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Posts in Category: Current Posts

Us Versus Them: The Road to Victory

I was gonna change the world,
But I’m not gonna change the world.
I was gonna change my ways,
But I have not changed.
— Juliana Hatfield

Some causes might be important (might be), but movements? Always stupid.

My overall experience with “movements” can be summarized in a classic post: “The Protest.” Here’s a summary: in January 2003, I went to a meeting of fellow college students preparing to bus down to Washington and protest the impending Iraq war. Although I was (and remain) against that war, I’ve never been a protest kind of guy. I was there to meet girls.

Before I could successfully do that, I was horrified enough by some de facto leader’s rhetoric that I actually spoke out—a very rare thing for me to do, especially at that time. You see, he was trying to paint Iraq as a peaceful, happy land of rainbows and unicorns, where genies grant wishes and nobody ever uses mustard gas on hated ethnic groups (a tactic later used by Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 9/11). I was always against the stupid invasion, mainly because it was the move of a coward. Regardless of conspiracy theories involving oil or revenge, I always saw Iraq as a target because we thought we could take them. Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia? Scaaaaaary! Iraq? Buncha saber-rattling pussies. Let’s get ’em!!

Anyway, for daring to speak out against the retarded rhetoric, this leader dude stalked toward me in a threatening manner, so I punched him and got thrown out. Not my finest hour, but it’s a surprisingly perfect summary of my reaction toward things like stupidity, fraud, and groupthink—hallmarks of any movement you can name.

How does this sort of thing happen? How do leaders emerge, how do they spew warped rhetoric to rousing cheers, how do the reasonable people end up silenced in favor of crowd-pleasing extremism?

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23 Ways to Begin Your Novel That Literary Agents Don’t Want You to Know

I read this article the other day, and something about it bothered me. It took me a few hours and a conversation with a friend to realize what I don’t like is the clickbaity negative spin on the article. Many of the comments challenge the agents’ observations by pointing to examples of published authors and other instances where their pet peeves are used to great effect. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair for an unpublished author to point to successful writers and ask, “Why can’t I do that?”

I think the comments have such a challenging tone because of the way the blog post is framed: “The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel,” followed by a list of quotes with little context or coherence. Taken at face value, these quotes aren’t very helpful. It’s very easy to say, “Don’t do these things,” but when it comes to reasons why or why not, or when exceptions prove the rule, all the blog post offers are the quotes themselves, floating abstractions. I’d like to refashion their blog post into something a bit more in-depth and positive, contemplating why I think the agents said what they did (it often isn’t clear) and what to think about instead of face-value “rules” like, “No prologues, ever.”

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Mock the Vote

Expressing pride in being too jaded and lazy to utilize a right that has been won for you, through bloody wars and ugly civil rights confrontations, a right that men and women all over the world in other nations are killed (or worse) for trying to exercise, is just sad. People say, “Everything sucks, we need to make a change,” but then when November comes around it turns into “Well, the system’s rigged, it doesn’t matter, I don’t wanna bother trying.” It’s laziness, nothing else.

You have literally nothing to lose from voting. And a lot to lose by not voting. Unless, of course, you plan to vote Republican. In which case fuck it, man, stay home and read The Blaze.

I’m not attributing the quote above, because the author is a friend of a friend of a friend who may wish to remain anonymous.

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Protecting Interests

This is the Persian Empire, known today as Iran. For 2500 years, this land was ruled by a series of kings, known as shahs. In 1950, the people of Iran elected Mohammad Mosaddegh, a secular democrat, as Prime Minister. He nationalized British and U.S. petroleum holdings, returning Iran’s oil to its people. But in 1953, the U.S. and Great Britain engineered a coup d’etat that deposed Mosadegh and installed [Mohammad] Reza Pahlavi as shah. The young Shah was known for opulence and excess. His wife was rumored to bathe in milk while the shah had his lunches flown in by Concorde from Paris. The people starved. The shah kept power through his ruthless internal police, the SAVAK. An era of torture and fear began. He then began a campaign to westernize Iran, enraging a mostly traditional Shi’ite population. In 1979, the people of Iran overthrew the shah. The exiled cleric, Ayatollah Khomeini, returned to rule Iran. It descended into score-settling, death squads, and chaos. Dying of cancer, the shah as given asylum in the U.S. The Iranian people took to the streets outside the U.S. Embassy, demanding the shah be returned, tried and hanged.
— Opening narration, Argo (2012)

I’ll try to ignore the fact that much of this narration is factually inaccurate, but I do want to correct a couple of points before I get into what I actually want to talk about:

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What the Fuck, Yaron Brook? — Part I: The Transcript

A Note to Readers: I’ve made the decision to make my latest post into a multi-part series exploring both my understanding of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and why I struggle with publicly calling myself an Objectivist—primarily because of Dr. Yaron Brook and the Ayn Rand Institute distorting important aspects of her philosophy. This is part one of a five-part series.

I’m officially incensed.

This may not surprise longtime readers, if any are left, but it will surprise anyone who’s kept up with the last few sporadic posts. Even I would agree my blog has gotten a lot less entertaining, because I don’t give nearly enough of a shit about neurotic nitpicking, which means I have less to rant about, and the things I do rant about are more political and socioeconomical in nature. Hot-button issues, and so on.

In order to explain why I am incensed, I need to make a couple of things clear. First, I’ve alluded a couple of times to having read a mysterious, life-changing book that helped crystallize my thoughts about society and the world around me. If you are a longtime reader, it will probably surprise you to learn that book is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, and that I’ve spent a lot of time in the intervening two years reading about her philosophy of Objectivism, other schools of philosophy, and religion.

I’ve never brought any of this up, because I get along much better with people who brand themselves as liberals than those who brand themselves as conservatives, and liberals haaaaate Ayn Rand. Every time I’ve brought up the mystery book, I’ve noted that it would remain anonymous because I don’t have any interest in arguing with people. I still don’t, on this blog or in life. All of my closest friends know I’ve read Ayn Rand’s work and see it hasn’t turned me into a demonic Wall Street cokehead, or worse, Paul Ryan. The only change in our relationship is that occasionally we challenge each others’ views a little more fervently. What I’ve found with most of them, though, is that we generally agree on most issues; we just disagree on the best methods for solving problems.

On a blog… Well, I just never cared to discuss it. I spent a week arguing about fucking Daybreakers; imagine how much more aggressive I’d be if someone attacked a thing I actually care about. The anonymous internet, I’ve found, doesn’t lend itself to high-quality, well-reasoned arguments, especially about Ayn Rand. I see attacks on her all the time, and not just on articles directly related to her. I often see non sequiturs in the comments sections (I really need to stop reading those…) of articles about some form of conservative victory or Tea Party retardation. They tell me, quite clearly, that the author has no idea what they’re talking about. The fine work of Yaron Brook, as President and Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute, has confused the left as much as the right in its attempts to transform Rand into the voice of the neo-conservative movement.

Should I try to step in and change their minds? I’m not an activist, so it’s partly an issue of time management—wasting a bunch of my own time trying to open up closed minds—but mainly an issue that I don’t give a fuck what other people believe, unless it has the possibility of hurting other people (especially me). An idiot on a blog who parrots something a comedian who never read Ayn Rand says about Atlas Shrugged has no effect on me, so let them go on thinking what they do. I can think they’re wrong and criticize them, but turning it into an argument means trying to persuade them that their entire belief system is wrong, which it probably is, but I don’t care.

In a sense, though, I’m “outing” myself here now as a form of indirect activism. I’m so irritated that I need to express my frustration in the form of a blog post—that’s what it’s here for, right?—and because Yaron Brook isn’t just an idiot on a blog who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

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What the Fuck, Yaron Brook? — Part II: It’s Just War, Baby

A Note to Readers: I’ve made the decision to make my latest post into a multi-part series exploring both my understanding of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and why I struggle with publicly calling myself an Objectivist—primarily because of Dr. Yaron Brook and the Ayn Rand Institute distorting important aspects of her philosophy. This is part two of a five-part series. Read part one here.

Before I dig into my specific issues with what Yaron Brook said, I should say that Brook and I have always been politically misaligned. I want to believe there’s a level of honesty and good intentions in his attempts to make Objectivism more compatible with neo-conservatism, and to give him some credit, he hasn’t (yet) suggested Objectivism is in any way compatible with any religious beliefs (unlike the David Kelley-sanctioned producers of the terrible film versions, who inserted a scene in the third one set in a church in an attempt to suggest that Objectivism can support religion). I’m not sure if Brook honestly believes what he says (and is therefore an idiot much of the time), or is specifically tailoring what he says to make Ayn Rand more palatable to people who don’t actually believe in Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

Brook seems to want to attract the Orren Boyles of the world, almost at the expense of the Hank Reardens; this may be because he thinks that, once indoctrinated, those are the sort of people who will be most open to Rand’s philosophy. Coming from a secular liberal background, and having wholeheartedly embraced Objectivism, I absolutely disagree. I don’t think his method is the best. If he’s being intentionally dishonest to effectively trick people into hopping aboard the O-Train, that makes Brook a fraud. If he really believes some of the things he says, then he’s just a nut who will lure other nuts.

People should believe, with honesty and integrity, what they think is right, regardless of whether or not I personally agree with it. That’s a statement that, maybe, is the biggest indication of where I disagree with ARI. Their stated position, for example, is that Islamic terrorists are a threat to individual liberty and freedom, and therefore all Middle Eastern countries should be bombed back to the Stone Age—except Brook’s native Israel, the bastion of economic freedom and democracy. The reasoning? Thin the herd of dangerous people who disagree with us, and then pick off the rest before the dust clears. No need to win hearts and minds when brute force faster and easier.

Ayn Rand believed all religion, focusing mainly on the Judeo-Christian ethic, was a danger. She didn’t advocate war against them, however. She wasn’t against war in a clear-cut case of self-defense, but hell… The anti-communist to end all anti-communists was adamantly against the fights against its spread in Korea and Vietnam (“If you want to see the ultimate, suicidal extreme of altruism, on an international scale,” she wrote in 1967, “observe the war in Vietnam—a war in which American soldiers are dying for no purpose whatever”). She was even against World War II (part of her reasoning is that the U.S. got nothing out of its participation, and ceded far too much of Europe to the Soviet Union). Her reasons were nuanced and complex, but I’ll try to boil them down: war is pointless if the victors get no direct benefit from it (e.g., Canada invades us; we decimate them so they leave us alone), and a war fought for the purpose of forcing people to change the way they think (or, worse, simply killing as many of those who disagree with you as possible) is patently immoral.

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What the Fuck, Yaron Brook? — Part III: Capitalism and Freedom and Charity and Tyranny

A Note to Readers: I’ve made the decision to make my latest post into a multi-part series exploring both my understanding of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and why I struggle with publicly calling myself an Objectivist—primarily because of Dr. Yaron Brook and the Ayn Rand Institute distorting important aspects of her philosophy. This is part three of a five-part series. Read parts one and two.

The reason Yaron Brook has offended me so deeply, and has engendered this enormous, multi-part rant, is because of his position within the “Objectivist community.” To outsiders, he’s seen as an official leader, a man eminently qualified to talk about Objectivism and frame current events through an Objectivist prism. Objectivism is not a cult, and disagreements occur all the time. One of the virtues of a philosophy that puts primacy on the individual, rather than the collective, is that there can be polite disagreement without animosity. Minor disagreements don’t have to explode into an exaggerated “Us Vs. Them” persecution complex. Philosophy lays out certain general concepts and fundamentals; the specifics are subject to individual passion, interest, thought, and understanding. (And nothing makes me laugh more than Peikoff telling the story of the guy who dyed his hair orange to look like Howard Roark, because he thought that would make him be more of an Objectivist.)

There are dumb Objectivists out there, claiming to speak for the cause without the same authority of Brook. If Brook were someone like Bosch Fawstin (who generally cohosts Amy Peikoff’s awful podcast, Don’t Let It Go… Unheard, and is also possibly the dumbest Objectivist on the planet), his comments on charity wouldn’t bother me. He would just be some guy, claiming to be an Objectivist, with a not-very-bright, poorly-thought-out interpretation of charity based on a mangling of Ayn Rand’s own statements on the subject. Brook isn’t just “some guy”; he’s a finance Ph.D who revels in economic theory and foreign policy, not to mention President and Executive Director of a nonprofit that has Ayn Rand’s name pasted onto it. Brook, unlike Fawstin, has the appearance of authority to outsiders—the appearance of speaking for all Objectivists, of representing the views all Objectivists have, or at least “should” have. But he’s wrong.

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What the Fuck, Yaron Brook? — Part IV: The Objectivist Utopia

A Note to Readers: I’ve made the decision to make my latest post into a multi-part series exploring both my understanding of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and why I struggle with publicly calling myself an Objectivist—primarily because of Dr. Yaron Brook and the Ayn Rand Institute distorting important aspects of her philosophy. This is part four of a five-part series. Read parts one, two, and three.

I’ve talked to some people who have a hard time envisioning a laissez-faire capitalist country, or what I half-jokingly call “the Objectivist Utopia.” They often perceive it as the neo-con wet dream: a government sold to big business, obliterating the freedom of anyone who can’t pay for it, and war-mongering its way around the world to prop up a precarious government built on two things: a military-industrial complex that would have no way of sustaining itself without exorbitant government contracts, and “free trade” with conquered nations with terrible human rights records and slave wages. That is not the Objectivist Utopia.

The Objectivist Utopia is a world where the government has absolutely no say in economic affairs. There is no Federal Reserve, no SEC, no IRS (or, at least a very different IRS), no ability to alter interest rates or artificially play with the value of currency, no ability to either impede or enhance private enterprise, no global trade initiatives or tariffs or sanctions. Hell, in the Objectivist Utopia, governments might not even own property for its offices; they’d rent it from private citizens, corporations, or nonprofit charities.

But how would the government pay its rent in a tax-free world? Well, Ayn Rand was not strictly against taxes: she was against exorbitant taxes used to fund a reckless, debt-ridden government, and thought the income tax was patently unconstitutional. Even if you want to perceive the Objectivist Utopia as having taxes, though, what little funding the government needs would be provided through various types of bonds. Rather than coerced tithing, a bond would allow a citizen to voluntarily decide what aspect(s) of government they want to fund, and how much they want to pay. Just as any Objectivist charitable contribution would require an element of self-interest, they would see this as an investment in a system they love—but they could pick and choose what to fund. And in the unlikely event that the government doesn’t get as much funding as it requests, it would have to make do or refund the bonds. It would have no power to deficit spend or raise taxes simply to make up for shortfalls.

With a government paralyzed when it comes to tampering with economic affairs, economic bubbles would occur far less frequently, grow far less enormous, and be far less detrimental when they burst. Investing would be more diversified; instead of putting all their money into the government-backed “sure things,” investors would be required to actually—gasp!—think for themselves instead of just following artificial market patterns or hot tips. This, at least in my hopeful vision, might motivate them to focus on areas of business for which they have some passion. Many investors already do this; many more don’t, which is part of what rigs the economy in favor of whatever the circle jerk of public politicians and semi-private plutocrats have decided.

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What the Fuck, Yaron Brook? — Part V: Shit Happens

A Note to Readers: I’ve made the decision to make my latest post into a multi-part series exploring both my understanding of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and why I struggle with publicly calling myself an Objectivist—primarily because of Dr. Yaron Brook and the Ayn Rand Institute distorting important aspects of her philosophy. This is part five of a five-part series. Read parts one, two, three, and four.

What happens, then, in a laissez-faire system, with no taxes and no cushion for disaster, if disaster strikes? I spend a lot of time talking, sometimes debating, with a good friend who is not an Objectivist and has very strong, left-leaning humanist qualities. We’ve discussed, more than once, how the Objectivist Utopia would function with no welfare state. Would the downtrodden be left to fester and rot because they’re too inept to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps?

My answer is most often, “Private charity.” This ranges from family or other loved ones caring for a person who can’t care for himself (since it would be impossible for him to become a burden to the state), all the way up to huge organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or the International Red Cross, well-funded and constantly fighting global battles.

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8 Questions to Find Your Day Job

Lookin’ for work, if I can get it
If you put me on, you won’t regret it
And no one here knows more than me what debt is…
— Ike Reilly, “Good Work”

After last week’s longplaying bluster, I’ve decided to kick it into a lower gear and work on a post idea I’ve had for awhile. The content will be geared to a certain type of artistic type, so feel free to ignore this if you don’t fit the paradigm (or don’t think you ever will). The type: you graduated from college with a semi-useless degree (or two or three), you had a five- and/or ten-year plan for success, and you’re nearing (or past) the end of that timeframe with little to show for it. Maybe you have a menial retail or food-service job with the flexibility to keep your options open. Maybe you have a full-time job in the belly of the beast, hoping it will give you the respect (or, at least, the connections) to take that next step, but your job keeps you so busy, you have very little time to devote to your “real” work. This is especially for those in positions like these who are unhappy but can’t quite figure out what to do to change that.

This isn’t a post about giving up on your passion. I certainly haven’t given up on mine, and I’ve reached that age where I start to get funny looks from friends and loved ones for eschewing marriage, kids, and a two-bedroom ranch in favor of pursuing my goals.

What this is about is reshaping the daily grind into something a little less grueling, a little more fulfilling, and a lot more manageable. Because, if you haven’t faced these facts already, now’s the time: you need money in order to survive, whether you like it or not; in order to get money, you need a job (no, really—even in the benevolent Utopia Obama is creating, you still need a job to get money); most jobs, even good jobs, suck if they have nothing to do with your personal goals; and worse than that, jobs that do have to do with your personal goals tend to suck when there’s no forward momentum.

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