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TOC, SOLO ... and KASS
I have just returned to New Zealand from The Objectivist Center's Summer Seminar in Vancouver. I am feeling the blues that must inevitably accompany a return to the world of nihilism from one of exuberant rationality. Yes, "exuberant"! Yes, TOC! Just as you, dear reader, thought you'd never see me saying that, so too did I never think I'd be writing it. Fact is, the Seminar was a blast.
First, the speakers. I met and heard the world's best-kept secret: a philosopher who is also a stand-up comic (or perhaps that should be the other way round). His name is Fred Seddon. He has a vastly different take from Rand on Kant and Hume, but argues his case brilliantly and entertains uproariously. His presentations are not lectures, they are performances. Though his staple leitmotif, "Did I tell you I like sex?" is arguably overdone, there is no question that this man's comedic talents make him unique in Objectivism.
There was Molly Hays, who delivered solo a presentation on "The Necessity of Romance" that was intended to be delivered in tandem. Her unavoidably absent co-presenter, Larry Sechrest, would have been proud of her. The only question mark over Molly is her musical taste - she kept insisting that Linz sing, even *after* he obliged her.
There was Tibor Machan, in booming good form as always; David Kelley, delivering a 'tour de force' about Islam; Nathaniel Branden, unmistakably aging but infinitely endearing as he ad-libbed in an unfamiliar interview format; Madeleine Cosman, magnificent and majestic as she swept aside the horrors of socialised medicine and conjured up free market alternatives; Stephen Hicks, suave and sophisticated, aglow from the publication of his new book; Francisco Villalobos, outrageously beautiful but annoyingly reluctant to proffer the empirical validation of the title of his lectures, "Look Better Naked." There were many more, whom it is unjust to omit but whom I cannot include simply because I didn't get to hear them. I walked out of one lecture only, because the speaker was less audible than the one in the next theatre who resonated passionately through the wall and thus staked his claim for my attention. As for my own presentation, I shall leave it to others who were there to post about if if they wish; suffice it for me to say that I couldn't have hoped for a better reception.
There were the vibrant people I hadn't met before: Andrew Bissell, familiar to SOLOists, a young man undoubtedly destined for a big future within Objectivism; ditto, Alec Mouhibian. There was the gorgeous and fascinating Caroline, who turned many a man's head even as she opted to keep a solicitous eye on the unavailable Linz, Terminally Bewildered in Vancouver, for which he is hugely grateful. There was Bill Nevin, who promised Linz evenings of red wine and good-natured argument ... and delivered. There was the supremely dignified and aristocratic Joan Kennedy Taylor, with stories aplenty about the early days of Objectivism and libertarianism and their luminaries. There was Duncan Scott, in charge of the exciting Objectivist History project, whereby people *like* Joan are having their reminiscences videoed so that the truth - as opposed to the ARI's Kremlin-like rewritings of it - will be readily and permanently accessible. There was Greg who played sax, Ken and Doug who played piano in the common room at night ... and many, many more whom I again do an inadvertent injustice by omitting.
A stand-out for me was the panel discussion on Objectivism and libertarianism, in which I participated. Robert Bidinotto argued that Objectivists should abandon the term "libertarian" because it has been hijacked by the Saddamite scum at LewRockwell.com and similar sites whose main mission in life is to attack America and promote anarchism. Too many prominent "libertarians," he argued, have no idea how to ground the non-initiation-of-force principle in metaphysics and epistemology. I argued that neither did the Founding Fathers - would we have shrieked "Intrinsicist, begone!" at Thomas Jefferson as he wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident ..."?! Should we really eschew cooperation on a political level with libertarians who believe rights come from God, or from nowhere? Such an approach, I argued, reeks of Peikovianism (Bob then brought the house down by interjecting, plaintively, "You really know how to hurt a guy"). I insisted that those who should give up the name "libertarian" are the Saddamites, who should accept the latter appellation as accurate and get on with attacking all things American and excusing all things terrorist. We Objectivists most assuredly should *not* give it up; Objectivists *are* libertarians, unavoidably, even if the reverse doesn't always (and doesn't *have* to) hold. The term has been too long fought for to be given up lightly to Saddam's succours.
But ... there is a sting in the tail. An abiding concern pervaded the week, notwithstanding all of the positives nominated above: a deep anxiety over TOC's lack of what I came to call - borrowing from the American colloquialism - the "kick-ass" factor (in all public discourse hereafter, I shall refer to it as KASS). All present in Vancouver seemed aware that TOC lacks KASS - the sharp polemical edge that should accompany the scholarly deliberations on which TOC wants to be able to pride itself. TOC donors and grass-roots supporters alike want to see their organisation become much more visible and potent. They want it to stop pulling its punches as a matter of principle. They want to know just what the hell the full-time staffers *do* Monday to Friday?! Why is their productivity so easily able to be eclipsed by rank-and-file Objectivists with day jobs? Why is its public persona so anaemic? These are concerns I raised some years ago ... their resolution now, I submit, is a matter of life-and-death urgency for TOC. Perhaps SOLO could become TOC's KASS-partner? We would insist on retaining a separate/equal identity, of course, with the right to beat up on our comrades' *lack* of KASS ... but we who understand the importance of the division of labour should be looking to effect an amicable and workable detente here.
The future of western civilisation rests with Objectivism. The future of Objectivism rests with us, the non-religious bearers of the torch. "TOC, SOLO ... and KASS" is not just a cute title. It bespeaks *our* rendezvous with history.
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