Each week I present a round-up of the podcasts I listen to. These podcasts are all centered around the theme of looking at current events through the lens of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. The goal is not to provide all the information they talk about, but rather to highlight the things I found interesting in the hope that it will intrigue others to take a listen. In this week’s edition
- Yaron Brook – What does patriotism mean?
- Amy Peikoff – Trying to “boil the ocean” and other worthwhile pursuits
- Don Watkins – Free Will: Theory and Practice
A caller from a few weeks ago who took exception to Yaron’s individualism, saying the country has never been about “me, me, me” inspired this week’s episode of Yaron’s Chicago radio program. He takes a look at what principles America was founded upon and what it means to be patriotic, to love your country.
Using as a springboard the famous quote from President John Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” Yaron discusses what the individual’s relationship was to the government, to the state, prior to the founding of America, the first moral country, and how the view of the Founding Father’s differed from the prior view.
Patriotism is your love for your country, but the question to ask, Yaron says, is why? Why do you love your country? What about your country do you love? While immigrants, for the most part, have consciously decided to come to America, to love America, for the values it represents – freedom and individualism – many native-born Americans take them for granted and love America merely because they were born here. This makes them like the frog in the pot of water, unable to tell that the water is getting hotter all around them.
Though America has always been one to put the individual first, we are becoming like every other country. A place “where the country is first. Where the group, the collective, the government is first.”
I don’t often quote long passages in these roundups, but I think this deserves to be shared:
The Founders fought for freedom. Not for the state. Not for the government. For freedom for the individual from the government. From the coercive power of a king. From the coercive power of the state. From the coercive power of any government. And yet, we in America today are freely, willingly, giving up the power to control our own lives. We are letting the state regulate, redistribute, take away our individual freedom, our individual property, and to restrict our ability to pursue our own flourishing, to pursue our own happiness. The Yaron Brook Show is dedicated to individual liberty. It is dedicated to the principles of the Founding Fathers. It is dedicated to the Declaration of Independence.
As always, Amy Peikoff posts show notes for her podcast with links to all the news items she talks about. You can find them here.
Amy had a pretty ambitious set of stories to talk about this week. She started off with the story that gave her the title of this week’s show. It was revealed that Peter Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal, funded Terry “Hulk” Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker for releasing a sex tape featuring Hogan. Hogan won the lawsuit and was awarded $142 million in damages by a Florida jury. Amy discussed whether this sort of lawsuit is an assault on freedom of speech and the different standard from privacy for celebrities. She also discussed Thiel’s statement that he felt that if Gawker was not a uniquely bad actor, i.e. if all outlets acted like Gawker, he would not have funded the lawsuit because doing so would be like “trying to boil the ocean.”
She also discussed Thiel’s statement that he felt that if Gawker was not a uniquely bad actor, i.e. if all outlets acted like Gawker, he would not have funded the lawsuit because doing so would be like “trying to boil the ocean.” Amy’s asked why you wouldn’t attempt to make a change, even if the whole system worked like Gawker does? If you can have an impact without sacrificing yourself, why not try? She returned to this theme at the end of the show with a quote from Ayn Rand’s essay, “What Can One Do?” which can be found in Philosophy Who Needs It:
You would not ask: “How can one doctor treat millions of patients and restore the whole country to perfect health?” You would know, whether you were alone or part of an organized medical campaign , that you have to treat as many people as you can reach , according to the best of your ability, and that nothing else is possible.
In other words, don’t wait until you think you can change the whole system at once. Do what you can, as you can. [ed: This is something I touched upon in an earlier post.]
While Thiel’s lawsuit isn’t a threat to free speech, a decision by the United Nations committee which accredits non-governmental organizations to deny accreditation to the Committee to Protect Journalists. (It isn’t clear from the article what privileges come with such accreditation. It says they can “freely roam” the halls of the UN, but that is pretty vague.) This group monitors attacks on journalists around the world so it will come as no surprise that the countries voting against them are some of the worst violators of freedom of the press: China, Venezuela, and Cuba among others.
Next up were a couple of stories about attempts to criminalize abortion. In Oklahoma, where the governor recently vetoed a bill that would direct the medical licensing boards in the state to revoke the licenses of doctors who performed abortions, the legislature is considering an attempt to overturn that veto. In Indiana, the courts have agreed to hear an appeal from the first woman who was convicted under a law that was modified after a pregnant bank teller was shot, causing her to lose the baby. This second story was particularly interesting as it gives a sense of what will happen if abortions become illegal, as many religious conservatives would like, including folks like Rand Paul.
Obama’s speech at Hiroshima received a lot of air time, not just from Amy’s prepared remarks, but from several of the callers. (There were more callers than I’ve heard before.) In Obama’s speech, he referred to dropping the bombs as a mistake and that this “evil” would never be repeated. Amy, who has taught ethics at the Air Force Academy, pointed out that this is the view that all military cadets are taught and is included in “just war theory.” One caller, who graduated in 2008 from the Naval Academy said this is certainly what he was taught at Annapolis. He talked about how when he was deployed to Afghanistan, a naval lawyer talked to them about the rules of engagement. When a sergeant questioned the fact that they would not be able to shoot back if fired upon, the lawyer seemed amazed and suggested maybe the group needed to be “remediated.” This caller pointed out that the rules of engagement under just war theory present a false a destructive dichotomy: follow the ROE and lose the war or win the war and believe you are a monster. Lots of good stuff in this segment.
There was a short segment about politics, with mentions of PJ O’Rourke’s endorsement of Hillary and Senator Marco Rubio’s almost endorsement of Trump. Amy didn’t discuss this but what struck me is how these two stories illustrate just how awful this election season is. Assuming both endorsements are serious, how can you fault either one. They acknowledge or have acknowledged, that both candidates are awful and simple come down on different candidates as the least awful. Is the threat that Hillary poses to the second amendment more serious than Trump’s threat to the first? I certainly believe, as I wrote last week, that Trump is the bigger threat but a case can certainly be made that Hillary is.
As you can likely tell just from the length of my notes, Amy was running short on time and went through the remaining stories in her show notes pretty quickly. There were especially interesting stories about reading to your children and breakfast.
In this week’s episode of Yaron Brook’s weekly podcast, guest host Don Watkins gives a great concretization of how philosophical ideas underpin everything in the world around us. The fact that many people are skeptical about philosophical ideas doesn’t change this fact.
The inspiration for this week’s show came from an article in The Atlantic titled “There’s No Such Thing as Free Will – But we are better off believing in it anyway.” I had seen the article a few days ago and knew that something was wrong with it, so I was happy to have Don Watkins go over the ideas presented in it. He does a great job detailing what the article’s author sees as “proof” that there is no free will and goes on to explain why the evidence does nothing to deny the existence of free will. For example, experiments that claim that EKG scans show that brain activity precedes an arbitrary action assume that the EKG is showing an actual decision and that you can generalize from an arbitrary decision of when to move your wrist to those decisions that require deliberation.
While many people might not find such discussions as interesting as I do, and in fact might not even see the value of them at all, everyone should find their application to politics and morality vital, and that was the portion of the show that I found most interesting. Don discusses what the implications are if you believe that free will does not exist, the position taken by the author of the Atlantic article. Those who deny free will are philosophically considered Determinists, which presents the view that all, or virtually all, human action can be explained by outside factors – your genetic makeup and your environment. The argument then becomes one of which side predominates, nature or nurture. No matter which side of that argument you come down on, there is little or no space left for conscious decisions.
If your conscious choices play no role, or if you cannot even make conscious choices, how can you be blamed or praised for your actions or their results? Such a view wipes out the very concepts of moral judgment and justice, which both rely on the idea that man can make choices, and provides the underpinning of egalitarianism. When Obama says “you didn’t build that,” or that graduating students at Howard University are “lucky,” he is expressing the idea that free will isn’t operative. That only luck determines our outcomes and if it is only luck that allowed Bill Gates to make Microsoft a hugely successful company, then he cannot really have any claim on the billions he received in the process so it is not wrong to take some or all of that money from him.
If you accept free will as true, and it is self-evidently so, you come to a completely opposite conclusion. People can make choices, and they should be penalized or rewarded accordingly. It doesn’t matter some people have more or better choices. How many other people besides Bill Gates had access to computers but didn’t make the choices Gates did that led to his success? The fact that we can imagine other scenarios where things would be different doesn’t lessen the praise or blame a person should receive for their actions. What justice is concerned with is the choices you make in the face of the options available to you.
There is a lot more in this week’s show than what I’ve covered here and this post is getting long already, so I will close off with a list of resources Don recommended for people who want to learn more of the subject.
- “Breaking the Metaphysical Chains of Dictatorship: Free Will and Determinism in Anthem” by Onkar Ghate in Essays on Ayn Rand’s Anthem
- “The Death Premise in We the Living and Atlas Shrugged” by Onkar Ghate in Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living
- “A Being of Self-Made Soul” by Onkar Ghate in A Companion to Ayn Rand
- Chapter 10 in How We Know by Harry Binswanger
- A Brief History of the Concept of Free Will by Ben Bayer
- Free Will by Harry Binswanger
- Free Will and Values by Harry Binswanger
Don ends the show with a recommendation to read Ayn Rand’s We the Living. Though it is her most tragic novel, and therefore difficult to read, it presents the conflict of man versus a dictatorial state, revealing the central fact that dictatorships crush the best in both society and individuals. [ed: We see this playing out today in Venezuela.] While all Rand’s novels are anti-egalitarian, We the Living shows most starkly what happens when you try to make everyone equal in anything other than a political sense, allowing you to answer the following question: