Saturday, March 29, 2008

Letter with "Ayn Rand" published in Wall Street Journal

A letter of mine that mentioned Objectivism and Ayn Rand was published in the March 26, 2008 Wall Street Journal:

Here is the contents of that letter (To explain one reference (“Mamet-wording”), Mamet is so known for using the F-word that the columnist humorously referred to the F-word as “Mamet” in his column. Mamet recently renounced liberalism for free markets and other “conservative” ideas.)
Dear Editor,

Daniel Henniger’s piece on David Mamet’s transition out of the socialist abyss of liberalism was (Mamet-wording) awesome. It instantly brought to this reader’s mind the memory of a friend who was devoutly liberal in college but who just two years out of college made the same startling transition after seeing not only the “theft” from her paycheck but also the real-world dregs who “profited” from that theft. I had never seen her so spirited in denunciation, and her words that spilled forth were sprinkled with “I” and “my”: “my life,” “my time,” “my money.”

Echoes of “I” and “my” came startlingly through in Henninger’s piece with its liberal (please excuse the expression) use of the word “autonomy.” This is a key word of enlightenment thought, a redirection toward the personal responsibility and happiness of the individual (the smallest minority).

The word also brought to mind another woman, whose name is synonymous with individual rights: Ayn Rand, whose fictional characters John Galt and Howard Roark are the archetypes of autonomy. If the younger generation is to have a fundamental grounding for its tendency toward self-directedness, it will need Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism as its guiding light.

If they do so, unctuous liberals like Kevin Spacey will not be able to deny or ignore all the falling trees in the forest.

The Clinton-Obama Axis

After 8 glorious years of the liberty-loving, avuncular Ronald Reagan, the 1990s was a cesspool of Clinton skullduggery.
The villains of Mayberry propped their grimy feet on the Oval Office desk, pointed flaccid index fingers at us (the public), tilted their aw-shucks heads in feigned empathy, grinned executioner-style, reigned surly when caught in the cookie jar, and meted out character assassinations like footloose mobsters.
That wasn’t the scary part. A large segment (40%) of credulous or adoring citizens ate it up, loved it, applauded it. A neighbor of mine in North Carolina during the Lewinsky escapade smiled when we met one day and said, “Ol’ Clinton’s gettin’ him some on the side, huh?”
While teaching a class on analytical writing at a North Carolina college around the same time, I posed a hypothetical question to my students: “What if you could steal a million dollars and know that there was absolutely no way anyone would every find out? Would you do it?” The room erupted. Boys high-fived out of their chairs. Girls put their hands to their mouths and giggled uncontrollably and looked at me like I was crazy for asking such a ridiculous question. Not one solitary individual showed serious compunction.
“What about the person you stole it from?” I asked. More hysterics. I leaned against my desk and watched the commotion for a couple of minutes, waiting to see if conscience would take hold. If it did, I could not see it. The discussion about morality afterward did nothing to assuage my fright at what I’d witnessed.
These students and their older comrades around the U.S. are a large segment of the Clinton voters: the amoral, the duplicitous winkers, the backroom handshakers, the get-away-with-it crowd. They rejoice in the Clintons, who are the embodiment of effrontery, the coward turned bully (a la Lyndon Johnson), the snickerer who becomes ominous sniveler at the audacity of confrontation. The Clintons live in make-believe: They make it up, and then they believe it – and by damn, you better, too!
They are outraged by facts that interfere with make-believe, like when little obsequious girls save stained blue dresses and when film footage reveals no snipers. Hillary Clinton is the eminence rouge who desperately demands no more “rouge.” They are enfants terrible, and they somehow (via their high-fiving backers) have represented once-grand America to a laughing world.
But there is one thing refreshing about the Clintons, in a macabre sort of way: They are transparent. They are not the inquisition sequestered in dank abbeys. To a candid audience, they are clearly bullies.
Not so for Barak Obama. He is the ideologue (not a bad thing if your ideas are about liberty) and a believer – a believer that most Americans are obsessed with race, that Americans must be protected from big corporations, that most Americans cannot manage their own lives and need far-seeing Barak Obama to ensure that those who do manage their own lives pay dearly for those who don’t. He is the master of rhetoric and wishes to be master of all.
He is the man who makes implausibility seem plausible, even to the mostly candid, by standing erect, projecting sincerity, waxing eloquent, radiating empathy. He sounds new while rehashing the anti-capitalistic dogma of the 130-year-old fascism of “progressivism.” He studiously “rejects” some of the ideas of his longtime minister without eloquently and succinctly denouncing the pastor’s racism, anti-Americanism and lunacy about HIV – without denouncing the minister.
He throws carrots to whites by acknowledging that whites are disgruntled, too, by entitlements and affirmative action, but instead of offering an official cure for these transgressions against liberty, he proffers only his trademarked empathy and a tip of the political hat.
He says that blacks are mad but does not say specifically what they are mad about in modern America. There is racism to some small degree in every country in the world, but the only government racism in America actually is designed to work in blacks’ favor. So what can many of them be mad about? Have they become spoiled by preferential treatment? Citizens from every populated continent in the world beg to enter to this country. They love this country. They do not complain that we are racist. They may complain, like new residents in a neighborhood, that it’s hard to become a part of the clique, but they don’t seem to think, by and large, that Americans are racist.
So what are Obama and his minister talking about? What world do they inhabit? What is their weltanschauung? It is one of alleged victimhood and power. One of victims and saviors. The alleged underdogs (though there is no underdog when anyone in a free society can be a Horatio Alger) need their mellifluous messiah, the Harvard man of the hoi polloi, the grand entitler.
This makes Obama scarier still than the abominable Clintons. He is the smooth-edged blade to the Clintons’ soiled, serrated butcher’s knife. He is the invisible virus to the Clintons’ strident fusillade. He is the artful dodge to the Clintons’ hapless bludgeon.
And yet they are two sides of the same fascist coin, skeptical of individualism and personal responsibility, insistent upon expansion of government, protectionist for guilds, guileless in their corrupt and bankrupt ideologies. They are, in fact, an axis of evil, paternal twins of the same political color.Once this competition to be America’s Commander-in-Cheat ends, they will kiss and make up, as all evil twins do – with a wink and a smirk.

Monday, March 17, 2008

'nother letter in the Wall Street Journal

My most recent letter in the Wall Street Journal was posted 3-17-08. (I've copied it below) It was in response to an excellent opinion piece in the WSJ that berated the media over not being objective in its reporting of the devious swine known as Ellott Spitzer, the former governor of New York, who was notorious for using immoral means to blackmail corporations and other officials whose only "crime" was to make a lot of money and do it well.


Dear editor,

Ms. Strassel’s piece on Spitzer was a breath of fresh air. I worked as a reporter and editor at 5 newspapers in 3 states during my 13-year journalism career and witnessed first-hand the media enabling of not only the local and state government peacocks, but also of leftist ideologues such as Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Jesse Jackson, environmentalists, “animal rights” activists, welfare-statists, et al.

I could count on one hand the number of conservatives and independents ensconced in those newsrooms during that time. I could count on one hand the number of times that exoneration of bad conduct by a wealthy person or big business was given the same front-page play as that of an accusation of bad conduct. (Note the initial Front Page frenzy on the Duke Lacrosse players and the subsequent middle-page yawn after the racial element was shown to be a shameless red herring.) Objectivity in print journalism (with a very few exceptions) is a farce.

I’d like to think that Ms. Strassel’s exquisite scolding on the Spitzer story will shame modern media handlers into objectivity, but ideologues are expert rationalists. In the coming days and weeks, we’ll hear them say that the medium (Spitzer) was wrong but that his anti-capitalistic message was right on the money.

Bank on it.

David Elmore

Jesus Didn't Know

The Bible's alleged God (the old one and the new one) never mentioned (and didn't know) any of the following:

The double-helix
The number Zero
Round Earth
Earth rotates
Earth revolves around Sun
Age of Sun and Earth
Earth is tilted 23 degrees, thus causing the seasons
Other planets have moons
What back side of our Moon looks like
Stars are suns
Universe is 13.7 billion years old
Big Bang
Solar Systems
Cause of disease (viral, bacterial and parasitic)
Atomic structures
Periodic chart
Circulatory system
Individual rights
Definition of liberty
Radial tires
Internal Combustion Engine
Steam Engine
Cotton Gin
Nuclear power
Air Conditioning
Black holes
Spectrum of Light
Electromagnetic waves
Speed of light
Tectonic plates
Mariannas Trench
Size of Earth
The "New World"
Longitude determination
Magnetic poles
Transparent glass
Printing Press
Ice Ages
Suspension Bridges
Musical notes

For being an alleged God, he was mighty ignorant, wasn't he, folks??!!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Wincing Moment

Pretty face. Pretty body. Pretty voice. Pretty hair. Pretty clothes. Pretty perfume. Pretty movements. Pretty smile. Pretty conversation.
Until ... the wincing moment -- the time in every rational bachelor's quest for romance when the beauty across from him states the unforgivable. "Oh, of course I'm not religious; that's silly, but I do believe in reincarnation and psychic communication."
"Check, please!"


There’s a certain thing that happens when you become objective about life, about facts and values – about the values you wish to pursue and the facts that pertain to those values. A calmness sets in inside your very being. A selfishness sets in, wherein any intrusion into your values evokes an immediate emotional reaction, which sparks an immediate analysis by your rational mind. For the rational being, his physical and emotional “space” is very clear to him, and he understands that his emotional reactions can be his subconscious tips to intrusions, thereby alerting his mind. Your space-alarm becomes your invisible centurion, your trusted barometer against irrational behavior attempting some assault upon you.

The objective person’s actions are deliberate; they are deliberately connected to the values he is pursuing; he knows what he wants to do at all times, and he knows he has a right to do as he pleases with himself. His space is ALWAYS his. It is inviolate. There’s an easy introspection and contented self-consciousness. There’s a calm in his space that is the direct result of his objective mindset.

If you are objective, this makes you impervious (or virtually impervious, depending upon the degree of your objectivity) to the acceptance of physical-space intrusions, imprecations, maligning, emotionalism, opinion, innuendo, gossip and bad ideas.

Your calm space puts you in such a place that when a hurried worker at a store wishes to take a shortcut through you (instead of around you) to get to his destination and says in frustration, “Excuse me,” you reflexively say, “Go around me.”

Or when a “nice old lady” at a coffee shop says to your daughter, “Are you being a good girl, so the Easter Bunny will bring you lots of candy,” you say to the woman, “No, she is good so she can be happy with herself, and she enjoys the make-believe of the Easter Bunny fantasy.” By the way, you make these comments to the old woman not for her sake but for your daughter’s sake, to re-enforce what you’ve taught your own daughter about selfishness, values and justice.

Or when a friendly acquaintance is irrationally upset at something you said and gets very emotional about it. Her raising the emotional bar does not mean that you must raise your emotional bar. You simply address the issue thoughtfully and empathetically if this is an usual occurrence. Your space remains unperturbed. This doesn't mean you can't get angry, of course, but if the person is of value to you, you will soon calm down and address the issue rationally.

Or when an opponent of freedom/rationality/selfishness makes a horrible comment to you or someone close to you, and you respond with a devastating retort that is not defensive but is instead steady and on point. To be defensive is to not understand one’s thoughts on a subject and to respond emotionally with the “feeling” that you are right. When you are within yourself on a subject, your calmness and wit will carry the moment.

Or when a celebrity seeks your money for altruism (starving kids in Africa, “victims” of Katrina, deformed children, etc.) and you immediately turn the channel or mute the TV without compunction or another thought about it.

Or when relatives demand that you come home for the holiday and you don’t wish to for whatever reasons (and there are usually plenty). When they try to make you feel guilty, you understand that nobody can feel guilty about pursuing objective values, so there is no chance of getting your goat. You control the conversation in a manner that is satisfactory to you or you hang up.

When you are in your calm space, you realize that much of dealing with the world requires that you “handle” situations. You do so with ease and speed. You handle people because they cannot handle themselves. You realize that most adults are like irrational children, incapable anymore of understanding their own motivations because they have created such an enormous mind-body dichotomy that they can no longer remain focused on facts and values – unlike you. And so it goes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Volition vs. Education

In the Objectivist movement, there is some serious bias toward a coercive “core curriculum” concerning children and their “education.” What I mean by “coercive” is that children are forced to go to classes to be “educated” – because most Objectivists (educators and parents and others) believe that children must have a “core” knowledge to make it in this world and to be “life-loving.” Those core subjects are science, literature, history and various others. What these Objectivists don’t seem to realize is that there is very little children must learn to get by in the world and, more important, the nature of their being (volition) requires that they should have control over what they learn and when they learn it. What follows in this post is my letter to the editor to The Objective Standard (a high-quality Objectivist periodical) that was a response to an article in TOS written by a California Objectivist teacher and owner of a school known as the VanDamme Academy in which she properly blasts the bad core curricula of public and private schools but does not address the essential issue of whether a required “core” is even necessary or whether it violates the volitional nature of children. My letter and VanDamme’s response to my letter can be found at the following web address: Since those letters are free to the public without subscription, I’ve copied them here for ease. To read all of VanDamme’s article you’ll need to become a subscriber to TOS, which I highly recommend. I’ve also included in this post my response to friends’ emails concerning my views and Vandamme’s response to my letter. My understanding of the so-called education of children revolves around the word “unschooling,” in which the child’s values determine his desire and direction and timing of learning at ALL times.

(My letter to TOS)

In “The False Promise of Classical Education” (TOS, Summer 2007), Lisa VanDamme criticizes current educational methods and correctly favors as an alternative a hierarchical approach to teaching. However, her educational method shares an error with nearly all of the other methods: curriculum-based teaching.

VanDamme’s mistaken assumption is that children need to be taught certain subjects in order to be “armed” for the world. She presumes that there are particular moments in a child’s life during which he should be taught certain information regardless of whether he is interested in that information. In other words, VanDamme joins other mistaken educators in the belief that a child’s knowledge pursuits should not be his to decide, that he should have no say concerning what information he will learn, when he will learn it, and from whom he will learn it. This belief springs from a misunderstanding of or disrespect for a child’s volition and his ability to be self-motivated from an early age to seek out the information that informs his burgeoning interests. This belief fails to recognize that a rationally raised child will pursue his values with vigor, that he will, on his own accord, seek information about his interests, whether those interests are books, bees, or bass fishing.

There is no universal curriculum that fits all personalities and that is appropriate to all children. Even if there were, it would not fit the educational timeline of every child. A given child may not show an interest in atoms or Jane Austen or grammar until he is fifteen—if ever. There is nothing wrong with a child lacking interest in these subjects if he plans to become a plumber or a saxophone player—or even a doctor. A “class” in which children are forced to absorb information plucked from the nearly infinite spectrum of reality—whether or not they wish to absorb it—is not a class at all. It is an indoctrination camp in which adults (“educators”) impose their values (“education”) upon children who might otherwise choose to seek information in subjects that better fit their interests and, later, careers.

There is obviously a place for classes and tutors that provide the specific information a child voluntarily seeks. But if a child cannot make his own choices regarding his education, all the coercive teaching in the most rational teaching environment will come to little. His preeminent lesson will be that his value pursuits and learning pace are of secondary importance to those of his educators.

David Elmore
Roswell, Georgia

(Lisa VanDamme replies in TOS)

Mr. Elmore gives a quick nod to the importance of a pedagogical hierarchy and then proceeds to criticize my “curriculum-based” approach to education; his criticism, however, contradicts both the concept of hierarchy and the true purpose of education.

Rather than subjecting the child to a curriculum designed by educators and imposed on him independent of his will, Mr. Elmore would have the child decide what, when, and from whom to learn. But the fundamental question of education, the answer to which defines the requirements of a proper education, is: What is the nature of the child, and what must he learn in order to become a successful, flourishing, life-loving adult? The answer to this question comes as a result of the combined achievements of generations of scientists, mathematicians, artists, writers, epistemologists, educational philosophers, and so on. How is the child to answer it? And if he could answer it, why would he need an education at all?

This is the gross violation of hierarchy implicit in Mr. Elmore’s criticism: He would have the child make decisions about matters that are properly determined by reference to the accumulated wisdom of countless experts. It is the responsibility of educational philosophers to determine what in principle is essential to the child’s intellectual development and therefore to a proper curriculum. It is the job of curriculum writers in each field (history, literature, science, etc.) to take the knowledge that has been amassed over centuries of human development, distill it to that which is most crucial to the child’s development, and order it in an incremental, hierarchical progression that allows the child to acquire the knowledge step by step. It is the job of educators to carefully present the knowledge and vigilantly monitor the child’s acquisition of it to ensure that he grasps the simpler material before moving on to the more complex. But Mr. Elmore would fire the educational philosophers, fire the curriculum writers, and demote educators to servants of the student’s immature, uninformed, necessarily childish desires.

Mr. Elmore defends his position as respectful of the child’s “will” and “values,” but the fact that the child is a being with free will, capable of making choices and having values, is what gives rise to the necessity of a curriculum designed to help him make mature, thoughtful, informed, rational choices.

To that end, it is necessary that all children be taught the core curriculum. The core curriculum is so defined because it comprises the material that is essential for the child to grasp in order to develop into an informed and rational adult who can succeed and flourish throughout his life.

The subject of history demonstrates on a grand scale the consequences of men’s ideas and actions; literature concretizes highly abstract values; science shows the power of man’s mind to understand and harness the natural world; math provides tools for grasping science and developing logical acumen; the language arts help children to develop the capacity to express themselves with clarity and eloquence.

Rather than having an expert history teacher tell a child of the most world-changing events and how and why they occurred—rather than having an expert literature teacher guide a child through classic works that will expose him to compelling and important world-views—rather than having an expert science teacher explain the most crucial discoveries in science and show a child how they unlock the world’s treasures—rather than having professional educators help a child to develop the ability to think and express himself clearly—Mr. Elmore advocates letting a naturally and helplessly ignorant child spend his time studying “bees and bass fishing” if that is what his juvenile desires dictate. Such an “education” would not “respect” the child; it would tragically neglect him.

Lisa VanDamme
VanDamme Academy
Laguna Hills, California

(My response to friends’ emails on this subject (March 7, 2008))

VanDamme’s response is the classic political case of avoidance of criticism by restating position.

She doesn’t discuss “whether” a core curriculum is necessary (one of my main points), but only “how” and “by whom” it should be developed. Note her phrasing of the fundamental question to ask is what a child must “learn” to be life-loving, as if efficacy and happiness come from “learning,” per se, instead of self-determined value pursuits. (This has been a common dichotomy thread among many prominent Objectivists, who advocate the pursuit of knowledge separated from a concrete value pursuit. Hence “core curricula” separated from real-world career and avocation pursuits). This leads her into the false belief that what the child needs to learn is somehow based upon “the combined achievements of generations of scientists …), as if knowledge of these past achievers somehow bears upon what a child MUST learn to have a fulfilled “life-loving” life, no matter his chosen profession. (more on that later)

VanDamme also sets up a strawman on “hierarchy,” saying only that I give a nod to hierarchical learning, when in fact I’d said outright that it is a correct approach to integration of knowledge. This petty injustice by VanDamme is secondary to a more egregious statement that my allowing children to make their own decisions upon the values they wish to pursue is somehow a “gross violation of hierarchy,” when in fact nothing in the allowance of a daily pursuit of values would disallow a hierarchical understanding of reality. (if this were the case, of course, children could throw out all of their “learning” outside of a classroom, in VanDamme’s world) It’s been my experience that children remain captivated on a particular topic only so far as it fits well with previous learning, and they will bypass new information temporarily if they have not integrated enough previous information to integrate that new info properly. (A question by my child Livy, who is 4.5 years old, recently about where humans come from sparked a dialogue about evolution that lasted a half-hour. She, of course, took many snippets from that conversation and integrated what interested her at the moment into her worldview, including the fascinating fact that progressively lower organisms have progressively smaller brains and can’t think like we do. I can only imagine her asking such a question in a “curriculum” class and not being allowed to fully seek her values and the content that fits well into her context to her current hierarchy.) It is only when children (or adults) want to get a total perspective on a branch of education that it is possibly necessary to save time by having an expert “educator” give instruction. But even then, rational parents can help guide the child in the learning experience by helping find books and CDs that give overviews on such subjects as history, physics and literature. No classroom may be needed for the self-motivated. Objective parents can help children find objective writers who present their information hierarchically.

The main problem with VanDamme’s middling is her lack of justification for the coercion of children. It is upon VanDamme and her ilk to justify their position in such a case. That is, they have to state clearly why children must be forced to sit in a classroom and learn what it is that these elitists wish them to learn to be “life-loving.” But, in true rationalistic style, VanDamme’s best declaration is that the experts say it must be so. Why? Well, because great achievers have achieved some great things and kids should be forced to learn these great things “for the child’s development.” For the child’s development into being WHAT? A plumber? A musician? A computer programmer? An astronaut? A fisherman? A cabinet maker? A physicist?

VanDamme conveniently doesn’t mention exactly and specifically what her cherished “core” is for (outside “development”). (It smacks of the same indoctrination as so-called public schooling.) As is obvious from the above career descriptions, the “core” of history, literature, science, etc., would simply be a large waste of time (the most valuable commodity for humans) for all of them, unless they had some great interest in the core, and then of course they could simply pay for such tutoring, if they wished. In order for VanDamme to have any leg to stand on in this discussion, she would have to prove how ALL professional landscapes would be addressed by a “core” curricula, so that no child’s time is literally wasted. But, even with that, VanDamme would have no leg to stand on, as I state in my letter, because we have that niggling little thing called volition – and value pursuits. All children learn at different speeds and have desires for certain knowledge at different times and have different values to pursue at different times (talk about the “invisible hand”). To conscript all children into a core curricula at predetermined ages would not only be impractical, it would send the disastrous message that the child’s own volitional choices of value pursuits are secondary to another’s. There is no greater destroyer of self-esteem, in my opinion, at play in the world today. VanDamme and her irrational entourage are (to the great misfortune of children) advocating the very means that is the greatest evil at large today. I say “the greatest evil,” because I think that the undermining of value-oriented volition is even more destructive than bad ideas. It takes years or decades for teenagers or adults to “get their volition back” or to “get their direction back” into their lives after having been forced to follow the presumptuous tracks of parents and “educators” during the formative years of their lives.