Stephen Speicher

Rob Tracinski on "What Went Right?"

374 posts in this topic

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Rob, thanks for posting here. As my comment, I want to say that I think you vastly underestimate the importance of a point you raise in your essays, namely the importance of implicit philosophy. I cannot count how many people have told me personally that they find this to be the most exciting intellectual development, from any Objectivist intellectual, in the past 10 years. It is also unfortunately true that you have confused this point by condemning fundamental ideas as such (Essay 5, paragraph 4). This raised very, very valid apprehensions in the minds of many people, that you're rejecting the importance of fundamental ideas to actions a person. Such ideas are, of course, paramount, and I personally doubt that this is what you meant to discredit.

I have read your essays with a sympathetic eye, and as far as I could tell, you did not mean to cast doubt on the efficacy of philosophy, only on the efficacy of philosophers. This is a new and extraordinarily exciting idea, and I find it to be of awesome proportions. The silent majority, as I said, is is very excited by this new development. And yet, I fear you haven't focused on it enough, and sometimes even inadvertently made it less clear than before (by discrediting all "philosophy", without the "explicit" qualification).

It is unfortunate that many people with Classical knowledge have universally sided against you. Some try to paint Classical civilization as possessing explicit philosophy from the very beginning (an utterly ignorant notion), and some point to the Greeks as possessing a good implicit philosophy; "implicit", they admit, but "philosophy", i.e. the very notion you discredit (in their eyes).

I have a very deep interest in Classical history, and I'm writing an essay to balance out Dr. Mayhew's overabounding (and unnecessary) enumeration of Greek philosophers. In short, don't let the Classicists detract you; you are completely right that the Greeks owe much of their greatness to implicit philosophy, not to somebody like Xenophanes or Anaximander (names which are more interesting to modern scholars than they were to the Greeks themselves). Hopefully this essay will be out before your sixth article.

However, the essay I'm writing does not aim to be "on your side", or to defend you. You'll have to do that yourself, namely by clarifying and rarefying your point. Some of the criticisms against you are very valid, and in my essay I even offer a slight criticism myself (along the lines presented above, that you were not clear, and thus left room for interpretation). The essay only aims to recover the importance of implicit philosophy for ancient cultures. I leave it up to you to be more precise in your future essays and recover your point generally, in application to all cultures. But I applaud you for using Classical civilization for your example, because your profoundly important idea is clearest and most evident in the history of Rome and Greece. I likewise applaud you for the courage to stake out an extremely intricate point, based on nothing more than your own first-hand, inductive experience, of everyday life and of history. Even if utterly wrong, such a path is nothing short of commendable.

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The rest of the series addresses this question in a contemporary, journalistic context, as a way of explaining some of the events of today and of the past few decades. (What has most disappointed me about the reception of this series is that so little attention has been paid to that aspect of the article, which is my starting point and main motivation.)

I don't know about everybody else, but I have paid attention to the first 4 parts. In particular, the claim that "war has collapsed." If this claim is correct than I should be able to come to the same conclusion on my own using the data and sources that have been provided. I have not come to that conclusion and highlighted a website in Post #12 of this thread. I might suggest that a closer examination of that site might be of benefit. I am particulary concerned about Jack Wakeland's use of Rod Paschall's article which referenced Prof. R.J. Rummel's book "Death by Government."

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These statements struck me particularly:

[...] I intend to eventually publish the "What Went Right?" series in written form

[...]

Perhaps I could have made my arguments clearer, and when I work on the final version for publication, I'll work harder to protect it from such misunderstandings. [...]

[emphases added]

I don't understand this. What are these articles if they are not published in written form? The attempt to advance Objectivism by means of publishing essays and books on serious subjects is a serious business. By the time of publication, serious ideas should be battle-ready (barring articles that must be written quickly in order to respond to short-term issues and immediate emergencies). I view the publication of serious ideas in this culture as war, not a classroom discussion.

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These statements struck me particularly:

[...] I intend to eventually publish the "What Went Right?" series in written form

[...]

Perhaps I could have made my arguments clearer, and when I work on the final version for publication, I'll work harder to protect it from such misunderstandings. [...]

[emphases added]

I don't understand this. What are these articles if they are not published in written form? The attempt to advance Objectivism by means of publishing essays and books on serious subjects is a serious business. By the time of publication, serious ideas should be battle-ready (barring articles that must be written quickly in order to respond to short-term issues and immediate emergencies). I view the publication of serious ideas in this culture as war, not a classroom discussion.

Not to answer for Rob Tracinski, but I do not take his writings as an "attempt to advance Objectivism," as much as his attempt to explicate his own views. And, I understand his "final version for publication" to be in his print journal, The Intellectual Activist, perhaps considered a more formal medium.

As to "serious ideas should be battle-ready" when presented, permit me to point out that Leonard Peikoff, in his DIM course, repeatedly makes the point that he is almost thinking out loud on certain parts of the course, and when the book is published then people will be in a position to better understand what he is saying. If you are critical of Tracinski for honestly saying that he has learned from his internet essays and will polish his ideas in printed form, why are you not likewise critical of Peikoff for distributing his course through the Ayn Rand Bookstore?

Personally, I am not critical of Peikoff or Tracinski in this regard, but for your own consistency I would think you would just as harshly criticize one as the other.

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As to "serious ideas should be battle-ready" when presented, permit me to point out that Leonard Peikoff, in his DIM course, repeatedly makes the point that he is almost thinking out loud on certain parts of the course, and when the book is published then people will be in a position to better understand what he is saying. If you are critical of Tracinski for honestly saying that he has learned from his internet essays and will polish his ideas in printed form, why are you not likewise critical of Peikoff for distributing his course through the Ayn Rand Bookstore?

Personally, I am not critical of Peikoff or Tracinski in this regard, but for your own consistency I would think you would just as harshly criticize one as the other.

Dr. Peikoff's courses have not been published and offered to the general public. They are offered to registered members of ARI only. The audience is highly specialized. The lectures are not even for every one of that audience, as Dr. Peikoff states that he is assuming more than passing familitarity with AS, ITOE, OPAR, and the history of philosophy.

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Dr. Peikoff's courses have not been published and offered to the general public. They are offered to registered members of ARI only.

Rose, I do not know why you say this, but you are mistaken. The The Ayn Rand Bookstore sells most everything every published by Leonard Peikoff, including his Dim Hypothesis, and virtually anyone anywhere in the world can purchase these. There is no requirement for purchasers to be "registered members of ARI only."

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Rose, I do not know why you say this, but you are mistaken. The The Ayn Rand Bookstore sells most everything every published by Leonard Peikoff, including his Dim Hypothesis, and virtually anyone anywhere in the world can purchase these. There is no requirement for purchasers to be "registered members of ARI only."

I did not know this. However, I think that the specialized audience thing still applies, because of the stated pre-requisites for the lecture course. In addition, the price for the course is $315.00, which I think limits the audience pretty severely.

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QUOTE Robert Tracinski @ Feb 13 2007, 07:34 PM

The rest of the series addresses this question in a contemporary, journalistic context, as a way of explaining some of the events of today and of the past few decades. (What has most disappointed me about the reception of this series is that so little attention has been paid to that aspect of the article, which is my starting point and main motivation.)

I don't know about everybody else, but I have paid attention to the first 4 parts. In particular, the claim that "war has collapsed." If this claim is correct than I should be able to come to the same conclusion on my own using the data and sources that have been provided. I have not come to that conclusion and highlighted a website in Post #12 of this thread. I might suggest that a closer examination of that site might be of benefit. I am particulary concerned about Jack Wakeland's use of Rod Paschall's article which referenced Prof. R.J. Rummel's book "Death by Government."

Rick,

I provided the source date for Rob's claim that "war has collapsed" (to about half the levels of carnage -- death, displacement, dispossession/destruction of property) since the end of the cold war. So I'm the one who should defend the claim.

...And I already did:

Rob's comment came from an essay I wrote for him last year in TIA Daily, "The Short Dark Age." For the big picture data I used in that essay on the reduced scope of war and genocide after 1945 and after 1989, I quoted two editor's essays in Military History Quarterly written by Rod Paschall.

Based on the conclusions of studies by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Mr. Paschall states that the number of major wars decreased from 33 in 1992 to 19 in 2003.

Based on studies by the Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management, Mr. Paschell writes that the total material loss rates from wars today--in terms of people killed, populations displaced, and property destroyed--are ocurring about half the rate they were during the last Cold War peak in the mid 1980s....

Quote RickWilmes @ Nov 22 2006, 08:55 PM

1998-: Congo/Zaire's war - Rwanda and Uganda vs Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia (3.8 million)

1983-2002: Sudanese civil war (2 million)

...These figures [from Piero Scaruffi's website] don't say anything about whether or not the world's 6-1/2 billion people are suffering from more wars or more devistating wars today.

The dominant world trend over the past 30 years is globalization. This world changing trend ocurred against a backdrop of smaller and less frequent wars, continued order and security of the interational sea lanes, reduced import/export restrictions and--most importantly--the rise of representative government in many parts of the world.

...In Part 4 of his series, "What Went Right?" Rob Tracinski indentifies the results of a Freedom House survey that concludes that the number of "free" nations has doubled since 1971. At military History Quarterly Rod Paschall writes, "During the past 30 years, the proportion of free states has steadily risen from 29% to 46% of the whole."

Is Rod Paschall the world's greatest authority on liberty and war? No. But he has been a good, rational and reliable reviewer of the history of war in the years over which I subscribed to his magazine.

Are Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management the most reliable possible sources that Rod Paschall could have picked for his accounting of the toll of modern wars? I don't know. I'm not an expert in the area. I rely on Mr. Paschall's judgement in this matter.

What I know is what I've read in the newspapers over the past 30 years and what the newspapers report is wars that are fewer in number and less destructive in their effect than WWII, the Chineese civil war and "Great Leap Forward" and "Cultural Revolution," the Korean War, the Vietnam War and Cambodian genocide, the mujahadeed conflict in Afghanistan, the dozens of guerrillia wars througout Central America, and the dozens of civil wars and genocides in Africa during the '70s and '80s.

Africa is the only continent upon which war and genocide are currently commonplace.

Admittedly, the number of nations at war and the body count of wars are potentially on the brink of a great increase right now. In an arc from Cairo to Islamabad, the Middle East and Central Asia are on the verge of a great, bloody regional war--and, unlike the genocidal civil wars of Africa, these wars would directly affect the security of the United States and would result in great loss of American life.

But, for better or worse, a general regional war envolving the U.S., Israel, and some NATO countries--a war of great scope and destructiveness--has not in fact begun in the center of the Islamic World.

Here are the passages from my article, "The Short Dark Age," from the November 3, 2005 issue of TIA Daily that I cited in my November 23 response to your comment -- passages that are the basis for Rob's claim that "war has collapsed":

...Rod Paschall at Military History Quarterly has commented on academic studies on the scope of the carnage of the Short Dark Age. In the Winter 2005 issue of MHQ, he reviewed Prof. R.J. Rummel’s book, 'Death by Government':

"After 1914, cross-border clashes greatly accelerated in frequency and intensity, with many armed conflicts--including two world wars. Civil wars continued at about the same pace as before, but democides [government-sponsored mass murder of unarmed civilians] skyrocketed beginning in April 1915, when the Turks drove Armenians into the desert in present-day northern Syria, resulting in between 600,000 and 1.5 million deaths by slaughter or starvation. That was followed by about 2 million peasant deaths during the brutal Soviet collectivization program. Other similar tragedies include Josef Stalin's 1930s-era Great Terror, Hitler's Holocaust, Mao Tse-Tung's Great Leap Forward, and Pol Pot's bloody elimination of almost one-third of Cambodia's people. Rummel estimates that since the beginning of the 20th Century until the end of the Cold War, there were almost 170 million democide killings as compared to 34.4 million battle deaths."...

...In the Spring 2005 issue of MHQ, Mr. Paschall notes that the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management computed that, "the effects of armed conflict (scored by deaths, numbers of combatants, size of battle areas, dislocated populations, and infrastructure damage) had diminished globally by 50% since the peak post-WW II period in the mid 1980s." He goes on to note that the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that the number of major armed conflicts in the world had dropped from 33 in 1991 to 19 in 2003. (They considered a "major" conflict to be one in which there were over 1000 war-related deaths in the current year.)

Rod Paschall concludes, "Clearly interstate wars are in precipitous decline and repeat performances of events such as the failed 1990 seizure of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's Iraq are becoming rare. Of the 19 wars of 2003, only two could be described as being between two or more nations; the rest were intra-state conflicts…limited to a deadly dispute within one nation's borders."

Why these reductions? In the Winter 2005 issue of MHQ, Mr. Paschall states the cause for the reduction in the frequency and destructiveness of war throughout the world. "During the Cold War, there was a vast increase in insurgencies due to Moscow's support of 'wars of national liberation.' The post-Cold War era has seen the near disappearance of cross-border wars, chiefly because of Anglo-American policies, punishing those nations that invade their neighbors and depriving attackers of their gains."

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the elder George Bush's "New World Order" was to be an international sphere in which free trade and free markets reign--under the protective umbrella of an Anglo-American foreign policy that banishes the use of force between nations. And the end of Communism created nations that won't make war on each other--and created them by the dozens. Rod Paschall reports that "During the past 30 years, the proportion of free states has steadily risen from 29% to 46% of the whole."...

...In the Autumn issue of MHQ, Mr. Paschall observes that over the past 15 years, the creation of republics has accelerated to an average of "three additional states meeting minimal standards for free and fair elections each year." He wonders if this may eventually lead to an era of "perpetual peace."

At the time you made the comment, I didn't answer it in full because the data you provided was very limited. You cited the death tolls of only two wars in a world that usually has 20 or 30 wars going on at any given moment.

To compare the data you cited with the data I took from two lead editorials by Military History Quarterly's Rod Paschall requires a survey of Piero Scaraffi. You didn't do the work of putting that data together in an order that would permit a comparison. So, here's my attempt to do it:

...........................millions of deaths.....millions of deaths.......million deaths/yr

Period...................War + Genocide.......Genocide...................Average Rate

1860 - 1905...................1.4......................1.2

1906 - 1937....................43.....................21.5..............................1.4

1937 - 1945....................56......................17................................7.0

1946 - 1953...................7.2.......................-.................................0.9

1954 - 1963....................39......................38................................3.8

1964 - 1975....................16......................11................................1.3

1975 - 1988...................8.5.....................4.6...............................0.65

1989 - 2004..................11.1......................7................................0.69

for the '06 - '37 period assume 100% of the deaths from the Stalin's purges occured

for the '37 - '45 period assume 100% of the deaths from the Japanese invaision of China occured

for the '37 - '45 period assume 100% of the deaths from the Spanish Civil War occured

for the '75 - '88 period assume 80% of the deaths from the Angola Civil War occured

for the '75 - '88 period assume 80% of the deaths from the Mozambique Civil War occured

for the '75 - '88 period assume 20% of the deaths from the East Timor Civil War occured

for the '75 - '88 period assume 100% of the deaths from the Peru, El Salvador, & Nicaragua Civil Wars occured

for the '89 - '04 period assume 20% of the deaths from the Angola Civil War occured

for the '89 - '04 period assume 20% of the deaths from the Mozambique Civil War occured

for the '89 - '04 period assume 100% of the deaths from the Sudan Civil War occured

Based on this analysis, the death toll by war and genocide dropped by about 50% after 1975, rather than dropping off 50% from a late Cold War peak in the mid-1980s. If death by government sponsored mass-murder outside war zones is excluded from the figures, the average rate from the '75 - '88 period is 0.30 million/yr and the average rate from '89 - '04 is 0.26/yr. That is not much of an overall change, from one decade to the next. (The biggest shift in loss rates since '89 has been to move the majority of the world's killing to sub-saharan Africa.)

However, the data provided by Piero Scaraffi is incomplete. He identifies the loss of life for each conflict and the time span of each conflict, but makes not attempt at an annual accounting made by the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management that Rod Paschall cited.

Using annual loss data, Rod Paschall concluded "the effects of armed conflict (scored by deaths, numbers of combatants, size of battle areas, dislocated populations, and infrastructure damage) had diminished globally by 50% since the peak post-WW II period in the mid '80s." The data cited by Piero Scaraffi does not necessarily contradict the claim of a 50% reduction. However, if both data sets are valid, that would imply that annual losses dropped to a Cold War low in '76 - '83, prior to reaching a new post WW II high in the mid 80s, before falling by 50%.

When looking at rates, one might ask what is the proper measure: a simple arithemtic total in the world's annual loss rates, or the world's per capita annual loss rate from war. The per capita loss rate is the better of the two measures.

I do not know if the data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Managementcited Rod Paschall cited are per capita rates. I suspect they are. The world's population in the increased by about one quarter (from 4.1 - 5.1 billion in the '75 - '88 period to 5.2 - 6.4 billion in the '89 - '04 period).

Statistically speaking, the best way to sum up the data may be to say that -- with the exception of a brief peak of communist revolutionary activity in the mid 80s -- the world's loss rate from war fell by 50% with the conclusion of China's Cultural Revolution and the Vietnam War. However, without a better look at the data, I can't fully clear up the question.

I'll take a look at the two studies cited by Rod Paschall and see if I can't find other valid studies that estimate the year-by-year, continent-by-continent per capita figures on loss rates by war and genocide. I'll see if the rise in loss rates in the 1980s occured over as narrow a time interval as this comparison of Piero Scaraffi's data and Rod Paschall's statement suggest.

...Or if the data support a different conclusion.

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I hope I was not misleading anyone by having called the essay short. I looked again, and it didn't really look short. It's just that it was, for me, an easy read. Maybe that's what made me think of it as short.

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I think the following website is of importance when considering whether or not 'war has collapsed.'

Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Man-made Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century.

[n.4]

"... the best thing about Rummel ..."

The unbest thing about Rummel's numbers is that they fit his theories just a little too neatly, so you might want to approach with caution. Here are a few dangers to be aware of:

When the "What Went Right?" series is completed, I will present my argument for why I believe 'war has not collapsed."

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Rick,

Military History Quarterly's Rod Paschall cited Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management as one of two sources for his editor's report that the numbers of deaths and other losses from armed conflict had fallen by 50% since the end of the Cold War -- since the end of the small peak in Cold War losses that was reached in the mid '80s.

Here are the most interesting parts of their website (the organization titles, project names, and the sponsorships of all the materials linked to Rob Paschall's sources are obviously altruist-collectivist and, thus, capable of distorting the data on war and genocide for "moral" reasons...however, I would have to review their data before I could raise a red flag about any potential inaccuracies...and I haven't reviewed it yet.):

http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/aci.htm

http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/genocide/

"Major Episodes of Armed Conflict, 1946-2002," by Monty G. Marshall is available at the Center for Systemic Peace website appears to be the report, sponsored by Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management, that Rob Paschall cited in his 50% reduction comment.

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Although the thread is still open, I realize I'm coming to the discussion very, very late. However after reading Rob Tracinski's series and this thread, there is still an issue that I am having trouble with.

First, I would summarize my understanding of Mr. Tracinski's argument very briefly as follows: that the ideas of a culture are guided not only by its explicit philosophy, but by the implicit philosophy induced by achievements within the specialized sciences. For example, an individual may observe the wealth and prosperity that a new technology offers, and from this form an implicit value for reason (even if he may not have an explicit understanding of what reason means). He then is able to judge a culture based on science and medicine as superior to one based on mysticism. Is this accurate?

Mr. Tracinski presents this idea in a very compelling way when he writes,

Today, nations around the world look at America and at the extraordinary wealth and vibrancy of Western civilization, and they say, in effect: we want that, too. Even if they don't understand what makes Western civilization possible, they are led to investigate it, to emulate it, and to be transformed by it in ways they don't realize or expect.

I would say that his optimism is based on the fact that all humans share the same capacity for reason and the belief that they will ultimately recognize values when they see them, because values are after all that which benefit man's life. Where they see people are successful and happy, they will say, "they must be doing something right!"

However, doesn't this already assume a pro-life philosophy (properly, not to be confused with the anti-abortion movement)? That is, to say that positive accomplishments would spur individuals to emulate them assumes that their goal is personal happiness, doesn't it?

We already know that this is not the case for those who accept religion explicitly and consistently. Islamists, for example, do see the wealth and prosperity in the West and in the US specifically, but their desire is not to emulate us but to destroy us. Christian fundamentalists also, and many environmentalists, see what reason, selfishness and a free market can accomplish. However rather than embrace these principles, they crusade against them.

In "Pajama Epistemology", Mr. Tracinski writes,

In response to my challenge, one of the participants replied that religion can never be refuted by its consequences in reality, because "the sheer misery of putting bad ideas into practice never changed anyone's mind. This is simply because ideas are fundamental…. Though the consequences of bad ideas should be a shock that says, 'check your premises,' philosophical ideas are not validated or refuted based on trying them out to see what happens."

Consider what the claim that "ideas are fundamental" means as expressed here. It means that each man starts with basic philosophical ideas as his starting point, and that further observation and experience is not capable of inducing him to reject or refine those ideas. This is an excellent description of the essence of a bad methodology.

What this does not consider is that many people will evade the nature of their observations and experiences. Yes, if a person is grounded in reality he will correct any belief that he discovers contradicts his experiences. Religion, though, is not grounded in reality and to the extent that an individual consistently adopts such a philosophy, he will refuse to integrate his experiences. Giving him technology and a representative democracy won't change his mind. Evasion is what explains the existence of groups here in America who, although benefitting from the success of this country's principles, attack them.

Evasion is itself based on a philosophical belief, whether implicit or explicit: that reality can be faked. This idea presents anyone who chooses to evade with a contradiction when their attempt to fake reality fails. However some philosophies that encourage evasion aren't concerned with the contradiction because they also are not reality-centered. Religion holds that this world is temporary and only the afterlife is ultimately real and important, so who cares if their morality leads to misery? Environmentalists aren't interested in human life, or ultimately interested in the survival of the environment either, so failed policies don't deter their morality. This is what the participant mentioned in the above quote was getting at. If a person does not accept the axiom of existence, then it doesn't matter whether they're miserable. Failure does not refute their beliefs. That's why Islamists are strapping explosives to their chests and killing Israelis and Americans, even though our morality leads to incredible wealth and theirs to poverty and suffering.

Ultimately I am open to the possibility that the implicit (albeit inconsistent) rationality of many around the globe explains why the free market is spreading despite a dominance of bad explicit philosophy. However I also think it would be a mistake to believe that this evidence lessens in some way the influence of explicit philosophy.

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bborg makes many excellent points with which I agree. There is one issue he raises that I would like to explore further.

I would say that [Tracinski's] optimism is based on the fact that all humans share the same capacity for reason and the belief that they will ultimately recognize values when they see them, because values are after all that which benefit man's life. Where they see people are successful and happy, they will say, "they must be doing something right!"

However, doesn't this already assume a pro-life philosophy [...]? That is, to say that positive accomplishments would spur individuals to emulate them assumes that their goal is personal happiness, doesn't it?

We already know that this is not the case for those who accept religion explicitly and consistently.

Can a human being accept an irrational system of ideas consistently. That is not possible because reality will not allow a person to do so and live. The perfect example of a consistently religious person is a suicde bomber and only at the second when he sets off his bomb. Until then, he has to do as reality requires, to some degree, in order to live.

My basis for optimism is not that everyone wants to be free and is capable of appreciating and enjoying rational values. That is clearly not the case, as bborg points out. I am optimistic because rationality, because it has reality on its side, has a huge natural advantage over religion, environmentalism, or any other irrational ideology. People, to the degree they are rational, are able to understand and cope with all aspects of life and reality -- including irrational people and evil ideas.

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bborg makes many excellent points with which I agree.

Thank you. :o

Can a human being accept an irrational system of ideas consistently. That is not possible because reality will not allow a person to do so and live. The perfect example of a consistently religious person is a suicde bomber and only at the second when he sets off his bomb. Until then, he has to do as reality requires, to some degree, in order to live.

I think there's a necessary disctinction here, because few irrational systems are consistently irrational precisely for that reason. It's true that you have to at least recognize the laws of causality to live (if it could be otherwise, Communism would not have collapsed). However I don't think that either Islam or Christianity do consistently reject reality. For example, in Christianity God says, "be fruitful and multiply". Both religions command followers to "spread the word", which also requires creating values for survival.

That is why I think religious fanaticism is possible and doesn't always immediately die off. Not all religions completely and consistently reject reality. Obviously I'm not defending them, and I wish they did fully reject reality so we could have the world to ourselves...

In any case, I think it is possible to consistently apply a religion if the religion is itself inconsistent in a way that allows for the use of reason in some limited capacity.

My basis for optimism is not that everyone wants to be free and is capable of appreciating and enjoying rational values. That is clearly not the case, as bborg points out. I am optimistic because rationality, because it has reality on its side, has a huge natural advantage over religion, environmentalism, or any other irrational ideology. People, to the degree they are rational, are able to understand and cope with all aspects of life and reality -- including irrational people and evil ideas.

Do you think my analysis of Rob Tracinski's optimism is correct?

After reading his series, I do think I have sometimes fallen into the camp of the "doomsayers", unfortunately. That is an error I recognize now, because as he correctly pointed out the world has not collapsed, nor does it seem to be close to a collapse. However there are many cases of individuals holding good implicit philosophies who allowed themselves to be persecuted because of bad explicit philosophy. Mr. Tracinski argues that a conflict of bad explicit philosophy with good implicit philosophy will result in a victory by the implicit when he writes,

And what if their culture's intellectual propagandists—those responsible for handing down to them their explicit philosophical convictions—tell them the opposite? The result will be what is reported from Vietnam: tired old Communist speeches blaring over public loudspeakers to an audience of young people who are far more interested in catching a glimpse of Bill Gates.

However if that were true, why are we now living under Socialism? The answer is that the implicit American selfishness had no voice because it was implicit. When altruists proposed that their morality - which everyone had accepted - be put into law, people lacked the explicit philosophy to fight it off. They simply didn't have an answer to offer, and so regardless of how wrong they might have felt about it, they accepted it because they believed it was moral.

Ultimately I share your optimism in a long-term sense because I know we're right and so we have to win. I notice that when I believe I'm right and can prove that I'm right, I feel invincible and unstoppable. (I recently read your interview with PRODOS and agreed with your sentiments whole-heartedly) However as far as when we will win, or the battles we'll have to fight before we win...well, that can get me down sometimes. Implicit philosophy just isn't enough, which is all most people have. It may hold bad ideas off for a short time, but it will ultimately be defeated unless it becomes explicit. If you think you're right but can't explain why, what answer can you give to the bad ideas? That's why I agree with ARI that education is key, and disagree in the way Mr. Tracinski seems to downplay its importance. Yes, many in other countries are looking to us and yearning to emulate us. What happens, though, if Americans do not learn to be proud of their selfishness, to embrace reason and Capitalism with resolve and confidence? What sort of example would we serve then?

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That is an error I recognize now, because as he correctly pointed out the world has not collapsed, nor does it seem to be close to a collapse.

A serious question for you or anyone else: What would constitute a collapse of the world, and how would you know if the world was approaching such a condition, in advance?

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A serious question for you or anyone else: What would constitute a collapse of the world, and how would you know if the world was approaching such a condition, in advance?

Interesting questions.

1. Historically, when has there been a collapse of civilization? Ancient Greece, The Roman Empire. What else? Not too many examples to cite (fortunately). A collapse would be the irretrievable loss of values (freedom) within society, the breakdown of law, group (tribal) warfare as the means of survival.

2. The only way to know of the collapse in advance is to identify the fundamental philosophic ideas in society. And irrationalism, mysticism, altruism, and collectivism dominate our society, although there are still strong elements of the Enlightenment spirit left. When the collapse will happen is debatable, depending upon many factors, including countervailing trends within the society. There is no historical determinism. The stock market crash precipitated the Great Depression from government controls. An economic collapse today might be an event that could trigger extensive government control of all aspects of human activity.

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A serious question for you or anyone else: What would constitute a collapse of the world, and how would you know if the world was approaching such a condition, in advance?

Well, look at the backdrop of the plot in Atlas Shrugged. The marked sign of economic collapse is the loss of rights protections. While there has definitely been a gradual erosion of those rights in the real America, we are still considered to be a beacon of freedom and economic power. This is after a century under philosophic attack. To say that the US, much less the world, is on the verge of collapse kind of flies in the face of the evidence, don't you think? There are dangers, yes, and possible harm that could be done within our lifetimes without rational activism, but total collapse?

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In the last sentence I should have said "additional harm" or something to that effect. I didn't mean to imply that the economy has not suffered from the rights violations to-date.

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Ultimately I am open to the possibility that the implicit (albeit inconsistent) rationality of many around the globe explains why the free market is spreading despite a dominance of bad explicit philosophy. However I also think it would be a mistake to believe that this evidence lessens in some way the influence of explicit philosophy.

I may be wrong, but my impression was not an 'either or' between the implicit and explicit. For the young of course, education with the explicit will in most cases result in a similar implicit sense of life and ideas. It is those rare cases where the explicit has not dominated, that stand out, and (for example Galileo) challenge the prevailing thinking.

After all, if explicit ideas were all controlling, there would never be change (unless free thinking was explicitly called for). The ideas that prevailed in history have generally been dogmatic and fixed, so what then is the cause of change if not these explicit ideas?

What decided Galileo's decision to challenge what he was told explicitly to believe? Was it an implicit relationship with reality? I believe it was.

The policy of the ARI to educate the young is spot on, because from the start it harmonizes the implicit accord with reality, with an explicit explanation of that relationship.

RT's point is, to my understanding, that change came from an individuals implicit view of reality, from his own dealings of it, overriding the prevailing ideas

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While there has definitely been a gradual erosion of those rights in the real America, we are still considered to be a beacon of freedom and economic power.

By some - it's a beacon that's tarnished with every year that passes, especially in the face of draconian restrictions on immigration, causing some very smart people to start looking elsewhere to make a life in their finite lifetime. Ask some non-American Objectivists about that sometime. A country is only as good as the people in it. A nation of xenophobes will not constitute the best of the future.

This is after a century under philosophic attack. To say that the US, much less the world, is on the verge of collapse kind of flies in the face of the evidence, don't you think? There are dangers, yes, and possible harm that could be done within our lifetimes without rational activism, but total collapse?

No, I don't think it flies in the face of evidence, to the contrary. The U.S. has never been at a lower level of respect for individual rights, regulation is at an all-time high, and no effective action is being taken against the biggest threat in its existence. I try not to dwell on the latter threat, but I know that it goes far beyond the (still unaddressed) Iranian nuclear weapons program, to biowarfare. It is easy to be comforted by the amenities of high tech life, and indeed it's a beautiful thing, but it does not mean that real threats can't destroy this semi-civilization in a very short time. The 1918 flu pandemic was devastating but a determined fanatic with the products of the same modern technology of today can do far, far worse. Ex-Soviet bioweapons designers are almost certainly working in Iran - read Ken Alibek's book (and also read about the 1918 flu pandemic) to get an idea of the implications of that. That that threat is completely unaddressed is a byproduct of the sorry state of America today.

But, there is little to nothing that any of us can do about that right now. The simple fact is that we live our lives the best we can and hope for the best when it comes to factors outside our control. The only really "globally" optimistic sign I see is the continued penetration of Objectivism. Nobody can say if that will reach a point in time to avert total disaster, but I think it's safe to say that a world on its present course, without such ideas, will blow itself back to the stone age or worse. I try to focus on my life and what I can do with it, but I consider it pointless to paint an unrealistic portrait of the state of the world.

The bottom line is that nobody should structure their lives around the state of the rest of the world, except as necessary in order to accomodate irrational laws. Whether you think it's great, so-so, or really sucks, you have one life and should focus on what you can do personally to maximize your own values.

In any case, I don't see that you answered my questions about what constitutes "collapse" and how one can recognize it in advance. I am not saying it's something that's critical to focus upon (see the prior paragraph), but if the words are used, I would like to see some definitions.

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Can a human being accept an irrational system of ideas consistently. That is not possible because reality will not allow a person to do so and live. The perfect example of a consistently religious person is a suicide bomber and only at the second when he sets off his bomb. Until then, he has to do as reality requires, to some degree, in order to live.
I think there's a necessary distinction here, because few irrational systems are consistently irrational precisely for that reason. It's true that you have to at least recognize the laws of causality to live (if it could be otherwise, Communism would not have collapsed). However I don't think that either Islam or Christianity do consistently reject reality.

Some religions and philosophies -- militant Islam, Marxism, Al Gore-style environmentalism -- reject reality more than more rational, fundamentally Aristotelian religions like non-Orthodox Judaism, Thomistic Catholicism, and post-Enlightenment Protestantism..

That is why I think religious fanaticism is possible and doesn't always immediately die off. Not all religions completely and consistently reject reality. Obviously I'm not defending them, and I wish they did fully reject reality so we could have the world to ourselves.

I can peacefully co-exist with religious people as long as they respect my rights and, to the degree that they are rational, I have a fighting chance of winning them -- or their children -- over to my side.

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I may be wrong, but my impression was not an 'either or' between the implicit and explicit. For the young of course, education with the explicit will in most cases result in a similar implicit sense of life and ideas. It is those rare cases where the explicit has not dominated, that stand out, and (for example Galileo) challenge the prevailing thinking.

My objection was that his argument does not seem to recognize the full influence of an explicit philosophy, and the need for an explicit understanding of rational philosophy to fight irrationalism. I used two examples of how I think RT has undervalued the role of philosophy:

1) My first objection was that the induction from the special sciences that he uses to support his argument that philosophy does not work "top down" already assumes a selfish, pro-man, and reality centered philosophy in order to evaluate the benefits of the special sciences as "good" and to eventually integrate those experiences into a systematic rational philosophy. In those cases where an individual is anti-man and anti-reality, he rejects his experiences and refuses to integrate them.

2) My second objection was that he seemed to say that in a struggle between an explicit and implicit philosophy created inductively, the implicit would win. This afterall is his point that a philosophy begins from the special sciences, not from formal philosophy. However if that were the case, how did Socialism take root in America? In that case, we had on the one side an explicit moral philosophy (altruism) and on the other hand the special sciences that produced the Industrial Revolution. Ultimately, the businessmen, scientists, doctors et al in the special sciences accepted the rule of Socialism, because they lacked the explicit philosophy to refute it.

Rob Tracinski writes this of the role of philosophy:

Philosophy is not the starting point of knowledge, but it is a kind of ending point: its job is to form the widest new conclusions that are made possible by knowledge in other fields—which then serves to integrate, protect, and explain that knowledge.

and

The role of the philosopher, historically, is not as the sole motor of all progress, but rather as the observer, defender, promoter, and intellectual amplifier of that progress.

Unless I am still misunderstanding his argument, or have made an error in mine, the contradictions I discussed earlier and above suggest that philosophy is the starting point of knowledge and that education is not merely an additional avenue of activism, but one that is primary and essential.

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Do you think my analysis of Rob Tracinski's optimism is correct?

Yes I do.

We can't read the minds of others, but we can often understand them by putting ourselves in their place and introspecting about what we would want, feel, and do. Unfortunately, if another person's psycho-epistemology or motivation is significantly different from our own, this process leads to false conclusions. That is how honest and virtuous people can fall prey to their own "benevolent projections" and assume that others are more honest and virtuous than they really are. That is how Ayn Rand misunderstood, praised, and extended the benefit of the doubt to several former associates who eventually proved that they didn't deserve it.

In this case, I think Rob Tracinski's mistaken optimism is due to the benevolent projection of his own understanding and values onto others who do not share them. His errors are certainly not due to dishonesty and the rejection of Objectivism as some have claimed.

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I can peacefully co-exist with religious people as long as they respect my rights and, to the degree that they are rational, I have a fighting chance of winning them -- or their children -- over to my side.

I realized a couple hours after I wrote that part that it might not have been clear. I was not trying to say that I wish all religious people would die. I was referring specifically to religious fundamentalists such as Islamists, who accept reality long enough to kill others. It was a direct response to your point that such people are only completely consistent when they set off the bombs on their chests. My family is Christian and I have great respect for the way they raised me in spite of their religion. I do know first hand that many people who accept religion are peaceful and both recognize and create great values.

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