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  1. Rob Tracinski on "What Went Right?"

    Apologies in advance for the length of this post. I wanted to get all of my thoughts down so I could address what I think is the heart of the Tracinski's argument. I think Tracinski makes a number of interesting observations though I don't think he is drawing the correct conclusions from them. I want to start by clarifying the argument as I understand it (without endorsing any of the premises at this stage,so that I can at least determine if there is a shared understanding of his argument.) Peikoff says in OPAR with respect to the role of philosophy in history: Tracinski is arguing that the direction of the world has improved since the 1980s, but there has not been a corresponding change in philosophical trends. His conclusion that something in additional to philosophy can determine the basic direction of history. I think where he is going is that one can have an economist (to use one of his examples) who is not an Objectivist or who may mixed or entirely mistaken metaphysical or epistemological premises who still comes to a conclusion that coincides with a correct conclusion derived from wholy objective premises. When these true principles are applied, their effect is beneficial because they are true, even if the economist (or intellectual) grounds them in shaky foundations. Is such an economist a net plus to the world or a net minus? Tracinski is arguing that it is a net positive and that their contributions can also effect the basic direction of world events. Moreover, we are not simply seeing one such economist, but to Tracinski, we are seeing trends in enough areas that it is not simply an oscillation or a mere coincidence that so many positive developments are happening all at once. I think he also believes that some Objectivists unfairly downplay the contribution of these individuals because they have mixed or outright bad premises. At least this is how I understand the underlying issue of Parts 1 through 3 (which is all that is available at this point). I am not quite sure where attempt to separate the specialized sciences from philosophy fits in and I am not even sure it is necessary to address the underlying issues. *** I have been trying to come up with a concise evaluation of the argument, but even after a few days of thinking about it, I don't think I have a complete and integrated response to all of the issues raised, but this what I have brainstormed. What went right was that individuals with mixed premised came up with conclusions that coincide with reality. and have created, at least a short term benefit. It was not "accounted for" by Objectivists because, in specific instances, you can still come up with the right answer to a question even if your analysis is all wrong. For instance, if someone with poor math skills says that 1+2+3 equals 6, the statement is still true, even if such a person reasons that 1+2 is 4 and 4+3 is 6. One wouldn't ordinary suppose someone with such poor skills would ever come upon anything true in arithmetic. But the fact that I would not anticipate that such an individual would come across the right conclusion is not my failure. Where I think I take issue with the argument (at least my understanding of it) is that the direction of history in the long run has changed. I concede that the positive development (and not all of the developments in the last 25 years are positive) are not a blip. The question is, in the absence of a reality grounded philosophy, are they sustainable. Classical economics gave us the Industrial Revolution, but the utilitarian moral foundation was defenseless as interventionist and socialist challenged it. Hence, the England of today. So that while we are seeing the positive developments Tracinski describes, there remains the possibility that insufficient metaphysical, epistemological or moral grounding may still overturn all the good eventually. I say possibility rather than likelihood because interest in pro-market reforms may generate interest in either Objectivism or at least relatively more rational approaches in philosophy (something like a long run return to the Enlightment, which even with its inconsistencies would still be a step -- though only a step -- in the right direction). In short, it remains to be seen whether this is an oscillation or whether the developments in economics and crime control, etc. are a precursor to the adoption of reason. Therefore, I don't think Peikoff's or Objectivism's view of the role of ideas in history is contradicted. (At least not on this evidence.) I also think there is a question of ethics in Tracinski's analysis. If a true principle is developed but is not rationally grounded, how do we respond to such principles when they are advocated and implimented? I would like to take something of an extreme example by way of illustration. For example, much of the Austrian school of economics has a strong thread of German philosophical influence. It is nevertheless a defense of laissez-faire capitalism. If the doctrines of Von Mises's Human Action were being proposed in a bill before Congress, would America be better off, even with all of the underlying philosophical flaws? Is the correct approach to support such a bill, while at the same time arguing that while the measure is correct in its conclusions about the proper relationship between the government and the economy, it does so for the wrong reasons and argue for passage of such of a measure for reasons other than those proposed? Or should the proper approach be to argue that because of the underlying foundations are so tenuous, it does not matter if the ultimate conclusion about the benefits of laissez-faire capitalism are correct because the underlying philosophical premises are so dangerous that it is better to wait until a laissez-faire capitalism bill is proposed grounded in Objectivism? I think Tracinski would argue that we are better off with enacting laissez-faire capitalism now, arguing for support of the measure on Objectivist terms even though others might be supporting it who endorse the under German influence. Moreover, even if the bill passed because of support for the "German premises" you still have the opportunity after enactment to convince people that this was the right measure for the wrong reason and persuade them of the right reason. At the moment, I am more persuaded by this approach. It is not because I believe in pragmatism and that underlying principles are not important. It is because an objectively moral policy is being enacted that will improve my life, plus I have the opportunity to convince people that it is objectively moral. If I advocate opposition until the perfect bill comes along, I can still argue for a morally objective economic system, during the intervening years, I must still live under the same interventionist/socialist system with all of the negatives that go with it.
  2. We've had a draft several times in our country's history. The War of 1812, the American Civil War (on both sides), World War I and the last draft that ran from 1940 to 1973 (ended under the administration of the alleged warmonger Richard Nixon). Even in a worst case scenario and a draft is established(I hope Bush would veto it), it can be ended. It is unfortuneately no consolation to those who are its victims, but it should provide some hope that what the government can do can also be undone. Of course, I don't think the draft in this case is about national security, the only plausible excuse for such nonsense. The call is coming from Charles Rangel, not a war supporter anyway. I think the messagehe is sending, by implication, is that the war in Iraq is going badly, we need more soldiers and no one wants to volunteer for a hopeless mission. The only way to continue this futile war is to send beople involuntarily. Therefore, all you parents of 15, 16 and 17 year olds, we need your children in a few years. The intended effect is to encourage people to take a "cut and run" position on Iraq in the hope that the sooner the war is over, on whatever terms (including an outright American surrender), at least their teens won't have to go to Iraq. In other words, I think Rangel wants to use America's teenagers as human shields, hoping that Americans are too risk averse to send their children to war, not only in Iraq, but anywhere, regardless of the need. I mean, is there someone out there who really believes that Charles Rangel thinks our military is too small to do what it needs to in the world.