over western eyes ever since Pericles died. Not an easy task! In France etc, the Enlightenment had taken a veer down platonist paths. What Smith did was to reinforce Locke and establish a firm ANGLO_AMERICAN branch of the Enlightenment, based on pragmatic outcomes, not essences.

Ironic, since he wrote about "moral sentiments."

Smith set the stage for serious thinking about the Positive Sum Game. He asked: what general processes can result in a rising of all boats? His optimism that positive sums CAN happen is the core reason why I ask everybody - especially liberals to read him. Smith believed that the engines of democracy and markets could be better tuned to bring about positive-sum ends. That made him the father of liberals.

Also the father of libertarians! But I urge them to re-read Smith in order to remember what Smith knew very well - that the great enemies of markets and freedom across 6000 years were almost always the winners who (ironically, but obeying human nature) did everything they could to prevent further competition.

David Brin said...

Robert, your discussion of the arts at Galt's Gulch made me suddenly realize something! That's where the Golgafrincham "A -ARk" landed!

It is similar to the island in Brave New World that was populated only by alphas, who soon squabbled over who had to do the dishes and weed the fields... a stage they haven't got to yet at GG.

Why? because they expect very soon to go forth and claim the labor of grateful gammas and deltas - those who Adams put aboard the "C-Ark".

The ones who'll be dead -- the "looters" -- are the useless ninnies - the betas - on the "B-Ark".

Huh... I never realized this connection among Huxley, Douglas Adams, and Rand. In that order of cogency.

KateGladstone said...

In Galt's Gulch, we see at least one play performed and we hear at least one concert performed. Further, the inhabitants include a sculptor. If pays, concerts,and sculpture are arts, then there's art in the Gulch.

KateGladstone said...

David— As a Doulas Adams fan, I think your GG=GA hypothesis (Galt's Gulch = Golgafrinchan A) is stunningly funny.

KateGladstone said...

Oh, and I was wrong about the prior profession of the baker: it's not mentioned, and the actress (still in that trade) is the pirate's wife. The baker says that she chose to come to the Gulch so that she could rear her children "as human beings" without having them taught illogic or otherwise having her parenting efforts sabotaged. I will leave it up to Brin _et_al_ whether that's the mindset of a brood-mare.

David Brin makes an excellent point, by the way, about the extreme unlikelihood of successful people actually requiring their own children to "earn it" and start from scratch. (Remember, I said that Rand's notion of an "earn-your-aristocratic-title" rule was a brave stab at a solution; I did not, and do not, believe that it's a solution to the problem.) So, perhaps we should ask: "Is it possible to create an environment -- natural and/or social -- in which it actuall is in the interests of the rich and powerful to create and enforce a an 'earn it' rule for their offspring so as to prevent precisely that enslavement to inherited power which has plagued almost all human societies?" What would such a society (that could actually put teeth into an "earn-your-aristocratic-status" rule) look like, and how would it keep tatrule enforced?

Tooch said...

LarryH,

Did you notice that the rights in the declaration once you define them operate like the Asimov's laws of robotics.

The first right Life - prohibition of initiation of violence

That is governments first responsibility - Police/Defense

Second liberty - Property rights

Second responsibility of government - Justice

Third pursuit of happiness - the first two make possible to accomplish among people. But it only the right to have the freedom to pursue your own happiness. No guarantees your milage may vary.

I was going to go into details on each of your comment and they were very good comments. I agree the devil is in the details as we all can see from our 235 years of detail making. But, each comment makes me ask the same question, "who do you trust to make the decision?"



David,

Of course that only applies in the past 235 years. And look how quickly we have advance technologically in that short time. Was it just because we built up a quantum tipping point of knowledge? Or was it that people had the freedom to create new things and profit by them or both?

Rob H.

Don't try and discuss a book you have not read. Period.

David Brin said...

At last, KG. I knew you were capable of cogent focus. Now you are finally dialed in. Actually addressing the issue that I actually raised, instead of nitpicking irrelevant minutia.

How to prevent un-earned inherited lordship? The failure mode of 6000 years?

Interesting question. An early-crude version of this is the Inheritance Tax. With certain Smithian-tuned breaks. Starting with a generous FLOOR ($3 million?) for family businesses... Plus a ten year grace period to pay off the rest of the business's value.

... and a second floor (another $5 million) that can be LENT to a family heir to start his/her own business, interest free, for 5 years.

That way, society gets to benefit quickly, if the heir inherited mom & dad's creative savvy. Mom & Dad get a quick and effective experiment to let junior "prove it." (Of course, there's nothing to stop them from doing this BEFORE they die.)

I'd also include a "wastrel trust" of one million to maintain a safe apartment, always stocked with food, where an idiot son can go (with no guests) to survive, even if he makes a thousand terrible choices and bad debts. Mom & dad earned that peace of mind.

Beyond that, I think the Inheritance Tax is by far the best and most-fair tax of all. It need never be paid! If Mom&Dad choose to set up a charitable foundation aimed at achieving some abstract goal... even seasteading or going to Mars! They had proved they were creative, with goods and services offered in a fair market, so let them pick the final use of their accumulated capital!

Any use EXCEPT obeying Darwin and feudal harems by saddling us with the un-recycled detritus of inherited aristocracy. THE great enemy. THE driver of Marx's whole scenario (which I assume we still want to prevent?)

If they want that, then they must pay us all for the inevitable damage to society with a stiff 75% tax.

That's about right to compensate us for saddling us with smug, spoiled and powerful brats.

KateGladstone said...

Re:
"human needs (especially preparing children for capable competitiveness) should be free."

What would it take to make that happen? If I have children, inevitably my children and I have needs (including the specially important need of "preparing the children for capable competitiveness"), the only way those needs get met is for _someone_ to expend various resources on meeting those needs: therefore, those needs _cannot_ be met for free.

I am also wondering how the idea that "human needs should be free" would work out in practice. Let's imagine that I have a neighbor whose very real and important needs (such as getting food and healthcare, educating her chldren, etc.) are not being met. My neighbor and I examine the situation, and we agree that -- although I want to rescue her and her family -- I cannot , because I am not that much better off than she is: I can meet my own needs and my family's needs, but I cannot additionally meet the needs of my neighbor . Imagine further that one day I find the opportunity to rob other people -- who _are_ much better off -- for the purpose of benefiting, not myself, but my neighbor. (You can imagine, if you like, that I find a loaded gun in the street and use it to threaten rich people: "Give my neighbor food and money, and admit her children for free to the school you founded fr your children, or I shoot!") Imagine further that there isn't any other way I can get my neighbor's needs met. Under those circumstances, would I be in the right, or in the wrong, to rob a second person for the sake off third person?

Robert said...

Great thread, great comments.

David B., footnote #2 on the labor theory of value nails what Rand was about as well as anything that short that I've seen ever. Better than the original post, good as that was.

The point you made in the comments about the move from implicit to explicit social contracts is an excellent answer to the question that was building up as I read the post and the comments - what about the moral objection to the coercive nature of taxation and the state? That does put you squarely in the middle of the anarchocapitalist "how do we get there from here?" debate. Some of your less-agile Modern Liberal friends will not be pleased, which is just fine with me.

I'm really glad to see David Friedman in the thread. David B., if you want a Libertarian (i.e., a genuine, classical Liberal) who is not like the ones you're complaining about, look no further.

From the previous thread, it was really sad to see John Wright go off the deep end. Miller was bad enough, but the Golden Age trilogy is one of the best SF in the last couple of decades. As someone once said about some of the duds in the later Heinlein's output, it's like watching a Supreme Court justice throw up over himself. I got through my mourning for Orson Scott Card some time ago.

And, as a lot of people have already said, if you want to read something by Rand you can enjoy, read Anthem.

Rob Perkins said...

One of the places where Rand's constructions ring false is in the Dagny character.

Galt's Gulch is supposed to be an Objectivist's paradise, but the plot can't proceed unless Dagny decides that she can't live in it, what with it being too small and all.

That alone is food for a little thought.

And, I can't remember, but after Dagny shot the guard (the point in the book where Rand lost me, forever, as a follower of any kind) and went in to rescue Galt from his torture, did she wait and insist on a promise of payment in gold, before undoing the straps?

David Friedman said...

Eric writes:

""Past as paradise," and denial of social/political/technological progress are easily recognizable as both the dogma of far-right conservatism and conservative Christianity."

Whereas "natural as paradise" is the corresponding dogma of much of the left? They just go back a little further.

Perhaps that is one reason so much attention is given to the question of whether global warming is anthropogenic. If it's the fault of humans it's bad; if it's natural, on the other hand ... .

David Friedman said...

Tooch offers Rand's idea of charging to enforce contracts as a way of funding government without "looting"--i.e. involuntary transactions.

The problem is that her proposal depends on government having a monopoly of contract enforcement. Without that, private firms, either using (like government) the threat of (non-rights violating) violence, or non-violent methods such as escrow, could provide competitive contract enforcement, driving the revenue from that activity down to the cost, as in an ordinary market with open entry. At which point there is no surplus left to fund government.

But giving the government a monopoly means that the government permits itself to do things that it forcibly prevents other people from doing, which looks an awful lot like rights violation aka "looting."

Either the enforcement of contracts is a rights violation or it is not. If it is, then it still is when government does it. If it is not, then it still is not when other people do it--and government violates their rights if it prevents them from doing it.

David Friedman said...

Brin writes:

"But not so arrogant/stupid as to claim you are ready to do all contracting explicitly and signing at age 19"

At a slight tangent, this is almost precisely the way one functional society in modern-day America works--the Amish. The Ordnung, the set of rules by which a congregation restricts its members, is only binding on someone after, as an adult, he swears to follow it.

David Friedman said...

Rewinn writes:

"In a democracy, you have complete control over where your taxes go."

Meaning that your vote has something under one chance in a million of affecting the outcome.

That isn't "complete control," it's a statement of religious faith. Rather like identifying the wine and wafer with the blood and flesh of Jesus.

David Friedman said...

Brin writes (about Rand's almost total neglect of child-rearing in Atlas):

"Even if you leave aside my theory for WHY she avoids the topic - the greatest flaw in her entire edifice - this counts as a glaring, titanic-screaming alarm bell."

Your theory, that what undermined her view of the world was hereditary wealth and power, and she avoided mentioning children in order not to bring up that problem, is inconsistent with at least one feature of the book—Taggart Transcontinental, the railroad that Dagny runs. It was founded by an ancestor of hers. Her brother has inherited power over it, and is contrasted to Dagny who has power because she knows how to run a railroad. If Rand had wanted to avoid the issue of the effects of inheritance she would not have set things up that way.

Given that Rand never had children, I think there are several more plausible alternative explanations for their almost entire absence from the book.

And that isn't the "greatest flaw" in her edifice. The greatest flaw is that her claim to defeat Hume's is/ought problem is bogus—the argument by which she claims to derive normative conclusions from positive facts contains gaping holes. If people reading this doubt that, I will be happy to point them at the discussion on my web site.

Robert said...

@Tooch: You got it wrong. It's not "don't ever talk about a book you've never read." It's "don't ever review a book you've never read (fully)."

You can talk about books, movies, and the like and comment on various things mentioned in the discussion. In fact, it's one of the best ways to get someone interested in reading a book - talking about it with someone else who knows about it. The no-no is writing reviews when you've not given it a thorough reading.

Of course, I state this as a reviewer (of webcomics, but still).

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Tooch:

Did you notice that the rights in the declaration once you define them operate like the Asimov's laws of robotics.


In his later books, Asimov seemed to consider an analogous "three laws of HUMANICS" which paralleled the other (the difference being that the Laws of Robotics were engineered into the design, whereas the laws of humanics were more like Really Good Ideas than actual laws).

To make the analogy work, though, you have to assume a very anti-Randian altruism as part of human nature. Randian robots would have to put Asimov's Third Law FIRST, eh? Asimov's First Law would be a very distant second if it was a law at all, and Asimov's Second Law would be anathema.

But I'm not sure the analogy works the way you went and stated the case:


The first right Life - prohibition of initiation of violence

That is governments first responsibility - Police/Defense


Ok, I think I see what you're getting at. Rand would focus on the individual's OWN "right to life", but you're more in the realm of the law...the acceptable constraints that OTHER PEOPLE'S right to life imposes upon you. I can totally see that as Asimov's First Law.


Second liberty - Property rights

Second responsibility of government - Justice


Now, here, I don't see any correlation with Asimov's Second Law. In fact, Asimov's Second Law only makes sense because a robot is a tool, not a human being. There's no corresponding social law asserting that a human being's penultimate responsibility is to follow orders.


Third pursuit of happiness - the first two make possible to accomplish among people. But it only the right to have the freedom to pursue your own happiness. No guarantees your milage may vary.


If I lean way out and squint a bit, I can make this correlate to Asimov's Third Law...self-protection kinda/sorta equating to self-fulfillment. Doesn't work (for me) as well as the First Law analogy, though.

As discussed above, the Laws of Robotics and the "laws of humanics" shouldn't be expected to correlate, since the former are designed to make tools useful and harmless, whereas the latter describe optimum interactions between sentient individuals possessing inalienable rights.

What makes MORE sense to me would be to recast Asimov Laws as the Three Laws of "Corporatics":

1) A corporation must do no harm to human beings

2) A corporation must act to fulfil its specified charter as long as doing so does not violate the First Law

3) A corporation must act to insure its continued viability [this is where maximizing profit MAY come into play] AS LONG AS DOING SO DOES NOT VIOLATE THE FIRST OR SECOND LAWS [emphasis mine]

I'd be up for a constitutional amendment requiring all corporate charters to be subject to those three laws.

Tooch said...

David Friedman,

Well the government does have that monopoly right now. Local, state and federal. The question is how to fund a government based on a trade for services that a citizen has the right to choose. It's a tough one.

The base idea of the a minimum government is in the Declaration of Independence which I described earlier.

Two functions - Police/Defense and Justice

That's it, no welfare state, no regulations on manufacturing of incandescent light bulbs etc...

Even with that basic a government its a tall order, with the modern army and police.

And thank you, it is a faith based system if you believe you control were were taxes go. And even that is a best case. Your words were brilliant.

LarryHart said...

Rob Perkins:

And, I can't remember, but after Dagny shot the guard (the point in the book where Rand lost me, forever, as a follower of any kind) and went in to rescue Galt from his torture, did she wait and insist on a promise of payment in gold, before undoing the straps?


Acutally, that final rescue scene COULD accurately be described as a tale of "courage and self-sacrifice". After a thousand pages of beating us over the head with altruism being bad and selfishness being good, the comic-booky climax depends on the heroes' willingness to a man/woman TO embark on an adventure for another's sake.

Now, before Ms Gladstone jumps in to correct me, I will admit that Rand does make an effort to portray the others as having decided that THEY PERSONALLY are better off with Galt in their company, so they are making a coldly rational choice that rescuing Galt is good for them. Fine. I'll give her that much.

BUT...

She fails to apply the lesson of that "selfish" choice to act altruistically to anyone else. The fact is that Rand has shown us HOW altruism and selfishness can sometimes be in phase, but still refuses to acknowledge that fact except in this one-time special condition which is so unique as to have no application to any other situation.

Tooch said...

LarryH,

You are spot on. The second is harder because it is based on justice and law.

Your Three Laws of "Corporatics" Great. But, you do realize what a corporation is from a legal standpoint. It is a group of people who agree to make a contract that creates a new legal entity or individual so to speak for a purpose. So looking at it, maybe I have the original concept out of order.

It is..... Life, pursuit of happiness, and liberty

LarryHart said...

Tooch:

Two functions - Police/Defense and Justice


New Rule: If it's so simple that someone should have thought of it before, chances are someone DID think of it before, and there's a good chance that there are reasons it didn't work.


That's it, no welfare state, no regulations on manufacturing of incandescent light bulbs etc...


No standards for the quality of food, water, or air? That's going to impede my right to life and pursuit of happiness pretty quickly.

What you call the "welfare state" and what I call the "social safety net" can be defended on selfish grounds. Thom Hartmann quoted a rich German businessman defending Germany's high taxes for social services, saying "I don't want to be a rich man in a poor country". I think that was brilliant. Me, I'd like the saftey net there in case I am ever hungry, cold, and desperate. But even moreso, I want to know it's there as an alternative to having to share the landscape with thousands of hungry, cold, desperate people.

Thanks to Schoolhouse Rock, I can quote the Preamble by memory:

We The People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


"Establish justice" and "provide for the common defense" are in there, sure, but how did those get to be the ONLY things in there?

Tooch said...

LarryH,

The deal is values. It is what you value that determines your actions in objectivism. So they valued a world with John Galt rather than the risk they took to rescue him.

Its is all over the book, and her writings. One of the big questions and problems.

David Brin said...

Wow, lively discussion. VARIOUS REPLIES:

Robert & LarryHart- way interesting thoughts. Love ther laws of corporatics

David F. Yes, I am very glad you are here and most-welcome in this spirited community of bright folk. Glad you have a thick skin. We're nice here... but quick typists and sometimes brusque.

1) Yes, explicit social contracting is being experimented with in many ways. Heck much of the CIVIL SERVICE operates that way. And its potential role as a midwife to this process is under-rated. Yes, as a libertarian of sorts I deeply worry about bureaucrats. But my solution - transparency - would deal with them by (a) shining light on everything they do and (b) try to help them do their jobs well, while (c) investing in research to find new market solutions that will wither the bureaucracy away.

2) Yes, Dagny and her brother inherit. SO? 50% of them are conniving parasites of exactly the type that I (and Rand) talk about! Dagny is clearly treated as an exception! If she hadn't inherited, clearly it would have just taken her an extra 5 years to own the company anyway.

I don't call it the ONLY flaw in Rand's edifice. I point to a dozen. Her utterly-willful ignoring of Darwin and nearly all science is the worst. Though weird-marxism is right up there.

3) There is no question that anti-future romantic nostalgia exists on the LEFT, too!

I have long made clear that I think all three directions (the "values" right, the libertarian right, and the ditzy-PC left) are rife with nastiness and anti-enlightenment sentiments.

The difference is this. The mad-right has taken over the entire GOP. The loony fringe of libertarianism dominates that once-promising movement...

...but the American Left is a pallid, silly little thing, bereft of influence. It serves only to offer Beck/Limbaugh convenient bogeymen as they scream "ALL liberals think like THAT!"

Wrong. 90% of American liberals constitute all that remains of a reasonable, pragmatic body politic in the US. They don't believe any of the things Beck attributes to them. They just want to negotiate.

I am not INHERENTLY a "democrat." I must support them because they are the last bastion of sanity. Because "Blue America" simply has to win this phase of our ongoing Civil War. Or we are all kaput.

LarryHart said...

Tooch:

Your Three Laws of "Corporatics" Great. But, you do realize what a corporation is from a legal standpoint. It is a group of people who agree to make a contract that creates a new legal entity or individual so to speak for a purpose.


My point was to take issue with the idea (now prevelant) that maximizing profit is the FIRST and ONLY law of "corporatics".

(The Citizens United decision that corporate "persons" have all the rights of human beings is a dangerous combination with the above delusion. The rights of human beings are derived from human characteristics--our sense of self and of community, our sense of when we're being wronged or hurt, our understanding of pain and hunger and the like--complex interactions between self-interest and morality. The claim that a soulless "new individual" who MUST BY LAW put profit above any such moral concerns has all the same rights and privileges? It's absurd.)

What I was trying to get to with the Three Laws of Corporatics is to get back to a sane view that a corporation is a (admittedly-useful) tool for accomplising specific tasks, much in the same way that an Asimovian robot is. They should be governed by rules and customs to make sure that they can best accomplish those ends while constraining their potential to inflict collateral damage.

Roadbrains said...

“In dust and blood—with the sharp tang of terror stark in his nostrils—a man’s mind will sometimes pull forth odd relevancies.”—David Brin, The Postman.

That opening line of your novel sums up nicely the sum total of your thinking about Ayn Rand. You give so many odd relevancies that one’s head begins to spin.

Here’s one: “I won’t mince words. ATLAS SHRUGGED royally sucks as a novel, with cardboard characters, rivers of contrived coincidences and dialogue made of macaroni.” Macaroni indeed. Have you considered stand-up comedy.

Ah, but wait. Then you say “I guess I sound pretty harsh. Only now, let me do one of my famous contrary swerves and openly avow something that Ayn Rand gets right. Despite gross exaggeration, she pretty much nails the basic problem!”

Yuh?! Nails the basic problem. So what’s the problem. Why have you wasted valuable bandwidth.

Oh, here it is: “What Randians never explain is how getting rid of constitutional-enlightenment government will prevent this ancient curse from recurring.”

What the hell are you talking about? What “Randians” are you referring to?

Let’s face it, David Brin, Ayn Rand has been dead a while, but she’s still competition.

In essence, your entire critique of Rand is verbal macaroni designed to put yet another feather in your cap and call it you know what. How about Macaroni Comedy.

Jeteraus said...

It's been a few years since I read
Atlas Shrugged, so I have a question.

It seems to me that the people using Rand as their lodestone philosopher see themselves in the Dagny Taggert and Hank Rearden roles. I see them more as the James Taggerts and Wesley Mouchs.

Am I forgetting much about the book or misunderstanding how her 'philosophy' of capitalism is being used?

Tooch said...

LarryH,

That is the constitution you are quoting. That is the details. I was quoting the Declaration of Independence which has the basics.

Those things are important, but ask yourself the questions, who do you trust to determine the what those things are to be supported and at whose expense? We all like the spotted owl, but what about the guy whose land is now worthless because the government took away his property rights.

"A man who is willing to give up a little liberty for security will have neither"

David Friedman said...

Brin writes (about Kate):

"I am through dealing with this person's slippery evasions. I have work to do. If she's uninterested in the topic that I actually raised, then by all means let her raise her own."

Or in other words, as usual, the minor question of whether what you said was true isn't of interest to you. Everyone else is supposed to skip over that question in order to talk about what you want to talk about instead. And anyone who insists on pointing out that you said what she said you said and it wasn't true is engaged in "slippery evasions."

At least you're consistent. And your behavior even fits quite neatly into your theory of how people naturally behave.

David Brin said...

Roadbrains, I am always glad to meet a reader of quality fiction, and you express yourself cleverly.

But the “contradictions” you perceive are not the problem, nor are they real. The problem is in your perception. The specific examples you cite prove that you simply did not parse what you read.

David Friedman said...

Various people ask about how Rand's government funds various things such as national defense. I can't speak for Tooch or Rand, but I've spent a good deal of time arguing with Objectivists.

The answer, I think, is that she believed that the profit to be made on "selling" contract enforcement would be enough to fund what she saw as other legitimate government functions, such as defense. I've already put up a post on why I think she was mistaken.

David Brin said...

David B... and Kate... let me ask you this.

Suppose I proclaim... it is always #$#! DANGEROUS to jump out of an airplane above 20,000 feet. If your parachutes don't work, you'll die.

Now, you and Kate cry out "I gotcha! Here in 1957, and again in 1975, I find examples of where people smacked the ground from over 10,000 feet and lived! NyahNyah Brin you are a liar, neener neener."

Cripes. Argue the freaking point at hand, will you? Zooming in upon minutia, in order to grab a finely-parsed gotcha, is simply cowardice.

Kate KNEW that the point was the generality about 6000 years of human history showing that obsession on inherited power is universal, and Rand's characters will face that temptation, and Rand avoids dealing with it. Even though Marx laid it out, flat-open.

YOU know that's my point exactly. You refuse to deal with the macro issue at-hand. Instead you zoom in to demand "where did Smith corelate wealth with cheating! Give me the precise quote!"

I skimmed, found one, you were dissatisfied. I will NOT waste my time searching farther so you can do it to me again. You know damned well who the cheaters were, in Smith's day. You know it perfectly well.

David Brin said...

This is circulating in the emails. Kind of a sick joke but still really funny. Enjoy!

========
I try to avoid asking friends to contribute to causes, but here's one for which I just couldn't resist.

A driver was stuck in a traffic jam on the highway outside Washington DC. Nothing was moving.

Suddenly, a man knocks on the window.

The driver rolls down the window and asks, "What's going on?"

"Terrorists have kidnapped Congress, and they're asking for a $100 million dollar ransom. Otherwise, they are going to douse them all in gasoline and set them on fire. We are going from car to car, collecting donations."

"How much is everyone giving, on average?" the driver asks.

The man replies, "Roughly, a gallon."

David Friedman said...

Again on Smith ... .

Smith was an economist as well as a philosopher, and probably more interesting as the former. What he wasn't was an adequate economic theorist--that role was filled a little later by Ricardo. Smith knew an enormous amount, thought about it in some depth, but he didn't manage to construct an internally consistent theoretical structure for it all.

Which is why Ricardo starts his book by praising Smith, saying that on whatever he isn't going to discuss he agrees with Smith, and then demonstrating that Smith's version of price theory leads to an impossible result.

David Friedman said...

"How to prevent un-earned inherited lordship?"

Come now--you're an SF author. The reason heirs get lots of wealth they haven't earned is that the people who did earn it can take it with them. Eliminate aging and that problem, aside from occasional accidents, goes away.

Has anyone in SF expanded on that point--considered what a society would look like if parents were still free to help their children if they so wished, but didn't face the problem of what to do with their wealth when they, predictably, died?

David Friedman said...

Re Larry, Rand, and Altruism:

Rand is against what she defines as altruism--doing something against your own interest because it is in the interest of someone else. She isn't against helping someone else when doing so serves your own values--which, of course, covers a good deal of what the rest of us call altruism.

If you try to follow through her philosophical arguments carefully, I think you pretty rapidly run into inconsistencies--sometimes marked by a smokescreen of passionate rhetoric. If her claim that your appropriate objective is your own life is taken literally, then risking your own life to save someone else's doesn't make a lot of sense. But when she runs into such problems, she broadens her concept of serving your own life in order to make her actual moral beliefs consistent with her supposed derivation thereof.

That, at least, is my reading of what is going on, from one reading each of her works of fiction (except the first, which I couldn't make it through), some of her nonfiction, and an enormous amount of time spent arguing with Objectivists, both orthodox and reform.

Tooch said...

David F.

Why did you argue with Objectivists? There must have been something there of interest. Just curious never met one myself.

rewinn said...

@Tooch wrote
"You are taking this way to seriously..."

I'm sorry. Where I come from, criticism backed up by citation to facts is a sign of respect. I won't do that to you again.

"...as far as services go the "illegal aliens" get far more than me..."

I don't think you've done the math on that one.

---

On a lighter note, newcomers may appreciate a repost of Bob The Angry Flower's analysis of "Atlas Shrugged - 2 Hours Later"

And ... referring back to last week's topic ... Shortpacked's rendition of Frank Miller rethinking OWS.

KateGladstone said...

To make the parachute analogy match what happened, your statement would have had to be other than "It is dangerous to make that jump." Your statement would have had to be "Such a jump is never survived" — or something else involving the word or concept "never": such as saying "Such a jump has never been attempted" or (for an even more precise analogy) saying "Parachutist Jane Doe never made that particular jump" and then decreeing irrelevant her having made it twice.

sociotard said...

In the category of "Things scientists should build just for the excuse to shout 'Fools, one day I will destroy them all'.":

Scientist seeks funding to build worlds largest Tesla Coil

Rob Perkins said...

The deal is values. It is what you value that determines your actions in objectivism. So they valued a world with John Galt rather than the risk they took to rescue him.

That's a truism, useful only to explain away the inconsistency. Galt and Taggart are equals. Rand made a point of people transacting before doing the smallest favor of a ride from one place to another. As I recall the cost was $0.25 on the gold standard.

Galt is the father of their faith. We should have heard him say, "Good of you to come. Is $200 in gold enough for this rescue?"

But if *I* say, "I tithe, because I think it's in my enlightened self-interest to further the cause of this here church," you will not get agreement from an objectivist; he will call you deluded and hope you stop believing in magical gods, thus changing the subject.

But that's only part of where the whole thing falls down for me. Rand clearly claimed that if an Objectivist decides that another person is in her way and not behaving properly, she may kill him. Gunned the boy down in his indecision, right at the entrance to that bunker. No remorse.

So, yeah, Rand created an internally consistent world, but only by creating one I'd never want to live in at any level.

Tooch said...

Rwinn,

Nice one... Sure did put me in my place. Boy I did not expect that one. The old respect backhanded apology. So let me counter with and old technique, I know its corny but here goes... the let agree to disagree and act like decent human beings ploy.

We definitely got off on the wrong foot. You have some interesting views and I respect all of them. I don't agree but I respect them. I do think your last point was very good. (That income could be thought of in contractual manner so the transaction could be thought of a sales tax)

As far as doing the math I have and it is not on citizen side. Go to any country in the world and try and get employed, health care and education without immigrating. But, you get the dream free and clear without even learning the language. I really wish we had the spare money for that but the truth is we don't.

So go ahead be respectful... it won't insult me too much.

KateGladstone said...

Re:
"The greatest flaw is that her claim to defeat Hume's is/ought problem is bogus—the argument by which she claims to derive normative conclusions from positive facts contains gaping holes. If people reading this doubt that, I will be happy to point them at the discussion on my web site."
Please point me there.

Robert said...

Heh. You beat me to it, Rewinn. I even found the URL in question, came here... and found you providing the link. Aw well. ^^;;

I have an odd question for you, Dr. Brin. Is there any way to salvage "Atlas Shrugged" as a screenplay so that it becomes a viable movie that follows that greatest of Hollywood ideals: no heroes at all? In short, it would show Galt and crew as the selfish sociopathic monsters they are... but also the government as the heinous monstrosity that is destroying civilization?

Because there is one aspect of AS that is true: government that lacks checks and balances and refuses to acknowledge the liberties and freedoms of its citizens is not good, and ultimately cannot sustain itself. The problem is, you have the so-called heroes making the situation worse by destroying the world rather than using their power to reform government and bring about a better world for everyone.

So an AS movie should show that. It should show both sides as monsters. It should show that Galt is as wrong as the autocrats who are collectivizing everything.

Most importantly, it should take the speeches and condense them to short succinct segments that are more easily understood... and thus can have their flaws revealed by listeners that much easier.

Just idle speculation here. ^^

Rob H., who still thinks that Galt's crew sounds very much like the Soviet leadership, especially with the seizing of food and resources intended for the masses

David Brin said...

DF said: "The reason heirs get lots of wealth they haven't earned is that the people who did earn it can('T) take it with them. Eliminate aging and that problem, aside from occasional accidents, goes away."

Argh! Exactly the opposite! So you replace a chain of inheritance glomming up wealth and power to cheat... with one immortal doing the same! Eeeeeek.

Face it David. Libertarianism is gonna have to veer away with this adoration of massive accumulated wealth. It is not a correlate with maximized creative competition. It is an anti-correlate. It is the enemy of the thing libertarians should be for.

Kate at least you are consistent. You don't seem to see - at all - my point. Perhaps it is just how your mind works.

If you see someone slightly exaggerate "almost-always" into "always" nit-picking over that should manifest as a one or two sentence chiding-correction. It is NOT a gotcha or disproof of the overall point.

Proving that failed parachutes don't "always" kill... but instead kill 99.9999% of the time ... does NOTHING to address the speaker's topic at hand. Your one-pager in Galt's Gulch was "the exception that (glaringly) proves the rule."

Rob P. In fairness, many libertarians deeply believe in the no first use of violence rule.

rewinn said...

@Robert - if I may butt in on your query to @Dr. Brin - it seems to me that because ordinary movies are constrained by the linear story conventions, an answer to the ur-problem you pose is go beyond a classic movie into something like a Shadow Run MMORG.
Atlas Shrugged Online would be a World of Warcraft-like environment run by Bureaucrats and Objectivists instead of Dark Elves and Orcs. You could play either side for a while to get a feel for the plusses and minusses. Then you could play the hobbits/peons who make it all possible, but mostly just to explore strategies of avoiding getting squashed.

David Brin said...

Robert, I have seen films or read books in which nobody is worth spit. It is a rough thing to pull off. I recall Babylon Five they show all the races being flawed and the "angelic" aliens being little better than the Shadows. SHreiden has a great speech demanding they both "get the hell out of here!"

The sitch in Atlas Shrugged is deliberately pumped up to show socialists and old-money oligarchs and do-gooder liberals all uniting to screw things up good, propelling the creative Tech-Nerd Billionaires to rebel. (Today, Rand would be modeling Dagney and Rearden after Sergey Brin and Steve Jobs... and Galt's Gulch would be moored off the shore of Silicon Valley!)

In a contrived strawman plot, you can make the castes you don't like do anything at all. Nazi propaganda showed hook nose Jews doing things so awful that - watching the hateful film today - you still wind up rooting for the brave aryan boy. If the situation WERE that bad, then sure...

I even said it in my essay! If I ever saw such a collusion of oligarchs/socialists/liberals doing crap like shown in A.S. then *I* would be a Galtian! But only after having risked much and fought hard to... not... let... that... happen.

David Friedman said...

Brin writes:

"You know damned well who the cheaters were, in Smith's day. You know it perfectly well."

I know who Smith thought they were. But I don't think you do.

In Smith's world, inherited wealth mainly meant landed wealth--people like Smith's friend the Duke of Buccleuch. The picture one gets of such people, reading Smith, is that they are well meaning but a bit naive, and so readily taken advantage of by the "merchants and manufacturers" who are the chief villains. Some of the merchants and manufacturers may have inherited their wealth, but they are much more likely than the landowners to be self-made men--the sort you don't disapprove of, who don't owe their power to inheritance.

The interest of the landowners, in Smith's view, is "strictly and inseparably connected with the general interest of the society. Whatever either promotes or obstructs the one, necessarily promotes or obstructs the other." It's only because they are being misled that they don't all support free trade, the abolition of state supported monopoly, and the rest of what Smith proposes.

You have simply projected your ideology onto Smith--and the reason you couldn't find a quote in which he said that the problem was with inherited wealth, or with wealth at all, is because he didn't say it and, so far as we can tell, didn't believe it. You want to use Smith's name and reputation but aren't willing to do the work of actually figuring out what the man believed.

You have been complaining that I don't engage with your central thesis, so let me give at least a brief explanation of why I don't take seriously your simplistic view of either the past six thousand years or what is wrong with the world at present:

Imagine Smith's world without inherited wealth but with the division of labor as it then existed. There will be some groups of specialized workers, most obviously various craftsmen, who have an obvious interest in getting the government to erect barriers to competition with them, whether in the form of trade barriers or guild restrictions. Because they are a concentrated interest group and their customers and potential competitors a dispersed interest group, they will be much more successful in getting resources from their members with which to buy favorable legislation from the government than their victims are in preventing it. You are then quite likely to get the sort of legislation Smith criticized--even if the craftsmen all happen to be self-made men.

Consider the same logic in the modern world. The fact that the auto industry is a concentrated interest group, and so has historically been successful in getting special protection against competition from the government, has nothing to do with problems of inherited wealth, Darwinian selection for reproductive success, or any of the rest of your story--it's simply a result of the fact that economies of scale in that industry have historically been large enough so that it is dominated by a few large firms.

You are concerned about the increasing concentration of wealth and income in present-day America. But you offer no evidence that it is the result of the inheritance of large estates. Buffett and Gates, the two obvious examples, both made almost all of their own money by their own abilities.

I don't have the data to say how large a fraction of the top 1% of the income distribution fit that pattern—but neither do you. I'm pretty sure that a sizable chunk of that 1% consists of highly paid professionals—surgeons, lawyers, and such. If you view wealth concentration as a problem and want to do something about it, the first step is to figure out what it consists of and why it is happening. But finding out what is or isn't true doesn't interest you--that's minutia, and boring, and too much trouble. Like actually reading Adam Smith to find out what he said. You would rather pontificate.

rewinn said...

@Tooch:

"...Go to any country in the world and try and get employed, get employed..."

Can you name a single government entity in America that employs illegal aliens (...other than the CIA?) Every one I've worked with required proof of legal residence. Many private employers *do* hire illegals, and that should be suppressed, but unless you're paying their salaries how does that figure into your equation? Do you have a right to a job? Maybe so ...

"... health care ..."
Can you name one country in the New World or Europe where you don't get emergency care without regard to immigration status?
As for long-term care, can you name one illegal immigrant who's getting that here in the USA?

"... education ..."
Are you referring to the education of children or of adults? Children don't immigrate here on their own, so you must be talking about college. It's pretty rare for college to be free for illegals OR for legals; there's a limited number of merit-based or status-based scholarships, and of course the new GI Bill, but for the most part it's loans all the way ... very profitable loans too, because they are shielded from bankruptcy relief. If you're arguing that you should get free college because (you think) illegals are getting it too, well I'll agree with your conclusion even though the premise is faulty; an education populations is, like paved roads, a national asset.

David Friedman said...

"I skimmed, found one, you were dissatisfied." (one quote to support the claim that Smith thought the suppression of competition was due to wealth inequalities).

You found none. You found a quote in which he said that the tendency of people to admire the rich and powerful, although necessary to maintain society, caused the corruption of our moral sentiments (not Smith's exact words). That had nothing to do with the suppression of competition and it didn't even imply that wealth inequalities were a bad thing.

As usual, your first response to being challenged on a fact was bluff and bluster. Your second was to insist on changing the subject from whether what you had said was true to whether the conclusion you were arguing for was true--without first conceding that what you had said was not true.

You quoted Kate as saying:

"You stated that Rand could not depict children in the Gulch because that would poke a hole in her story. "

And responded:

“No that is an absolute lie. It is a towering strawman lie. Show me where I said that. I look you in the face and call you a liar.”

She responded:

“Here's where you say that:
‘There is a reason that Rand absolutely and consistently avoided any mention of procreation -- because writing-in even one member of a next-generation would shine searing light upon the biggest flaw of her hypnotic spell, revealing that her 'fresh' tale is actually the oldest one in the human saga.’”

Or in other words, she demonstrated that what you called an absolute lie was a reasonably accurate description of what you had written. Did you have the decency to admit you were wrong and apologize for calling her a liar? No. Instead of responding, you tried to change the subject to your conclusion instead.

Kate, who I don’t know from Adam (or Eve), appears to be a very forgiving sort.

I believe that when people behave as badly as you did to her they ought to be called on it.

David Friedman said...

Tooch asks why I argued with Objectivists.

To begin with, as an undergraduate, because they made a very interesting philosophical claim which I thought was wrong, and because we had a good deal in common. Later, on Usenet (Humanities.philosophy.objectivism), because there were a bunch of people, some of them smart—one of them later went on to found Wikipedia—who were interested in arguing about things I was interested in arguing about. That included both underlying philosophical issues and questions such as anarchism vs limited government.

Rob Perkins said...

Rob P. In fairness, many libertarians deeply believe in the no first use of violence rule.

Yes, I know. (While also knowing that many of those same people, in the name of personal freedom, will argue that everyone who wants to has the right to burn carcinogens in the air they're sharing with me.) But, I wasn't talking about libertarians, David. I was talking about Rand's archetypical objectivist-heroes. Y'know, analyzing the literature.

Carries no more judgement value than saying "The Practice Effect has too many puns in its chapter headings."(Which, by the way, I firmly believe that it does not. ;-) )

Well, a little value more than that.

David Friedman said...

Kate asks for the URL for my discussion of Rand and the is/ought problem:

http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Libertarian/My_Posts/Ought_From_Is.html

David Friedman said...

Brin writes:

"Face it David. Libertarianism is gonna have to veer away with this adoration of massive accumulated wealth."

I can see no evidence that libertarianism adores massive accumulated wealth—not a whole lot of praise for Soros, say, or even Buffett, in libertarian writing.

Regarding accumulated wealth as the central issue is your hangup, not ours.

On the substantive point of whether ending aging solves the problem, I would point out that the problem of yours I was responding to was:

"How to prevent un-earned inherited lordship?"

In your comments, you seem to jump back and forth between thinking the problem is wealth (as in the view you attributed to Smith) and that the problem is inherited wealth (as in your critique of Rand in the context of your theory of why she didn't have children in Atlas).

David Brin said...

David, the problem is that you seem to have no grasp of the degree to which power was consolidated in Smith's day. Geez do you have any idea what financed the American Revolution? The seizure of lands in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland and several other states amounting to about HALF of the total land are of the colonies.

The redistribution of that land to the populace, plus the total and ferociously enforced banning of primogeniture were two of several "leveling" measures that the founders felt compelled to do. They did leveling to a degree that would make FDR blush.

Are you telling me things weren't even worse in England? They were. "Merchants" meant largely the West and East India Companies and other "chartered companies" -- which meant monopolies.

Look at the lists of investors and backers. Crimeney. Why am I even bothering?

Dig it. Smith would have been arrested if he so much as mentioned the lords or the king. He had to use "Merchants and manufacturers." But who had the power to demand and get state monopolies?

Likewise, you keep glomming onto details to avoid EVER discussing the Big Picture with us. So Gates and Buffett are self-made men? Great! They are also democrats who have declared they will not leave their fortunes to spoiled brats. Huzzah! I love em!

But can self-made men become dangers to society? Look at the richest man alive, who dwells just south of us, who owns that country's badly de-nationalized phone system. I won't say his name because I am terrified of him. As would be anyone with a lick of sense.

You are thrashing and squirming to avoid the issue. And so I repeat it. Take some D&D dice and roll up random decades and locales across 6000 years where they had metals.

Name the oppressors.

The enemy isn't wealth! It is human nature, that makes it so that one must be very mature, like Gates and Buffett, to rise above the universal tendency to misuse power and cheat.

Address THAT, will you? Even once?

KateGladstone said...

"The exception that proves the rule" makes sense when -- and only when -- "prove" is used in its original sense of "test." Otherwise, to allege that rule is to allege that disproof is proof.

If you disagree, David Brin, do you believe that finding exceptions to a rule you _dis_believe in would prove that rule, too?

David Brin said...

Kate. The difference between 100% and 99.99999% can be significant. It can be the issue at-hand...

But most of the time it is NOT the issue at-hand.

In this case, quibbling over the diff between "almost always" and "always" is just panicky distraction by two people who refuse to even begin to discuss the ACTUAL topic that was raised.

You two will never, ever actually look at that topic. In your case, you have yet to even begin to acknowledge that there's s difference. I begin to really wonder about you. And I will not address this point with you any further.

Eric J said...

David F. wrote Whereas "natural as paradise" is the corresponding dogma of much of the left? They just go back a little further.

Of course. Unquestioned dogma is a problem on both the left and right. That's why I put in "far right" rather than merely "right". The anti-vaccine crowd are the most unavoidable of the "natural as paradise" jerks. And in both cases (natural and agrarian longings) it's not just found on the left or the right, but it's just as loony wherever it's found.


Perhaps that is one reason so much attention is given to the question of whether global warming is anthropogenic. If it's the fault of humans it's bad; if it's natural, on the other hand ... .


Not wanting to either return to nature or to the 1840s (I likes me some technology), I can offer an opinion on that that is undistorted by either desire. Anthropogenic global warming was predicted before it was observed. When warming was observed the assumption was that it was the predicted warming, and that because it was anthropogenic the possibility of doing something about it existed. Non-anthropogenic warming is not necessarily correctable. So after much work it became clear that it is in fact the predicted anthropogenic warming.

Not that we're going to do anything about it. Honey badger don't give a ****. He's up behind the shield with the rest of the 1%.

rewinn said...

@David Friedman said...
"...your vote has something under one chance in a million of affecting the outcome."

This demonstrate a complete misunderstanding both of democracy and of mathematics. I had expected better out of a man who I know from personal conversation (...which you would have no reason to remember...) to show flashes of brilliance.

You might as well argue that no brick makes a wall and therefore no brick has responsibility for holding fast.

"...Rather like identifying the wine and wafer with the blood and flesh of Jesus."

Look, I understand invective is fun, but it has no chance of being persuasive. At some point, a person has to decide whether he is trying to have a rational conversation. I'm occasionally snarky but almost always try to make a point when I jab. So what is your point? If it is that democracy is meaningless, then you live on the wrong continent.

Also, your theology is incorrect. The "Real Presence" is defined as supernatural and cannot be measured by natural means, whereas democracy is a naturally occurring process involving creatures operating in natural space that can be measured. Democracy may be good or bad, strong or ineffective, present or absent, but it is not supernatural.

"Perhaps that is one reason so much attention is given to the question of whether global warming is anthropogenic. If it's the fault of humans it's bad; if it's natural, on the other hand ...."

Or perhaps you are making an implication that would be absurd on its face were you to finish your sentence.

The natural end of that sentence is "Leftists would be perfectly happy with the death of millions if it were the result of naturally occurring global warming." Is that what you are saying?

If so, it is at best mistaken. I can't speak for everybody (...there are indeed some crazy leftists *cough* Earth Liberation Front *cough* ...) but most liberals are that way because we believe in fundamental fairness - and the least you can say about an early grave for billions is that it would be fundamentally unfair.

If your claim is that there is a political faction that welcomes naturally occurring disasters, it's not the liberals. Liberals started the first effective fire department system. Vaccination rates in my home state are best in "liberal" King County, and worst in our conservative rural areas. The leading opponents to the prevention of outbreaks of foodbourne illnesses say they are conservative. Should I dig up more evidence?

But of course politics doesn't matter to objective reality. The vast majority of scientists believe that AGW is a serious threat to humanity NOT because they are liberal (...although most are; ever wonder why science education turns most people liberal?) ... but because it's a reality that cannot be fixed with clever talk.

Let's do a thought-experiment: Imagine Fred Hoyle's Black Cloud were heading toward our Earth, threatening to block enough sunlight to plunge us into an Ice Age unless we massively increase atmospheric greenhouse gasses and radically reduce particulate emissions. Assuming that last step would require enormously expensive installation of smokestack scrubbers, and looking to recent history of reaction to power plant mandates, tell me which political faction would oppose it?

Eric J said...

What I really don't understand is the "this time its going to be different" mentality when dealing with the societal problems that inevitably crop up when wealth and power become too concentrated.

Some variety of Feudalism is the natural stable state of a human society that has the concept of individual wealth. Without continual pressure a society will return to that state. Wealth will be come concentrated and the wealthy will use their wealth to acquire more wealth and to acquire and maintain power. The end result is feudal Lords with their own domains (but not necessarily their own physical territories) and inherited wealth and power. The founding fathers were well aware of the dangers of inherited wealth. It's only the structures of our goverment that prevent this from happening. (And right now they aren't doing it very well.) Revolutions can prevent or delay the rise of Feudalism. But they rarely work. The revolutionaries if successful just become the new Lords. I think we'd all prefer another method, and taxation is the obvious method.

A significant number of billionaires recognize this, but they aren't going to disarm unilaterally. Gates and Buffett are giving up their wealth after they don't need it anymore, not before. If we're going to end up Feudal, they'd rather be Lords than serfs. Some other billionaires seem to rather enjoy the idea of Feudalism.

We've managed to use taxation in the past. But this time people seem even more determined to crash. A pilot can be trained to push the stick forward in a stall. If they don't they die. Unfortunately we've got 550+ pilots and most of them are trained to do the wrong thing.

And it doesn't matter if you call taxes theft or confiscation, they are necessary. A country without taxes will be invaded by an neighbor and then they'll have to pay taxes to someone they like even less. Taxes are one price of freedom. And since we aren't the potential Lords, but at most professionals or bureaucrats but most likely serfs, taxation should be the least of our worries. (It's the least of mine.)

KateGladstone said...

Thanks!

KateGladstone said...

     I, for one, am (and have been for a while) looking at the topic you want discussed.
     Since you've said I would "never" look at the topic you chose, I'll assume you'd regard any response to that topic as "Kate never looking at it" as long as I spent 99.9999% of my Internet time looking at anything else.

duncan cairncross said...

I have been thinking about what is “wrong” with the characters in Atlas Shrugged,

I started off thinking that most people are far more competent than she assumed, then it hit me

Normal Distribution!

As an engineer I use normal distributions a lot –

I have found them to be very useful in the “middle range” on the extreme’s they don’t apply as there is normally a physical limit

No human is 12 ft. tall and it is difficult to turn a part larger than the blank


Intelligence, competence, diligence, effort,

I would expect them all to be more or less normally distributed

Again with physical limits - even with billions of people you don’t get supermen


We can argue about which “level” contributes how much,

my belief is that 90%+ of the population have the innate ability to contribute at a high level


I certainly don’t believe that a few supermen are supporting our civilization!


There are only so many slots for CEO’s – 3000 in the USA??

If only 10% of the population has that ability

(and I think it’s more)

10% of 300,000,000 is 30,000,000

Or 10,000 replacements available for each CEO



If capability and contribution to society follows a normal distribution

We should be trying to organize things so the rewards of society follow the same distribution



Back to Atlas Shrugged

If the cabal that took themselves off out of the system was composed of the top 10% - there needs to be 30 million of them!


If they were the top 0.05% - that is still 15,000

If they were “supermen”

Don’t you think the remainder who still have the 15,000 top 0.1% (Very nearly supermen)

as well as the 150,000 top 1% (Nearly supermen) would be able to find and destroy the renegades?

Paul451 said...

Tooch,
"Second liberty - Property rights"

How does "Liberty", ie, freedom, mean "Property rights"?

In other forms of declarations of the rights of man, liberty and property are mentioned separately. Eg, Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights:

"That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."

Jefferson's version thus seems to deliberately shun property as a natural right. (Likewise "safety". Franklin's famous line about liberty-vs-safety.)

Paul451 said...

KateGladstone,
"Imagine further that there isn't any other way I can get my neighbor's needs met. Under those circumstances, would I be in the right, or in the wrong, to rob a second person for the sake off third person?"

It's neither right nor wrong. It's inevitable. And messy (the rich person will defend themselves, you'll have to escalate the threat...) Progressive taxation+welfare exists to make this inevitable process less destructive.

In the same way that the masses occasionally rise up and overthrow the ruling elite, installing their movement's leaders as the new rulers. That doesn't make the replacement better or more righteous, just inevitable. So we have democracy. Not because it's a magical guarantee of better government, but because revolution is going to happen one day, so we might as well design the system so we don't have to kill thousands of each other every time we change our mind about who we put in charge.

Re: Rand's children. See my comment below...

Paul451 said...

David Friedman,
Re: KateG & Rand & Children

David Brin wrote:
"There is a reason that Rand absolutely and consistently avoided any mention of procreation -- because writing-in even one member of a next-generation would shine searing light upon the biggest flaw of her hypnotic spell, revealing that her 'fresh' tale is actually the oldest one in the human saga."

Rand didn't write about "one member of the next-generation". She wrote about the baker talking about reasons for bringing her children, she doesn't write about the actual children.

That may seem pedantic, but she avoided showing us what sort of people the next generation of Galtists would become. Spoilt inheritors like Dagny's brother or the greedy oligarchs. Or somehow magically avoiding it. Nowhere in the thousand pages of lectures do the characters talk about how to sustain their Objectivist paradise, how to prevent a recurrence of the oligarchy.

"I can see no evidence that libertarianism adores massive accumulated wealth—not a whole lot of praise for Soros, say, or even Buffett, in libertarian writing."

Because those two are denounced as traitors to their class. Sorry, "Hypocrite" is the preferred term.

Robert said...

Here's one thing to consider. If your vote has only one in a million chance of affecting the outcome and you don't vote... and a million other people also believe their vote only has a one in a million chance of affecting the outcome and ALSO don't vote... then you just had that million not vote because their vote individually doesn't matter. But if all of them voted... then yes, it would matter.

The thing about statistics is that it only tells part of the story. And when it comes to voting... everyone should vote. Because when people don't vote because "it doesn't matter" then it does matter because collectively the votes do count.

My very conservative friend lives in Massachusetts. He despises Obama and has one of those infamous "gut feelings" that Obama will ruin the country. He is horrified that I'm going to vote for Obama again.

His vote doesn't matter. He lives in MA and it's liberal enough that it will go for Obama even if Obama passed a law mandating that every man and woman will be given an assault rifle because of Second Amendment Rights and that State Gun Control Laws are not allowed under the U.S. Constitution. But he's going to vote anyway because while his vote doesn't matter... it matters. And I'm going to vote for Obama. Because while a bunch of loonie leftists in this state will vote for Obama anyway... I feel my vote matters and that I need to vote against the Republicans.

(Though if John Huntsman somehow won the Republican primary I might vote for him over Obama. Just saying.)

Sometimes you have to say screw statistics and go for it anyway. Whether it's fighting for your life against cancer, buying a lottery ticket, putting in for a job... or even voting.

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

Rob H.,
"I have an odd question for you, Dr. Brin. Is there any way to salvage "Atlas Shrugged" as a screenplay so that it becomes a viable movie that follows that greatest of Hollywood ideals: no heroes at all? In short, it would show Galt and crew as the selfish sociopathic monsters they are... but also the government as the heinous monstrosity that is destroying civilization?"

I was going to suggest a Methods of Rationality/Fraud of the Rings style anti-fanfic, based on the "AS2: Shrugged Harder" essay, and the David's riff about Galt being a cult leader.

Imagine an alt.history where Russia wasn't communist, perhaps Stalin is a simple fascist dictator. So the threat of post-War Russia didn't make communism the boogey man of a generation. (Just a fear of fascism, amplified. Hence the McCarthyism, HCUA, witch hunts, are against neo-Nazi's, white supremacists, and by association, leading southern Democrats.) So throughout the fifties and sixties you see a rise in American socialist/communist power. You can honestly present that system as bad as it would actually be. As bad as it was wherever communism got a foothold. And some Americans start to resist, looking for an alternative.

In that world, a cult develops, created and led by a narcissistic psychopath (who creates an entire philosophy around his own selfishness). His personality based, of course, on Rand's. His cult, on her admirers. The events in the book/film can be pretty much as the original, only the tone would change slightly, as the reader is first sympathetic to the plight of our heroes, then cleverly seduced by the Objectivist ideas, and then gradually horrified by the consequences of people actually believing Objectivism. Clever writing is called for not to show your cards to early, nor bludgeon the reader with "the reveal".

The only difference you really need is that the survivors of Galt's terrorism would react exactly as the US reacted to 9/11, only amplified a thousand fold, by turning even further to the government (and that universe's socialist bureaucracy) to protect them; and vilifying Galt & co as the ultimate enemies of humanity to be hunted down to the ends of the Earth. (Resulting in the oligarchs power being enhanced for another generation. Perhaps revealed in epilogue, via a short story version of Anthem.)

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