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Category Archives: Ayn Rand
Posted: July 21, 2020 at 12:38 pm
Since the Wall Street Journals Pat Fitzgerald announced on Twitter that The Ayn Rand Institute received a PPP loan of between $350K and $1 million and linked to data from the U.S. Small Business Administration confirming this, brave social media posters have been shaming the Institute at which I work.
Hypocrisy much? reads one representative tweet. To his three hundred and fifty thousand followers Bill McKibben adds that the chortle that this produced was worth whatever my share of the bill is. Even Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman has had time to weigh in: A is A. Non-contradiction his tweet declares.
News stories quickly appeared in Forbes, CNBC, the New York Times and elsewhere with headlines like Vocal Opponents of Federal Spending Took PPP loans, Including Ayn Rand Institute, Grover Norquist Group. Few of these initial articles mention that before receiving any funds we at ARI publicly said we were applying to the PPP program and argued that genuine advocates of capitalism should consider doing the same.
READ ALSO: To Take or Not to Take
Notice that no one is arguing that ARI failed to meet the terms of the Paycheck Protection Program. No one is challenging the fact that during the coercive statewide lockdowns, which led us to cancel events and caused significant economic damage to a number of our supporters, we furloughed many staff. And no one contests that when we received PPP funds, we restored these employees to full time.
Notice further that no one explains what precisely is our hypocrisy. Certainly, if we advocated for the individuals rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness and the resulting system of laissez-faire capitalism, as we do, and then advocated for governmental power to coercively lock down entire states and dole out trillions in stimulus relief, that would be hypocritical. But we argued against the statewide lockdowns and ensuing government spending sprees.
The Ayn Rand Institute is to be barred from the program because we are critical of the welfare state.
So where is the hypocrisy? Apparently, if you oppose a government welfare state program, and it is enacted into law, your choice is either to cease your opposition to the program or to not participate in it. Otherwise, you must don a scarlet H to brand yourself a hypocrite.
Think what this idea would mean if implemented consistently.
Anyone who opposes public schools must either stop criticizing government-controlled education or stop sending their children to public school. Anyone who opposes social security must either remain silent when their earnings are taken by government to redistribute to old people or refuse to apply for social security when they retire. Anyone who opposes single payer, socialized medicine must, when it is enacted, either end their opposition to it or never again walk into a hospital, since all providers will be paid by government.
Of course, if these government programs allowed dissenters to opt out, the idea would have some plausibility. If you could get a portion of your taxes credited back to you if you agreed to send your children to private not public school, or if you could refuse to pay payroll taxes and instead invest the money, on condition of being ineligible later for social security, that would be one thing. But this is precisely what such programs forbid. They are coercive not voluntary. You are forced to pay for them even if you think the programs harmful to your interests and happiness.
Now the Bill McKibbens and Paul Krugmans of the world want to add another condition. If you dare criticize these programs and argue they should not exist, you render yourself ineligible for them. You still have to pay for the programs, mind you, but you must not avail yourself of them.
Is there a more devious way to try to silence critics?
READ ALSO: What Gave Ayn Rand the Moral Right to Collect Social Security?
To bring even a whiff of this idea into American politics, to suggest that one must pass an ideological test to qualify for a new government welfare program, is disgraceful.
Yet that is the deeper meaning of the attempt to shame the Ayn Rand Institute for having the temerity to apply for a PPP loan. We are to be barred from the program because we are critical of the welfare state.
This much is true: there is in all this something morally shameful. But members of the Twitter chorus would need to look in the mirror to catch sight of it.
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Posted: at 12:37 pm
Changing an opinion after thinking the wrong way is hard. So is sticking to correct beliefs in the face of opposition. Both actions take courage. The challenge is knowing when to concede or dig in, especially when confronting deep personal biases intertwined with feelings.
I faced my own struggle to separate emotion from reason while growing up in Mumbai, where the test of right or wrong had more to do with group reputation than anything else. The phrase drilled into me was log kya kahenge, which means: What will people say?
What will people say if I wear Western-style clothes, choose my own boyfriend or get a job outside the home? How will my behavior reflect on others? Your actions are unbefitting for a woman, and you bring us shame, my parents and extended family members would tell me.
Many authority figures wielded terms like community and society as weapons of guilt to force compliance. Eventually I learned to push back. But the negativity associated with the collectivist tenets stayed with me for decades, even after I crossed an ocean and started a new life in the United States.
As an economist, I cared about free market principles, and studied innovation and entrepreneurship in the for-profit realm of introducing new products and services. I had little thought for social innovation, even dismissing it as not worthy of study. That was then. Over time my views changed, as I compared new information to prior experience.
One breakthrough came when I realized that the founding principles in my new country represented a profound type of social innovation. The grand documents on individual liberty that inspired my youthful resistance were not commercial products or services. They were the principles upon which individuals could freely engage in enterprise and create win-win outcomes.
Today I study many other contributions from leaders without a profit motive. As I describe in a previous column, my recent research with Sonali K. Shah and Steven T. Sonka at the University of Illinois confirms that private, public and social sector organizations all have roles to play in driving upward mobility.
Some people would say I have an open mind because I evolved. The contrast would be a closed mind, unwilling to consider alternate viewpoints. Neither option in this false dichotomy is good. When venturing forth in the world, having either an open or a closed mind can sabotage growth.
The flexibility of an open mind is necessary to a point. But those who bend too quickly to new ideas might give up correct beliefs ormore likelyswap one set of flawed notions for another. They are like impressionable children, inclined to trust the most recent message they hear from adults without thinking for themselves. Such people never stand firm on principles because they dont have any.
On the flip side, the rigidness of a closed mind has advantages when trying to lock in cherished values. But those satisfied with their level of knowledge lose all sense of discovery. They assume their beliefs are true and complete, ending the need for further inquiry. No amount of information will convince them otherwise. Such people show strong convictionsright or wrongbecause nothing else exists in their minds.
I prefer a third alternative. Philosopher Ayn Rand calls it an active mind. The concept has less to do with whether you change your opinion, and more to do with how you form your opinion. People with active minds focus on learning, and on thinking critically. In other words, they emphasize the journey, not just the destination. They put process ahead of outcomes, pursuing growth in three stages.
Having an active mind starts with active listening. People who value learning seek diverse viewpoints from multiple sources. They read things that offend them. They talk to people from different backgrounds. Then they repeat back what they think they heard to ensure understanding.
I did this during my project with Shah and Sonka, two trusted colleagues. I listened to what the facts were telling us in the researchthat nonprofit engagement and social entrepreneurship were critical in market creation, especially in developing regions with limited infrastructure.
Closed-minded people build strawmen instead. They distort or misrepresent facts, creating easy targets to knock over. They also engage in whataboutism, a type of psychological deflection. Rather than refuting an opposing argument, they ignore it and charge the other side with hypocrisy.
Open-minded people simply agree with new information. They can hold multiple contradictory ideas in their heads at the same time, and never reconcile the differences. Rather than debate, they appeasesometimes because they fear conflict or commitment.
Once people with active minds listen, they synthesize. They compare old and new information, exploring how different ideas fit together. They distinguish between broad principles and the details of particular cases, which are not always representative.
In my own case, I caught myself focusing on concrete notions of social innovation, ascribing a narrow meaning based on my negative experiences in a collectivist culture. When I synthesized new information, I could see the shared basic principles underlying both social and for-profit innovation.
Many times when people confront an opposing viewpoint, the exchange produces win-win outcomes. Both sides move closer to the truth. Yet people with active minds are not confined to the linear distance between two viewpoints. By engaging in dialogue, active thinkers can jump beyond the continuum, often arriving at new ideas not previously considered by either party.
Closed-minded people avoid the journey. The more they clash with opposing viewpoints, the more entrenched they become in their original position. Open-minded people have a different problem. The more they hear new ideas, the more rudderless they become. They trade one position for another like musical chairs.
Once active thinkers synthesize old and new information, they test their emerging ideas in the real world. When they confirm a correct belief, they stay the course until better information comes along. When they detect an error, they update their thinking and try again.
People dont need a science degree to do this. Italian researchers Arnaldo Camuffo, Alessandro Cordova, Alfonso Gambardella and Chiara Spina at Bocconi University confirm that anyone can use the scientific method. Their field tests specifically focus on business settings during periods of uncertainty, but the scientific rigor works anywhere.
What active-minded individuals dont do is beat themselves up for honest mistakes. Instead, they celebrate every course correction and move forward without shame. This is what I have attempted to do.
I now embrace my role as a social entrepreneur in a nonprofit education setting, espousing the value of for-profit enterprise and markets for upward mobility. I find no contradiction in doing so, thanks to the course corrections I made.
Closed-minded people remain blind to the evidence of failure. Being wrong would jeopardize their entire belief system, so they reject the possibility. Open-minded people, meanwhile, never know they are wrong until someone else tells them.
While they wait, they miss opportunities to make discoveries for themselves. They also miss opportunities to share their ideas with others. Having an active mind engenders both creative activities.
People with active minds are flexible and firm at the same time. They adjust based on the evidence. The key is not being learned, but being a learner.
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Posted: at 12:37 pm
The smartest insight and analysis, from all perspectives, rounded up from around the web:
"The U.S. Small Business Administration released 4.8 million loan records detailing who received money from the $530 billion Paycheck Protection Program," said Taylor Borden at Business Insider and it's quite a list. Kanye West's Yeezy sneakers brand is on it, with a loan of $2 million to $5 million. So are the Girl Scouts of America, the Archdiocese of New York, the Ayn Rand Institute a think tank known for promoting "hard-core capitalism" and the anti-tax Americans for Tax Reform Foundation. "Meant to protect small business," the program, which offered forgivable loans to help save jobs, ended up sending money to large corporations, private schools, and even private clubs. Among the "well-heeled and well-connected" recipients were organizations linked to the Trump administration itself, said Ryan Tracy at The Wall Street Journal. An Indianapolis company part-owned by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos got a loan of at least $6 million; a company run by the family of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao got a loan, too. So did Newsmax Media, run by Trump donor Christopher Ruddy. Large hospital and casino chains got loans for multiple subsidiaries, leading to complaints of misuse. Says one finance professor, "This was supposed to be a small-business program."
It's hard to evaluate just how effective the program has been, because the numbers released so far are full of mistakes, said Mark Niquette at Bloomberg. For instance, on the electronic system that lenders use to process applications, more than 550,000 loan recipients listed "zero" for the number of jobs retained and more than 320,000 left the line blank. Some of the data is flat wrong. The official list shows Herb Miller's "one-man business" in Hixson, Tennessee, getting as much as $5 million. The real amount: $3,700. With the numbers rolling in, "people are still confused, and even angry, over the ambitious, unprecedented experiment," said Emily Stewart at Vox. The flaws go far beyond issues with the data. The program's reliance on banks disadvantaged smaller businesses, "because banks can collect bigger fees for bigger loans." But the biggest problem was in the design, which created confusion "about what PPP was supposed to accomplish in the first place." Take the Mark Fisher Fitness studio in New York City. With a PPP loan, it was able to rehire in April the 28 employees who were laid off in March. But the money had to be used in two months and now that it's spent, the employees have been laid off again.
Don't get mad at Kanye West, said David Graham at The Atlantic. Naming and shaming companies that were "legally allowed to seek public stimulus funds" misses the mark. So what if a recipient has a celebrity CEO? "Each dollar they passed to employees was a dollar injected into the American economy." The "huge and hasty PPP was bound" to make mistakes, said The Washington Post in an editorial, but "the declining unemployment rates of the past two months suggest this broad approach did indeed help save jobs." Congress on a bipartisan basis agreed to write the rules "and ask questions later." Now the initial results of the program are finally public, and "Congress has enough time and data as well as a duty to fix it."
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.
Posted: at 11:47 am
Whenever Cockburn has watched Diamond and Silk, whether theyre getting a heroes welcome at CPAC or sassing a left-wing celebrity in one of their viral videos, the same thought has always crossed his mind: when will this dynamic duo claim their rightful mantle in the literary pantheon? When can he sit down and peruse 256 pages of their incisive political commentary, as they follow in the footsteps of William F. Buckley Jr. and Ayn Rand and advance American conservative thought?
Mercifully, the wait is over.
The African American Trump-loving duo, real names Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, who sailed to notoriety throughout the 2016 campaign, release their debut book Uprising: Who the Hell Said You Cant Ditch and Switch? The Awakening of Diamond and Silk on August 18.
The description for the book reads:
Coming on the threshold of what promises to be the most acrimonious presidential election in American history, Diamond and Silks book will be a rallying cry for tens of millions of Americans who are tired of being told what to think and whom to vote for. Diamond and Silks story is one of overcoming poverty and shame and choosing victory over victimhood. Theirs is a story that defies the lefts narrative and that the mainstream media refuses to acknowledge, accept, and respect.
A press release from Regnery, which Cockburn has elected to publish in full below, offers further insight:
Uprising: Who the Hell Says You Cant Ditch and Switch The Awakening of Diamond and Silk depicts the against-all-odds rise of two virtually invisible black sisters from North Carolina sharecropping roots to become the spark and emblem of one of the greatest political revolutions in American history. Epochal and cinematic, intensely personal and revealing, Uprising is a clarion call for Americans of every star, stripe and heart. It reveals the never before told story of the resilient Hardaway family (we knew all we had was each other), their army veteran patriarch and pious mother, the sisters turbulent coming of age and struggle for economic security, their unlikely political awakening and unplanned journey into the world of bare knuckles politics and dirty media. Given over in the same gospel duet for which theyre famous, Diamond and Silks memoir is a Frank Capra-esque little guy against the bosses Cinderella story for the ages, with a starring role for the American working class.
At this fateful moment in history, when the political party of the protected is using violence and censorship to maintain its grip on the culture and keep people of color on the Democrat plantation, the story of authentic black women factory laborers who lost faith in the shibboleths of their corrupt Democrat bosses cries out to be told, including:
Diamond and Silks love for a revolutionary president, their biblical beliefs, authenticity and dominance of the 21st century alleyways of political dissent make them as dangerous to the establishment as Dick Gregory and Lenny Bruce were a few generations ago. Carried to the ramparts by the People, Lynette [sic] Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson have risen to become two of the most powerful women in America. And so once again, the establishment is using opprobrium, censorship and death threats to silence dissent. The arrogance and violence of the Harvard & Hamptons crowd has made Diamond and Silk all the more determined to give witness to the truth. The permanent elite will do anything to stop Uprising but there are too many of us now.
***Get a digital subscription toThe Spectator.Try a month free, then just $3.99 a month***
Diamond and Silk built a following thanks to their unfiltered, saucy approach to politics. This also proved their source of hamartia: the pairhave been sadly absent from Fox News in recent months, after suggesting COVID-19 was a plandemic, speculating that deep state snakes were using 5G to disperse the virus in certain locations and declaring that theyd refuse to take any vaccine involving Bill Gates.
As Cockburn has previously mentioned, Trumps acolytes will often earn a book plug on the Presidents Twitter feed. Perhaps the same treatment would help see Diamond and Silk back onto the road to the intellectual immortality for which theyve long seemed destined.
The rest is here:
Tagore’s Gora to Krishnamurthy’s Ponniyin Selvan: Add these regional language books to your reading list – India Today
Posted: at 11:47 am
There is nothing as fascinating as Indian literature. While Paulo Coelho, Khaled Hosseini and Ayn Rand's works interest almost every other bookworm, novels written by Indian authors are arresting enough and depict love, longing and loss apart from social issues just as well. Sometimes, even better.
From Urdu and Kannada to Bengali and Malayalam, India is replete with authors who represented the diversity and culture of the country through their words in their novels. Not to forget, most Indian authors also narrated the plight of their women protagonists in stories apart from underscoring the nuances of relationships.
For example, Karutthamma and Pareekkutty's long lost love story in Malayalam author TS Pillai's Chemmeen. As for those who fancy detective novels, you always have Feluda to go back to. Rabindranath Tagore's Gora is a beautiful love story with some burning topics (relevant even today) thrown in, while Kalki Krishnamurthy's Ponniyin Selvan is a historical saga that you might indulge in if you prefer reading stories of old dynasties and empires.
Most of the books written by acclaimed regional authors are available in English translated versions. In this article, we list the best regional novels that you must pick up in quarantine to soothe your soul.
Here you go.
Umrao Jan Ada
Umrao Jan Ada
Written by Mirza Hadi Ruswa and first published in 1899, Umrao Jan Ada is often considered as the first Urdu novel. Journey through the old, archaic Lucknow in Umrao Jan Ada as Ruswa takes you through the palaces of the nawabs and the grandiose atmosphere. Umrao Jan Ada is the story of a courtesan in Lucknow. Her life wasn't easy as Umrao, born as Amiran, was kidnapped and subsequently sold to Khanum Jaan, the head of a kotha. Throughout her years in the kotha, Umrao learns classical poetry, music, dance, Urdu and Persian. Happiness and tragedy follow Umrao simultaneously as her life has been detailed meticulously in this novel that is definitely worth a read. Khushwant Singh and MA Husaini translated the novel from Urdu to English.
The Adventures of Feluda
The Adventures of Feluda
15 or 60. Age is just a number as far as Feluda is concerned because his adventures appeal to readers at any given point of time. Prodosh Chandra Mitter, fondly known as Feluda, is a fictional Bengali private investigator, created by the legendary author Satyajit Ray. Accompanied by his cousin Topshe and the joyous crime writer Lalmohan Ganguly or Jatayu, Feluda traverses cities including Jaisalmer and Shimla to untangle mysteries. Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) and Joi Baba Felunath (The Mystery of the Elephant God) are some of the acclaimed Feluda stories that Satyajit Ray wrote. While separate novels of Feluda stories are available in English, you may also read several volumes of The Complete Adventures of Feluda, translated to English from Bengali by Gopa Majumdar.
The First Promise
Bengali author Ashapurna Debi weaved magic with her women protagonists as she described their predicament and sorrow in every short story. Prothom Protishruti, translated to English as The First Promise by Indira Chowdhury, is a path breaking novel by Ashapurna Debi. Eight-year-old Satyabati, a child bride, is the heroine of the novel. Ashapurna Debi narrates Satyabati's struggle as she fights against family control and social prejudices in a patriarchal society. Prothom Protishruti also won the Rabindra Puraskar and the Jnanpith Award.
TS Pillai's Malayalam novel Chemmeen documents the story of Karutthamma, a Hindu woman of the fishermen community and Pareekkutty, a Muslim man. Owing to the norms of the society, Karutthamma is subject to scrutiny after her community members discover her affair with Pareekkutty. Soon after, Karutthamma is married off to Palani, who trusts his wife irrespective of being aware of her past. All is well until one night, Karutthamma meets Pareekkutty while Palani is at the sea. Will she betray Palani after her encounter with her past? Chemmeen, translated from Malayalam to English by Anita Nair, is a beautiful story of love and everything else that surrounds it.
Written by UR Ananthamurthy in Kannada, Bharathipura is based on the practice of untouchability and the caste system in India. Jagannatha, the protagonist of the story, is an 'enlightened' modern Indian. All hell breaks loose after Jagannatha makes an attempt to take 'untouchables' inside the Manjunatha temple. Translated to English from Kannada by Susheela Punitha, Bharathipura highlights the complications related to social justice in India.
Premchand, celebrated for his modern Hindustani literature, is an acclaimed author best known for his novels such as Godaan, Mansarovar and Idgah. Books apart, Premchand has also written several short stories such as Do Bailon Ki Katha, Kafan and Boodhi Kaaki. Through his stories, Premchand highlighted the issues that the poor and the urban class battled as he wrote about corruption, poverty and colonialism. In Godan, Premchand writes about the story of "peasant India" as he narrates the plight of the hungry and impoverished sections of society. Poverty does not bring them down because their optimism and hopeful attitude keeps them alive. The novel has been translated to English as The Gift of a Cow by Jai Ratan and P Lal.
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's Devdas is every romantic novel lover's favourite. It is based on the tragic love story of Paro, Devdas and Chandramukhi. Devdas and Paro are childhood friends but are separated after he leaves for his studies. After several years, Dev returns and falls in love with Paro. But tragedy strikes after altercations arise between both the families and Paro is married off to a zamindar. Devdas, heartbroken, finds solace in a courtesan, Chandramukhi, who eventually falls for him. Devdas, however, suffers for Paro and takes to alcohol. The story ends with a cataclysmic conclusion as Devdas dies at Paro's doorstep.
Set in Calcutta (now Kolkata), in the 1880s during the British Raj, Rabindranath Tagore's Gora is a classic. It is based on two parallel love stories of Gora and Sucharita, and Binoy and Lolita in the backdrop of politics, society and religion. Gora was translated into English by WW Pearson in 1924.
A Very Strange Man
Ismat Chughtai, an acclaimed author, wrote books on themes of feminism and class conflict. She wrote Ajeeb Aadmi in the early 1970s and based the story on two fictional characters - Dharam Dev, a famous personality from the Hindi film industry in Bombay and his extramarital affair with an actress, Zareen Jamal. Ajeeb Aadmi was translated from Urdu to English by Tahira Naqvi.
Set in Tamil Nadu in the tenth century, Ponniyin Selvan is a historical Tamil novel by Kalki Krishnamurthy. It narrates the story of Arulmozhivarman, who later became the great Chola emperor Rajaraja Chola I. Translated to English by Pavithra Srinivasan, Fresh Floods is the first part of the five volumes of Ponniyin Selvan.
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Posted: at 11:47 am
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Published this month, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood and America Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, reveals how the White House and the military in 1946 sabotaged a long-forgotten MGM movie. That film, also titled The Beginning or the End, was inspired by a letter to actress Donna Reed from her high school chemistry teacher, who later toiled at the secret Manhattan Project site in Oak Ridge, TN.
Two months after the atomic attacks on Japan, he begged her to convince Hollywood to make a major movie that would reflect urgent warnings by the atomic scientists: The US must turn away from building more powerful weapons, which would likely spark a nuclear arms race with the Russians and imperil the entire world.
Soon, MGM would launch such a big-budget project, with studio chief Louis B. Mayer calling it the most important movie he would ever produce. Rival studio Paramount attempted a competing movie, with a screenplay written by none other than Ayn Rand.
My new book explores how, in the year that followed, the original message of the MGM movie would shift almost 180 degrees, ending as little more than pro-bomb propaganda. Why? Both President Harry S. Truman (who had given the order to bomb Hiroshima) and General Leslie R. Groves (director of the Manhattan Project) were given script approval, and ordered dozens of cuts and revisions. Truman even mandated a costly retake, and got the actor playing him fired.
Even to get that far, MGM had to convince the key people in the bomb project to sign releases granting permission to be portrayed in the film. This led to desperate attempts over many months to get Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard, and the scientific director of the project at Los Alamos, J. Robert Oppenheimer, to approve, while promising them (unlike with Groves) no fee. Einstein and Szilard, beaten down, finally succumbed, even while believing the movies script was poor, but the ever-conflicted Oppenheimer, the so-called Father of the Atomic Bomb, resisted.
While this was transpiring, the FBI was also chasing the three men, with a different motive. Each was suspected by J. Edgar Hoover of representing a security risk, even sympathizing with the Soviet Union, due to their generally left-wing views. So, in 1946, agents kept tabs on Einsteins mail and phone calls in Princeton, NJ. Agents monitored his writings, speeches, broadcasts, and his role with political or science groups, sometimes via informants who attended meetings. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was known to have called Einstein an extreme radical.
Agents tailed Szilard in the street, and also opened his mail, as General Groves sought to bar him from future national security programs. They followed Oppenheimer locally and on his many cross-country trips and tapped the phone at his Berkeley home.
Of course Oppie, as he was known to friends, was especially vulnerable, as his wife and brother (and his late mistress) had all been members of the Communist Party, as were several of his former associates. Yet for all their searching and harassing, the agents could not find evidence of his disloyalty.
The following excerpt from The Beginning or the End finds the producer of the MGM movie visiting Oppie at his home in April, 1946, to finally nail down his permission to be portrayed in the movie. Oppenheimers response would be recorded by the FBI, with a transcript, which appears here, revealed for the first time in the book.
Introduction by Greg Mitchell
On April 18, 1946, Sam Marx sent J. Robert Oppenheimer a copy of the screenplay for The Beginning or the End, with the hope he would at least glance through it before they met three days hence in Berkeley.
That Saturday night Marx left the Palace Hotel in San Francisco and soon arrived at Oppenheimers rambling one-story villa, built in 1925 with a red-tiled roof high up on Eagle Hill with an expansive view of three canyons, the bay, and sunsets over the Golden Gate.
After dinner, Oppie spoke frankly about the script, in his usual manner. In a letter to his friend J.J. Nickson he would recount much of this discussion. Based on that, it went something like this:
Oppenheimer: Some of the themes in the movie are sound, but most of the supposedly real characters like Bohr and Fermi and myself are stiff and idiotic. When Fermi hears of fission he says my what a thrill and my most characteristic phrase was gentlemen, gentlemen, let us be calm.
Marx: I understand.
Oppenheimer: Most of the trouble rests in ignorance and bad writing, rather than in anything malign.
Marx: Well, that may be true, but look at these newly signed agreements by Fermi and a few others.
Oppenheimer: Well, what kind of agreement can you and I make? For example, how about hiring as technical adviser my former aide and Los Alamos historian David Hawkins? Also, I want to be portrayed as a friend of that ethical scientist, whats his name, Matt Cochran.
Marx: Okay on all that. In addition, we will correct all of the factual errors you mentioned and take seriously all of your other gripes and proposed additions.
Oppenheimer: If all that is done, and you show me the next version of the script, I will likely sign a release. But I dont want a fee just send any proceeds to FAS or set up science fellowships for students.
Marx: Lets shake on it.
Oppenheimer would tell Nickson that he found his visitor from Hollywood sympathetic. Marx seemed honestly eager to get the script improved, but even after the revisions, Oppie predicted It wont be very good. At least in the current story, he added, the scientists seemed to be treated as ordinary decent guys, that they worried like hell about the bomb, that it presents a major issue of good and evil to the people of the world. He concluded: I hope I did right. I think the movie is a lot better for my intercession, but it is not a beautiful movie, or a wise and deep one. I think it did not lie in my power to make it so.
Oppenheimer seemed uncommonly insecure, however. Let me hear from you, he asked Nickson, particularly if you think I did wrong or want me to try again. He had other things to worry about as well. The FBI had started tapping the phone in his Berkeley home and recording the conversations.
When Sam Marx returned to Hollywood he immediately began revising the script. And while the studio had decided on Hume Cronyn to play him, that still might change. Marx doubted they could find a better actor, but they could certainly secure a more impressive movie name. Kitty Oppenheimer had voiced some opinions on that over dinner, and Marx had asked if she wanted to volunteer more ideas.
Fawning over his new friend, Marx assured him in a letter that he had just spent two full days rewriting the script (a gross exaggeration), and had impressed on the films writer, Frank Wead, and director Norman Taurog, that the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer must be an extremely pleasant one with a love of mankind, humility and a pretty fair knack of cooking. Also he passed along to them Oppies view that in the script the fictitious characters came to life but the living characters failed to breathe. Most critically and sure to provoke blowback from certain military figures Marx also revealed: We have changed all the lines at the New Mexico test so that General Groves is merely a guest and you give all the Orders.
He closed: Everyone now is most enthused about the changes I brought back from Berkeley. We are as eager for the truth as you are. . . . I would rather see you pleased with this picture than anyone else who has been concerned with the making of the atom bomb. Marx may well have been sincere about that, but it never hurt anyone to appeal to Oppenheimers vanity.
Two weeks later, near the end of a lengthy phone conversation taped as usual by the FBI Kitty Oppenheimer informed her husband, who was in the east, that he had received a letter from a Hugh Cronin (as the name was recorded in the transcript), explaining why he would like to be you.
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Oppie asked: Bill Cronin? Kitty: Hugh Cronin that bloke that belongs to MGM.
Well, Ill tell you what I did on this, Oppenheimer replied, then referred to General Groves top aide. This very ugly creature, [Colonel W.A.] Consodine, called me and said that Marx had said it was all right and would I sign the release, and I said sure. I got the release and I signed it with a paragraph written in saying that all of this is subject to my receipt of a statement from Mr. Sam Marx that he believes the changes that have been made are satisfactory. Possibly to re-assure his wife, he pointed out that their friend David Hawkins was still at the studio checking on things for him.
Robert: Well, I didnt think there was anything else to do. I dont want anything from them and if I can work on his conscience, that is the best angle I have. It just isnt worth anything otherwise, darling.
At this juncture, the call faded in and out. The FBI must have just hung up, Robert quipped.
The transcript recorded Kittys response as: Giggles.
Then Robert concluded: The only thing we can do there is to try to persuade them to do a decent job.
The movie would flop when released the following February, and fade from importance, but FBI surveillance of Oppenheimer would continue off and on for years. That probe would culminate in the famous 1954 hearing leading to Oppenheimer losing his security clearance, which led to his steady decline in influence and voice in the national discourse on the further development of nuclear weapons and policy.
Greg Mitchells The Beginning or the End was published this month by the New Press. It is his twelfth book. He is the former editor of Editor & Publisher and longtime daily blogger for the Nation.
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Chris-Hvard Berge / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) and DoE / Wikimedia.
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Posted: July 13, 2020 at 5:34 pm
Many articles have been written about whats wrong with Ayn Rands philosophy. But, to my knowledge, none of them presents her ideas accurately. So I thought it would be helpful to write one that does.
Heres whats wrong with Rands ideas:
Rand held that existence exists, that reality is real, that there is a world out there, and that we are conscious of it. She held that everything in existence is something specific; everything has a nature; a thing is what it is. (A snake is a snake. A woman is a woman. A pillar of salt is a pillar of salt.) She held that a thing can act only in accordance with its nature. (A snake can slither; it cannot speak. A woman can speak; she cant become a pillar of salt.) And Rand held that there is only one reality: the one we perceive, the one we experience, the one in which we live.1
Where to start with all of the problems in just that one paragraph?
To begin with, the idea that existence exists excludes the idea that existence doesnt exist. It denies the subjectivist, pragmatist, postmodernist view that reality is an illusion, a mental construct, a social convention. Obviously, people who insist that reality is not real are not going to buy in to a philosophy that says it is real.
So thats one huge problem with Rands philosophy.
Now consider her view that only one reality exists. This excludes the notion that a second reality exists; it excludes the idea of a supernatural realm, the realm of God. Likewise, her view that everything has a specific nature, that a thing is what it is, excludes the possibility that some things are not what they are. For instance, it excludes the possibility that a dead person can be alive (life after death), the possibility that wine can be blood or that bread can be flesh (transubstantiation), and the possibility that the Earth came into existence hundreds of thousands of years after the first Homo sapiens roamed it. Similarly, the idea that things can act only in accordance with their nature excludes the possibility of miraclesso: no Immaculate Conception, no virgin birth (of Jesus), no living inside a whale for three days, no walking on water, no faith healing, and so on.
Needless to say, people who insist on the existence of God, life after death, creationism, and miracles will not buy in to a philosophy that leaves no room for such things.
The problems with Rands philosophy are mounting rapidlyand weve just begun.
Another major problem is Rands view that man acquires knowledge by means of reason, the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by his senses. According to Rand, insofar as a person observes reality via his senses; integrates his observations into concepts, generalizations, and principles; checks his thinking for contradictions; and checks his conclusions for consistency with his ever-expanding network of observation-based integrationshe can acquire knowledge. Indeed, according to Rand human beings have acquired massive amounts of knowledge, which is why science has advanced so far and man has accomplished so much.2
Well, that view will not go over well with skeptics, pragmatists, and postmodernists who argue that man cannot acquire knowledgeat least not knowledge of reality. Because mans sensory apparatuses process all incoming data before it reaches consciousness, these skeptics argue, man is conscious not of an external reality or a world out there, but rather of internal modifications or distortions.
No human being has ever experienced an objective world, or even a world at all, writes Sam Harris. The sights and sounds and pulsings that you experience are consequences of processed datadata that has been structured, edited, or amplified by the nervous system. Thus, The world that you see and hear is nothing more than a modification of your consciousness.3
This fashionable view is rooted in the ideas of Immanuel Kant, who wrote: What objects may be in themselves, and apart from all this receptivity of our sensibility [i.e., perception], remains completely unknown to us. Once we understand this, Kant says, we realise that not only are the drops of rain mere appearances, but that even their round shape, nay even the space in which they fall, are nothing in themselves, but merely modifications within consciousness. In principle, Kant says, the actual objectthe object as it really isremains unknown to us.4
Indeed, says Kant, it is an error even to regard external objects as things-in-themselves, which exist independently of us and of our sensibility, and which are therefore outside us. The truth, he says, is that external objects are mere appearances or species of [internal] representations, and the things we perceive are something only through these representations. Apart from them they are nothing.5
When philosophers or intellectuals claim that we cannot know reality because our sensory apparatuses distort the data before it reaches consciousness, they may sound profound or impressive (at least to each other). But, then, along comes Ayn Rand, who points out that such claims amount to the view that man is blind, because he has eyesdeaf, because he has earsdeluded, because he has a mindand the things he perceives do not exist, because he perceives them.6
As you might imagine, such straightforward clarifications, which abound in Rands works, can make skeptics feel as ignorant as they claim to be. So thats another problem with Rands philosophy.
Further, Rand holds that reason is mans only means of gaining knowledge.7 This excludes the possibility that revelation, faith, feelings, or extrasensory perception (ESP) is a means of knowledge. On her view, to embrace ideas not supported by evidence is to err. Thus Rand sees all forms of mysticismall claims to a non-sensory, non-rational means of knowledgeas baseless, arbitrary, illegitimate.
That, of course, will not fly with religionists, subjectivists, psychics, or others who claim to acquire knowledge through non-sensory, non-rational means.
And then there are the myriad problems posed by Rands conception of free will.
Rand holds that people do indeed possess free willand that it resides in a fundamental choice: to think or not to think, to focus ones mind or not to do so, to go by facts or to go by feelings.8 The problems with this idea manifest on several levels.
For starters, if people have free will, then not only are their choices their responsibility, so too are the consequences of their choices. If a person characteristically chooses to think, and if his thinking guides him to build a business and make a lot of money, then the business and the money are his achievements. Likewise, if a person characteristically chooses not to think, and if his non-thinking renders him poor and miserable, then his poverty and misery are his fault.
Well, egalitarians, socialists, communists, and the like are not going to accept that for a minute. People who want to organize society in a way that ignores or denies personal responsibility will not accept a philosophy that upholds the very principle that gives rise to and necessitates personal responsibility.
Nor will Rands conception of free will jibe with Jews, Christians, or Muslims who take their religion seriously. If people truly choose to think or not to think, then the notion of an omnipotent, omniscient God goes out the window. Think about it: If people are free to think or not to think, then whatever powers an alleged God is said to possess, he cant know in advance which alternative people are going to choose. If God existed and knew in advance how people were going to choose, then their choices would be preordainedthus they wouldnt be genuine choices. Likewise, if people are free to think or not to think, then God cant make them choose to think. Nor can he make them choose not to think. You see the problem.
In short, Rands view of free will leaves no room for the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful God. This will not sit well with anyone who insists that such a God exists.
And thats still just the tip of Rands free-will iceberg. Her view of volition leads to a whole host of additional problems. Consider a few more.
If people choose to think or not to think, then they choose all of their actions that are governed by that fundamental choice as well. For instance, on Rands view, a person can choose to be honest or dishonest. He can refuse to pretend that facts are other than they areor he can choose to engage in such pretense.9 Importantly, Rands views on honesty and dishonesty are not merely about telling the truth versus lying. Rand holds that if a person knows something to be true but pretends that he doesnt know it, then even if he doesnt lie about iteven if he maintains the pretense only in his own mindhe is being dishonest. For instance, on Rands view, if a person knows that a friend has acted unjustly but pretends that he doesnt know it, hes being dishonest. And if a person knows that he owes someone an apology but doesnt extend it, hes being dishonest. In such cases, although the person has not lied, he nevertheless is pretending that facts are other than they are.
Well, people who choose occasionally to pretend that they dont know what they do knowand who want to continue in this fashionwill not embrace a philosophy that says they are able to stop deluding themselves and morally corrupt if they dont. (Of course, they might pretend to embrace it, but thats another matter.)
Likewise, on Rands view, a person can choose to think for himself, or he can turn to others and expect them to think for him. In other words, he can engage in independent thinking or in what Rand termed second-handedness.10 (An example of independent thinking would be someone reading a philosophers works and deciding for himself whether they make sense. An example of second-handedness would be someone turning to others to see what they say he should think about the philosophers ideas.) Rands insistence that people should face reality and think for themselves as a matter of unwavering principle is a problembecause many people are afraid to think for themselves. Many people prefer to avoid that effort, to shirk that responsibility, and to passively accept the ideas of their group, their leader, their tribe. Such people will not embrace a philosophy that upholds independent thinking as a fundamental virtue.
This brings us to the mother lode of problems with Ayn Rands philosophyand to the point of the whole thing.
Rands aforementioned principles calling for people to uphold reason, to be honest, and to think for themselves are part and parcel of the moral code she called rational egoism or rational self-interest. This moral code holds that the objective standard of moral value is mans lifeby which Rand means the requirements of human life given the kind of being that humans are. On her view, because humans are rational beingsbeings whose basic means of survival is the use of reasonthat which sustains and furthers the life of a rational being is good (or moral), and that which harms or destroys the life of a rational being is bad (or evil).11
Further, because Rand sees human beings as individualseach with his own body, his own mind, his own lifeshe holds that each individuals own life is properly his own ultimate value. She holds that each individual should choose and pursue his own life-serving values, and that he should never surrender a greater value for the sake of a lesser valuehe should never commit a sacrifice. As she puts it:
Manevery manis an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.12
Well, such a moral code clearly will not fly with people who want to maintain the traditional notion that people have a moral duty to sacrifice themselves or their values for the sake of others (i.e., altruism). Nor will it fly with people who feel that they have a moral right to sacrifice other people as they see fit (predation).
Not only does Rand regard both self-sacrifice and the sacrifice of others as immoral; she also regards the use of any form or degree of initiatory physical force against human beings as properly illegal. In her words, the essential characteristics of a civilized society are that men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit; and that no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others.13
Needless to say, Rands staunch advocacy of voluntary exchange to mutual benefit and her moral opposition to the use of force as a means of obtaining values from people will not fly with people or governments that want to use force to obtain values from people. Criminals who want to steal peoples belongings, commit fraud, rape people, or violate rights in other ways will not embrace a moral code that forbids them to do so. Likewise, governments that want to force people to serve the common good or the community or the master race or some other master will not recognize or uphold a morality that forbids them to initiate physical force against people. And pull-peddling businessmen who want government to forcibly control, regulate, or cripple their competitors will not recognize or uphold a moral code that forbids such coercion either.
This problemRands moral opposition to the use of physical force against human beingslies at the very base of her political theory, where it serves as a bridge between her moral code and her political views. This is where Rands theory of rights comes into the picture. As she put it:
Rights are a moral conceptthe concept that provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individuals actions to the principles guiding his relationship with othersthe concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social contextthe link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, between ethics and politics. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.14
Rand sees individual rights as the governing principle of a civilized society because she sees rights as deriving from mans nature and as requirements of his life in a social context. She elaborates:
A right is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a mans freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a mans right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated actionwhich means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)15
According to Rand, the only proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights by banning physical force from social relationshipsand by using force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use.16
Clearly, no one who wants government to do more than that will embrace Rands philosophy. No one who wants government to forcibly redistribute wealth, or to forbid certain kinds of speech, or to forbid certain kinds of consensual adult sex, or to restrict freedom in any other way will embrace a philosophy that demands principled recognition and absolute protection of individual rights.
A final problem worth mentioning about Rand and her philosophy is that she wrote in plain, intelligible English and defined her terms clearly as a matter of course, so that anyone who wants to understand her ideas can do so with relative ease. Toward this end, in addition to presenting her ideas in various nonfiction works, she dramatized them in spellbinding fictionsuch as her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shruggedthus enabling people to see her ideas in practice. Well, this will not go over well with modern philosophers or academics who insist that philosophy must be written in academese, technical jargon, or impenetrable fog. Nor will it pass muster with anyone who feels that dramatizing or concretizing ideas in fiction somehow disqualifies them.
We could go on. Rands philosophy involves many additional problems. But the foregoing is a concise indication of the trouble it causes.
So, next time the subject of whats wrong with Ayn Rands ideas comes up, be sure to share this brief sketch of the kinds of problems involved. Its better for people to learn whats wrong with Rands actual ideas than to waste time contemplating takedowns of straw men.
Posted: at 5:34 pm
(Reuters) - The institute promoting the laissez-faire capitalism of writer Ayn Rand, who in the novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead introduced her philosophy of objectivism to millions of readers, was approved for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan of up to $1 million, according to data released Monday by the Trump administration.
The Ayn Rand Institute: The Center for the Advancement of Objectivism in Santa Ana, California, sought to preserve 35 jobs with the PPP funding, according to the data.
The institute advocates the Russian-American writers philosophy and applies its principles to many issues and events, including ones Rand herself never discussed, according to its website. It focuses on areas that have a long-term multiplying impact on the direction of our culture notably, education and policy debates, the website says.
The institute referred Reuters to a May 15 article, in which board member Harry Binswanger and senior fellow Onkar Ghate wrote that the organization would take any relief money offered from the CARES Act. We will take it unapologetically, because the principle here is: justice, they wrote, adding that the government has no wealth of its own. It can only redistribute the wealth of others.
In Rands novels and works of nonfiction which included The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal she expressed her belief in rational self-interest and the goal of pursuing happiness as a persons highest moral aim.
In a 1962 essay, Rand wrote of seventeenth century French businessmen: They knew that government help to business is just as disastrous as government persecution, and that the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off.
Reporting by Helen Coster; Editing by Aurora Ellis
See the original post here:
Posted: at 5:34 pm
Social media and major news outlets are ablaze with reports that the Ayn Rand Institute applied for and received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program, established by Congress under the CARES Act for pandemic relief. People are questioning how an educational nonprofit that advocates ending the welfare state can maintain its integrity while accepting a government bailout.
The question is understandable, which is why months ago, before ARI received any funds Institute scholars recorded an explanatory webinar and published an essay (To Take or Not to Take), stating clearly that ARI was applying for funds and explaining why an uncompromising advocate of laissez-faire capitalismabsolutely has a right to take such money as a matter of moral principle.
These explanations are based squarely on Rands philosophy of Objectivism, including statements she made directly on the issue during her lifetime (she died in 1982).
Together these materials provide a factual basis for journalists, commentators and other interested persons to understand the Institutes position.
The Institutes president and CEO, Tal Tsfany, has recorded a short video explaining why the pursuit of PPP funds was a matter of justice for ARIs donors.
SUPPORT ARI: If you value the ideas presented here, please become an ARI Member today.
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Posted: at 5:34 pm
I feel the need to let you know this cartoon was inspired by the first Betsy DeVos story this week:
Several Democratic-led states and the District of Columbia have joined in a lawsuit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, accusing the Trump administration of trying to unlawfully divert pandemic relief funds from public schools to private schools.
I completed it before I realized there was a second Betsy DeVos story:
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday assailed plans by some local districts to offer in-person instruction only a few days a week and said schools must be "fully operational" even amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Now as I write this, I see there is a third Betsy DeVos story:
If schools arent going to reopen, were not suggesting pulling funding from education but instead allowing families ... (to) take that money and figure out where their kids can get educated if their schools are going to refuse to open, Betsy DeVos told Fox News in an interview.
But probably the best Betsy DeVos story this week wasn't actually about her (but might as well have been):
The institute promoting the laissez-faire capitalism of writer Ayn Rand, who in the novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead introduced her philosophy of objectivism to millions of readers, was approved for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan of up to $1 million, according to data released Monday by the Trump administration.
I apologize for not being able to keep up.
John Auchter is a freelance political cartoonist. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or its license holder, the University of Michigan.
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