Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's a Movie!

Ayn Rand's tome, Atlas shrugged, will soon be a multi-part full length movie. The trailer was released today (2/12/2011). May I suggest that simply in Rand's writing of a book, there is no reason to believe that her estate is entitled to a penny of the royalties that will be generated from the movie. For them to be entitled would require government to protect her copyright. But since this is NOT one of the legitimate areas where government ought to play a role, there is no protection of her copyright that can be afforded.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Walmart wants Mr. and Mrs. Galt as customers

Have you ever been to a place where you thought you were going shopping but wound up instead as the target of the in-store security police? That wouldn't happen to you if you were Mr or Mrs Galt. The Galt's, as you know, are unlimited in their potential and their funding. Here is how Mrs. Galt shops for groceries at the Galt's Gulch Walmart:
Notice the full basket. Notice the lack of other customers in the store. (Nobody else can afford to live in Galt's gulch) Notice our ostensible Mrs Galt's nonchalant attitude toward spending money, which she has available abundantly. She has no need to worry. The world revolves around her. The speed with which she throws items into the cart is astounding. All this because she shops by feel instead of by thought. If you have to stand in front of an item for more than 30 seconds and think about how it fits your plans, how it puts a dent into your budget, then you just might be a thief. That's what store security training teaches the store security staff. Pick on those of lesser wealth. Greatness entails the privilege of being left alone. If you have to think about it, you can't afford it - so your comfort doesn't matter.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Fountainhead

Perhaps in honor of Ayn Rand, Kohler Plumbing has a new model of luxury toilet known as "The Fountainhead."

For a mere $4400.00, you too can own one of these gems. Use it well. Please remember the need to actually plumb it into a system with a water source and a drain rather than as shown here on the platform of Portland, Oregon's Union Station. Failure to heed this warning may leave your fountainhead as full of crap as the original.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

When Galt's dog poops

Maybe yesterday's example of Galt's dog killing Smith's dog was a little extreme. It was intended to raise the issue of behaviors in common spaces being limited beyond Rand's simple prohibition of murder. But suppose Galt's dog does nothing more than poop. A stinking mess of dog poop is left in the path for others to step in, inhale, or otherwise enjoy. This poop, of course, is tied to the historically significant personhood of THE John Galt. But consider that a few other people would prefer that Galt honor the standard procedure for dog owners who live in proximity with each other, and use an inverted plastic bag to remove the dog's poop from the ground and move it to some other location from which it can be more properly disposed. Is Galt under any obligation to do so? In other words, does Galt's extreme high worth as an individual person grant him exemption from obligations of civility? I think that Rand would support the position that Galt is, indeed, exempted from such obligations. I expect her to propose that such exemption arises from the summative good that is attributed to having a Galt among us.
Rand's opinion on the matter, however, isn't worth the dog poop it talks about. The only circumstance that mandates Galt's exemption is his ownership of the commons. But even if there is such ownership, how would it be acknowledged among the rest of us? Are there deeds? Who wrote them? Who were parties to the sale? By what authority did ownership convey itself to the sellers? These are serious questions because we presume Galt to be intelligent enough to have avoided purchases of the Brooklyn Bridge. For a claim of ownership of the commons to be meaningful, Galt, and Rand along with him, must acknowledge the presence of an authority strong enough to assure the validity of the sale. Thus, Galt must acknowledge the legitimacy of big government.
If you ask a "libertarian", he or she will tell you that big government ought not to exist. It follows that John Galt cannot own the commons. But the libertarian can attempt to make the case that the commons does not formally exist. They may argue that there is nothiing that can be legitimately set aside for public usage. However, it may be countered that without a commons and the rules that govern its usage, chaos is all that can exist. One simply has to look outside one's front door to see a street maintained by some agency to promote public passage. Without the street to lie on the division lines between one's property and that of one's "across-the-street" neighbor, leaving my own property puts me into a position of trespass. Freedom to move demands a minimum of a path on which such motion can occur. And Galt, too, must pick up his portion of the dog poop, to maintain that roadway in condition for others to travel.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

John Galt walks his dog.

Imagine a sunny day in beautiful Galt's Gulch - entrepreneurial paradise home of the few and worthy. All who live in the gulch have earned all the privileges that Gulch residency provides. One such privilege is dog ownership. For the present, put off speculation about what breed or breeds of dogs would thrive inside of Gulch residencies, and imagine that Mr. Galt and Mr. Galt's pooch are out for a walk. Although Galt is privileged to let the pooch run freely, his choice is NOT to do so, and on this particular occasion, pooch and Galt are separated by only the length of the ten-foot leather strap conveniently fitted to pooch's collar at one end, and Galt's hand at the other. Under such circumstances, it is hard to imagine that Galt is unaware of pooch's activities.
Then imagine that fellow Gulch resident Smith is similarly walking his dog. Somewhere on the streets of the gulch, the two dogs encounter each other and Galt's dog, for no apparent reason, attacks and kills Smith's dog. This is Galt's Gulch, of course, and the rules are restricted to prohibition of human murder. So, by rule, Galt is under no obligation to Smith. Presumably, the incident ends with Galt leading pooch back home and Smith carrying off the corpse of his former dog. Because there is no guarantee of happiness and no force that commands respect of the happiness of others, the death of Smith's dog is the final resolution, although Smith may be somewhat unhappy that this is the resolution of the conflict. Galt owes nothing too Smith because the occurrence was simply the natural victory of the stronger dog - a graphic demonstration of survival of the fittest. The recourse allotted to Smith is to get a bigger and stronger dog next time. Although Smith may have been an entrepreneur before moving to paradise, paradise seems not to have been productive of Smith's happiness.
Societies have a long tradition of establishing common areas. They generally have another tradition of imposing social mores to govern behavior in common areas. In the paradise of Galt's Gulch, the streets between Galt's and Smith's homes would have been a common area. As such, it would have been governed by common consent to go beyond the non-murdering standard to a not-harming-possessions standard.
Rand is, by no means, a utilitarian. But one would presume that Galt would have founded the Gulch as a resource for his own happiness, which he would have derived from association with other entrepreneurs very much like Smith. At this point, Smith is very likely to move out of the Gulch. It is very likely that Smith will have conferred with at least a few neighbors before moving out. And it is within the realm of possibility that some of the neighbors would have recognized that they were there for the privilege of associating with the likes of Smith as well as association with the likes of Galt. Behavior on Galt's part that violates the mores of a viable common area makes the Gulch less desirable and encourages Galt's neighbors to avoid association with Galt. Galt, therefore, loses the company of the entrepreneurial class that he had believed would contribute to his own happiness. A commons with no rules is a major source of unhappiness, and should, by reasonable people who seek to live together in harmony, be avoided.
Privilege isn't taken, as Rand would have readers believe. It is extended by the social community. And it carries responsibilities. Responsibilities accompany privilege. In some instances - like driver's licenses - there is a formal and documented process of privilege having been extended in lieu of agreement to follow the rules. But even without the formal license, there is always responsibility. Galt is responsible to pull back the leash and restrain his dog. Smith was out for a joyful walk to the same extent as Galt was. Smith had the same privilege. In the example above, Galt failed his responsibility to honor Smith's privilege of using the common. Whether through force of law and jailing or through isolation that results from becoming a social pariah, the privileged will punish those who violate the commons. Unless the commons will be given up entirely - in which case there is no path by which Galt can enjoy Smith's company, or the commons must be respected.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Is Julian Assange Really John Galt?

On Dec 11/2010, Saturday Night Live broadcast a short clip of an actor pretending to be Wikileaks founder Julian Assange broadcasting from a jail cell. The clip is at
The clip is somewhat funny in itself and noteworthy for the tag line "I'm Julian Assange" being repeated each time some very unlikely or impossible circumstance is mentioned. Look up a few Youtube videos of "John Galt Speaking" and you will see the same interruption of the important paid announcement by some unexplained means that relies on some fictional power associated with the person's name. The context makes the SNL clip funnier than it otherwise would be. The fact that it is Julian Assange, who teabaggers propose to kill, makes the point that the tea party doesn't know what it is talking about. Assange has independently gone off to a gulch and then come back with an undesired seizing of the media to pass along the undesired messages.
Those who identify with John Galt think of themselves as so highly capable that their personal move into Galt's Gulch (GG) would automatically bring worth to the GG community. Rand never sets any criteria for admission to this imaginary elite. And even if she did, applicants would bring SUBJECTIVE judgments that they match up to them. Her "objectivist" philosophy is predicated on wishful subjective judgments. This makes it kind of self-contradictory.
The tea party has little basis for association other than anger. In its search for an ideological basis, it has chosen a work of fiction, open to subjective interpretation. That work is Atlas Shrugged. The notion that the big-brained can or will collude is a wet dream. They cannot even identify themselves, let alone act outside the corrupt system.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rand's real religion and its nutcase interpretation

A couple of days ago, 12/5/2010, Mojoey asked that I post the following: "Howard Shrugged Back has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information." The occasion of finding my first back/forth referral is a milestone for me, and one that I hope to see happen often. Of course, placing Howard Shrugged Back onto an atheist blogroll indicates some sort of tie between atheismm and Howard. Well, Howard doesn't actually preach atheism. If asked about faith, he would claim to be Unitarian-Universalist, a faith that the Christian right calls "atheism with buildings and tax breaks." But he writes about Randian thought, and is taking this occasion to look at how religion plays in Rand's big book.
Although much of the American Christian Rightwing isn't aware of it, Rand's professed faith is atheism. She didn't hang around churches very much - supposing them to be gathering places for the advocates of altruism. And in the absence of doctrinal guidance, she may simply have encountered Nietzsche's claim that "God is Dead", and claimed atheism as a justification for staying away from churches. But she didn't do a very good job of being atheistic. Her first claim relative to there being no God is that the individual finds God within himself (I'd normally say "himself/herself" here but Rand is so caught up in the belief that women are second class sex objects placed on earth (by whom?) to provide worshipful reverence and sexual satisfaction to the Godlike men that dominate society, that she isn't likely to have believed women capable of holding gods inside.). This makes her a misogynistic buddhist more than an atheist. Here's why:
With the death of God, Nietzsche sought to recreate the institutions that enabled civility to occur without reference to an external origin of law. This echoes a project that Kant started over a century earlier of letting reason and the laws of logic be the arbiter of what qualifies as moral behavior. An atheist, in the Nietzschean sense, would look for adherence to the criterion of self-consistency before admitting various maxims into a personal moral code. Rand fails to do this. Because she mistakes altruism for evil, she loses the self-consistency criterion. If she could reduce her misogyny to the point where she was capable of being godlike herself, she still could not reason to the basis of moral law. In the absence of this moral law, she looks for the origin of justification of behavior outside of herself. She looks to John Galt. And in doing so, she props up John Galt by imagining him (He IS a fictional character.) to be omnipotent, omniscient, and (here's the amazing characteristic.) benevolent. Any atheist worth his/her salt knows that when you have introduced omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence into your cosmology, you have re-introduced a god. The proposition that God is only found in a fictional character - John Galt - is roughly the equivalent of idolatry.
So Rand's real religion is roughly describable as misogynistic, idolatrous buddhism that calls itself atheism.
That Atlas Shrugged should have been picked up and venerated by the American political rightwing that claims to be Christian is an absurdity of modern American life. But there has been a glossed-over split in Christianity into two main camps. In camp 1, you have the traditional view that serious worship of Christ requires being affected by the teachings of Jesus that are basically altruistic. The claim of this camp on accurately portraying the spirit of Jesus' teachings is the longstanding line of tradition that links its followers to the historical character of Jesus himself. In the other camp, you have the view of something almost like the Jewish "chosen people" who, to verify their chosen-ness, revel in the accumulation of material possessions. Camp 2 is well-described by Max Webber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The influence of John Calvin on the American church was to bring the doctrine of financial success as the signifier of blessedness. Financial enrichment, as the only value that is tied to a God who wouldn't let his chosen ones suffer the ravages of poverty, is sought for its own sake. Historical Jesus may have been reputed to toss the moneychangers out of the temple. The Calvinist tradition brings them back and venerates them.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Business and lowering costs

Rand's father was a businessman. Her character, John Galt, is a businessman. There is a general agreement among Rand's followers that being like a business makes delivery of services more efficient. So businessmen are highly prized. The basic presumption is that, in responding to market forces, businesses self-select from among competitors in each sector in a way that assure that the surviving businesses, over the long run, are those who have added the most enhancement to products and delivered them at lower costs. This generally-agreed point is flatly wrong and an unrecognized source of weakness in the American economy.
What makes it wrong is the belief within the company that the CEO hired from outside IS an incarnation of John Galt. The fact, however, is that CEOs are hired by corporate boards of directors. Boards of directors are made up of persons who are supposed to return value o investment to stockholders. In a circumstance where a board of directors hires a "John Galt," they will have hired someone with a track record of bringing other companies high levels of profitability. They will have negotiated a package of compensation that will have included severance. In this act alone, they will have fallen behind government in terms of efficiency. Any person who leads or administers services for government is hired at will. This means that when the board determines that the conditions warrant the removal of a leader or administrator, the person is simply removed and no further payment is made.
Positing that the Galts of the world are skilled enough and strong enough to know their own self-interest, the business boards of directors will have lost the battle with so strong a leader and offered the severance package. He is, after all, a John Galt, and therefore able to command what he wants. He, thus, seeks his own permanence which places his services outside of those whose services can be used efficiently. Businesses cannot get rid of their CEOs, and thus cannot lower costs. The hiring of a John Galt is, for the business concerned, a disaster.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Who is John Galt?

Throughout Atlas Shrugged, Rand keeps raising the question of who John Galt is, so maybe we should look at some of the things that may be known about this character. The first thing that we must acknowledge is that Galt is a character in a fiction. For all the advocates of living life in the manner and style of John Galt, be aware that Galt didn't really do so. The character is a made-up bunch of characteristics and speeches and actions about whom we are asked, as we should be in a work of fiction, to suspend our disbelief. So if we think that such a character could not possibly ever have existed, it's our task as readers to suppose that such a character did exist.
What Rand asks of us as readers is that we imagine a man who is completely self-made. The fictional Galt owes nothing to anyone. He is a highly imaginative entrepreneur. He is clearly able to address other people convincingly. He has the ability to organize many different people into action toward a common goal. He acknowledges no debt to society which comes from his having never received the benefits of the society's institutions. He is the ultimate outsider who is capable of delivering sound criticism of all that is wrong on the inside.
I have heard very little comment from Rand supporters that she builds a case that these are his characteristics. For instance, his entrepreneurship was supposed to have centered on his invention of a means of transport that takes advantage of ambient static electricity. Were Rand consistent with this as the source of Galt's financial independence, it would be expected that somewhere in the novel, people would have taken to using such transportation devices. But this doesn't seem to be the case. This great entrepreneurial success is roughly the equivalent of an inventor of a perpetual motion machine. Was it sold? Did anyone buy one? But, in our suspension of disbelief, Rand has asked us to withhold judgment about whether such a device defies the laws of physics. Galt was presumed to live lawlessly, and those of physics were no more valid than those of society. And why should we demand any physics knowledge from a writer who, like Rand, is just out to convince people of the truth of a particular point of view?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Winning by Degrees - misinterpreting by quartiles

News about another report for educators caught Howard's eye today. This one is called "Winning by Degrees: The strategies of highly productive higher-education institutions." Its producer, McKinsey and Company, did a workmanlike job of moving from "problem statement" to "conditions exacerbating problem" to "proposed solutions" to "exemplary attempts at imposing some proposed solutions" to "generalized principles that might be followed in proposing solutions in other places." These are typical stages of a study, and they should, indeed be mentioned. Because such studies want to be referenced in boardrooms where decisions are made and policies determined, the authors advocated 5 bullet points for inclusion in the discussion. Not one magic bullet, but five, are on display for those who seek to become more efficient at leading students to their educational goals. Here are the bullet points that will be taken away:

systematically enabling students to reach graduation
reducing nonproductive credits, contribute to raising the rate at which students complete their degrees
redesigning the delivery of instruction,
redesigning core support services, and
optimizing non-core services and other operations

The second point is one that will probably result in the greatest misinterpretation. This is where those whose desire is to turn collegiate education into trade school will, as they have before, propose that the traditional subject areas of the liberal arts and sciences are not productive and call for their removal from the curriculum. This was not what the report said. The report said that students often take more than 150 hours of credit on their way to a degree which calls for a minimum of 120 hours to complete. Increases of hours of credit are the kinds of events that usually follow events like the changing of majors, in which a path undertaken may wind up being neglected. In other words, few of a student's nursing hours can be counted towards the student's completion of a degree in political science. The key to resolving this, as recommended by McKinsey and Company, is better up-front academic advising that leads students to more efficient paths to completion. At no point in the McKinsey and Company report does anybody say anything about revising the content of the curriculum.

At this point, Howard acknowledges that he is fighting a straw man who has not yet appeared and made claims that certain parts of a curriculum are unworthy of being maintained. He has just seen this happen too many times. So he vows no more than a watchful eye at this point.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The absurdity of Rand hating altruism

Rand's childhood change from prosperity to poverty really hurt her. There's no doubt about it. And the the seizure of her father's store in the name of the people is the triggering event. What was supposed to have happened in the "worker's paradise" never came to pass. And from the failure of the worker's paradise to come to fruition, Rand draws the conclusion that people should make no attempt to care about others. Apparently, the "in the name of the people" is an indicator of attempts to do good for others.
Keep in mind that Howard was just sucker-punched by an educational institution. If he drew conclusions following lines of reason similar to Rand's, he would have to conclude that education is harmful, mean, and not to be pursued. But the ugliness of those individuals who made their list and stuck Howard's name onto it doesn't not automatically spread to the entire enterprise of education.

Who's Howard and why is he shrugging back?

As this blog begins, Howard is a 61 year old American white male who lives with his wife, Barb, in a slightly too big house on the Northwest side of Chicago. Every once in a while he is called upon to teach philosophy in a local community college or distance learning program. When he does, a week of the course is devoted to discussions of egoism vs. altruism, with chunks of Ayn Rand's writing pulled into the conversation to advocate the position of the ethical egoist. Rand's most famous work is a thousand-page-plus volume called "Atlas Shrugged." It has been a best seller, in some form or other, since Rand published it in 1957. The Atlas referred to is the character of Greek mythology who was condemned to forever support the world on his shoulders. Rand's original publication featured a cover illustration of a giant supporting the globe. Many who have read the entire work suggest that Atlas represents the brilliant person of business who, by virtue of his or her great strength, is the sole enabler of wealth and prosperity - in effect supporting all of humanity although not interested in or intent on doing so.
As it happened, Howard was RIF'd from his job on 22 October, 2010. The company that RIF'd him was the City Colleges of Chicago, where he had been an exemplary employee for over five years. 78 people lost their livelihoods one way or another by that RIF'ing. And loss of a livelihood is a darned good way to fall into poverty. Poverty was a fact of life too-well known to Ayn Rand. It is well known that she spent her childhood in Russia in times slightly before and slightly after the revolution that led to establishment of the Soviet Union. Before the revolution, Rand's father was an exemplary businessperson - establishing a small pharmacy that was successfully supporting Rand's family. After the revolution, Soviet soldiers marched into the pharmacy, took it over in the name of the people, and set the Rand family out with no resources whatever. Rand's life, in the absence of a livelihood for her father, changed dramatically from one of prosperity to one of poverty. This means that Rand had an experience somewhat similar to that of Howard.
From that experience, Rand developed ideas that were eventually to become a philosophical basis for extreme political conservatism. The basic idea of the conservative movement that would ultimately follow Rand, was that governments do not have a right to do anything in the name of the people and that they must be prevented from doing so by the strength of the leaders of business. Howard shrugs back that it is not the right of business to exert its strength in ways that hurt the little guy. Howard shrugs back that it is NOT the right of business to avoid taxation by claiming to be the only source of prosperity. Howard shrugs back that businesses are not entitled to tap into the common resources of the people in ways that enrich the few at enormous cost to the many. Howard is starting a blog. In it, expect that he will shrug back some more. Because Howard understands that businesses have no more right to steal than did the Soviets who took over the old Rand drug store. Howard will shrug when Atlas doesn't. Sometimes Howard will shrug when Atlas does. But, on way or another, Howard is about to start shrugging back.