Rebirth of Reason

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Saturday, July 2, 2016 - 12:57pmSanction this postReply

While I appreciated the author's lamentation about current ignorance of history and culture, I found this passage troubling on multiple levels:

Ancient philosophy and practice praised as an excellent form of government a res publica – a devotion to public things, things we share together. We have instead created the world’s first Res Idiotica – from the Greek word idiotes, meaning “private individual.” Our education system produces solipsistic, self-contained selves whose only public commitment is an absence of commitment to a public, a common culture, a shared history. They are perfectly hollowed vessels, receptive and obedient, without any real obligations or devotions.


They won’t fight against anyone, because that’s not seemly, but they won’t fight for anyone or anything either. They are living in a perpetual Truman Show, a world constructed yesterday that is nothing more than a set for their solipsism, without any history or trajectory.

I confirmed the author's assertion of the etymology of "idiot":

Middle English (denoting a person of low intelligence): via Old French from Latin idiota‘ignorant person,’ from Greek idiōtēs ‘private person, layman, ignorant person,’ from idios ‘own, private.’

Okay.  So a "private person" is also an "idiot"?  Really?


I have to wonder what the author would think of the Objectivist contention that man is ultimately an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others.


I doubt he would denigrate the idea of personal autonomy, but he seems to veer dangerously close to the "Higher Cause" tribalist argument too many altruists advocate.


The comments at the article site are worth reading as they perform other takedowns of some of the author's points, such as the questionable value of memorization in an age of Google.


Because so many humanities classes today have become predominated by postmodernist professors, I advocate doing all one can to bypass them altogether with placement testing.


Maius Opus Rejice!


(Edited by Luke Setzer on 7/02, 1:40pm)

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Saturday, August 27, 2016 - 3:20amSanction this postReply

Luke, I slept on this because your comments merited some consideration. Allow me to stand in for the author, but from our shared context of Objectivism, rather than whatever his explict philosophy or implict worldview might be.


First, Ayn Rand was accurate and precise when she said that she was challenging the ethical and moral precepts of the past 2500 years. While working on degrees in social science 2005-2010, I tried several times to write a class paper on egoism. It was impossible. Not enough recognized philosophers addressed any of the fundamental issues.  The best I could find were attempts in modern times in which altruists asked if egoists could be moral. Despite an implicit acceptance of "diversity" and "multi-culturalism" it never occured to anyone I found that there exists an entire body of morality that is differently informed.


So, no, the Greeks never would have thought that you could be totally self-interested and not be an idiot.


That said, as Ayn Rand noted about Christianity (and I offer Buddhism as having come first), we have some glimmerings from teachers whose goal was to help you become a better person in your own right.  The entire body of Greek works including Plato and Aristotle of course but a dozen others as well was all about how to live a good life.  If it were not questionable, they would not have questioned it.


But, again, for them, being active in city politics was a fundamental virtue.


And, I would assert that you (and we all here, apparently) are interested in the wider world, not just your own little plot of ground.  We wring our hands over President Obama and Hillary Clinton and whether young people understand Western culture.


But that old complaint does not carry much truth for me. About 35 years ago, I borrowed a phonograph record from the library that was an interview with Frank Lloyd Wright.  The only statement that I remembered over the years was this: "Young people today are educated beyond their capacity."  Even earlier, when I was about ten years old, as I remember it, speaking with a box of Wheaties in his hands, Olympian Bob Richards said that young people today have no manners, etc., etc., and then said that Plato (or someone) said that 2500 years ago, but that he and Wheaties do not believe it.

Perhaps in a better light, Professor Newt Gingrich said that the purpose of public education is to civilize two groups of barbarians: immigrants and children.


(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 8/27, 3:23am)

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Sunday, August 28, 2016 - 4:39amSanction this postReply

It is not just young people today who denigrate the past.  Objectivists also choose to ignore centuries of learning.  In this discussion of the Middle Ages http://rebirthofreason.com/Forum/Dissent/0195.shtml

both Robert Malcom and Steve Wolfer reiterated the claims found in the introductory essay in For the New Intellectual. There, Ayn Rand gave a broad brush treatment to 2500 years of history.


In 1967, I got into an honors program in college because I knew what "epistemology" means. Unfortunately for me, the same person who taught me that taught me to ignore just about the entire history of philosophy - if not the entire history of the world - because everyone was wrong except her.  So, I never benefited from the Loeb Classic Library Greek-English and Latin-English editions of Plato, Cicero, et alia, in my college library. And, of course, I ignored the so-called Dark Ages (though I usually understood them not to be synonymous with the Middle Ages).  Only much later, in the past ten or 15 years have I been improved by learning what I ignored in my youth.


Astronomy, in particular, was advanced by the Church because of the problem of Easter: calculating the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of spring required bringing lunar and solar calendars into conformance. The entire body was called "computas." Expecting the return of Jesus many centuries after their own time, they calculated Easter centuries into the future. And their observations centuries later told them that their models were wrong. Close, but wrong. They knew that Saturn is a billion miles away, and that the "fixed stars" are beyond that. The Church materially supported the searches for answers. ((Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe by Stephen C. McCluskey. Cambridge University Press, 1997, reviewed on my blog here.)

My interest in numismatics revealed that as risky as travel was, and as poor as Europe was, trade and commerce continued through the so-called "Dark Ages." Some of the largest hoardes of Arabic silver coins have been found in Scandinavia and the Baltic region. The English king Offa of Mercia issued gold coins in imitation of Arabic/Islamic coins of the time. 


You would not want to trade your life here and now for a life there and then. But it was not an intellectual desert or a cultural vacuum, except as, of course, they knew less then than we do now.  


All of that is to say that while we can (and should) wring our hands because young people today do not respect the past, we must also recognize our own role in devaluing history.


(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 8/28, 4:44am)

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Sunday, August 28, 2016 - 10:44amSanction this postReply

Michael Marotta links to a thread from 2008 as his kick-off for critizing Objectivists as having choosen to ignore centuries of learning.  (His words, not mine).  Robert Malcom and I are accused reiterating Ayn Rand's alleged ignorance of history.  (Hey, I feel I'm in good company). 


Marotta points out that he, on the other hand, has seen the light.  And his lesson is that while we wring our hands because young people today do not respect the past, we must also recognize our own role in devaluing history.


So, nothing new here.  Marotta continues his penchant for critizing me, Objectivists, and Ayn Rand while holding himself up as a source of enlightment, ready to help us correct our errors.


I went back and read some of that thread he links to, and there was some good discussion.  ( http://rebirthofreason.com/Forum/Dissent/0195.shtml)

I find that I still agree with most of what I wrote then, and what Robert Malcom and Ted Keer wrote (and what Ayn Rand has written).  But I'd approach it a bit differently now than I did back then.


What I'd say now, and without respect to what this or that historian, or Objectivist, might say, is that any period where there was a dominate political and cultural influence that effectively suppressed passing on (as well as exploring) a wide range of intellectual issues from one generation to the next, and where that the period extended for a number of generations, should be called a "Dark Age." 


I have a reason for making that the description of a dark age.  We humans, as individuals need to grasp aspects of reality to act in ways that let us survive (and flourish).  Our society acquires a stability (and can progress) if each generation uses mechanisms, structures, and processes for passing on the knowledge they have to the next generation. 


When the political/cultural conditions make that impossible, knowledge is lost.  Gone.  What the next generation is not taught falls into a dark hole and requires rediscovery.  Man's forward progress is brought to a stop.


Any culture that falls under the intellectual repression of a religious regime that is successful in prohibiting the teaching of a wide scope of knowledge will, if it is the dominate power for generations, cause a Dark Age. 


It doesn't have to be Christianity holding political power and enforcing dogma.  Islam can also hold sway in the same fashion.  But it isn't religion as such.  It is the enforcing of ignorance.  Islam in the Iberian peninsula was once an intellectual garden, contrasted with modern fundamentalists who would leave a Dark Age in their wake should they become the dominate power on earth.


Quoting Jane Jacobs in "Dark Age Ahead", "A Dark Age is a cultural dead end.  We ... customarily think of a Dark Age as happening once, long ago, following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.  But in North America we live in a graveyard of lost aboriginal cultures, many of which were decisively finished off by mass amnesia in which even the memory of what was lost was also lost.  Throughout the world Dark Ages have scrawled finis to successions of cultures receeding far into the past."  (By the way, I'd recommend this book - we haven't had enough thinkers of the caliber of Jane Jacobs)


Side Note: Her description of a Dark Age becomes too broad to suit me.  She includes isolated pockets of people who are stranded, culturally speaking, by not being part of a broad technological or economic shift.  Like pockets of people in Appalachia in the thirties who found the skills they brought over from Europe a generation or earlier were no longer relevant.  To me, that isn't a Dark Age, but rather the uneven adoption of a new technology and economic principles.

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Saturday, September 3, 2016 - 8:31pmSanction this postReply

I find Steve Wolfer to be in good company with Robert Malcom and myself as admirers of Jane Jacobs. My favorite works of hers are The Economy of Cities and Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics.


Based on the latter, see these by Robert Malcom here:




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