Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Ayn Raelians

This post gathers a number of pieces and excerpts together that elaborate a certain theme. I have posted many critiques of both mainstream futurology (the suffusion of public discourse of the deceptive, hyperbolic, reductionist norms and forms of advertizing, self-promotion, and neoliberal developmentalism) and superlative futurology (the extremity of this tendency in which this fraud and hyperbole assumes the theological guise of transcendental religiosity soliciting True Belief and sub(cult)ural identity), critiques of the false assumptions, pseudo-scientific assertions, and deranging aspirations of these discourses and forms: you can find a somewhat condensed presentation of those critiques here. In the pieces gathered in this post I have explored instead the curious and often flabbergasting animating, legitimating, fundraising, political connections between key individual figures and organizations that constitute the futurological more practically and institutionally. I have long fancied the material here might be the kernel of a good piece of investigative journalism or the chapter of a book on the reactionary politics of futurology.

PART ONE: In a recent comment in the Moot, longtime reader "JimF" connects some dots between the marginal sub(cult)ure of Randroid enthusiasts of the Objectivist "philosophy"of the late Ayn Rand and the marginal sub(cult)ure of techno-utopian transhumanism. Although he isn't suggesting a one to one correspondence here -- there are plenty of people who have fallen for the more recent Robot Cult moonshine of cybernetic totalism, techno-immortalism, Nanosanta, Singularitarian Geek Rapture, and so on, but who haven't fallen for the more dated but still stubbornly lingering moonshine of La Rand -- he does point out that even prominent transhumanoid figures rarely "repudiate Ms. Rand and her acolytes in the course of their >H cheerleading" despite the fact that conspicuously Randroidal formulations keep cropping up among some of them.

This symbol he uses to denote "transhumanism" -- ">H" -- is, by the way, a popular shorthand among the transhumanoids themselves, a near-universal convention in their sub(cult)ure and one rather straightforwardly signaling their shared sense that they are "greater than" or "better than" mere humans -- who are sometimes described derisively in turn as "mehums," now isn't that special? The transhumanists will no doubt protest that the ">H" refers to prosthetically "enhanced" future humans -- but of course the whole point of their "movement" -- taken as a political and cultural movement as they insist we do -- is that they identify here and now with the project to become such "enhanced" humans, or "post-humans," a shared identity imagined against the background of the overabundant majority of humans who are not "enhanced" and with whom they actually share the world.

Why many non-Objectivist transhumanists would hesitate to express their disdain for the marginal and widely-disdained pseudo-philosophizing of Ayn Rand is initially perplexing, especially given the urgency so many of these same transhumanoids exhibit around the project of spinning their way to greater mainstream respectability for their views, usually quite quick (these days) to pounce on the worst racist expressions of enthusiasm for The Bell Curve and similar brutalisms that crop up with eerie regularity in transhumanoid fora, as well as to disdain loudly the obvious connections of their viewpoint to some of the key attitudes expressed by the Raelian cult, and so on. Ayn Rand's "philosophical movement" is surely no less marginalizing, combining something like an Amway enthusiasm for American "free market" ideology in its most facile characterization together with an embrace of a naïve correspondence theory of truth and folk psychology which was expressed most forcefully in a series of popular mid-century romance novels combining sometimes flabbergastingly bad writing with long earnest philosophizing soliloquies to produce some of the high camp masterpieces of the twentieth century (and, as it happens, only "Grey Gardens" and "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" come close to the filmic adaptation of Rand's novel "The Fountainhead" as cinema's high camp apotheosis).

"JimF" suggests that the answer may be the usual one that occurs to anybody who follows the money: "not wanting to alienate potential sources of funding, like Peter Thiel or Jimmy Wales."

He goes on, in a way that contains both insights and snark aplenty and so, I suspect, the exercise will prove rather taxing for some of the more blunt-witted members of the futurological brain trust who are intended targets of the comment:
Perhaps it's savvy politics, not wanting to run the risk of "fragmenting" the >Hist movement over a silly political detail, a bagatelle that will, bien sur, be swallowed up in the apocalyptic events surrounding the Coming of AI and the End of History.

Perhaps [they] would claim that Rand and Objectivism are totally orthogonal to transhumanism, that the association is a coincidence, a mere historically-contingent juxtaposition that has nothing to do with the philosophical underpinnings of >Hism, like the historically-contingent fact that most >Hist Web site are written in English.

[They] would be wrong, in that case.

Rand's crude "philosophy of mind" -- never taken seriously by mainstream intellectuals -- permeates what passes for thinking about both the underpinnings of human intelligence and the prospects for artificial intelligence in the >Hist community
As I said, I think Jim's comment connects a few dots that are worthy of attention (that is to say, for those who think transhumanism itself is worthy of attention in the first place).

PART TWO: Posted within hours of the preceding came the following addendum:

In my post "The Ayn Raelians" Wednesday -- which noted the frankly obvious family resemblances discernible between "transhumanism" as a "political and cultural movement," so-called, and marginal movements like those of supporters of "free-market" ideologue Ayn Rand or UFO-cultist Rael -- I mentioned in a side note "racist expressions of enthusiasm for The Bell Curve and similar brutalisms… crop up with eerie regularity in transhumanist fora."

Curiously enough, within just five hours of that posting, long-time Transhumanist and Singularitarian cheerleader and muckety-much in various organizations islets of the Robot Cult archipelago like WTA, SIAI, ImmInst, IEET, Lifeboat, and so on, Michael Anissimov, posted on his widely read (as these things go) futurological blog a "brave" defense of Linda Gottfredson, who he describes as "controversial" because she "presents evidence for differences in average IQ among races [no scare-quotes around "races" to indicate awareness of ongoing debates concerning this historically fraught notion], supports The Bell Curve, [is] critical about the way gifted students [no scare-quotes around "gifted" to indicate awareness of ongoing debates concerning this historically fraught notion either] are treated in public schools, [and is] accused of academic racism." Michael assures us that we can read more about the "suppression" of her research in The Wall Street Journal.

Just for fun -- speaking of right-wing dead-ender discourses from Transhumanists who like to pout when I express doubts about the actual reliability of their protestations to political progressivity -- here is an amusing (nay, amazing) paragraph from a post of Michael's a year ago, January 30, 2007, under the title "Assorted Transhumanism and Technology" (you can't make this stuff up):
Our [gotta love that pronoun--d] missile defense shield is now working! This is excellent news. [no, this is not a jokey ironic post, he means it--d] People speak very negatively about the billions of dollars being spent on the military (and indeed, it’s probably too much [ya think?--d]), but sometimes these projects pay off. [?--d] A missile defense system is a tremendous technological achievement that will be used to protect lives rather than take them. [Freedom's on the march!--d]

You know, quite apart from the awful ugliness and just plain stupid wrongness of this sort of reactionary politics, one has to wonder about the much-vaunted foresight of our futurological brain trust to be flinging out tired discredited right wingnut chestnuts about the Star Wars boondoggle and the "bravery" of racist Bell Curve apologists in a moment when even right-wing rats themselves are bailing from their Movement as it sinks to general howls of disdain and disgust. Way to think through those "trends," soopergeniuses. And now you want us to believe you when you predict (again) Strong AI, Immortality Medicine, and NanoSanta on the horizon? Give me a break. PART THREE: From a post written a year later, further elaboration of the "Ayn Raelian" connection:
Brad Reed has some good fun with the latest -- Remember Sealand? Remember Residensea? -- klatch of deluded market fundamentalists who are now threatening to pack up their toys (whatever those might be) and deprive us of their talents (whatever those might be) and found separatist libertopian enclaves on concrete platforms or cruise ships or under domes on the seafloor or comparable corporate futurological nonsense. Perhaps they could build a lovely casino and vacation home complex Dubai style on that oceanic landfill of discarded plastic blobbing upon our wide blue still under-polluted oceans.

Although these fantasies of self-appointed sooperman sequestration are a recurring libertopian wet-dream, it is apparently an especially alluring notion now that these would-be titans and grifters fear they might actually be taxed and regulated a little in an Obama Administration (if only) thus slowing by a smidge their relentless ongoing (or at any rate pined for) looting and raping of the planet and of the overabundant majority of the people and other beings who share it with them.

You can tell these boys are serious because, among other things, they've founded an Institute. And they've published an online manifesto and FAQ. Always with the "Institutes" and "manifestos" with these boys, ain't it though?

Anyway, Patri Friedman (from neolib Milton to anarcho-capitalist David to anarcho-separatist Patri, from bloody-cuffed shirtsleeves to straightjackets in three generations) is a high muckety-muck in this endeavor. And it's interesting (I can't say it's surprising) to find Peter Thiel right at the heart of this laughable sociopathic libertopian endeavor as well, in addition to his involvement in the laughable sociopathic Singularitarian endeavor.

No doubt he would prefer that his Ayn Raelians "Go Galt" instead in nanobotic treasure caves secreted away in the asteroid belt, but he'll have to settle for now for a li'l patch of libertarian heaven and dysentery and piracy on some crappy abandoned oil rig. Without Big Brother's prying eyes on them every minute of the day, you can be sure that the legion of soopergeniuses in the Robot Cult will be able to code that superintelligent Robot God at last, and the hott sexy slavebots, and the immortalizing shiny robot replacement bodies, and the programmable nanobotic treasure-swarms and all the rest.

Then we'll be sorry for making fun of them! Then we'll be sorry for doubting them! Then we'll be sorry for treading on them! Then we'll be sorry for our regulatory shackling of their genius and our confiscatory taxation of their bounty! Yeah, give it, er, let's see, twenty years, yeah, twenty years from now, and Libertopia will spontaneously order into Robotopia and then they'll transcend into post-humans and, and, and, oh boy, won't we be sorry then!
PART FOUR: Regular reader "Martin" added still more to the ongoing elaboration of the "Ayn Raelian" connection, especially as it concerns Peter Thiel, in a post fully two years later, from April, 2010:
The blogosphere is abuzz with the revelation that the James O'Keefe "documentary" is a fraud. This documentary purportedly shows ACORN employees advising O'Keefe and another woman (who supposedly dressed and presented themselves as a pimp and a prostitute) on how to start a child prostitution ring. As a direct result of this "documentary," Congress voted to cut federal funding for ACORN, and, although that action was later overturned, ACORN almost went into bankruptcy. After heavy investigations and allegations of criminal activity (violations of the Invasion of Privacy Act), O'Keefe turned over the full, unedited tapes to avoid prosecution. These tapes show that the "documentary" was heavily edited and that none of the employees advised him on establishing a child prostitution ring. Rather, one employee attempted to gather information on O'Keefe and later contacted law enforcement about the incident. Another employee, supposedly advising O'Keefe's associate on the child prostitution ring, was actually advising her on getting a home loan. More here.

It's definitely scandalous, but it's even more interesting to me, because there is an aspect of this story that involves the transhumanist movement. What you may not know is that Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, directly or indirectly funded O'Keefe. Thiel has admitted to giving O'Keefe $10,000, but denied knowing anything about the documentary. He claimed it was for another project.

Whether Thiel donated money directly to the production of the documentary or to another O'Keefe project, this is arguing over a technicality. Shrewd investors are good at complicating the paper trail. It is abundantly clear that the spirit of Thiel's intentions was to undermine an organization that does a lot of good for poor people who are underrepresented in the democratic process. You see, poor people vote against Thiel's privileged interests, just like women do, which is why he appears to hold them and democracy itself in contempt: "Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the [voting] franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of 'capitalist democracy' into an oxymoron." His solution is to escape the very system that made him rich: "The critical question then becomes one of means, of how to escape not via politics but beyond it. Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country..."

This sheds some light on why he's an investor in the Seasteading Institute, and transhumanism-affiliated organizations like The Singularity Institute and The Methuselah Foundation. The main point here is that Peter Thiel is a quintessential example of the privileged selfish interests that guide certain currents of transhumanist thought. He is literally the rich, white guy who hates democracy that Dale Carrico so often writes about, when he excoriates the transhumanist community. Thiel wants to build artificial islands to escape Western civilization, John Galt style, and establish an anarcho-capitalist dreamland. Democracy is tyranny on the rich and must be abandoned.

PART FIVE: From an earlier post in 2007, an excerpt of a discussion of a major (such as it is) public "transhumanist" convention:

I have regularly proposed of so-called "futurology" and of self-identified professional "mainstream" and, especially, "Superlative" futurologists of the transhumanist, singularitarian, techno-immortalist, cybernetic-totalist, nano-cornucopiast, geo-engineering varieties; namely:
[1] That there is a tendency to separatism and alienation in their marginal sub(cult)ural identification with particular projected technodevelopmental outcomes;

[2] That their exhibition of self-appointed technocratic elitism on questions of technodevelopmental decision-making tends to devalue democratic deliberation;

[3] That their regularly reiterated fantasy that "progress" is simply a matter of a socially indifferent and autonomous accumulation of technical capacities tends to yield linear, unilateral, elite-imposed models of technoscientific change;

[4] That their further belief that such accumulation can deliver (and even, in some versions, will inevitably deliver) quite on its own, emancipatory powers and abundances so profound as to permit us to circumvent the impasse of stakeholder-politics altogether, tends to feed and to feed on anti-political and anti-popular attitudes more generally.

I argue that, taken together, these tendencies render Superlative and Sub(cult)ural "Futurisms" absolutely anti-democratizing in their assumptions, their ends, and their overall thrust -- so much so as to subvert the democratizing ends of even those few Superlative Futurologists who consciously espouse more progressive ideals -- and also provide powerful rhetorical rationales congenial to neoliberal/neoconservative outlooks and the incumbent corporate-militarist interests….

"Why, I voted for John Kerry!" one incensed young Singularitarian True Believer once took pains to reassure me upon hearing such charges. "Why, proposing such structural correlations between these broader attitudes toward technoscientific change and one's effective political orientation is nothing but sloppy armchair psychoanalyzing," another fulminated. "This is nothing but name calling!" "Nothing but ad hominem attack!" "Nothing but character assassination!" chimes an interminable chorus…. "You'll be hearing from my lawyer!" threatened another (true story)….

"In 2004, political scientist Francis Fukuyama singled out transhumanism as the world's 'most dangerous idea.'" [The quotes refer to an article you can read following the link, the parenthetic comments were my own --d]

(As we all know, of course, Francis Fukuyama has a certain experience with marginal sub(cult)ures bent on imposing their extreme and anti-democratic worldview upon an unwilling and unready world, having carried water for years for the Neoconservative Death-Eaters, a klatch of mostly white assholes utterly convinced they were the smartest people in the room as they engineered world-scale disaster after world-scale disaster in plain sight of an appalled world.)

"It has attracted a series of wealthy backers, including Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, who recently donated $4 million to the cause…."

(Needless to say this development is the furthest thing from evidence of the development with which this paragraph began, "this small-scale movement aims to go mainstream." [T]he technocratic elitism so prevalent in the transhumanist movement is especially congenial to incumbent interests with a stake in assuring the powerful that ordinary people are too ill-informed to be entrusted with a say in the developmental decisions that affect them, and… the techno-centric emphasis in transhumanist attitudes toward social problem-solving is especially congenial to incumbent interests with a stake in assuring a continued flow of money always in the direction of corporate-military research (welfare for the already-rich stealthed, of course, as "national defense" and "economic development"), [so] we can expect quite a bit of money to find its way eventually into transhumanist and quasi-transhumanist organizations. It remains to be seen how the more democratically-minded transhumanists will cope with this development. My expectations are shaped by the sense that money, attention, and success provide plenty of material for rationalization, and hence I think that the democratic transhumanists will, over the long term, prove to have provided respectability, credibility, and cover for the more reactionary elements in their movement, while corporatist support assures that these reactionary elements direct the movement. It may interest people to know that Peter Thiel serves on the Board of the Hoover Institution and is co-author of a book, The Diversity Myth: 'Multiculturalism' and the Politics of Intolerance at Stanford.)

"Other well-known speakers are also on the roster, including… Ray Kurzweil, the group's unofficial prophet."

(Not all groups have "prophets," official or non-official. Just saying.)

"They don't look very threatening, though perhaps not very diverse either. Most WTA members are white, middle-aged men…"

(Mm-hm.)

"AI theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky also believes the movement is driven by an ethical imperative. He sees creating a superhuman AI as humanity's best chance of solving its problems: 'Saying AI will save the world or cure cancer sounds better than saying 'I don't know what's going to happen'.' Yudkowsky thinks it is crucial to create a 'friendly' super-intelligence before someone creates a malevolent one, purposefully or otherwise. 'Sooner or later someone is going to create these technologies,'

(So, by God, let it be MEEEEE. Hard to believe this paragraph began with the claim that "the movement is driven by an ethical imperative." What kind of ethical imperative, one wonders, drives you into a Robot Overlord arms race with unspecified antagonists for control of the world, exactly?)

"The theme of saving humanity continues with presentations on... raising baby AIs in the virtual world of Second Life, as well as surveillance tactics for weeding out techno-terrorists and a suggested solution for the population explosion: uploading 10 million people onto a 50-cent computer chip."

(All Very Serious, indeed.)

"More immediate issues facing humanity, such as poverty, pollution and the devastation of war, tend to get ignored."

(Hm. Fancy that.)

"I discover the less egalitarian side to the transhumanist community…"

(You mean, even less egalitarian?)

"…when I meet Marvin Minsky, the 80-year-old originator of artificial neural networks and co-founder of the AI lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 'Ordinary citizens wouldn't know what to do with eternal life,' says Minsky. 'The masses don't have any clear-cut goals or purpose.' Only scientists, who work on problems that might take decades to solve appreciate the need for extended lifespans, he argues."

(Lovely.)

"He is also staunchly against regulating the development of new technologies."

(Whatever they are and whatever they do? Shall I pretend to be shocked?)

"Scientists shouldn't have ethical responsibility for their inventions, they should be able to do what they want," he says. "You shouldn't ask them to have the same values as other people."

(Marvin Minsky, ladies and gentlemen.)

"The transhumanist movement has been struggling in recent years with bitter arguments between democrats like [James] Hughes and libertarians like Minsky. Can [unofficial "prophet," Ray] Kurzweil's keynote speech unite the opposing factions?"

(Let me reiterate, in my view these factions are easily reconciled: the democrats need only be tolerated so long as they provide respectable cover for the reactionaries among them, meanwhile both sides foreground their shared technological enthusiasm to the exclusion of their real substantive political differences -- so divisive! so negative! -- with the consequence that the incumbent corporatist interests that overwhelmingly shape technological discourse always actually benefit without having to fight for this outcome, the reactionaries get something for nothing and the democrats get nothing in exchange for everything. Hey, what's not to like?)

"On the final day of the meeting… Kurzweil offers a few possible solutions to today's global dilemmas, such as nano-engineered solar panels to free the world from its addiction to fossil fuels."

(Non-existing solutions are always fun, aren't they? Even on his own term, he means, surely, that we must all struggle to fund and regulate and educate and promote such technodevelopmental outcomes in the public interest? That we must all learn from our many historical mistakes that we have to attend to the actual diversity of stakeholders to technodevelopmental change? That the distribution of costs, risks, and benefits of technoscience must better reflect that diversity, else "development" become a short-sighted parochial environmentally unsustainable socially destabilizing project of planetary precarization, exploitation, confiscation, and violence? Right? Right? Anyone?)

"But he is opposed to taxpayer-funded programmes such as universal healthcare as well as any regulation of new technology, and believes that even outright bans will be powerless to control or delay the end of humanity as we know it."

(Another shocker. Laissez-nous faire! Laissez les bons temps roullez!)

"People sometimes say, 'Are we going to allow transhumanism and artificial intelligence to occur?'" he tells the audience. "Well, I don't recall when we voted that there would be an internet."

(Ray Kurzweil, ladies and gentlemen. Unofficial "prophet" of the transhumanist movement. It should go without saying, by the way, that we actually did vote for the representatives who funded the research and building and maintenance of the internet, and also that those of us fighting for Net Neutrality, p2p, a2k, FlOSS, and so on are engaged in precisely the kind of democratic social struggle that is being denigrated in the glib dismissal of the very idea that "we voted that there would be an internet." But, you know, whatevs.)

PART SIX: A bald assertion, Peter Thiel and Elon Musk Are The Koch Brothers of Reactionary Futurology, from August, 2011:

Anyone who knows the history of Movement Republicanism and the role of a handful of impassioned ideologues backed by a handful of super-rich donors in the creation of an institutional archipelago that disseminated a deranging anti-governmental discourse and organized a legislative program that turned the tide of New Deal to Great Society civilization into Reagan era through Bush and Teavangelical anti-civilizationism (about which I've said more here), should pay close attention to PayPal billionaires Peter Thiel and Elon Musk and their coziness with transhumanoid and singularitarian and futurological would-be gurus, from Kurzweil to Brand to Brockman, their support of the rhetoric of "spontaneous order" and hence the practice of privatization of public investment and culture (for example, of public education, security, infrastructure, the space program), their inevitable hypocritical reliance on government coupled with anti-government rhetoric, their peddling of reactionary geo-engineering and Web 2.0 superficialization schemes as though these are in some way "green" or progressive (aided and abetted by many progressive-identified folks whose fetishization of "technology" renders them, as so often happens, particularly susceptible to reactionary authoritarian politics).

PART SEVEN: Something of a summing-up, from the following month, Mapping the Futurological Complex:

This post began as a response to somebody who recommended Edge.org in the still-ongoing discussion mentioned below taking place over at Michael Anissimov's "Accelerating Future" blog, but I have edited and adapted it a bit:

I admire a few who post at Edge.org (Lanier, Sterling, Margulis) but cannot say that I am a fan of the site more generally. What seems to be meant by the "Third Culture" there is one culture (a clumsy corralling of disciplines under the heading "hard and hard wannabe sciences") ignoring the other (no less clumsily, "humanities"), sometimes barking over the other, and then declaring this ignorance to be some kind of enlightened synthesis or detente.

Also, John Brockman is a key vector through which pop futurology, reductionist scientism, and neoliberal triumphalism is disseminated in my view, in parallel with the mainstream corporate-militarism of GBN (Global Business Network) and other "Long Boom" peddlers (to know what I think of Stewart Brand et al, you might read this).

The organizational archipelago of futurology is a richly layered one, and while most readers here probably know me best for my critique of its most hyperbolic forms -- the transhumanists, the cybernetic-totalists, the singularitarians, the techno-immortalists, the nano-cornucopiasts, what I like to deride as The Robot Cultists -- to me it is crucial to grasp the ramifications of futurological assumptions, aspirations, formulations, figures, forms in more mainstream discourse and organizational life as well, from deceptive hyperbolic advertizing norms suffusing public life to the unsustainable precarizing terms of corporate-military neoliberal developmentalist policy-making.

Just as the WTA (The World Transhumanist Association, er, now monikered HumanityPlus!) connects directly to IEET (the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, whose founders and many of whose leading lights are also those of WTA) which connects directly to Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute (again, the name has changed but the faces remain the same) so too one can draw lines connecting Edge.org to GBN to Wired Magazine to futurological impresario and guru Kurzweil to the libertopian and libertechian Extropian subculture to the Singularity Summit.

One can trace comparable lines of influence and force across the libertopian to Movement Conservative archipelago (with the same kinds of plausible deniability and sectarian squabbling to render connecting the dots a complex matter), for example. And, one can draw comparable lines between PayPal's Futurological FunderTwins Elon Musk and Peter Thiel with the futurological complex as one can draw between the Koch Brothers and the libertopian complex.

There are even points of connection between these complexes (the reactionary rhetoric of "spontaneous order" binds them ideologically, among other things), although the futurological complex hasn't quite managed the mischief the Neocons have, though I regard them as fully capable of it.

Although my critique of futurology has tended to focus on discourse analysis and philosophy (in which I am trained), as well as pseudo-science, forms of true belief, and both practical and conceptual affinities with reactionary politics, I must say that there remains an opportunity for some enterprising journalists and historians to document (and expose) the institutional structure of organized futurology from its mainstream to its superlative advocacy from the WW2 era emergence of modern information and computer science through to the contemporary epoch of irrational exuberance and greenwashing. I've done some small amount of that work, but it isn't really my area of expertise, and yet it is quite important work to be done.

These connections are not a matter of conspiracy so much as subculture and political organization in an epoch of network formations. But it is crucial, nonetheless, to grasp these ideological, subcultural, political, funding connections, whatever their measure and extent if we would resist the True Belief peddled by futurology through pseudo-science, the corporate-militarist PR peddled by futurology as policy-making, the derangement of public deliberation about technoscience issues by futurology's sensationalist hyperbole and fear-mongering, the circumvention of the political address of climate catastrophe by futurological geo-engineering greenwashing and boutique green consumer spectacles, the eugenicism of futurological "enhancement" discourses, the devastating ongoing anti-intellectualism of death-denialism, techno-fetishism, consumer culture by futurology's phony revolutionary amplification of the status quo peddled as "accelerating change."

25 comments:

jfehlinger said...

> . . . mere humans -- sometimes described derisively as "mehums," . . .

Yes, **gay** humans being, of course, "hohums".

;->

jfehlinger said...

> [A]s it happens, only "Grey Gardens" and "Whatever Happened to
> Baby Jane" come close to the filmic adaptation of Rand's novel
> "The Fountainhead" as cinema's high camp apotheosis. . .

I still remember the first time (long ago, back in the 70's) that
I caught "The Fountainhead" on TV. I sat there, with slack jaw,
thinking "can this possibly be for real?" as Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal,
and Raymond Massey, faces fixed, fire in their eyes, pummelled
each other with lines like:

"Hans! I love you!"

"Of course you do, Fraulein! You could not **help** yourself!"

(Actually, that dialog was from an aftershave commercial,
but you get the idea.)

I still prefer Bette Davis in _Baby Jane_, though.

("Yer such a liar, Blanche! Ya always were.")

smartypants said...

Jim suggests that the answer may be the usual one that occurs to anybody who follows the money: "not wanting to alienate potential sources of funding, like Peter Thiel...

Let's connect a few more dots, and perhaps indulge in a bit of Mundist conspiracy theory, shall we?

Peter Thiel, the benefactor of the Singlarity Institute, runs a global macro hedge fund known as Clarium Capital.

Global macro funds invest in asset classes across the world based upon macroeconomic trend analyses. For example, current indicators might suggest that US inflation is trending higher as the dollar is weakening against other currencies. If so, Clarium might direct capital to Euro-denominated bonds, or go long gold and other commodities to take advantage of the declining purchasing power of the greenback.

The number of possible investments a fund like Clarium might consider at any one time is absolutely staggering. Narrowing them down to a select few with good odds of making money requires an enormous computational effort to extrapolate trends, calculate fair values, volatilities, the fair value of corresponding derivatives, etc. There is a vast amount of economic and price data that must be analyzed to do this well. So, for the fund to make the right calls most of the time, the fund managers must be able to absorb and digest in real-time a veritable torrent of raw data.

In order to do this effectively, global macro managers rely very heavily on computational models which take raw data inputs and churn-out either programmed trades or trading alerts to be reviewed by managers for action. The smarter and more flexible the computational model, the better the trades.

Some readers probably already see where this going. If not, let's put this observation another way:

The smarter your computer is, the more money you make.

Puts a few things in perspective, now, doesn't it? Thiel, with his magnanimous (tax-deductible) donations to the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, seems to have purchased a full-time research and development arm for Clarium Capital Management's flagship global macro fund. Along with this purchase, one might assume, goes also the right to employ SIAI's most interesting algorithmic results in Clarium's proprietary trading programs.

If I were a contributor to the non-profit, 501c SIAI I would probably want to know more about the relationship in question.

Anonymous said...

I've been a "techno-utopian Transhumanist" for fifteen years or so but never thought of Rand as more than a marginally entertaining novelist. I do recall Randroids flocking about in the old Extropian days though.

Thanks BTW for the "Robot God" phrase, it has just the right "I don't take myself too seriously" ring to it while at the same time being accurate enough and I've adopted it in my own dialogue. Keep up the good work!

Nick Tarleton said...

Now that you mention it, I repudiate Objectivism. I just never took it seriously enough to do so before.

jfehlinger said...

> In order to do this effectively, global macro managers rely
> very heavily on computational models which take raw data inputs
> and churn-out either programmed trades or trading alerts. . .
> Thiel, with his magnanimous (tax-deductible) donations to the
> Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, seems to
> have purchased a full-time research and development arm for
> Clarium Capital Management. . .. Along with this purchase,
> one might assume, goes also the right to employ SIAI's most
> interesting algorithmic results in Clarium's proprietary
> trading programs.

That seems like a stretch to me.

I would guess that the code for a (not "generally" intelligent)
programmed trading system is highly tailored to the
application domain (though I've never seen the "guts" of
such a system).

If all SIAI has now is (somebody's idea of a) "seed AI" --
a subintelligent progenitor for what they call an "Artificial
General Intelligence", then I'd guess that any actual
code they have is about as applicable to security
or commodity trading as would be the code for Microsoft
Word or Adobe Photoshop.

Now **after** the AGI "wakes up" -- but wait a minute, then
we have the Singularity, and who cares about Clarium Capital
Management's trading prowess?

Dale Carrico said...

Anonymous "thanks" me "for the 'Robot God' phrase" saying of it that it is "accurate enough and I've adopted it in my own dialogue." No doubt, no doubt.

Dale Carrico said...

Thiel, with his magnanimous (tax-deductible) donations to the
Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, seems to have purchased a full-time research and development arm for Clarium Capital Management.


I'll believe it when you show me that Thiel has invested comparable funds to tap into the stunning research intelligence resources available in the local George Lucas Fan Club.

Anonymous said...

"Thiel, with his magnanimous (tax-deductible) donations to the
Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, seems to have purchased a full-time research and development arm for Clarium Capital Management."
This is just silly. First of all, when you hire R&D staff their salaries are expenses that reduce taxable income, so there's no tax advantage to outsourcing research in such a fashion. Second, a nonprofit can't transfer its IP in a non-arm's length transaction to a for-profit entity. Third, the SIAI is certainly not doing AI work that will be relevant to financial analysis any time soon.

"Jim suggests that the answer may be the usual one that occurs to anybody who follows the money: "not wanting to alienate potential sources of funding, like Peter Thiel or Jimmy Wales."
Interesting fact: Thiel endorses a universal basic income in one of his talks on this site:
http://www.bigthink.com/
OTOH, so does Charles Murray.

De Thezier said...

anonymous said:

Interesting fact: Thiel endorses a universal basic income in one of his talks on this site:
http://www.bigthink.com/
OTOH, so does Charles Murray.


Not too long ago I was arguing in the Moot that, in a desperate attempt to "save" consumer capitalism, the Right would slowly but increasingly start co-opting BIG discourse so thank for providing me with some examples.

AnneC said...

Perhaps only tangentially relevant, but this video may be of interest to some readers. It's informative and funny and scary because it's true!

giulio said...

I am ashamed to confess that I did not even read Ayn Rand. Many years ago I tried to start Atlas Shrugged but gave up after a few pages because it was too boring.

So I have nothing to repudiate, because I never even took Rand seriously enough to read her. But of course from your point of view I will remain a filthy Ayn Raelian. Ah, identity politics.

From the little I know about Rand's work I have formed the impression that she was a second or third league writer and thinker who, for some reasons, has made a deep impression on one or two generations of Americans. Over here in contemporary Europe, most learned people do not even know who she was.

Among all forums that I use to read, this is the only one where her work is regularly mentioned. She must have made a very deep impression on you guys indeed! I think perhaps I should try reading her again.

What should I read? Atlas Shrugged again? The Fountainhead? I just did a search on The Fountainhead and stumbled upon this page. It has a list of the main characters, for example:

"Ellsworth Toohey - The villain of the novel, and Roark’s antithesis—a man with a lust for power but no talent. Since his boyhood, Toohey has despised the achievements of others, and he dedicates himself to squelching other people’s talents and ambitions. He is a small and fragile-looking man, but his persuasive voice and knack for manipulation make him a formidable opponent. He encourages selflessness and altruism to coax others into submission. His philosophy is a blend of religion, Fascism and Socialism, and he at times resembles the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin". See also Ellsworth Toohey (In-Depth Analysis)

Dale Carrico said...

If you are contemplating reading La Rand may I suggest you turn instead to the novels (in much the same vein) of Harold Robbins? He is, at least, one of 20C literature's true giants, as James Kirk once confidently attested on a visit here to the Bay Area from the future.

De Thezier said...

giulio said:

I am ashamed to confess that I did not even read Ayn Rand. Many years ago I tried to start Atlas Shrugged but gave up after a few pages because it was too boring.

Although I have read some of her other works, a friend and I also I tried to start Atlas Shrugged but both gave up after a few pages because it was too boring.

From the little I know about Rand's work I have formed the impression that she was a second or third league writer and thinker who, for some reasons, has made a deep impression on one or two generations of Americans. Over here in contemporary Europe, most learned people do not even know who she was. Among all forums that I use to read, this is the only one where her work is regularly mentioned. She must have made a very deep impression on you guys indeed! I think perhaps I should try reading her again. What should I read? Atlas Shrugged again? The Fountainhead?

I suggest you read The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism">The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism. It's a 1964 collection of essays and papers by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. The book covers several issues of the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand. Some of its themes include the identification and validation of egoism as a rational code of ethics, the destructiveness of altruism, and the nature of a proper government.

But until you actually get your hands on a copy and read it, I suggest you watch the following:

Ayn Rand Mike Wallace Interview 1959 part 1

Ayn Rand Mike Wallace Interview 1959 part 2

Ayn Rand Mike Wallace Interview 1959 part 3

Mitchell said...

The word "mehum" (for "mere human") derives from Wilson & Shea's Illuminatus trilogy - which also contains a parody of Atlas Shrugged called Telemachus Sneezed.

jfehlinger said...

Giulio Prisco wrote:

> Over here in contemporary Europe, most learned people do not
> even know who [Ayn Rand] was.

No. But they know all about her main progenitor,
Friedrich Nietzsche.


"In calling Rand a Nietzschean, I don't mean to suggest
that she shared all Nietzsche's views, or that those
views she thought she shared were necessarily true to
Nietzsche. (Some Nietzsche scholars deny, for instance,
that Nietzsche really held the common herd of ordinary
humans in contempt.) Rand was a 'vulgar Nietzschean':
she adhered to a cluster of ideas, including contempt
for the common herd, popularly associated with
Nietzsche.

Rand found the common man of the twentieth century, if
anything, to be an even more grotesquely botched entity
than Nietzsche had predicted. Her first projected hero,
Danny Renahan in _The Little Street_, is explicitly
Nietzschean in his sense of absolute superiority over
and utter contempt for nearly all of humanity, which
presumes to dispute his superiority by sheer dint of
numbers. He burns with "disgust . . . and with
humiliation" at not being able to crush "the mob"
under his feet. His superior intelligence "makes the
mob feel that a superior mind can exist entirely
outside its established morals," provoking "a murderous
desire to revenge itself against its hurt vanity. . .
He was superior and he wanted to live as such. . .
the one thing society does not permit." . . .
This Nietzschean hero, much more negatively disposed
than Roark, is an early prototype of Roark. The theme
of the disgustingness of non-heroic average humanity
would be a constant in all Rand's novels."

-- Jeff Walker, _The Ayn Rand Cult_, "The Roots of
Objectivism"



"[Joel] Kramer and [Diana] Alstad [authors of _The
Guru Papers_] observe that psychological authoritarianism
arises from a longing to submit to some near-superhumanly
moral or knowledgeable source, **or** to be that source
for others. Control was. . . for [Ayn] Rand, an obsession. . .
Recalled Nathaniel Branden, "Outside the territory where
she felt in full intellectual control, she was utterly
lacking in a spirit of openness or adventure." . . .

Rand insisted that everything in a man's life is subject
to his mind's control and that the worst tragedies result
from willfully suspending that control. She contends,
"There is no place for whim in any human activity -- if
it is to be regarded as human, . . . no room for the
unknowable, the unintelligible, the undefinable, the
non-objective in any human product. This side of an
insane asylum, the actions of a human being are motivated
by a conscious purpose," and when they are not, "they
are of no interest to anyone outside a psychiatrist's
office." . . .

Rand believed that her rational mind always dominated and
guided her emotions, and that this should be the case for
everyone. Barbara Branden remembers, "She often said she
understood **every** emotion she had and she knew
where it came from and what it represented . . . not so.
She didn't, . . . partly because she [thought] the process
is easier than it is." Rand never introspected. The
Blumenthals say she didn't believe she **had** an
unconscious, her mind having refused entry to irrationalities
so common to everyone else. So, presumably, her thinking
could never be warped by an unconscious bias.

Fired up in 1928 by plans for her misanthropic novel _The
Little Street_, she had noted in her journal: "The
secret of life: You must be nothing but will. . . Be
a tyrant -- no compromises with yourself. . . You don't
exist. You are only a writing engine," dedicated to
"individualism, . . . the theme song, the goal, the only
aim of all my writing." And so it was. In a 1945 open
letter to _Fountainhead_ readers she declared, albeit in
a romanticizing mode, "I have never had any private life
in the usual sense. . . My writing is my life. . .
My life has been 'single-tracked'. . . I have no hobbies,
. . . few friends." . . .

Rand outlined in her journal the basic character traits of
her most famous hero, Howard Roark: "His emotions are
entirely controlled by his logic." Two things dominate
his entire attitude toward life: "his own superiority and
the utter worthlessness of the world." He was "born
without the ability to consider others. . . Indifference
and an infinite contempt is all he feels for the world
and for other men who are not like him." Other people are
merely a convenience for his work. He recognizes only
the right of the exceptional (and by that he means only
himself) "to create, and order, and command."

Rand writes that "my life purpose is the creation of the
kind of world (people and events) that I like, i.e., that
represent human perfection." She likes neither reality
nor real people, inevitably imperfect as they are, but
still thrives upon the company of imaginary perfect
beings who represent variations on what she most likes
about herself. . .

Rand wrote in a letter that "all my life I have been troubled
by the fact that most people bored me to death." . . .
And in a late 1940s letter Rand asserts that she couldn't
care less about the so-called 'average man': "What I am
interested in is the great and the exceptional. . .
I do feel something which is probably real hatred when
I hear somebody say he believes in the 'middle of the road.'

She declared that she could look around her levelly, but
couldn't bear to look down, and had wanted to look up.
But she felt there was no one at a higher level than her
to look up to. Rand's Kay Gonda in _Ideal_ (1934), asked
if she really thinks she's so much better than everybody
else, responds "Yes, . . . I do. I wish I didn't have
to."

Rand asserts that Roark "is the only genuine human being"
in _The Fountainhead_ "because he embodies precisely those
qualities which constitute a human being, as distinguished
from an animal. Keating is subhuman." Such remarks go
beyond disdain into hate. They also provide a clue as
to why her fictional villains are so unconvincing.
Their subhumanity puts them beyond foreshortened range
of the author's empathy. . ."

-- Jeff Walker, _The Ayn Rand Cult_, "The Dark Side of
the Guru's Soul"



"The sick are the greatest danger for the well. The weaker,
not the stronger, are the strong's undoing. It is not **fear**
of our fellow-man, which we should wish to see diminished;
for fear rouses those who are strong to become terrible
in turn themselves, and preserves the hard-earned and
successful type of humanity. What is to be dreaded by us
more than any other doom is not fear, but rather the great
disgust; not fear, but rather the great pity -- disgust
and pity for our human fellows. . . . The **morbid** are
our greatest peril, not the "bad" men, not the predatory
beings. Those born wrong, the miscarried, the broken --
they it is, the **weakest**, who are undermining the vitality
of the race, poisoning our trust in life, and putting
humanity in question. Every look of them is a sigh --
'Would I were something other! I am sick and tired of
what I am.' In this swamp-soil of self-contempt, every
poisonous weed flourishes, and all so small, so secret,
so dishonest, and so sweetly rotten. Here swarm the
worms of sensitiveness and resentment; here the air smells
odious with secrecy, with what is not to be acknowledged;
here is woven endlessly the net of the meanest of
conspiracies, the conspiracy of those who suffer against
those who succeed and are victorious; here the very
aspect of the victorious is hated -- as if health,
success, strength, pride, and the sense of power were
in themselves things vicious, for which one ought eventually
to make bitter expiation. Oh, how these people would
themselves like to inflict the expiation, how they thirst
to be the hangmen! And all the while their duplicity
never confesses their hatred to be hatred."

-- Friedrich Nietzsche, _Zur Genealogie der
Moral_, Dritte Abhandlung, Sect. 14, quoted in
William James' _The Varieties of Religious Experience_
("The Value of Saintliness", pp. 406 - 407)

James goes on to say:

"Poor Nietzsche's antipathy is itself sickly enough, but
we all know what he means, and he expresses well the
clash between the two ideals. The carnivorous-minded
"strong man," the adult male and cannibal, can see nothing
but mouldiness and morbidness in the saint's gentleness
and self-severity, and regards him with pure loathing.
The whole feud revolves essentially upon two pivots:
Shall the seen world or the unseen world be our chief
sphere of adaptation? and must our means of adaptation
in this seen world be aggressiveness or non-resistance?

The debate is serious. In some sense and to some degree
both worlds must be acknowledged and taken account of;
and in the seen world both aggressiveness and non-resistance
are needful. It is a question of emphasis, of more
or less. Is the saint's type or the strong-man's type
the more ideal? . . .

A society where all were invariably aggressive would
destroy itself by inner friction, and in a society
where some are aggressive, others must be non-resistant,
if there is to be any kind of order. This is the
present constitution of society, and to the mixture
we owe many of our blessings. But the aggressive
members of society are always tending to become
bullies, robbers, and swindlers; and no one believes
that such a state of things as we now live in is
the millennium. . ."

And in a paragraph just prior to the Nietzsche quote,
James says:

"Reenacted in human nature is the fable of the wind,
the sun, and the traveler. The sexes embody the
discrepancy. The woman loves the man the more
admiringly the stormier he shows himself, and the
world deifies its rulers the more for being willful
and unaccountable. But the woman in turn subjugates
the man by the mystery of gentleness in beauty,
and the saint has always charmed the world by
something similar. Mankind is susceptible and
suggestible in opposite directions, and the
rivalry of influences is unsleeping. The saintly
and the worldly ideal pursue their feud in literature
as much as in real life. . ."



"I dislike Nietzsche, because he likes the contemplation
of pain, because he erects conceit into a duty, because
the men whom he most admires are conquerors, whose glory
is cleverness in causing men to die. But I think the
ultimate argument against his philosophy, as against
any unpleasant but internally self-consistent ethic,
lies not in an appeal to facts, but in an appeal to
emotions. Nietzsche despises universal love; I feel
it the motive power to all that I desire as regards
the world. His followers have had their innings, but
we may hope that it is coming rapidly to an end."

-- Bertrand Russell
http://www.philosophicalsociety.com/Archives/A%20Tale%20Of%20Two%20Moralities.htm


"Nazi scribblers never tired of extolling him.
Hitler often visited the Nietzsche museum in Weimar
and publicized his veneration for the philosopher
by posing for photographs of himself staring
in rapture at the bust of the great man."

-- William L. Shirer's take on the Relationship
Between Friedrich Nietzsche and the Nazis
From William L. Shirer (1959),
_The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich_
http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/TCEH/Nietzsche.html



"To make matters worse, the Boomers' arrival on
college campuses was immediately preceded by
Walter Kaufmann's rehabilitation of Friedrich Nietzsche,
the Patron Saint of Political Narcissism.
Beloved to the Nazis, Nietzsche's philosophy had
consequently suffered a precipitous decline in prestige
in the West, until Kaufmann unearthed previously
suppressed writings that revealed Nietzsche to be
a virulent critic of anti-Semitism.

It was a pity these revelations did not come years
earlier, when our forbears could have gleefully
rubbed Nazi noses in them.

Nietzsche is to be commended for his hatred of
anti-Semitism. He is likewise to be commended for
his inspiring aesthetic philosophy, his remarkable
powers of observation and his extraordinary prose.

But his ethics and his politics are nonetheless vile,
irretrievably so, because they are so pathologically
narcissistic as to lead inevitably to totalitarianism
and its abuses."

Nietzsche: The Patron Saint of Political Narcissism
http://journals.aol.com/madison721/TheViewfrommyKitchen-APoliticalB/entries/8



"I think Nietzsche is just pietzsche."

-- One of the founders of the Extropians' Mailing List,
in a personal communication.

jfehlinger said...

Giulio wrote:

> But of course from your point of view I will remain
> a filthy Ayn Raelian.

If you touch poop, don't act surprised when other people
can smell it (even if you can't, yourself). Get used
to it, or go take a shower.

> I have nothing to repudiate, because I never even took
> Rand seriously enough to read her.

Hey, that's no excuse! I'll let Ayn Rand herself tell you why:

"Now some of you might say, as many people do: ;Aw, I never think
in such abstract terms — I want to deal with concrete, particular,
real-life problems — what do I need philosophy for?' . . .

You might claim — as most people do — that you have never been influenced
by philosophy. I will ask you to check that claim. Have you ever thought
or said the following? 'Don't be so sure — nobody can be certain of anything.'
You got that notion from David Hume (and many, many others), even though
you might never have heard of him. Or: 'This may be good in theory, but
it doesn't work in practice.' You got that from Plato. Or: 'That was a
rotten thing to do, but it's only human, nobody is perfect in this world.'
You got that from Augustine. Or: 'It may be true for you, but it's not
true for me.' You got it from William James. Or: 'I couldn't help it!
Nobody can help anything he does.' You got it from Hegel. Or: 'I can't prove it,
but I feel that it's true.' You got it from Kant. Or: 'It's logical,
but logic has nothing to do with reality.' You got it from Kant. Or:
'It's evil, because it's selfish.' You got it from Kant. Have you heard
the modern activists say: 'Act first, think afterward'? They got it from John Dewey.

Some people might answer: 'Sure, I've said those things at different times,
but I don't have to believe that stuff all of the time. It may have been
true yesterday, but it's not true today.' They got it from Hegel.
They might say: 'Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.' They got
it from a very little mind, Emerson. They might say: 'But can't one
compromise and borrow different ideas from different philosophies according
to the expediency of the moment?' They got it from Richard Nixon — who
got it from William James.

Now ask yourself: if you are not interested in abstract ideas, why
do you (and all men) feel compelled to use them? The fact is that abstract
ideas are conceptual integrations which subsume an incalculable number
of concretes — and that without abstract ideas you would not be able to
deal with concrete, particular, real-life problems. You would be in the
position of a newborn infant, to whom every object is a unique, unprecedented
phenomenon. The difference between his mental state and yours lies in the
number of conceptual integrations your mind has performed.

You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations,
your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles.
Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they
represent your conscious, rational conviction — or a grab-bag of notions
snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you
do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a
hot potato if you knew."

-- Ayn Rand, "Philosophy: Who Needs It?"
http://fare.tunes.org/liberty/library/pwni.html


Now **here**'s an association that depresses me no end.
It could upset me even more than the association between
autism and narcissism upsets Anne Corwin, if I let it
( :-0 ).

http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/people/bios/space/hill.html
-------------------------
Meet: Paul Hill
Flight Director
Johnson Space Center

Who I am and What I Do

I am a Flight Director. I'm in charge of space shuttle and space
station mission control and responsible for the safe conduct of
space shuttle and space station missions. . .

As a kid, I liked to read. My 5th grade teacher Mrs. Martin
brought reading to life for me and introduced me to J.R.R. Tolkien,
both of which made me an avid reader for life. I love anything from
Ayn Rand [to] Tolkien and Hugo. . .

My standout favorites in fiction are Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien;
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand; and The Man Who Laughs, Victor Hugo. My favorites
in non-fiction are The Ominous Parallels, Leonard Peikoff;
Philosophy, Who Needs It, Ayn Rand; . . . None of these encouraged me
to pursue a career in space, but they did encourage me to think.
Like the best teachers, most of these books expanded my outlook on
life in more ways than just the story they tell, especially Rand's
and Hugo's. . .
-------------------------

Dale Carrico said...

I must say it is hard to imagine a more vulgar misreading of the Nietzschean project of affirmation and self-overcoming (hence "Overman," sometimes idiotically misconstrued as "Superman") than the embarrassing self-congratulatory self-help pieties of Randian/Extropian "Nietzscheans."

As Oscar Wilde -- an exact contemporary of Nietzsche's with whom he had an enormous lot in common -- "Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live."

I strongly recommend those who are serious about engaging with the incredibly allusive and slippery rhetoric of that profound trickster Nietzsche take a look at Deleuze's book Nietzsche and Philosophy and Nehamas's book Nietzsche: Life as Literature (with neither of which I agree entirely, but both of which have proven especially useful to students) for a bit of context.

Rarely has Bertrand Russell been so clueless than in his assessment, quoted above, of Nietzsche, who was a life-long invalid endlessly exposing the ugly horror of human stupidity and cruelty, even if it is true that he was too skeptical of solidarity to embrace the compensatory blessings of human collaboration and kindness. I think probably Nietzsche simply wasn't Russell's cup of tea -- which certainly is fair enough -- and he published a snap judgment betraying too superficial an acquaintance to justify its confidence. Something we all do from time to time -- I still think Russell's the cat's meow in other areas of concern.

jfehlinger said...

Dale wrote:

> I must say it is hard to imagine a more vulgar misreading of the
> Nietzschean project of affirmation and self-overcoming
> (hence "Overman," sometimes idiotically misconstrued as
> "Superman") than the embarrassing self-congratulatory self-help
> pieties of Randian/Extropian "Nietzscheans."

I didn't realize that Nietzsche was being (has been) rehabilitated
by the academic Left. Sounds like an "incredibly slippery" project
indeed! Sorry, didn't mean to step on **your** toes!

jfehlinger said...

De Thezier wrote:

> But until you actually get your hands on a copy and read it,
> I suggest you watch the following. . .

Ehh, skip the books and watch the movies. ;->

Helen Mirren is appropriately scary as the great lady
in _The Passion of Ayn Rand_, based on the book of the
same title by Barbara Branden.
http://www.amazon.com/Passion-Ayn-Rand-Helen-Mirren/dp/B000056BP0

(There seem to be some clips from this film, set to music,
on You Tube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TcMTKPoitQ )

I like the Jeff Beal soundtrack of this movie, too. It's
available for free (what **would** Rand say to that?!)
at
http://www.jeffbeal.com/Pages/FILMS%20Pages/AYN%20RAND.html

I especially like the closing vocal "Love Is, Love Is Not".
("Love is not what we choose. Love is what we do.")

jfehlinger said...

Mitchell wrote:

> Wilson & Shea's Illuminatus trilogy. . . also contains a parody of Atlas Shrugged
> called Telemachus Sneezed.

Yes, Rand is a tempting target for humor like that.

There's a book (which I haven't read) by novelist Mary Gaitskill
(Jeff Walker mentions it in _The Ayn Rand Cult_) called
_Two Girls, Fat and Thin_, in which one of the characters is
involved in a thinly-fictionalized version of Objectivism
called "Definitism", whose guru is a woman named "Anna Granite".
The fictional titles of this guru's two novels are
_The Bulwark_ and _The Gods Disdained_.

Greg in Portland said...

Guilo wrote: Over here in contemporary Europe, most learned people do not even know who she was.

Not too surprising. My take on Rand as someone who has some experience with American society, particularly as it exists away from the metropoles is this:

Rand is basically the only thing that penetrates small town, Red State America that seems "different". If you're a smarter than average kid growing up in the Bible Belt the first voice of "dissent" you will encounter will be Rand or someone influenced by her (a lot of sci-fi is basically crypto-Randian). You will not encounter the modern left at all until college if ever. And to be fair Rand seems like a revelation when all your life you've been told to obey and conform and pray to Jeebus. Most of the good aspects of her pretentious "philosophy" are just recycled philosophical materialism mixed with appallingly oversimplified biological determinism and the reification of American style gilded age crapitalism. To people with long time experience of Enlightenment culture and (real) philosophy the former seems passe (like stating boldly that Rome is in Italy, duh) and the latter things just seem crazy or stupid.

THists luv them some Rand simply because most of them derive from heartland American computer programmer types who have had the above "philosophical education". The non-repudiation of Rand stems from the inability of these people to understand just how aberrant the whole thing looks to most people in the more secular societies of either Europe or American coastal metropoles. It's just another sign of the general ghettoization of the whole movement.

Dale Carrico said...

Great comment, Greg. I think this is largely spot on.

(I am speaking as somebody who grew up in small town Bible-Belt Middle-America myself -- Floyds Knobs, Indiana, I kid you not.)

Jeff Montgomery said...

As someone who is not only familiar with Objectivism but lives by it, I find the attempted connection between transhumanism and Objectivism bizarre. Transhumanism seems to basically be a technological movement with philosophical elements bordering on mysticism, and Objectivism is pure philosophy in the classical tradition. I'm certain Rand would have seen no connection whatsoever because 1) she rejected mysticism out of hand and 2) she would have regarded transhumanism's technological tinkering as no more relevant to philosophy than what drugs to take to cure a cold.

If someone should manage to escape the cynical orbit of the original post wanting information about Objectivism, I would go for the non-fiction. Her novels were written earlier in her career before she began writing her explicitly philosophical tracts, and aren't likely to be effective learning tools for those who are already predisposed not like her.

For a one-shot deal, I'd recommend "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" by Leonard Peikoff. It contains all the major points of her thought, divided by chapter. If you want it directly from the source, you can find metaphysics and epistemology in Rand's "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" and ethics in "The Virtue of Selfishness". I would pay special attention to her definitions because she takes great pains to create them, and a proper understanding of her thought depends on them.

Dale Carrico said...

Oh, how sweet, an actual earnest Objectivist in the Moot. I do hope your features are suitably chiseled, else we might worry you might lapse ineluctably into the moochdome of your many lessers. To call Miss Rand's homespun vacuities "pure philosophy in the classical tradition" is such a knee-slapper I find I can forgive you nearly anything.

And so I'll tolerate this little proselytizing exercise you've indulged in here, this once, but just know that if you keep plugging your sad sociopathic oversimplifications I'll have to delete it as spam.

The Moot is already quite overpopulated I'm afraid with overconfident undercritical ill-educated boys foolishly peddling certainties that conduce to incumbent interests.

As it happens, if you were to ask me (and it's my blog so it doesn't much matter that you wouldn't) I can think of few people who have done more damage to American culture than Ayn Rand did, nor a culture more deserving of the damage than the America that happened to fall for it.