Monday, November 08, 2004

The Election: Values vs. Terrorism

In light of my previous comments on the role played by religious values in this election, it is important to point out that at least two sources have been interpreting the statistical evidence coming out of the exit polls quite differently. Paul Freedman of the liberal online magazine Slate offers the following analysis in a column entitled "The Gay Marriage Myth: Terrorism, not values, drove Bush's re-election":

More to the point, the morality gap didn't decide the election. Voters who cited moral issues as most important did give their votes overwhelmingly to Bush (80 percent to 18 percent), and states where voters saw moral issues as important were more likely to be red ones. But these differences were no greater in 2004 than in 2000. If you're trying to explain why the president's vote share in 2004 is bigger than his vote share in 2000, values don't help.

If the morality gap doesn't explain Bush's re-election, what does? A good part of the answer lies in the terrorism gap. Nationally, 49 percent of voters said they trusted Bush but not Kerry to handle terrorism; only 31 percent trusted Kerry but not Bush. This 18-point gap is particularly significant in that terrorism is strongly tied to vote choice: 99 percent of those who trusted only Kerry on the issue voted for him, and 97 percent of those who trusted only Bush voted for him. Terrorism was cited by 19 percent of voters as the most important issue, and these citizens gave their votes to the president by an even larger margin than morality voters: 86 percent for Bush, 14 percent for Kerry.

Another commentator offering a similar view is David Brooks, a NY Times columnists. In his column entitled "The Values-Vote Myth," he writes (free registration required to read the NYT article, the article may eventually not be freely available):

Much of the misinterpretation of this election derives from a poorly worded question in the exit polls. When asked about the issue that most influenced their vote, voters were given the option of saying "moral values." But that phrase can mean anything - or nothing. Who doesn't vote on moral values? If you ask an inept question, you get a misleading result.

The reality is that this was a broad victory for the president. Bush did better this year than he did in 2000 in 45 out of the 50 states. He did better in New York, Connecticut and, amazingly, Massachusetts. That's hardly the Bible Belt. Bush, on the other hand, did not gain significantly in the 11 states with gay marriage referendums.

He won because 53 percent of voters approved of his performance as president. Fifty-eight percent of them trust Bush to fight terrorism. They had roughly equal confidence in Bush and Kerry to handle the economy. Most approved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. Most see it as part of the war on terror.

Well, this is certainly good news. If these analyses are true then the majority of people who helped elect Bush did so because they thought he would be better at fighting the war, rather than as some kind of effort to impose religious values (for which there really wasn't that much evidence to begin with, at least so far).

With the present effort in Fallujah underway (Operation "Phantom Fury") I would like to remain optimistic, at least for a while, and await what the administration will do with respect to domestic and foreign policy. I suppose there really isn't a very good reason to expect drastic differences but at this point I'm inclined to give Bush the benefit of the doubt.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Election Results: Implications & the War

I was happy to be proven right in the results of the elections, having predicted a little after the Democratic National Convention that the Kerry would lose. I admit to being a little worried by the constant media references to a "close race" but in the end I just could not believe that the majority of the American people were so dissatisfied with Bush as to elect somebody with the kind of history that Kerry had and positions that Kerry held throughout his Senate career. Actually that would have required more than dissatisfaction. It would have required the majority of this country to abandon its basic fighting spirit. And I just didn't think that would happen. While ultimately this is irrelevant, I admit to liking President Bush on a personal level much more than Senator Kerry. Despite many things that I think are wrong with President Bush, there is far more to respect about him than there ever was about Senator Kerry and that is part of the reason why I voted for Bush.

Of course, Kerry did not run his campaign as a leftist pacificist and Bush lacks much of the fighting spirit necessary to inspire a much clearer majority but nevertheless, for me at least that's what this election was about.

The media is presently reporting that according to exit polls "moral values, such as abortion" was the most important issue for the largest fraction (22%) of the electorate, with terrorism at 19%. This is a depressing statistic and is another piece of evidence confirming the increasing religious trend in this country that Dr. Peikoff detailed in his DIM Hypothesis Lectures. In fact, if Kerry had won I would have considered that evidence against Peikoff's view that the religious trend is increasing. However, before we get too alarmist I think this hopeful explicit statement on the issue from President Bush himself during his recent press conference needs to be taken into account:

Q Mr. President, your victory at the polls came about in part because of strong support from people of faith, in particular, Christian evangelicals and Pentecostals and others. And Senator Kerry drew some of his strongest support from those who do not attend religious services. What do you make of this religious divide, it seems, becoming a political divide in this country? And what do you say to those who are concerned about the role of a faith they do not share in public life and in your policies?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, my answer to people is, I will be your President regardless of your faith, and I don't expect you to agree with me necessarily on religion. As a matter of fact, no President should ever try to impose religion on our society.

A great -- the great tradition of America is one where people can worship the way they want to worship. And if they choose not to worship, they're just as patriotic as your neighbor. That is an essential part of why we are a great nation. And I am glad people of faith voted in this election. I'm glad -- I appreciate all people who voted. I don't think you ought to read anything into the politics, the moment, about whether or not this nation will become a divided nation over religion. I think the great thing that unites is the fact you can worship freely if you choose, and if you -- you don't have to worship. And if you're a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim, you're equally American. That is -- that is such a wonderful aspect of our society; and it is strong today and it will be strong tomorrow.

The above is a far better statement on this issue than that given by President Bush's father who did not seem to think that atheists really have a place in this country. Particularly as an Objectivist who believes that objective moral values, far from relying on religion, in fact come from recognizing the nature of man and his relation to this world, it is reassuring to hear the President proclaim that we can be "just as patriotic." I hope that this will not turn out to be idle rhetoric.

Now for the war. Here I think it is Bush's weaknesses that have been the primary reason why the race was so close. I came across a transcript of a fascinating lecture by Victor Davis Hanson called "What Would Patton Say About the Present War?" For me the money passage is the following:

But Patton would insist that it is only by military defeat and subsequent humiliation first that the supporters of terrorism against the West will understand the wages of their support for Islamic fascism. Once people in the Middle East, like the Germans, see that the Islamic fascists are defeated - and that all who support and condone that ideology are synonymous with it and thus must pay for their complicity through some measure of sacrifice and suffering - radical bellicose Islamicism really will end. Patton was quite clear about defeating, humiliating and then helping Germans - the proper order of such a progression in attitude being absolutely critical.
[Emphasis added]

I am heartened by the fact that a Conservative like Hanson understands the lesson that Patton taught. This is the kind of point that Dr. Peikoff and ARI Director Dr. Yaron Brook have been making in their recent speeches and lectures. Unfortunately the Bush administration seems to be operating under a different principle as illustrated by the following quote from the recent press conference:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. On foreign policy, more broadly, do you believe that America has an image problem in the world right now, because of your efforts and response to the 9/11 attacks? And, as you talked down the stretch about building alliances, talk about what you'll do to build on those alliances and to deal with these image problems, particularly in the Islamic world.

THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that. Listen, I've made some very hard decisions: decisions to protect ourselves, decisions to spread peace and freedom. And I understand in certain capitals and certain countries, those decisions were not popular.
You know, you said -- you asked me to put that in the context of the response on September the 11th. The first response, of course, was chasing down the terror networks, which we will continue to do. And we've got great response around the world in order to do that. There's over 90 nations involved with sharing information, finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. That is a broad coalition, and we'll continue to strengthen it.

I laid out a doctrine, David, that said if you harbor terrorists, you're equally as guilty as the terrorists, and that doctrine was ignored by the Taliban, and we removed the Taliban. And I fully understand some people didn't agree with that decision. But I believe that when the American President speaks, he'd better mean what he says in order to keep the world peaceful. And I believe we have a solemn duty, whether or not people agree with it or not, to protect the American people. And the Taliban and their harboring of al Qaeda represented a direct threat to the American people.

And, of course, then the Iraq issue is one that people disagreed with. And there's no need to rehash my case, but I did so, I made the decision I made, in order to protect our country, first and foremost. I will continue to do that as the President. But as I do so, I will reach out to others and explain why I make the decisions I make.

There is a certain attitude in the world, by some, that says that it's a waste of time to try to promote free societies in parts of the world. I've heard that criticism. Remember, I went to London to talk about our vision of spreading freedom throughout the greater Middle East. And I fully understand that that might rankle some, and be viewed by some as folly. I just strongly disagree with those who do not see the wisdom of trying to promote free societies around the world.

If we are interested in protecting our country for the long-term, the best way to do so is to promote freedom and democracy. And I -- I simply do not agree with those who either say overtly or believe that certain societies cannot be free. It's just not a part of my thinking. And that's why during the course of the campaign, I was -- I believe I was able to connect, at least with those who were there, in explaining my policy, when I talked about the free election in Afghanistan.

There were -- there was doubt about whether or not those elections would go forward. I'm not suggesting any of you here expressed skepticism. But there was. There was deep skepticism, and -- because there is a attitude among some that certain people may never be free -- they just don't long to be free or incapable of running an election. And I disagree with that. And the Afghan people, by going to the polls in the millions, proved -- proved that this administration's faith in freedom to change peoples' habits is worthy. And that will be a central part of my foreign policy. And I've got work to do to explain to people about why that is a central part of our foreign policy. I've been doing that for four years.

But if you do not believe people can be free and can self-govern, then all of a sudden the two-state solution in the Middle East becomes a moot point, invalid. If you're willing to condemn a group of people to a system of government that hasn't worked, then you'll never be able to achieve the peace. You cannot lead this world and our country to a better tomorrow unless you see a better -- if you have a vision of a better tomorrow. And I've got one, based upon a great faith that people do want to be free and live in democracy.

The best part of the president's strategy is his statement "if you harbor terrorists, you're equally as guilty as the terrorists." The worst part derives from his continued insistence on referrring to the enemy as "terrorism." As Victor Hanson has stated:

Applying Patton's thinking to today's situation, we can first recognize the so-called "war on terror" as a misnomer. There has never really been a war against a method other than something like Pompey's crusade against the pirates or the British effort to stifle the slave trade. In fact, we're no more in a war against terror than Patton was fighting against Tiger and Panzer tanks. Patton, who understood the hold of a radically triumphalist Nazism on a previously demoralized German people, would have the intellectual honesty to realize that we are at war with Islamic fascists, mostly from the Middle East, who have played on the frustrations of mostly male, unemployed young people, whose autocratic governments can't provide the conditions for decent employment and family life. A small group of Islamists appeals to the angst of the disaffected through a nostalgic and reactionary turn to a mythical Caliphate, in which religious purity trumps the material advantages of a decadent West and protects Islamic youth from the contamination of foreign gadgetry and pernicious ideas. In some ways, Hitler had created the same pathology in Germany in the 1930s.

The refusal by Bush to name the enemy severely constrains his actions. It implies that if only the few terrrorists and their immediate supporters go away, the enemy will be defeated. However, a recognition that the enemy is ideologically driven would imply that while the present violent representatives of the ideology must be killed or captured, the basis for any belief in the ideological goals must be completely destroyed. This is the "humiliation" that Hanson argued Patton thought necessary. And unfortunately it seems to be largely missing from our strategy.

Next I would criticise Bush's "faith in freedom." The issue is not that I believe that there's some inherent biological reason why people in the Middle East cannot be free. The issue is again, ideological. If freedom, as we understand the term, is not a value to people due to their own beliefs then they will neither seek nor accept it. This is the Libertarian mistake -- to assume that everybody would really support liberty and that no specific moral ideas are necessary to ground it. But liberty as we understand it is a completely different idea from freedom as an Islamic Fundamentalist would hold, or a Nazi or a Communist. It is not a self-evident idea. It is an intellectual achievement that the West took centuries to reach. To assume that the culture of the Middle East is such as to be presently conducive to freedom as we understand the term, is to admit one's ignorance of that culture. The fact that man needs freedom (properly understood) in order to live and live well, does not mean that any given man understands that. And in the Middle East in particular, with its numerous irrational and barbarous religious and tribal traditions, and conspiracy mentality the problem of introducing rule of law, individual rights and representative governments is a daunting one indeed. It would be helped if the existing ideas had at least been discredited and if we properly understood, were confident about, and propagated our own ideas and political system, something which has not been the case so far.

It is hoped that the Bush administration will be more agressive in its war strategy in its second term, though in some ways this is doubtful. If as Dr. Brook has argued, the administration is guided by Just War theory (for details, see here and here), then it is likely that the war will continue to be pursued by less than fully effective means. It is also hoped that we will target Iran next, an action, which as Scott Holleran has pointed out, is 25 years overdue. It remains to be seen what the administration will do. Perhaps it will surprise us.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

American Soldier

Today I finished listening to American Soldier -- General Tommy Franks Autobiography. I highly recommend it for many reasons. General Franks overall life story is quite inspiring. He comes across as very much American -- in the best sense of the word: A man with a strong sense of justice, a curious, active mind, a thinker and a doer. His experiences in the Vietnam War provide a good backdrop to his later leadership roles. I thought he became somewhat more political (and hence more compromising) in his later years but I think here he is no different than most his contemporaries. His strategy of relying on high-technology to achieve great advantages in speed and maneuver was militarily successful in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, though the conclusion of the Iraqi aftermath is yet to be written. All in all he appears to best among the best of the current crop of leaders this country possesses.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Wars, Facts on the Ground, and Interpretations

I came across two descriptions of what's going on in Iraq at the moment. An article featuring numerous interviews with marines and soldiers in Iraq offers a pessimistic assessment in the Washington Post (free registration required -- the article is from Oct. 10 and may not be available forever) and was featured in the most recent issue of Scott Holleran's Concord Crier. Here's a few revealing excerpts from the article:

"Sometimes I see no reason why we're here," [Lance Cpl. Carlos] Perez said. "First of all, you cannot engage as many times as we want to. Second of all, we're looking for an enemy that's not there. The only way to do it is go house to house
until we get out of here."
"Every day you read the articles in the States where it's like, 'Oh, it's getting better and better,' " said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Snyder, 22, of Gettysburg, Pa. "But when you're here, you know it's worse every day."
Lance Cpl. Jeremy Kyrk, 21, of Chicago, said the insurgents took advantage of the limitations imposed on U.S. troops. "They don't give us any leeway, they don't give us any quarter," he said. "They catch people and cut their heads off. They know our limits, but they have no limits. We can't compete with that."

Read the whole article -- it will not make you optimistic about the future in Iraq. Still, I also came across a commentary written by Joe Kane, who is with the US Navy and stationed in Baghdad, his blog Able Kane Adventures. Ironically, Joe was commenting on another article in similar vein to the WP article mentioned above. Joe grants that the facts do not look particularly great at the moment but he writes:

I don’t think this is going to be a pretty or clean victory. Nor will it be a short battle. There is a lot of complexity and very little understanding. We, the Americans will do things bit by bit, stepping forward and back, and making our way through this seeming minefield of confusion and some great things will be done while some great opportunities will be missed. In the end, I can point you to one of my earliest blog entries about my outlook for Iraq. Whenever I get confused or discouraged by things this refreshes me and puts me back on track.

“This will be primarily a war of ideologies, and it is inevitable that we win. I just flew over the rooftops of downtown Baghdad and what do you think I saw? A lot of poverty, overheated heaps of garbage, small herds of goats and sheep among dried vegetation, burned and bombed out cars and half-naked children gazing up from mud-brick walls.

I also saw cell phone towers, and most importantly I saw satellite dishes. Shining disks, perfectly round, straining like great aluminum flowers toward an unseen sun of free-flowing information orbiting the equator, bringing light into minds as surely as the other sun brings daylight into the cold of the desert night. These are the weapons of freedom. These are the destroyers of tyranny.

No amount of tyranny can stand against people who are free to engage in the trafficking of ideas. That is why our first amendment is protected and fought over so fiercely at home, and ultimately, if you want to understand the American soul you can look back over our history of arguing and fighting and dying for that very thing - the right to speak your mind regardless of what anyone else might think of it.

Again, read the whole entry in Joe's blog -- it is instructive and will give you some hope for the future. I'm not sure which is right. Generally speaking I lean more to the pessimistic side as can be seen by some of my previous posts but it's good, in this case, to know that there's a chance I'm wrong.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Objectivism & "the Right"

Brad Malestein of Contemporary History has written a provocative essay entitled "Objectivism is Not Part of 'The Right'". Brad argues that TIA editor Robert Tracinski's is mistaken in his recommendation to create a "secular right." Brad writes:

What Mr. Tracinski proposes can only result in confusion and disaster. The confusion would result from the package-deal of putting Objectivism, a pro-reason, pro-egoism philosophy, under the same concept, The Right, as religious groups and pragmatist conservatives. The disaster would come in the form of Objectivists wasting untold effort combatting the package-deal, especially since it would be Objectivists themselves inciting the confusion.

I must admit to initially being somewhat taken aback by Brad's essay, having always considered myself part of the right, even when I was not an Objectivist and when my economic views would easily have been categorized as socialism-lite. My primary motivator at the time were my hawkish views with respect to Israel. While I was hardly consistent, I rejected the dovish peace-now groups and always thought Israel needed to defend itself using its strength.

Since becoming an Objectivist, I have considered Objectivism to be the lone, sane voice of the right, even if I was not always entirely happy with the whole left-right spectrum and its implications and have written about this. The reason for this consideration is obvious. The left has for the last 100 years been most easily identified with statism and since Objectivism advocates laissez faire capitalism, it is easily placed on the right. Of course, given the types of people that are included in both the "left" and the "right," things are not in fact this straight-forward.

If we follow Brad's advice then Objectivism must be placed in its own category, neither left nor right. In fact, this is as it should be. The whole left-right spectrum should be rejected as a completely inadequate description of ideological views. We need to return to identifying people's ideas by what fundamental principles they endorse, not by some arbitrary groupings of disparate groups on a spectrum without any unifying commonalities. A far superior approach would be to rely on Dr. Peikoff's DIM Hypothesis and its five categories for analyzing intellectual movements. I have already outlined my understanding of Dr. Peikoff's views here and here.

Nevertheless, I think it is important to counter the increasing influence of the religious right with Objectivist ideas. Tracinski's proposed "Secularism Reader," is definitely a step in the right direction and its publication will, along with many other efforts, hopefully result in increasing the awareness of all Americans in rational ideas and the proper foundations of a free society. I can't speak for Mr. Tracinski but I took his advocacy of a "secular right" as implying the eventual replacement what passes today as "the Right" with a political Objectivist movement. If so, I wholeheartedly support the project.
"Not yet at war"

The subject of this posting is excerpted from a posting at the Belmont Club, in which Wretchard praises Mark Steyn's analysis of the proper attitude to the Islamic killers we are facing. Toward the end of Wretchard's essay he writes:

Radical Islam is self-evidently at war with the West because their efforts are limited only by their capability. And the West is just as clearly not yet at war with radical Islam because its actions are still limited by its intent. Zarqawi sawed off Bigley's head simply because he could; America spares Fallujah from choice. [bold characters in original]

Thus Wretchard joins Objectivists such as Dr. Leonard Peikoff and Ayn Rand Institute director Dr. Yaron Brook in their criticism of the less than serious response that the West and the US in particular has so far given the endless provocations of the Islamic militants.

Some readers may wonder how this can be. Haven't we fought two wars against the enemy already? Yes and no. Both Afghanistan and Iraq were enemies but arguably in neither case was there a total war against either country. In the case of Afghanistan the US fought to support the overthrow of the Taliban. In the case of Iraq we fought to liberate the Iraqi people from the Saddam Hussein. In neither case was war declared and in both cases the enemy government (the people of either country were not considered hostile) was given ample opportunity to repent and thus avoid war altogether. In both cases the Bush administration followed the principles of "just war:" Despite rhetoric to the contrary, both wars were heavily altruistic in justification as well as execution, both wars were done as much as possible under the sanction of world bodies and in the context of coalitions, and finally, both wars placed local civilians above the lives of American military personnel and ultimately American civilians.

Since our government refuses to name the obvious enemy (militant Islam), we claim to be engaged in a so-called "War on Terrorism." With respect to this war the ultimate enemy is really quite clear. For some time now, the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world has been Iran. Iran also happens to be the ideological center of Islamic fundamentalism along with its Sunni rival Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia is still regarded as an ally, while the US administration is attempting to make a diplomatic deal with Iran and thus talk it out of its nuclear program.

Therefore while we are and have certainly been fighting, we have not been at war. If we were at war the country would be in far different mood. Our political and military leadership would be fully clear and open on who our enemies are and comitted to total war and victory over them to the point of restoring what's is referred to in latin as the status quo ante -- the state of affairs that existed previously. That means a return to the days when, to take one obvious example, we did not have to take off our shoes at the airports. But that would require a complete destruction of the enemy to the point that its spirit is broken, its resources exhausted and its ideology utterly discredited. One hopes that one day the US will have the political and military leadership to assert our right to destroy our enemies with the moral certainty that such a battle will require.

Some people think the US will have to be hit again and harder for it to come to its senses. I don't know if that's true. I could site the example of Israel which was certainly faced with an endless series of provocations over the last few years, only to have its current leadership settle for building a wall and withdrawing from part of its land. It is hoped that the American people will ultimately decide better than that.

Monday, October 11, 2004

A book worth waiting for

Ever since I discovered Ayn Rand and Objectivism, I have heard and read about Ayn Rand's alleged hypocricy, her alleged personal flaws, the "cult", the "religion", etc.. Many, if not most, of these personal attacks stem from two biographies written by her former associates, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, associates with whom Ayn Rand broke off all contact while she was still alive. These former associates chose to wait until after Ayn Rand's death to publish their vile attacks.

Fortunately, there will soon be published a well-deserved critique of the Brandens' biographical tracts. This criticism will include never before published excerpts from Ayn Rand's journals about the Brandens. The author, James Valliant had released an earlier version of his analysis (which did not include any of Ayn Rand's journal entries) on the web but in anticipation of the publication pulled it from the public web site. I have read the earlier web based analysis and found it quite convincing. The upcoming book will be called The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics and will be published by Durban House Publishing. I suspect this book will not put to rest the attacks on Ayn Rand but at least it will offer those of us who do admire her an opportunity to read her side of the story and, as a result, to answer some of these unjustified personal attacks with facts and logic.
Happy Columbus Day 2004

I grew up in West Germany in the 1970s before moving to Israel for most of the first half of the 1980s and arriving in Los Angeles in the summer of 1984. In Germany, to the best of my knowledge, I did not notice any controversy about Columbus. He was treated as a hero, a person worthy of admiration. I would say the same was true for Israel. It was only when I arrived in the US that I learned there was some controversy here. I admit to being somewhat ignorant and confused about the controversy at first. I don't consider myself an expert on Columbus yet but the moral arguments now used against him I no longer find convincing.

For some discussion why Columbus day is important see Tom Bowden's essay at ARI, as well as Joe Kane's comments. Tom Bowden, in particular, played an important role in clearing up some of my misconceptions on the topic with his pamphlet that I read about 10 years ago. The pamphlet was a well researched objective set of questions and answers on Columbus and the American Indians. Mr. Bowden has since turned the pamphlet into a short book.

Today I am looking forward to attending Tom Bowden's lecture Columbus Day without Guilt. Anybody interested in Columbus day should try to attend the ARI sponsored talk which will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Irvine, California at 7:30 PM. See the flier for details.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Objectivists and the 2004 Presidential Elections

It may come as a surprise to the uninitiated but Objectivists are very much divided in this presidential election. "Supporters" of President Bush include Robert Tracinski, Michael Hurd, and Alexander Marriott. "Supporters" of Kerry include Leonard Peikoff, Craig Biddle, John Lewis and others. I put "supporters" in quotes because neither side is really enamored with "their man" but rather they argue on different levels as to which one is the least worst in both short and long-run terms.

Supporters of Bush admit Bush's inadequate war but believe it is preferable to whatever Kerry will do (or most likely not do). Supporters of Kerry are worried about Bush's injection of religion into government and are not at all sure that what little Bush has done to fight this war will be all that different from what Kerry will be pushed to do to get reelected. There are other arguments as well but the above are some of the most important.

I'm still slightly more supportive of Bush than Kerry, though I have to admit the anti-Bush arguments are giving me great pause. I'm now somewhat afraid no matter who will get elected. I still can't help but think that with the small number of Objectivists around the effect of our votes is more an issue of moral sanction than electoral effectiveness. For example, in California where I reside, it is a more or less foregone conclusion that Kerry will win regardless of what Objectivists will do.

I used to think that Bush's reelection was a given since Kerry's pacifistic arguments would not win over the American public. However, Bush is now apparently doing such a poor job defending what little he's done that Kerry is gaining on him. We will see how tonight's debate goes but it does appear that the momentum is now with Kerry.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Last night's debate did not change the fundamental positions of both candidates but it did clarify them for anybody who hadn't been paying close attention to the issues so far. Whatever problems one may have with Bush's approach to fighting this war, Kerry wants to returns to the days of Clinton. That is, to the days of delusionary diplomacy and wishful thinking. I therefore come to the simple conclusion that a vote for Kerry is a vote for surrender. Thus, I vote for Bush.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Limitations of Restraint

Liberals seem to have literally childish views on war and peace. Apparently many of them seem to believe that if we just close our eyes and bury our head in the sand the Islamic terrorism will go away. Their view are so absurd as not really worth discussing. However, despite a reputation for toughness, most Conservatives do not seem to fully understand the necessity of fighting a total war either. They insist that carefully limited engagement that selectively target isolated individuals or groups, while giving maximum protection to so-called innocent civilians is the road to long-term victory. This means, among other things, that we place the values of our own soldiers below the value of any enemy civilians. I think this is neither moral, nor will it work in the long run. Neither in Iraq nor in Israel.

With respect to Iraq, Andrew Sullivan has this important commentary today on Iraq:

The inability or unwillingness of the U.S. to seal the borders or effectively counter the terror contributes to the general view that the insurgents are going to win, and therefore the notion that the U.S.-led liberation may make matters even worse than they were before...
The key moment was probably when George W. Bush blinked in Fallujah. That was when the general population inferred that we were not prepared to win. It's amazing, really. This president has a reputation for toughness and resolution. Yet at arguably the most critical moment in this war, he gave in. He was for taking Fallujah before he was against it.

With respect to Israel, DEBKA, has this insightful commentary:
Clearly, the Sharon government by locking itself into a preconceived plan is being thrown back on bad defense measures instead of pursuing effective offensive action that would offer Israel a true escape from harsh reality.

It would appear that in both places means short of what's necessary are employed. Certainly, it is easy for me to sit in the comfort of home and criticise. But that does not change the fact the current approach is not working. Both the US and Israel need to put the needs of their own populations and soldiers first and need to be a lot more ruthless than they have been. The moral ideas that the leaderships of both countries use must change. For some suggestions see here.

Monday, September 20, 2004


Even though I got bored with my analysis of the Prager-Harris interview, I thought it important to address one last issue in it, namely the issue of abortion. During the interview Prager issues the following challenge:

DP: Well, then, that may be a result of your secularism and my religiosity. For example, where does your secular reason lead you to on abortion? A woman wants an abortion for no other reason, no health reason, as in ninety-five percent of the cases, because she did not use birth control and she does not want to come to term. What is your rational, secular view of that abortion? Is it moral, immoral, amoral? I’m not talking legality, I’m talking morality.

Since Prager is not interested in the legality of it, I'll address the morality of it only. In general I would say it is moral, though in specific cases it may be immoral. I hope I will be allowed to specify context here as in some ways this is analogous to the morality of "killing." The morality of any given "killing" depends on who you are killing and why -- is it self-defense or murder? Now, admittedly in the case of abortion many of these questions are eliminated but not all. The morality of an abortion depends on two factors. First, it depends only in a limited way on the status of fetus. From an Objectivist viewpoint, following Aristotelian terminology, the fetus is a potential human being, not an actual one. Thus, rights do not apply to it until it is born. However, there is a further issue which has to do with the development of the fetus from a zygote to an embryo and fetus, all the way to what amounts to a baby.

Therefore I would say that at the beginning of the pregnancy, in what is usually termed the first trimester, since one is dealing with a rather undeveloped growth, abortions for almost any reason are moral. So in the case of Prager's question of "an abortion for no other reason, no health reason...because she did not use birth control and she does not want to come to term" I think the answer in the first trimester is clear. It is moral. I think it would in fact be immoral if she were forced to carry the child to term. The woman should however be condemned for not using birth-control, on egoistic grounds. It is not in the woman's rational self interest to prefer abortions to birth-control.

Further along in the pregnancy, the onus of moral justification falls more heavily on the woman than before both in terms of the rationality of the decision and in terms of the moral status of the fetus. A morality that upholds life as the standard value does not encourage life-destroying actions if they could have been prevented. As the fetus enters its second trimester and beyond, it becomes more and more like a baby, a fact that cannot be ignored by women. However, there are still cases even late when abortion can be moral. Clearly, the mother's life always trumps the fetus, as the born take moral precendence over the not-yet born, the actual over the potential. Additionally, there may be cases when substantial genetic defects are discovered late in the pregnancy. But barring those cases, in a case of a late term abortion "for no other reason, no health reason...because she did not use birth control and she does not want to come to term" the woman would be immoral and she should be condemned, both because she waited too long putting her own life at greater risk and now requiring a major operation and because the fetus is almost indistinguishable from a baby at this point and she had an opportunity to eliminate it before it reached this stage.

As an aside, the specific procedure used to abort the fetus seems completely irrelevant to the morality of the operation. Here, once the abortion has been evaluated as moral, the only question should be which procedure will be best for the woman in preserving her health.

For further information on abortion see this site.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Interview Analysis: Part V

Skipping some of the small-talk, the next important exchange in the Prager-Harris interview proceeds as follows:

DP: I think the university is a moral failure because it is radically secular. You think it’s a failure because they’re just weak-willed and politically correct. So that’s one difference between us. But let’s go to your basic argument; there are two of them. One, reason will lead us to a better world, and [two], that religion is a real problem.

Let me begin with the religion part, which is your favorite part in the bulk of your book. Why can’t you say, “Some religion is terrific, and some religion leads to evil?” Why the blanket dismissal? I am guided by religion, and I bet I have very similar values in many areas to you.

SH: Right. Right. Well, the first thing to say is that most of our religious texts have in them propositions that are entirely noble and wise and blameless and brilliant, and of course there is no issue to take with them. You can’t argue, really, in any deep way, against the Golden Rule. It’s a beautiful distillation of our ethical intuitions. But first of all, there are beautiful statements of equal usefulness in many other books.

Mr. Harris preliminary remark here is largely true, even if I would disagree with his example of the Golden Rule ("do to others as you would have them do to you", Luke, 6-31). But in fact, if one takes some of the pronouncements in Bible and places them within a rational context they can be interpreted rationally and certainly not all are wrong. But that hardly justifies using the Bible as a basis for a moral code.

DP: Like what? I use my Bible as the basis of my values. What book can I look in to learn Sam Harris’s values?

SH: Well, it’s certainly distributed over many books.

DP: Well, give me five. See, if you don’t have a text, that means Sam Harris is the author of his values. And I don’t trust that.

SH: No, no, I would certainly never claim that.

The above exchange represents the crux of the problem for religious people. This goes beyond books. What Prager is really hinting at here is that for him, all moral values ultimately derive from authorities. Thus Prager thinks he is in the best possible position, as he is relying on the Ultimate authority, namely God. The most revealing statement is Prager's "if you don't have a text, that means Sam Harris is the author of his values... [a]nd I don't trust that." An author, at least in fiction, is someone who makes up a world of his own and puts it on paper. The possibility that Prager fails to acknowledge is that values and virtues, as principles, could be discovered, rather than authored, just as scientific principles in other fields are discovered. That is part of what would make them objective, despite being discovered by a specific person. This is of course only the tip of the iceberg and much more would need to be discussed to prove this but Prager is wrong to dismiss the possibility. Ideally, Mr. Harris should have challenged Prager along those lines.

Let's continue with the interview analysis.

DP: OK, then, tell me. I tell you the author of my values is my religion, Judaism, or broadly speaking, Judeo-Christian values. Where can I look for your values?

SH: Well, honestly, it’s distributed. You can certainly find many of them in the Bible, in your own book. You can find many of them in Ecclesiastes, say. Or you can find them in the New Testament. I think the Sermon on the Mount is a brilliant and quite a wonderful document, and an ideal that many of us should try to live for, or live toward. But where I want to locate the source of our values is in our free inquiry of the world, in the present moment, and in dialogue with human beings in the present moment, in this generation, in the midst of our problems.

DP: Why does one preclude the other? I believe in the text, I believe it’s divine, and I believe that we have to look at the moment to figure out how to apply the text to the moment.

I understand what Mr. Harris is trying to say but given his premises, Prager clearly has the upper hand. If Mr. Harris insists on relying on traditional texts as source for moral values, he can't then claim that "free inquiry of the world" is the source. It really is one or the other. Free inquiry, if by that he means reason, if consistently applied will lead to the rejection of reliance on any texts. But if texts are the ultimate source, if the starting point is necessarily what's written in some text then what is wrong with Prager's approach? Mr. Harris needs to clearly distinguish the fact that he may have some values in common with religious people from relying on religious sources for the justification of his values. That said, his praise of the Sermon on the Mount puts him in the category of people who have secularized the religious ethics without any attempt at rational analysis.

I think for now I'm going to cut my analysis short, as I am getting somewhat bored with it. There are so many errors on both sides that it is too depressing to continue. Nevertheless, I'm sure I'll address much of the same issues in the future.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Interview Analysis: Part IV

The interview continues:

DP: I will defend the religious books, but you need to defend the alternative. Why is it that religious folks whom you fear turn out to be more morally accurate today than the secular folks at the university?

SH: Well, actually, I didn’t concede that first point. I think you would find that healthy people are going to be more or less the same across the board. But I agree with you that our discourse about any number of a variety of things right now in academia has really become unhitched from morality, as you and I know it.

I'm not entirely sure why Mr. Harris insists on substituting medical for moral terminology here. Healthy people and immoral people are not mutually exclusive categories. This seems to be part of the general trend on the part of Liberals to define evil as some kind of psychological disease. Also, Mr Harris should be careful here in his assumption that the morality he talks about and the morality Prager talks about amount to the same thing.

DP: I was going to say, “God bless you for saying it,” but ‘Spirituality’ bless you for saying it. And I’m not being sarcastic. I admire the fact that you, who are in academia, would say that. But don’t you ask what the root cause might be? To me it is clear: secularism.

As I have already discussed to some extent in Part II of this analysis it is not the secular nature of the universities that is to blame, but their irrationalism. Also, it is not at all clear to me that the original claim by Prager, that a thousand evangelical ministers would have greater moral acuity than a thousand liberal arts professors, would in fact be so obviously true. I'll concede that due to the irrationality of the universities it is more likely than not to be true in most cases (and certainly in the case of the war). However, religion comes with its own inherent irrationalities and it very much depends on the specific issue whether the ministers or the professors would be more irrational.

SH: Actually, no, I think the root cause in academia, certainly liberal academia now, is what we call “political correctness.” There are so many taboos in academia and in our culture at large, the one of which that I’m going up against most directly in my book is the taboo around criticizing faith itself, which is something you and I are going to differ on. But, there again…

Once again I have to bemoan the superficiality of Mr. Harris's analysis of the universities. "Political Correctness" is at best a description of a symptomatic trend. It is not an explanation of why institutions supposedly concerned with reason have turned against it. For a deeper analysis from a Conservative source I again suggest Lynne Cheney's Telling the Truth and, even better, from an Objectivist source, Dr. Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels. Fundamentally the answer comes from philosophy. Perhaps I will attempt to sketch a detailed answer at some point.

DP: Oh, no, there’s no taboo on criticizing Judaism or Christianity. There’s only a taboo in the university on criticizing Islam. It’s just… I differ with your read.

SH: Right. Well, I actually find that people are very reluctant to criticize faith itself, even when they don’t have it. I mean, in the privacy of their own salon, they’re going to speak wildly about anybody.

DP: Christianity? I mean, everyone who goes to university learns that Christianity is an impediment to progress. I mean, it is part of the
liberal arts curriculum.

I think I agree with Prager here. Universities these days feel very comfortable in criticising Christianity and even Judaism to some extent. Of course, there would be plenty to criticise. However, since they are criticising it from an multicultural, post-modernist standpoint, they are not much better than what they are criticising. The interview continues:

SH: Right. Well, you know, I don’t think this is at the core of either our agreement or our differences on this subject. I think that the problem we have to face now is, people are flying planes into our buildings because they believe their book was written by God. And it doesn’t seem to me that our proper response to that predicament is to say, “No, no, you have it wrong; OUR book was written by God.” That’s not a basis for dialogue; that’s not a basis for sorting out the excesses of human irrationality.

This is arguably Mr. Harris' most intelligent statement in this interview so far but he still gets something important wrong. He says "that's not a basis for dialogues; that not a basis for sorting out the excesses of human irrationality." Why on earth would anyone want to have a dialogue with people who fly airplanes into buildings? The response needs to be to locate the source of the problem and destroy it. A dialogue is no longer possible.

DP: Yet, ironically, it is really only very strongly religious Christians, by and large – and I’m not a Christian, I’m a Jew – who have been at the forefront of criticizing Islam today. And they are called, by your whole secular liberal world, racists and bigots for doing so.

SH: Right, right. I agree with you totally. I think it’s profoundly ironic that the most sensible statements about Islam to appear in our culture have come from our own religious dogmatists.

DP: It’s not ironic! Sam Harris, that’s where you and I differ, and let me just say, I appreciate your honesty, I really do. You are very rare, and I am happy to know you. But to me it is not ironic! It is their faith that gives them their [values and their] strength to say it.

SH: Well, then, I think we’re seeing it slightly differently. You take someone like Falwell, or Pat Robertson, who very clearly appreciate the danger posed to us by Islam. It seems to me they’re uniquely in a position to appreciate it, because they understand that people really do believe the letter of their holy books. And they’ve read the Koran, and they’ve perhaps read the Hadith, the commentarial tradition around it, and they know that the contents of these documents are antithetical to living in tolerance in a pluralistic world. And what has really hampered liberal discourse, intellectual discourse, ivory tower discourse on this subject is that secular people really cannot get it into their heads that when the guy looks into the video camera and says, “We love death more than the infidels love life,” and blows himself up, he really means it. He didn’t blow himself up for economic reasons.

DP: That’s right! You’re right. I agree with your critique perfectly. So then, where do we differ?

What the above exchange proves is not the superiority of a religious point of view over a secular one but rather the superiority of moral judgement, even coming from a religiuos point of view, to moral agnosticism. There are specific historical reasons why the current intellectual landscape is what it is. But it's quite clear that proper moral judgment is not inherent in religion (as can be seen in the current religious left for example or even in some of the less pleasant moral conclusions of the right), nor necessarily absent from the secular as can certainly seen in the Ayn Rand Institute. Moral judgement questions ultimately reduce to questions in the subject of epistemology -- the theory of knowledge. In order to establish moral conclusions we must first know how to establish any conclusions. It is as a result of the disintegration of epistemology on the secular side over the last few centuries that the average secular university professor is no longer able to judge right from wrong. The religious side has been subject to much the same influence though not to the same degree, which is why it frequently appears more rational than the the secular side.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Interview Analysis: Part III

Continuing with the exchange, Sam Harris answers:

SH: Well, you bring up a very interesting point, and there are many different forces in our discourse intersecting here. First, let me just agree with you that liberal, ivory-tower discourse right now is certainly in many sectors bereft of real moral acuity, and the kind of discourse you have about Israel in particular vis a vis the conflict with the Palestinians – all of that is deplorable, and we might want to get into that.

Now, I'll give Mr. Harris some credit here. He seems to understand implicitly that the universities have issues (strange as it sounds, some people actually do believe that they are seats of "secular reason") but his understanding appears superficial. He does not zoom in on the source of the problem but merely mentions one of the most obvious manifestations -- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nevertheless, he appears willing to condemn the universities in that respect which is certainly a positive thing. Harris concludes his answer by asking Prager to define morality.

SH: But your first question, really, it all turns on what you mean by morality.

DP: I’m very precise: Good and evil.

SH: Right. Take something even more precise than that. Just our aversion to human cruelty.
DP: OK. That’s great. I’m with you. Go ahead.

As usual in the above exchange both sides have problems. Harris's attempt to have Prager clarify what he means by morality is very appropriate. Prager's response is quite insufficient. However, Harris's attempt to be more precise is arguably even worse. Let's start with Prager.

Prager, due to his focus on the amoralism of what he terms the "secular left," clearly assumes that the terms "good and evil" are not controversial, or more accurately, that if they are accepted, there is no discussion about their application, that is, one either accepts good and evil or one does not, but if one does, there is no disagreement. This is clearly nonsense. It is true that there are now large segments in academia that do not think that morality and moral terms are relevant or useful. However, it is also true that there are other sections of academia and the left that have not abandoned those terms but insist on applying them and justifiying them in quite different ways than Prager and his religious friends would. Peter Singer, for example, certainly accepts good and evil and bases his defense of good and evil on utilitarian grounds. Prager and Singer have very little in common. Among other horrendous views, Peter Singer is a defender of animal rights. So Prager evades the existence of other moral views. What Prager should have said, if he wanted to be somewhat more specific, would be something along the lines of: "Good and Evil as established by traditional Judeo-Christian ethics." That is certainly what Prager believes and this moral view can be distinguished from other moral views by looking at what traditional Judaism and Christianity have held to be moral.

Mr. Harris apparently thinks that "our aversion to human cruelty" is more precise a view of morality than merely stating "good and evil." I am frankly baffled by what Mr. Harris means here but he elaborates as follows.

SH: I think that all of us who are well wired neurologically, and do not come into this world with whatever causes, you know, sociopathy – all of us have a predisposition to recoil at cruelty such as torturing other people certainly, and animals, and so forth. And we can all agree on that. I would argue that we don’t get that out of our religious books. In fact, our religious books offer rather equivocal testimony on the moral status of cruelty. There’s a lot of cruelty in them.

Whenever moderns start bringing in neurological explanations, I get highly suspicious. This is the same kind of thinking that leads to the denial of consciousness and free will. Here, Harris appears to be arguing that we are born with some form of empathy. I am not certain of this at all. I wonder what his evidence is. It seems to me that there is, for example, plenty of anecdotal evidence of cruelty in even young children. I still fail to see the relevance of this to moral questions. Whether or not we are born with a certain level of built-in empathy is clearly overshadowed but the vast amounts of lack of empathy throughout history. Certainly, religious books have plenty of cruelty, though particularly in the last century and until just recently, cruelty has not been limited to, nor primarily derived from religious sources. And I still fail to see how any of this is making morality more precise. It seems to be getting us off the subject completely. The most generous interpretation one could put on what Harris is saying is that cruelty, and thus evil, is learned, not inborn.

This is true but does not clarify very much what good and evil actually consists of. Again cruelty means different things in different moral views, whether religious or secular. And I could think of some cases where cruelty would be morally justified. But let's leave that aside for now and proceed with the analysis.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Interview Analysis: Part II

I'll proceed with the analysis of the Dennis Prager interview with Sam Harris. Let us look at the exchange immediately following the intial challenge. There are numerous things to criticise on both sides of this exchange. To begin with there are a number of incorrect assumptions evident in Prager's question:

DP: So, let me ask you this: I believe that if I took a thousand evangelical ministers – the folks that I think you have a certain fear of following their values – and I took a thousand professors in the liberal arts, I am convinced to the point that I would bet every penny I have made, that the moral acuity of the thousand evangelical ministers would dwarf the moral acuity of a thousand liberal arts professors. For which reason Lawrence Summers, for example, the president of Harvard, announced two years ago that the seat – the seat – of antisemitism in America had shifted to the university. The university had been the seat of support for Stalin. The university in Germany was the seat of the place to get Nazi philosophers. Where you get your faith in secular reason is to me unbelievable, given the record of the secular rationalists.

Note that Prager concludes by denigrating Harris's "faith in secular reason" -- a contradiction in terms, strictly speaking, though unfortunately in Mr. Harris's case probably correct. But the problem is that neither Prager's comparison of evangelical ministers with liberal arts professors, nor his other examples from history are in fact proper examples of "secular rationalists." (As an aside I reject the adjective "secular" as applied to reason -- in actuality anything else is not reason, even if similar in form).

Let's start with the liberal arts professors. To claim that they are representatives or advocates of reason betrays ignorance of either reason or the professors' views. Ironically, numerous illustrations of the irrationality of professors have been written by Conservatives. For example, in Lynne Cheney's (1995) excellent book Telling the Truth she notes that:

In fields ranging from education to art to law, the attack on truth has been accompanied by an assault on standards. The connection is seldom made clear. Indeed, one of the characteristics of postmodern thought is that it is usually asserted rather than argued, reasoned argument having been rejected as one of the tools of the white male elite. But the thinking seems to be roughly that absent external reality, distinctions of any kind are meaningless. (p. 18, italics added)

So yes, liberal arts professors may indeed be secular, in the sense of not religious, particularly when it comes of Christianity and Judaism (they frequently have no such hang-ups with respect to other mystical systems), but they are not rational and it is therein that the explanation for their lack of standards as well as values lies. As Cheney writes:

No accomplishment can be judged superior to any other--except as it promotes the interests of desired groups. Without the objective measures that an external reality would provide, who can really say, for example, that the work of some students is better than others? (p. 18)

Who indeed? But the rejection of reality is fundamentally irrational and thus cannot be used to impugn reason. It is therefore no surprise that the university is now "the seat of antisemitism in America." Antisemitism frequently goes hand in hand with irrationalism as was detailed in Dr. Peikoff's book The Ominous Parallels.

Let's proceed to the historical example that Prager gives. I admit I was initially confused by Prager's statement that "the university had been the seat of support for Stalin" -- I thought he meant Russian Universities, which were of course state controlled and would not have any choice in the matter, but obviously he means American and more generally European Universities. This is true, but again, what makes Prager think that American and European communists and communist sympathizers in the Universities are "secular rationalists?" Again, certainly communists are materialists and thus secular. But Prager, as someone who has studied about communism at the universities surely knows that Marxism is anything but rational, explicitly rejecting Aristotelian logic for dialectical materialism that allows for contradictions, as well as accepting polylogic, since there is bourgois logic and proletarian logic. This is not to mention some of the other even more irrational post-Marxist doctrines that the later supporters of the Soviet Union adopted. So again we come to the conclusions that, certainly, there has been secular support for evil but it isn't actually rational.

Finally, Prager's mentions that "the university in Germany was the seat of the place to get Nazi philosophers." As it happens a whole book, already mentioned above, has been written on precisely this subject. In The Ominous Parallels, Dr. Peikoff describes in some detail that "that German Nazism was the inevitable climax of a centuries-long philosophic development, preaching three fundamental ideas: the worship of unreason, the demand for self-sacrifice and the elevation of society or the state above the individual." Again, I would hardly consider the "worship of unreason" to be representative of the views of the "secular rationalists." Therefore, while it is true much of Nazism support came from the German universities, that support cannot be used to attack "secular rationalists" because the professors were in fact not rational and not even entirely secular, as the presence of various mystical movements at the time indicates. Nazism, though frequently (and correctly) termed a "secular ideology" was in many ways far more compatible with various modes of mysticism than Marxism, which was explicitly materialist.
Interview Analysis: Part I

I'm going to leave the DIM Hypothesis for now because I feel a great desire to comment on the August 16, 2004 Dennis Prager interview with author Sam Harris (transcript available here). It is not so much that I have great sympathy for Mr. Harris, nor do I harbor any hatred for Mr. Prager. Mr. Harris is author of the book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and Future of Reason. The book's description, available on Mr. Harris's website, is instructive in this regard:

This important and timely book delivers a startling analysis of the clash of faith and reason in the modern world. The End of Faith provides a harrowing glimpse of mankind’s willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs, even when these beliefs inspire the worst of human atrocities. Harris argues that in the presence of weapons of mass destruction, we can no longer expect to survive our religious differences indefinitely. Most controversially, he maintains that “moderation” in religion poses considerable dangers of its own: as the accommodation we have made to religious faith in our society now blinds us to the role that faith plays in perpetuating human conflict. While warning against the encroachment of organized religion into world politics, Harris draws on insights from neuroscience, philosophy, and Eastern mysticism in an attempt to provide a truly modern foundation for our ethics and our search for spiritual experience.

One wonders in vain how Mr. Harris can warn us against the suspension "of reason in favor of religious beliefs," as well as that "'moderation' in religion poses considerable dangers of its own" and then a few sentences later admit that he himself "draws on insights from...Eastern mysticism." My viewpoint in all this is probably no secret but will become clear as I proceed with an analysis of the relevant parts of the interview.

After brief smalltalk Prager offers a challenge:

DP: How ironic. You could have come into the studio.

The book is “The End of Faith.” Let me begin with this challenge, because you make a strong indictment against using ancient texts, which I believe in, as a source of values. First, why do you believe, since you do believe, obviously, that in secularism and in reason lie the answers to the moral problems of humanity? Is that a fair summary of your views?

SH: Yes, up to a point. I’m actually not discounting the range of human experience we might want to call “spiritual” or “mystical.” In fact, I just think that we can explore that domain well within the bounds of rationality, which is to say there’s never a reason to make claims about the universe that can’t be substantiated, either by empirical evidence in a scientific sense, or by first person, introspective evidence. So, basically what I’m arguing for is intellectual honestly.

DP: OK. So am I. That’s one thing we both are arguing for, so that’s why I was so anxious to have you on – I suspect that does motivate you because, after all, any guy who takes your views and attacks Noam Chomsky at all is OK in my book.


What is one to say in response? Frankly, already at this point I knew that Mr. Harris would ultimately get nowhere with Prager. Why? Because he is already conceding the whole case in his first substantive response. Of course, we already know from the description of his book noted above the Mr. Harris is not a big believer in consistency, or to put it more bluntly he thinks contradictions are in fact okay as long we don't go to extremes (So much for a so-called advocate of reason!). So apparently we don't need to dismiss the spiritual or mystical. Everything's on the table. The entire history of philosophy in which the mystical was examined in great detail and rejected is simply swept aside. Like a true modern, when confronted by a confident religionist, Mr. Harris clearly believes we need to keep an open mind with respect to such things. Pathetic! We'll discover more on how Mr. Harris actually thinks we arrive at moral conclusions later in this interview.

If I were to try to answer Prager's question in brief, I would say the following.

DP: First, why do you believe, since you do believe, obviously, that in secularism and in reason lie the answers to the moral problems of humanity? Is that a fair summary of your views?

GR: Morality is, as Ayn Rand correctly stated, "a code of values to guide man's choices and actions." The Oxford English Dictionary defines "secular" as "Of or pertaining to the world." There is only one world -- the one in which man lives. Reason, is man's only means of knowledge, including knowledge of what he should do and why, i.e., his virtues and values. Therefore objective values are necessarily dependent on a secular context and derived by reason. Any attempt to derive such values on an "otherworldly" or religious basis are literally absurd. So yes, as it happens, that is in fact a fair summary of my views.

Needless to say, in order to be fully convincing to anybody, this would require much elaboration but in brief that is the answer to Prager's challenge. I will proceed with the analysis of the interview in the next post.

Needless to say, from an Objectivist perspective, Integration represents the good, while the various forms of Misintegration and Disintegration are bad to varying degrees. In fact, as the DIM course proceeded, Dr. Peikoff further subdivided the Ms and the Ds into two types each.

M1 -- this represents mild misintegration. Mild in its effects. This view is still fundamentally relying on unreal elements as the foundation of its views but manages to somehow allow for large segments of rational, fundamentally reality based conclusions.

M2 -- this represents complete mintegration. In such a case there are no significant rational elements left.

D1 -- a mild form of disintegration. Argues for disintegration as the fundamental approach but retains a certain respect for some aspects of a more rational integrated approach.

D2 -- Complete disintegration. Is "consistent" in its complete rejection of any rational, reality based principles.
I'll begin by attempting to convey my understanding of Peikoff's DIM Hypothesis. To begin with DIM is an acronym made up of the three fundamental concepts in Dr. Peikoff's hypothesis. D stands for Disintegration, I for Integration, and M for Misintegration. From the description of the recent course:

The course is based on Dr. Peikoff's book-in-progress, The DIM Hypothesis, in which he looks at the role of integration in the culture and in practical life. As Dr. Peikoff recently explained: "my thesis is that the dominant trends in every key area can be defined by their leaders' policy toward integration: they are against it (Disintegration, D); they are for it, if it conforms to reality (Integration, I); they are for it, regardless of its relation to reality (Misintegration, M)."

A further word on the term "Integration" as used in the context of Objectivism. In her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology Ayn Rand discusses the fundamental processes of consciousness thus:

Consciousness, as a state of awareness, is not a passive state, but an active process that consists of two essentials: differentiation and integration.

Specifically, in terms of concepts:

A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated according to a specific characteristic(s) and united by a specific definition. [italics added]

Thus integration is fundamental to the nature of concepts. Dr. Peikoff argues that integration is not only fundamental to the nature of concepts but in fact a given intellectual sphere's attitude toward integration allows for a deeper understanding of that intellectual sphere's views on any number of issues. It turns out that regardless of the intellectual area, if its atttitude to integration is similar to another movement's then certain things will be the same about the two movements.

Integration is taken to mean that in a given intellectual area, the leaders of an intellectual movement identify the relevant factors in reality and relate and thus integrate them via a logical method. This method yields principles of understanding and action as appropriate and the movement is thus a systematic, integrated, reality-based approach.

One alternative to this is termed by Dr. Peikoff Misintegration. Misintegration amounts to attempting to do integration but doing it wrong. Here the leaders of an intellectual movement rely on unreal elements as the foundations of their views and attempt to combine them into a systematic view of the world. This approach also yields certain principles of understanding and action.

Finally, there is Disintegration. Here practitioners explicitly reject attempts at integration as misguided and wrong. The foundation of their views tends be reality based but is not limited to such elements since no attempt is made to systematize the views. This view is opposed to any principles of understanding or action.

Monday, August 30, 2004

It's been over a year since my last posting. Several things have occured recently that have encouraged me to return to writing my thoughts down. First and foremost Peikoff's DIM Hypothesis lectures have provided a profound challenge to the way I viewed the ideological spectrum.