The Blues Song of the Wisconsin Existentialist

Sometimes, when I try to say:


It comes out sounding more like:


This actually happened to me on Saturday, when I threw an elbow that was more like a forearm club, and I tried to say, “Just like Nitschke.” But it sounded like the philosopher.

Which was just as well. The white belt was not from Wisconsin, but was familiar with the philosopher. And if you’re in a martial arts school, you’re supposed to spout off on Eastern philosophy, but Existentialism? Truly, I am a black belt, and studied in alternate forms of thought.

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To Ask A Question While On Vacation Is To Answer It

So I’m reading a philosophy book on the balcony overlooking Lake Hamilton while drinking some sweet tea, and I come to a famous question by Camus from “The Myth of Sisyphus”:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories – comes afterwards.

You know, I’ve tried to read that essay a couple of times, but I find the setup contrived and absurd (in a not Existentialist way, i.e., ridiculous).

Especially when I’m sitting on the lake and reading a good pop philosophy book (Every Time I Find The Meaning Of Life, They Change It by Daniel Klein, book report coming forthwith).

You know, I think I could enjoy something like this, reading by the lake, when I retire. First step to retirement: Get a job from which I can retire. No, scratch that. First step to retirement, revised: Invent a time machine and travel back to the mid-to-late twentieth century, when a job from which one retired existed (until the dinosaurs ate them).

Also, note to would-be burglars and my insurers: Hot Springs was last week, man. I am back in residence, so don’t try it! (Link via).

Also note that a gap of posting for a matter of days does not necessarily indicate a vacation on my part; it might merely be my irregularly scheduled ennui, where I wonder if it’s worth it to work so hard to keep fresh content appearing for up to 10 readers a day (mostly students looking to rip off book reports on The Sire de Maletroit’s Door).

Thank you, that is all.

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The Great Philosophical Debates of Nogglestead

So my beautiful wife and I were discussing the nature of aesthetics, in particular the four things from Kant’s Critique of Judgment that make a proclamation or inclination an aesthetic judgment, to whit:

  • The judgment must be free of practical considerations.
  • It must apply in all situations, universally, and not a specific or personal.
  • The object considered must have the properties that cause the pleasure being described.
  • The object must be purposeful, but not for a purpose (see also the first item).

We differed greatly in consideration of the third item. She argued very assertively that the aesthetic judgment lies in the response of the person making the judgement, that something is beautiful because it creates a pleasant reaction in the observer. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all that.

Whereas I posited that the beauty lies in the qualities within the object under observation, and that, as Kant said, those qualities exist and will trigger the same feelings of joy and whatnot in any comparable observer. It’s the same argument in epistemology that people have when they say, “Is the apple red? No, you see red, so red is not a property of the apple, but of your interaction with the apple.” Absurd! Anything with similar ocular receptors viewing the apple in the same light would see red because the property that reflects light in that wavelength is IN THE APPLE.

The qualities admired as beauty are in the object, available for anyone to admire. They are not in the admirer.

“You know why I am arguing so strenuously,” I said. “When I tell you you’re beautiful, you say it’s because I love you.”

I am nothing if not consistent. She is beautiful, not because I love her, but because she is.

Kant, Sammy Kershaw, and I agree. And you can’t argue with a panel of experts on aesthetics like that.

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Book Report: Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein (2012)

Book coverI picked this book up from the library because I again forgot a magazine to thumb through while my children did their library things and because the philosophy lecture series I’m listening to took Epicurus beyond the word “epicurean.” The library doesn’t often carry the complete works of Epicurus, so I made do with something with Epicurus in the title.

The author of the book has a dental issue, and his doctor offers implants. The author is in his early 70s and considers how long implant treatments will take compared to how long he might live—hey, my family lost their teeth in their 30s, so I’ve been thinking like this for every dental appointment since I was in my twenties (which explains why I didn’t get braces twenty years ago). Instead of spending two years or so going through the painful treatments, the author decamps to an island off of the coast of Greece with a couple of philosophy books to learn what the old philosophers had to say about aging gracefully as contrasted with the modern imperative to try to stay young into your old old age.

The author, who has written many books on pop culture philosophy, goes through Epicurus and other philosophers including the Existentialists and whatnot, as he sits in his rented digs or in the local tavern where the other old men hang out. It is a bit of a ranging discussion, with lots of quick flourishes of explanation as to what other philosophers were about. I’d like to think I could hold a conversation like this: It’s a summary instead of a deep academic dive into the individual philosophers.

Basically, the right way to age is to accept the slower pace afforded the elders and to enjoy the breadth and depth of your memories. This is old age, contrasted with old old age, which is that period of assisted living and dementia immediately preceding death. He is in favor of suicide and assisted suicide because he has determined that that sort of life is not worth living, and that life is only worth life if it is lived well.

So I have a difference of opinion with the author in a couple things. One is growing old gracefully—instead of his approach, I’ll probably be on the side of those who continue starting new things and whatnot (although I’ll probably skip the plastic surgery in pursuit of a youthful appearance). I’m also against the thought that life is worthless unless it’s lived well, since that principle leads one onto a slippery slope where the well can be adjusted to different levels according to one’s desired outcome, and the option to end one’s own life can easily become society’s prerogative to end the lives of those who are not living well but might not know it. Perhaps my resistance comes from a sneaking suspicion that I’ve not lived my life well and my hope I’ll do better now. Or perhaps it’s a principle that life is better than not-life.

At any rate, it was a fun and engaging read. Perhaps I’ll look for the author’s other works at book sales since I didn’t see others next to this one at the library.

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Book Report: Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard (1985 edition)

Book coverI cannot remember whether I started this book or Søren Kierkegaard first. However, I sure finished the other Cliff Notes-esque summary of Kierkegaard’s thought first. Because, face it, Kierkegaard is not a quick read.

First, a note about the translation: As you know, any translated literature I find just a bit suspect because the translator makes some changes to try to illustrate the intent of the original in the second language or the translator does not and lets the idioms fall where they may. As I do not speak Danish, I have no idea what tack the translator did. It’s coupled with the almost two centuries of time that have passed. One telling word choice that jarred me was vaudeville. Certainly Kierkegaard did not use a direct translation since he preceded the American theatre form by half a century or so. Another, more important example: this book uses absurd an awful lot. I get that a lot in translations of Sartre and Camus, too. So was Kierkegaard the origin of the concept that the later Frenchmen picked up on, or was the translator aligning some word of Kierkegaard’s to the common Existentialist expression? I suppose if I had time or inclination, I could delve into it. But I don’t.

At any rate, the book is a long musing on the meaning of what it is to be truly religious. As we learned from Søren Kierkegaard, this book comes after Either/Or, and where that book identifies two spheres of man’s activity (the aesthetic and the ethical), this volume explores a yet higher sphere, the religious. It does so by musing at great length upon the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham, a good and faithful man, is told by God to sacrifice his only son. So Abraham bundles the boy up and heads to the designated spot, whereupon God stays Abraham’s hand. Abraham is beyond the ethical in this because he was going to do an unethical thing for his faith, and because he did he became the father of religions.

To make a long story short, to be religious requires one to live in the paradox, the absurd. You have to hold two things in mind and heart at the same time that cannot be true.

I was unconvinced by the arguments, and I didn’t really enjoy the book. Although there were some tweet-worthy aphorisms within it, the writing style was convoluted and wordy, perhaps on purpose. But the paragraphs were as long as a page at times, which hindered me, as I sometimes picked up the book after a couple of days away from it and then would read a couple preceding paragraphs to refresh me as to where I was. In many cases, I had to re-read several complete pages.

You know, Kierkegaard might have been a genius–he was certainly well-read, as the allusions in the book indicate. However, it’s not a fun read. It’s not a quick read. I had to gut out the last forty or fifty pages. I’ve started and gotten most of the way through too many theology and philosophy books over the last year, so I was determined to read it. And I did. But I’m not eager to delve into more Kierkegaard, which is unfortunate, because I got Either/Or for Father’s Day. And that book is twice the size of this one. Perhaps I’ll put it on the shelf, let it marinate a while, and then convince myself that the thicker volume won’t be like this one.

Now, onto finishing the Tillich perhaps.

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Plato Didn’t Cover This

Socrates, what if the user invents a time machine, travels to the past, and dies in the past? Does the soul transmigrate to a new body in the past or in the “present” where the man invented the time machine?

If it’s the past, is it possible for the soul to transmigrate to the same body, creating an infinite loop?

If I were tugging on his sleeve, Socrates might have tried hemlock on his own.

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Ancient Philosophers Answer Pop Music Questions

Miss Ford asks:

If I close my eyes forever
Will it all remain unchanged?
If I close my eyes forever
Will it all remain the same?

We turn to members of the Eleatic School, Parmenides and Zeno, to answer.

Parmenides: Yes indeedly do (Μπορείτε να στοιχηματίσετε γάιδαρο σας). How could what is perish? How could it have come to be? For if it came into being, it is not; nor is it if ever it is going to be. Thus coming into being is extinguished, and destruction unknown.

Zeno: That counts quadruple for semi-forgotten 80s hair metal. Then it counts double. Then it counts once. Then one half. And so on into infinity. If everything when it occupies an equal space is at rest, and if that which is in locomotion is always occupying such a space at any moment, the flying arrow is therefore motionless.

Parmenides: [What exists] is now, all at once, one and continuous… Nor is it divisible, since it is all alike; nor is there any more or less of it in one place which might prevent it from holding together, but all is full of what is. So get over yourself.

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Book Report: Pythagoras by Dimitra Karamanides (2006)

Book cover

So I tweeted:

I was referring to this book, a children’s (or young adult) book in a series on ancient philosophers that includes volumes on Archimedes, Aristotle, Euclid, Plato, and Socrates. The volume istelf is an ex-library book, which means it got cashiered from the library in under 8 years. The book is in great shape; I wonder, and fear, what they made room for by putting it in the used book sale.

At any rate, as it is a young adult book, it’s chock full of large print, maps, graphics, and tangentally related photographs. But it gives a high-level overview of the (purported) life of Pythagoras and the thought and impact of the Pythagorean society’s research into mathematics and music. It dovetails nicely with Copleston’s History of Philosophy that I’m reading.

I’m glad I read the book and wouldn’t mind reading the others in the series, but I see this particular volume goes for $30 or more on Amazon. Heavens, I think I’ll just look for more of them at the Christian County Library book sale in the coming years. I have plenty of other things to read in the interim, including eight volumes of the Copleston work.

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Book Report: Discourses by Epictetus (1944)

Book coverI started reading this book a couple years back (sometime after Meditations by Marcus Aurelius), but my drive through it petered out as it, like the earlier work, is thematically repetitive. However, this time I figured I’d slog it out, as I’ve learned some patience and some discipline in reading longer works. So I did over the course of many months.

The book was not written by Epictetus; instead, it was written down by one of his students and is based upon that student’s notes on Epictetus’s classes, essentially, in Stoic philosophy. This accounts for some of the repetitive nature of it and why the book is not developed as a treatise; rather, Epictetus revisits certain themes several times. One can imagine him telling the same lectures to a different group of students. At one point, he even tells the transcriber to stop writing this stuff down. Which the transcriber does not.

At any rate, I took some positive things from the book. One of the greatest Stoic themes in the book is, to Americanize it, that a man has got to know his limitations. That which you can control is not so much events, not other people, not the world around you, but your own will. You can’t even really control your own body, not completely. So don’t search for happiness in these things but only in the way you deal with things and how you live in spite of them. Okay, that’s good stuff and a valuable lesson there.

However, Epictetus extends this principle to not ascribing value to other things I consider important.

Nay, these arguments of all others make those who adopt them obedient to the laws. Law is not what any fool can do. Yet see how these arguments make us behave rightly even towards our critics, since they teach us to claim nothing against them, in which they can surpass us. They teach us to give way in regard to our poor body, to give way in regard to property, children, parents, brothers, to give up everything, resign everything: only our judgements they reserve, and these Zeus willed should be each man’s special property. How can you call this lawlessness, how can you call it stupidity? I give way to you in that wherein you are better and stronger than I: where, on the other hand, I am the better man, it is for you to give way to me, for I have made this my concern, and you have not. You make it your concern, how to live in a palace, how slaves and freedmen are to serve you, how you are to wear conspicuous raiment, how you are to have a multitude of huntsmen, minstrels, players. Do I lay claim to any of these? But you, for your part, have you concerned yourself with judgements? Have you concerned yourself with your own rational self? Do you know what are its constituents, what is its principle of union, how it is articulated, what are its faculties and of what nature? Why are you vexed then, if another who has made these things his study has the advantage of you here?

Epictetus points out that your family and your children are not your volition, so they’re not really ultimately valuable. Only your will is. In many places and in many different ways, Epictetus pledges a certain servility to the Tyrant and to nature and acceptance of whatever they decide for you. It’s like the first part of the Serenity Prayer (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,”) without the rest (“The courage to change the things I can,/And the wisdom to know the difference.”).

The book does allude to the right way to live, seeking to live according to God’s will, but it’s rather light on what that will is or what universal precepts might dictate proper action (live according to reason and within your limitations are nebulous at best).

Still, I’m glad I read it. I’ve got some additional classic literature cred, which impresses pretty much nobody I know, and it does give me some ideas and perspective to put into practice in my life. As I explained to my beautiful wife, philosophy is just self-help books with bigger words in them.

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The Wisdom of Carl Jung (II)

As I read The Undiscovered Self, I’m posting seemingly relevant quotations as I go along because some of them shed some light on the world today.

The first paragraphs of “Religion as the Counterbalance to Mass-Mindedness” states:

In order to free the fiction of the Sovereign State–in other words, the whims of those who manipulate it–from every wholesome restriction, all socio-political movements tending in this direction invariably try to cut the ground from under religions. For, in order to turn the individual into a function of the State, his dependence upon anything beside the State must be taken from him. But religion means dependence on and submission to irrational facts of experience. These do not refer directly to social and physical conditions; they concern far more the individual’s psychic attitude.

But it is possible to have an attitude to the external conditions of life only when there is a point of reference outside them. The religions give, or claim to give, such a standpoint, thereby enabling the individual to exercise his judgment and his power of decision. They build up a reserve, as it were, against the obvious and inevitable force of circumstances to which everyone is exposed who lives only in the outer world and has no other ground under his feet except the pavement. If statistical reality is the only reality, then it is the sole authority. There is then only one condition, and since no contrary condition exists, judgment and decision are not only superfluous but impossible. Then the individual is bound to be a function of statistics and hence a function of the State or whatever the abstract principle of order may be called. [Emphasis in original.]

Unfortunately, I’m only intermittently reading this book. I should switch a primary focus to it presently.

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The Wisdom of Carl Jung (I)

Whether or not you buy into the Jungian psychology and collective unconscious (and I don’t, but I do delve into individual unconscious sometimes when reading Jung), the fellow had some interesting ideas and thoughts that remain relevant in the modern world.

From “The Plight of the Individual in Modern Society“:

What will become of our civilization, and of man himself, if the hydrogen bombs begin to go off, or if the spiritual and moral darkness of the State absolutism should spread over Europe?

We have no reason to take this threat lightly. Everywhere in the West there are subversive minorities who, sheltered by our humanitarianism and our sense of justice, hold the incendiary torches ready, with nothing to stop the spread of their ideas except the critical reason of a single, fairly inelligent, mentally stable stratum of the population. One should not, however, overestimate the thickness of this stratum. It varies from country to country in accordance with national temperament. Also, it is regionally dependent on public education and is subject to the influence of acutely disturbing factors of a political and economic nature. Taking plebiscites as a criterion, one could on an optimistic estimate put its upper limit at about 40 per cent of the electorate. A rather more pessimistic view would not be unjustified either, since the gift of reason and critical reflection is not one of man’s outstanding peculiarities, and even where it exists it proves to be wavering and inconstant, the more so, as a rule, the bigger the political groups are. The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinarie and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.

He wrote this circa 1957; in the 21st century, one is forgiven if one were to think the much thinner stratum of reasonable people exists in spite of public education and not because of it.

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Point/Counterpoint: Epictetus vs. Dave Grohl on Stoicism

Epictetus, Discourses Book IV Chapter 7, “On Freedom From Fear”

And, for this reason, if he thinks that his good and his interest be in these things only which are free from hindrance and in his own power, he will be free, prosperous, happy, free from harm, magnanimous pious, thankful to God for all things; in no matter finding fault with any of the things which have not been put in his power, nor blaming any of them. But if he thinks that his good and his interest are in externals and in things which are not in the power of his will, he must of necessity be hindered, be impeded, be a slave to those who have the power over things which he admires and fears; and he must of necessity be impious because he thinks that he is harmed by God, and he must be unjust because he always claims more than belongs to him; and he must of necessity be abject and mean.

What hinders a man, who has clearly separated these things, from living with a light heart and bearing easily the reins, quietly expecting everything which can happen, and enduring that which has already happened? “Would you have me to bear poverty?” Come and you will know what poverty is when it has found one who can act well the part of a poor man. “Would you have me to possess power?” Let me have power, and also the trouble of it. “Well, banishment?” Wherever I shall go, there it will be well with me; for here also where I am, it was not because of the place that it was well with me, but because of my opinions which I shall carry off with me: for neither can any man deprive me of them; but my opinions alone are mine and they cannot he taken from me, and I am satisfied while I have them, wherever I may be and whatever I am doing. “But now it is time to die.” Why do you say “to die”? Make no tragedy show of the thing, but speak of it as it is: it is now time for the matter to be resolved into the things out of which it was composed. And what is the formidable thing here? what is going to perish of the things which are in the universe? what new thing or wondrous is going to happen? Is it for this reason that a tyrant is formidable? Is it for this reason that the guards appear to have swords which are large and sharp? Say this to others; but I have considered about all these thins; no man has power over me. I have been made free; I know His commands, no man can now lead me as a slave. I have a proper person to assert my freedom; I have proper judges. Are you not the master of my body? What, then, is that to me? Are you not the master of my property? What, then, is that to me? Are you not the master of my exile or of my chains? Well, from all these things and all the poor body itself I depart at your bidding, when you please. Make trial of your power, and you will know how far it reaches.

Whom then can I still fear?

Dave Grohl counters:

Although Grohl counters that the philosophy of Stoicism could easily crumble when actually confronted with the events in life, Epictetus would not disagree. Throughout his Discourses, he laments the students who come to study Stoic thought to learn it, but not to live it, and he acknowledges that it is difficult and requires discipline and training.

So I think Epictetus and Mr. Grohl are actually in agreement here.

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Book Report: Existentialism and Thomism by Joseph C. Michalich (1960)

Book coverThis book is a Thomist critique of Existentialism. Ho, boy, let’s get into some weeds.

Thomism is a philosophical system based on the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, a monk from the 13th century who wrote several thousand pages of reasoning including Summa Theologica. The philosophy is the only philosophy taught officially in the Catholic church’s seminaries and whatnot. The university I went to was apparently a hotbed of Thomism in the 1950s, or so I heard, but it did teach other systems of thought to its students. Including Existentialism. At any rate, this book looks like it’s still in print 55 years later, and that’s probably mostly because of its role in teaching Existentialism to bishops and Jesuits. But it could partly be because it’s fairly accessible.

This book is short (88 pages) and collects five separate essays that target some places where Existentialism is systemized. The essays include:

  • “Some Aspects of Freedom in Sartre’s Existentialism” which talks about Sartre’s view of human existence and its freedom to be for itself.
  • “Gabriel Marcel’s Ontology of Love” which talks about Marcel’s take on the interconnectedness of human experience. Let’s be honest: whenever the phrase ontology of love appeared, I heard it in Barry White’s voice.
  • “Mood and Cognition in Heidegger and Sartre” which discusses the importance of mood and emotion as the starting point for cognition in Heidegger and Sartre and how little beyond those base and concrete elements the Existentialists could move.
  • “Husserl and the Rise of Continental Existentialism” which talks about Husserl’s theories and how they coincide and conflict with the Existentialist mindset: namely, the importance of phenomenonism and its importance, but how Husserl’s “reductions” of the phenomena would be rejected because they abstract the phenomena away from the subject perceiving them.
  • “Thomism and the Challenge of Existentialism” is the heart of the criticism, and it explores a bit how Existentialism rebels against philosophical systems that focus on the abstract and the reasoned over the experience and subjective nature of cognition itself. It claims that Existentialism is essentially (see what I did there?) fighting a straw man, as so many other philosophical systems including the perfect Thomism derive those abstractions by reasoning from individual experience and perception and by balancing intellect with the emotions. It puts the finger on why I’ve only considered myself an Existentialist in bad moods: it really doesn’t go beyond the subjective in creating or describing reality and can’t because if it does, it threatens the subjectivism that’s very important to it.
  • “Existentialism in The Outsider“, the last chapter, seems a bit like an add-on. It takes to task an Existentialist novel by a British writer; you’re forgiven if you thought it was about The Stranger which appeared in Britain as The Outsider. Side note: This essay originally appeared in RENASCENCE, a Thomist publication at Marquette University, that hotbed of Thomism in the 1950s. At any rate, the essay rails a bit about this novel and its weak underpinings and defense of the Beatniks, those kids with their “eccentric dress and wild demeanor”. Given that novels obscurity, I have to wonder if this chapter made it into later editions.

I’m normally a primary source kind of fellow, so I’ve some familiarity with the Sartre mentioned above, and I’ve heard the names Heidegger, Hegel, and Husserl in my college classes. Heck, I might even have read them.

But it’s refreshing to pick up a criticism of the philosophy. It takes one out of the philosophy, so to speak, to see what someone else thinks of it, which can be clarifying. Of course, one must not take the critic’s depiction of the philosophy under study as the definitive representation of the philosophy. It’s another perspective on it.

So if you’re into Existentialist thought or explore it a bit, this book can serve that role for you quite nicely. It’s approachable, but it does get into deeper analysis of cognition, perception, and reality. It’s not too heady for most of it if you’re just a lightweight Existentialist who has read The Stranger and Nauseau and never even tried Being and Nothingness (I did just that: try), and the stuff that is heady does lean a little on you already knowing some terms of philosophy, so it’s not too hard to follow and even understand.


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Teaching The Children Lessons of Daniel Webster and Rober Heinlein, Accidentally

Neo-neocon offers some quotes about governance:

There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.” – Daniel Webster

The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. – Robert A. Heinlein

It brought to mind questions my children often ask me about the cartoons and superhero things they encounter regarding the motivations of the villains: Why does Megatron do that? or What does Loki want?

My simplistic answer is always the same: Because he wants to rule people/humans/Autobots. I explain that some people want to just tell other people what to do because they think that they, the tellers, know better than other people, and the other people better do it or else.

I think the oldest boy, in first grade, can understand that from his experiences with his peers. Hopefully, he will learn that acting to compel your peers according to your sense of what the others should do is generally wrong except in limited circumstances (harm to others, Because I’m the daddy and whatnot).

In my Tea Party Republican world, I’m a hero fighting against the forces who would use the government to compel action or behavior from citizens. I know some people think the Republican Party would like to force some behavior on citizens, but it’s not the Republican Party in the legislature nor in the bureaucracy that’s doing things like banning incandescent light bulbs, upping government standards to limit choice (as in CAFE standards for automotive performance), and so on. And where elements of the Republican Party pursues its excesses in this regard, I oppose them, too.

Because I’m a political philosophical superhero, or at the very least someone who agrees with Heinlein and Webster. And hopefully, my children will, too.

Some people

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The Person Is Not The Principle

I guess there’s a bit of a Nelsonic Ha, ha! going on over this bit of month-old “news“:

However, it was revealed in the recent “Oral History of Ayn Rand” by Scott McConnell (founder of the media department at the Ayn Rand Institute) that in the end Ayn was a vip-dipper as well. An interview with Evva Pryror, a social worker and consultant to Miss Rand’s law firm of Ernst, Cane, Gitlin and Winick verified that on Miss Rand’s behalf she secured Rand’s Social Security and Medicare payments which Ayn received under the name of Ann O’Connor (husband Frank O’Connor).

As Pryor said, “Doctors cost a lot more money than books earn and she could be totally wiped out” without the aid of these two government programs. Ayn took the bail out even though Ayn “despised government interference and felt that people should and could live independently… She didn’t feel that an individual should take help.”

Well, there, we have a seething indictment. A thirty-year-old memory from a social worker recounted on Huffington Post. I should burn my first edition of The Fountainhead in protest.

Well, no.

The same people who bring you The political is the personal also like to bring you The principle is the person, whereby if someone does not adhere to the principle, the principle is disproved. I mean, really. Try a little cogitation, fellows.

All it proves if it’s proved that Ayn Rand took the government money means is that Ayn Rand did not live up to the principle that government redistribution of individual wealth is wrong.

Ayn Rand also alluded to the inviolability of a person’s word, but was prone to violating the particular contract/promise of marriage in her writing and in her own life when some better piece of sex came along. That doesn’t prove that infidelity is okay (Robert B. Parker novels and their hundreds of cumulative conversations between main characters who and their therapists prove that).

Christians grasp this easily, as they believe the ten commandments are absolute and acknowledge that they break them. To the same bit of sophists, this represents HYPOCRISY!!!! which is some sort of rhetorical wild card that they like, but it doesn’t come from the same deck as reason.

Some others have tried to build an argument from the Word of Rand, but that’s not even necessary. Trying to argue against the charge of hypocrisy gets one onto a Möbius strip of the other side’s choosing. You cannot disprove hypocrisy. You shouldn’t even answer it seriously.

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I Guess The Recession Isn’t That Bad Yet

Pet hunger spurs idea for national food bank network:

The Mayor’s Alliance is working with the Petco Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the pet store chain, to build a national network of pet food banks supplied in part out of donation bins that Petco is putting in its stores.

Of course, there are those who lament starving people in the United States and then devote their energies to pampering animals. Because a generic person on the street has less worth than the generic dog.

I was going to say “objective” worth, but that’s not the case, is it?

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A Brief Refresher On Human Rights

From Marko:

    In order for something to be a human right, it cannot and must not be something that requires a good or a service from someone else. If you make it so, then the person providing that good or service will become a slave to the community, because they no longer have the option to refuse. That’s why health care cannot ever be a human right: because health care is a commodity, just like flat-screen TVs and sliced bread at the grocery store. You can’t claim the right to force J.J. Nissen to make bread for you, whether it’s for compensation or for free, and you can’t force Best Buy to keep stocking flat-screen TVs, either. If you run out of people to provide that commodity, you have no way to claim that so-called human right.

    A human right only requires that people leave you alone to exercise it, not that they work for you, whether you give them money for their work or not. Freedom of speech is a human right. Freedom of association is a human right. Free exercise of religion is a human right. Free band-aids and vaccinations aren’t.

Whether it’s health care or broadband Internet access, the government cannot bestow human rights composed of goodie bags.

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Book Report: Selected Works by Cicero (1948)

Look, Ma! I’m actually reading the Classics Club books I bought.

This book collects a number of Cicero’s works, including his law defenses or prosecutions, some of his letters, and some of his philosophical essays. I found it to be an interesting sampler plate, as it captures many different modes of Cicero. The attorney, with eloquent courtroom or Forum arguments for or against someone. In some cases, these were slow reads, as he goes on about people I don’t know. The politician and consul emerges through the letters, wherein he talks about how different people feel about him and how he’s going to persuade them, and so on and so forth. Finally, the philosopher emerges through the essays (and in spots in the letter or the courtroom things).

It’s also, frankly, a good piece of historical reading, too, as it open’s one’s eyes to the fall of the Roman Republic and the length and breadth of the Roman Empire+Roman Republic era. For example, Cicero writes in the first century BC and talks about the monuments that are already hundreds of years old. Marcus Aurelius will write his Meditations several hundred years hence.

Good reading, and I’m looking forward to reading other Cicero works in the future.

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Book Report: Existentialism and Human Emotions by Jean-Paul Sartre (1957)

I first read this book as an impressionable freshman in college, in one of those “I could be in Biology class, or I could be in the vast college library” moments. So when I saw a paperback copy at a book fair and had already paid for the bag, of course I picked it up again. Because let’s face it, like many Existential works, it’s thin and it’s deep.

I can see now (because I paid a little more attention to the copyright page and I’ve picked up a little more insight into Existentialism in the intervening 16 years) that this book is not a standalone work nor a mere collection of essays, but a union of a basic defense of Existentialism and freedom from Existentialism and a couple of shorter topical sections from Being and Nothingness.

Frankly, I find it odd that the thing is entitled Existentialism and Human Emotions, as I’m not really sure where the emotions come in. True, the first portion deals with the essential emotional descriptions of Existentialism as anguish, forlorness, and despair, and how these starting points for Existentialism don’t necessarily mean that Existentialism leads to a bleak person even if the starting point is bleak.

I can see how this book hooked me into Existentialism as I completed my first passes through the Ayn Rand canon. The definition of freedom and the concept of man continually inventing himself within the context of his available choices appealed to me. I think Sartre gets a little screwy when he starts saying that when you choose your action, you choose for all of mankind, and that the subjective experience really triumphs over objective reality. I agree with Ayn Rand that there’s a subjective consciousness perceiving an objective reality, and hence that some things do exceed outside of the subjective, and some of those things can include ethics and whatnot.

I didn’t care much for the second part from the book, which comes from Being and Nothingness. I’ve tried once or twice to read Sartre’s master work, but I think it’s a bit self-consciously and maybe even purposefully dense. It’s hard for me to get into the prose, much less to keep the relationship between the prose and relationships straight. Much of the excerpted that appears in this book deals with psychoanalysis, so I didn’t get too much into it, but I could tell that the difference between psychoanalysis and Existentialist psychoanalysis is the Existentialist rejection of the unknowable unconsciousness.

So there you have it; this gateway to Existentialism is half good and half Being and Nothingness, but worth a little time if you’re looking for something short ‘n’ deep to read.

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