Sunday, May 31, 2009

Angels and Demons.

I went out and watched Angels and Demons today. It had a pretty good plot with a lot of twists and turns. Although it was cleverly written and directed, (to the extent that I overheard a girl exclaim, "Awesome" in the interval), I have to state the not so obvious -- God does not exist.

It might be true that the Illuminati as a group existed to safe guard themselves from the persecution of the Catholic Church, but I would think it idiotic to say that they are still plotting and are ruling the World. Scientists and academicians don't have to be fearful of the tyranny of the Catholic Church as of now. Moreover, the other thing I didn't understand was the transfer of guilt from the old Catholic people to ones now and actually killing them. I mean, if members of the Church killed then, it would not really justify transferring their guilt to members now and calling it revenge. The movie piles on premise after premise until you stop caring about the whole thing and just go with the story.

The movie clearly states the reports of the Catholic Church on man: flawed. Objectivism thinks the exact opposite. As Leonard Peikoff puts it, "Man qua man is a hero -- if he makes himself into one". One definitely trumps the other and each man has to do the "trumping" himself because eventually, that will determine what kind of a person one will end up becoming.

As of movies, I have long given expecting any great art given the movies that release nowadays. Did you guys watch the movie, The Reader which won an Oscar. I thought the whole movie was completely stupid. The woman lets Jewish prisoners burn and then testifies in Court arguing something to the effect of, "But they were my responsibility!". Angels and Demons was far better and way more intelligent.

In any case, I guess it would be wishful thinking to expect a principled stand against religion by Dr. Robert Langdon. No doubt about that!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Some of the Stuff Around Me #2

Here are some of the things that have been buzzing in my head for the past few days --

1. What does it mean to serve the society or the public good?

Let's zoom out a bit.

Individuals could live on desert islands but prefer not to because an individual can reap a great amount of value from people around him in a division of labor society. A tailor stitches his clothes, Bill Gates makes computers and the pleasure of watching Adam Gilchrist bat of course. Now what does it mean for a person to propagate the idea of altruism in any form -- whether one should serve the Lord, the society or weeds. It especially comes out very nicely when somebody asks young people to live not for their now little "selfish" dream but for the greater public good. I mean, individuals chose to live in a society precisely because it would benefit each of them; so that they can trade values, grow richer and live a more fulfilling lives. But for somebody to ask me in a society, to serve the society [other people] instead of selfishly pursuing my chosen values is total lunacy. Here is what Hank Rearden had to say from Atlas Shrugged:

I could say to you that you do not serve the public good–that nobody's good can be achieved at the price of human sacrifices–that when you violate the rights of one man, you have violated the rights of all, and a public of rightless creatures is doomed to destruction. I could say to you that you will and can achieve nothing but universal devastation–as any looter must, when he runs out of victims. I could say it, but I won't. It is not your particular policy that I challenge, but your moral premise. If it were true that men could achieve their good by means of turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above and against my own–I would refuse, I would reject it as the most contemptible evil, I would fight it with every power I possess, I would fight the whole of mankind, if one minute were all I could last before I were murdered, I would fight in the full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being's right to exist. Let there be no misunderstanding about me. If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their good requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it! [Bold Added]

As Kevin from Logical Disconnect put it: Hank is the man!

2. A mixed economy is an anti-system -- literally speaking. If it sounds too far fetched, then simply take a look at the current financial mess. Something definitely failed. Identifying the elements that failed is the first setp towards repair and prevention of such a mess ever again. It is a fact that what failed were not the elements of the free market process but those elements of government intervention. Now take a look at who is blamed. The evil free market of course!

The cure: more regulations and an even worse day to wake up to in the following years. The mixed economy literally sucks the good blood out of the economy and injects venom into to it. As Ayn Rand put it:

One of the methods used by statists to destroy capitalism consists in establishing controls that tie a given industry hand and foot, making it unable to solve its problems, then declaring that freedom has failed and stronger controls are necessary."

What we need today is not just a defense of the free market from economists; people like Henry Hazlitt and Von Mises did that decades ago but we still see socialism and fascism around us every day. It is the notion of altruism that we need to dismantle and bomb away. Until it is accepted that a person has a duty to live for somebody else, the growth of the mixed economy will not stop or the growth of regulations will not stop until we get to a point of no return. To fix it, its not just free market economics we need but cultural change that will show that a person should be selfish and pursue his chosen values as he sees fit.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Status of Property Rights In India – A First Hand Account.

Since I am home for the summer break from college, I've been doing some great legal work with my grandpa who is a lawyer in the High Court Of Andhra Pradesh. It's been a great ride. All the things and lively discussions I expected at law school that never materialized did actually happen in my grandpa's office. I am insanely happy to know that life after law school will be so much more than the boring rants by college professors in soporific classrooms. Incidentally, the case that we have been working on for the past week or so is in relation to the property we own, or more precisely speaking, relates to the property I own. Applying and integrating Objectivism to the facts of the case gives the awesome feeling of a sum and I logically feel the pride oozing through my head. Wow!Whoever said pride was a sin!!

Putting on my legal hat for awhile here is a brief background of the case: My grandpa bought a piece of property in the 1960's which was worth pennies but which later turned out to be a great investment. I mean, the value of the land which my grandpa bought was worth about Rs. 500 then and now is valued at about Rs. 5 crores of so. An Act was passed by the legislature of India called the Urban Celing Act in 1975 which mandated that a family unit may own land upto a certain extent only and any land beyond the ceiling limit would be confiscated by the government and would be redistributed as the government saw fit. However, there was a clause in the Act that said that a family unit would only include the mother, father and their minor children excluding the major child. In other words, if there existed a major child when the Act came into force he or she would be considered as a separate family unit and could own land as apart from the parents and the minor children. Like any man wanting to protect his property, my grandpa transferred the then worthless piece of land to his son (herein after referred to as 'The Idiot'). A partition was executed in good faith and the said land went to The Idiot who later taking advantage of the good faith and soaring prices declared that it was indeed his land and that a real partition was executed, thereby depriving my grandpa of his rightful property. However, our case against The Idiot is that there are many adverse circumstances to the case as The Idiot did for a long time behave like his partitioned land was a part of the joint family property and so on and so forth. There is a long story after all of this but not relevant to the purpose of this post.

Here is case that is directly a consequence of the Urban Ceiling Act through which the government unjustly tried to deprive men of their property which they earned and rightfully deserve to keep. Such cases are rarely tracked and remain to be the unseen effects of such monstrous statutes. God only knows, how many partitions and what kind of other twisted means were resorted to by good men to protect their property – and god only knows how many people were defrauded in ways we cannot imagine like we were in the present case. Now we are forced to go to Court and plead that the partition was nominal and fictitious -- to which the Court will reply a partition is a partition in law and that there is no such thing as a fictitious partition in law. We are now forced to ask the Court to look at the whole context instead of looking at the partition as an isolated fact in a vacuum. THIS is the status of property rights in India today.

Such statutes are the direct implication of altruism in the realm of politics. As I noted earlier, if it is widely accepted today that one person has a duty to other people then nothing stops the government from initiating force to fulfill a cause so 'noble'. Altruism, as Ayn Rand pointed out, does not require one's consent and is far from benovolence to which altruism is equated with today. As long as the fact that living for onself is not accepted as proper and moral, it is only the names and the means of statutes that seize people's wealth will differ, but their goals and intentions will remain the same.

As Ayn Rand correctly noted, property rights are the practical implementation of the right to life and liberty. If man does choose self-preservation and takes the liberty to think and act according to one's highest judgment and is denied the fruits of his labor, just what is the point of saying that one still upholds the right to life and liberty? None! When the purpose of the law is inverted in so gross a fashion, that it becomes not the protector of men's rights but its chief destroyer, who then, in reason, is the guilty party: the man who secretly acts in self-preservation [as a result seeks to protect his property] or the government who usurps its citizens rightful labor? I swear the first thing that hit me when I was evaluating the issue was the following quote by Ragnar Danneskjöld from Atlas Shrugged: "When robbery is done in open daylight by sanction of the law, as it is done today, then any act of honor or restitution has to be hidden underground."

Well said, Miss Rand.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Quote Of The Day.

"The first requisite for success is to develop the ability to focus and
apply your mental and physical energies to the problem at hand - without
growing weary. Because such thinking is often difficult, there seems to be
no limit to which some people will go to avoid the effort and labor that is
associated with it...." - Thomas Edison

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Argument from Self-Interest.

Lately, I've noticed that each time I have a discussion with someone with no idea about Objectivism, I center most of my arguments around the "non initiation of force principle". For instance, if the issue in question is about taxation or anti-trust laws then argument boils down to this: "If you were deserted on an island with ten other people and suppose X proves to efficacious and successful amongst the people you live and Y proves to be the worst at survival. At what point, would you advocate appropriating X's wealth forcefully and giving it to Y even when X disapproves of it? If you think that such an act is morally condemnable, what makes you think it would be right to do it here, in a civilized [?] society? Simply because it makes sacrifices easier given the prosperity and sheer number of people, it wouldn't make it right!" In other words, the relationship of a man with reality and other men remains the same -- in a desert island or in a society. Science, for instance, is still advanced by observation and primacy of existence viewpoint, not by consensus or whatnot. One should grant principles the same status.

However, this video by Yaron Brook completely changed the way I will handle such discusions from now on. Apparently, starting with non-initiation of force principle is the libertarian argument. Dr. Brook correctly points out that this line of argumentation misses the point.

If it is generally accepted that one has the duty to live for others, then there it is completely consistent for the government to tax away a rich persons money to give it to a poorer person. If the rich man has a duty to live for others, then why the heck not? This is the essence of altruism, and why Ayn Rand went such distances to oppose it. If one accepts altruism, it entails a long list of implications.

Here's what Ayn Rand said about altruism:

What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.” Altruism says: “Yes.”

I think this should be the essence of an argument any Objectivist takes on with a new comer. Can I live my life anyway i choose only by upholding my highest judgement or do i justify my existence on the basis of service to other people? The challenge is firstly to understand the thory of altruism and then explain it as best as possible giving examples along the way. Craig Biddle, the editor of The Objectivist Standard, nails it by exposing the true nature of altruism when he said the following in his talk, "Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand's Morality of Egosim":

"Altruism does not call merely for “serving others”; it calls for self-sacrificially serving others. Otherwise, Michael Dell would have to be considered more altruistic than Mother Teresa. Why? Because Michael Dell serves millions more people than Mother Teresa ever did.

There is a difference, of course, in the way he serves people. Whereas Mother Teresa “served” people by exchanging her time and effort for nothing, Michael Dell serves people by trading with them—by exchanging value for value to mutual advantage—an exchange in which both sides gain."

It is crucial to understand this issue and nail it down whether one is talking about the current economic crisis or individual rights or any other position due the fundamental nature of the issue of self-interest and altruism. If one is ethically bound to live for other people then what can be immoral about redistributing the money of the citizens by the government? Any political argument presupposes that one can and should properly live for oneself and it is this that one must understand and explain. Starting with the non-initiation of force principle will not comprehensively win the argument because it bases the whole argument on politics instead of ethics and all the fundamentals that underlie it. I think the conversation will end up being a lot more smoother and clearer if one justified from the perspective of ethics of sefishness instead of politics of non-initiation of force.

Thank you, Dr. Brook!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

What's Goin' On?

It's been about a month since my last post. My reasons? Exams, LSAT prep but most of all, just plain fat old lazy. I am home now for the summer break and will stay here for the next two months. I am 'truly' enjoying the breather; college is usually so depressing.

Here is a list of things I've done in the past few weeks without any order --

1. The biggest highlight is that I've reappeared for the OAC entrance this year. I didn't make it the last time but there is absolutely no talk of giving up! Objectivism is being handed out on a platter, I'd be an idiot to miss out on all the fun.

2. I've never really been a big fan of cricket but the IPL is fun for a change. It's short, sweet and exciting. I live in Hyderabad and the team representing my city is the Deccan Chargers. They lost pretty bad the last time around but looks like they are atleast going to make it to round two with the way they are playing this season. I am beginning to love the pub atmosphere -- drinks, cricket and a great crowd. Aah! The perks of adulthood.

3. On the music scene, I've hit back to the classic rock. A few of my current favorites are One Bouron, One Scotch, One beer by George Thorogood and Catharsis. I love the guitar solos in the second song.

4. I've lately been watching Boston Legal. They go bonkers with intelligent design and government internvention at times but the trials are pretty interesting. I hope they stay that way instead of rotting like That 70's Show. The last few seasons were crap compared to the way the show started up.

5. Diana at NoodleFood recently referred to Ramen&Rand. It's a great read and I've lately also been enjoying Miranda's photos. Another find is the new Indian blogger Rajesh Dhawan. It's great to see Indian Objectivists like myself. Although we are way too far a philosophic revolution in India, its great to see a few start up.

I plan to take a few trips this summer, study for my LSAT's (which I havent even touched upon in the last week I got home. Yikes!), write a series of interesting posts I've got lined up, continue the Objectivism seminar and hope to get through the OAC. Stick around for a great ride!