Saturday, September 06, 2008

Objectivism & History, Part 10

History, Objectivism, and Sarah Palin. In the last week we have seen the meteoric rise of Alaska governor Sarah Palin within the GOP and among conservatives. If she can survive the next two months with her reputation intact, she could eventually become the most powerful figure in the Republican Party. She would, in that case, either be McCain’s heir apparent (assuming McCain wins in November) or the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2012. How are Objectivists going to view this woman? On the one hand, she is precisely the strong, tough, savvy, good-looking type of female celebrated in Rand’s novels. On the other hand, she may be the most religious candidate on a Presidential ticket this side of William Jennings Bryan. Her emergence is bound to stir up some conflicted feelings within the Objectivist fold—as can be gathered by a cursory glance at the Objectivst blogosphere.
Back in February, we find one neo-Objectivist noting: “Aside from [Palin’s] obvious vice of religion, [she] has all the makings of a splendid vice president. Don't you think?” After McCain selected her late in August, several commentators made it clear they regarded Palin’s selection as an “excellent choice.” Other Objectivist posters are more conflicted. A poster calling himself “Myrhaf” begins by praising Palin’s convention speech and attacking Obama’s inept and dishonest criticism of McCain’s running mate. He almost sounds enthusiastic, until he remembers Palin’s religiosity, which brings him back to earth. He has seen Palin’s controversial speech given before an Assembly of God congregation, and is disturbed by Palin’s “insane mystical ideas.” I came away with a different impression from Palin’s performance in front of her hometown church. Rather than disturbed, I was reassured: because if you look beyond some of Palin’s sentimentalized Pentecostal rhetoric, you will find a surprisingly strong statement in support of the separation of church and state. She in effect told the congregation that, because she was governor, she could not take part in their work to win hearts and minds for Christ. That was the congregation’s job. Her job was to run the state. This suggests that Palin’s religiosity should not be regarded as a threat or a danger. Examining Palin’s record as public official only serves to affirm this judgment. Very little of what she has done publicly has any real connection to her religious convictions. What, after all, does opening Alaska to more energy development have to do with Pentecostal theology? Or lowering taxes? Or suing the Federal government over the decision to make the polar bear an endangered species? Human beings are not determined by their religious beliefs. A person can be religious and still be rational in other domains of experience.

Myrhaf concludes with the following observation: “Palin said in her speech that she would challenge the status quo, but she can't do it. She will fail because she has no intellectual ammunition.” Now this statement relates directly to the subject I’ve been discussing in recent weeks: the Objectivist philosophy of history. “Intellectual ammunition” is important to the Objectivist because he believe that “ideas” determines what happens. Yet it should be clear from Palin’s career that this isn’t altogether true; that what is important is not what people say or pretend to believe, but what they actually do. Although Palin is hardly perfect and, like any politician, has committed mistakes and blunders throughout her political career, she still, despite her obvious flaws, has done a decent job as governor of Alaska. In just a week’s time, she has excited the Republican base more than any candidate since Ronald Reagan. What does “intellectual ammunition” have to do with any of the things she has accomplished? It’s not intellectual ammunition that gets a politician elected or allows them to get things done in government. Politics is about coalition building and out-maneuvering your opponent. So-called “intellectual ammunition” has little to do with it. A politician does not gather support by winning debates or changing people’s mind. In 2000, polls suggested that Bush “won” his debates with Al Gore. Yet Bush clearly did not make a better case for his position in those debates. Not at all: he won because he came off as more "personable." So much for intellectual ammunition!

The Objectivist philosophy of history causes Rand’s followers to misread political and social reality. They end up placing to much stress on what politicians say and not enough on what they do. Even worse, because they have no appreciation or understanding for the institutional constraints that politicians must act under, they are incapable of realistically assessing individual politicians or grasping who should be supported and who should be opposed.

25 comments:

Damien said...

Greg,

Another Objectivist wrote something about Sarah Palin at a blog called The Greedy Capitalist. His name is
David Veksler and boy is he angry at
Her!

Neil Parille said...

I'm surprised (well not really) at the viciousness of the attack on Palin for her decision not to abort her Down's syndrome child.

I thought life was the "standard of value." When will Objectivists apply their view of abortion to the newly born and the elderly?

Damien said...

Neil Parille,

I hope they are never able to legally apply their view of Abortion to newborns and the Elderly.

Also at the end of his commentary David said this.
--------------------------------------------------------------
But what can we say about a parent that chooses a life of suffering upon their child? If we are morally outraged by child rapists, how should we judge a parent who chooses a lifetime of suffering on their own child?

--------------------------------------------------------------

I wonder if he realizes that his statement could be used as an argument for forcing mothers against their will into have Abortions? I mean he might say that that's engaging in force, but he has basically argued that what Palin did by letting her child live was morally equivalent to rape, if not worse.

gregnyquist said...

Damien,

Thanks for the link. I can't imagine that ARI, as absurd as the people over there sometimes are, would endorse Veksler's position. But it does illustrate the perils of fanaticism. Veksler may think he's reality-orientated and "objective," but his anti-religious fanaticism prevents him from realizing that people are different, that they find happiness in different ways. He complains, for instance, about the "mindless time-wasting rituals" of religion. I'm not a big fan of such rituals either. But that doesn't mean that other people can't find meaning and satisfaction in them. So why should either of us complain about them? Let people find happiness in their own way. And the same can be said about raising children with Downs Syndrome. Perhaps for Veksler, raising such a child would constitute a horrible altruistic sacrifice. But that doesn't mean that others would view it in that way. Perhaps Palin gets a great deal of satisfaction from raising a Downs child. In any case, Palin does not strike me as the kind of person who willingly be a martyr. She's a tough, aggressive, go-getter type. Any altruistic rhetoric she might engage in from time to time is just that: rhetoric.

Damien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damien said...

Greg,

You're right, he is a bit over the top to say the least.

Jono said...

So, this article is basically grouping all objectivists and calling them irrational and blind? Assuming that they all believe the same and exist as one consciousness?



Good job sir. Good job.

Jay said...

I'm not a fan of Palin's religious leanings in the least. However, if this article I read is true, she might be more qualified to be President than Obama, McCain, or Biden.

http://johntreed.com/Change.html

The article lists many of what the author calls Palin's "radical change acts."

Fired AK Public Safety Commissioner, fired AK Board of Agriculture, filed ethics charges against two prominent AK Republicans, signed biggest dollar veto in AK history, resigned as head of AK Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on principle to be able to denounce fellow Republican member who was behaving unethically (she could not speak out by law as a member, he denied it but later paid a $12K ethics fine). Stopped Exxon, BP, and Conoco from building an overly costly gas pipeline at taxpayer expense; got sales tax increase passed as mayor in state where voters hate taxes; forced resignations of two high Republican officials who behaved unethically; reduced her own salary as mayor and reduced property taxes by 60%; enacted new ethics law and stopped Republican-sponsored pork barrel projects; refused to use state money to fund Republican U.S. Senator Stevens’ “Bridge to Nowhere” when federal funds for that project were stopped; rescinded 35 last-minute appointments made by her governor predecessor; publicly criticized a number of Republicans who have since been indicted, fined, or pled guilty; opposed polar bears being classified an endangered species; vetoed a law that would have prevented gay partners from receiving spouse-type benefits; sold on eBay state jet used for governor transportation; gave birth in April 2008 to a son whom she knew from testing had Down’s Syndrome.

In contrast, Obama and Biden have no known radical change acts. Food for thought...

Michael Prescott said...

It's worth reading the comments thread of Veksler's post. A couple of the commenters write astonishingly awful things about Down Syndrome kids, then are taken to task by two or three other commenters who make a lot of sense. It's a remarkable look at the "culture war" in progress.

In case anyone thinks I'm exaggerating the awfulness of some of the comments, here's a sample:

I don’t even see how people consider Down’s syndrome “children” to be human. I encountered one in the store today, and it was a drooling, loud, disgusting creature. My friend’s dog is better behaved than that creature was.

Just because something looks like a human doesn’t mean it is. What sets humans apart from other animals is our intelligence. Looking somewhat human but being massively retarded makes Downs syndrome creatures closer to cattle than people...

My point was that they are fundamentally animals, not people. Aborting them and giving the parents an opportunity to have a human baby is a better answer all around than inflicting them on society and demanding that they be treated as human.


Niiiiiiice.

Jay said...

That comment is appalling. It's hard to believe people can be so mean and nasty.

Henry Scuoteguazza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry Scuoteguazza said...

In response to the quotes provided by Michael, I'd say that is the consequence of rationalism and reducing humans to the definition as rational animals. (They convenietly overlook the animals part of the definition.) The Objectivists who recommend not voting or voting only for the Democrats illustrates the intrinsic leg of Rand's trichotomy (the other two being subjective and objective). It appears the Objectivists who think voting for secular Obama is better than voting for religious McCain-Palin prefer the Democrat's subjectivism to the rationalist strain of some Republicans. It's almost as though they don't like to compete with fellow rationalists.

Of course, these Objectivists think they're being objective while people who disagree with them are ipso facto raging subjectivists.

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "I'm not a fan of Palin's religious leanings in the least. However, if this article I read is true, she might be more qualified to be President than Obama, McCain, or Biden."

While I'm not a fan of Palin's Pentacostal affiliation, it's actually fortunate that she has she's part of that denomination. It's what's enabled her to unite the Republican Party, which is necessary in order to defeat Obama. Palin won't have to say anything about religion or do anything inspired by religion to get the complete backing of the evangelicals. What other conservative or Republican could've vetoed legislation blocking spouse-like benefits for gay partners without losing support from evangelicals? Palin can govern like a secularist and still keep the evangelical base happy.

Damien said...

Michael Prescott,

You're right that is appalling.

Neil Parille said...

In Justin Raimondo's bio of Rothbard, he quotes a letter of Rothbard's when he traveled in Rand's circle. He said that for all the take of individualism, Objectivists were the most conformist of people. Just look at the attack on Palin for not aborting her child.

Another example would be homosexuality. They all rejected Rand's position once Peikoff gave the green light.

gregnyquist said...

Henry Scuoteguazza: "It appears the Objectivists who think voting for secular Obama is better than voting for religious McCain-Palin prefer the Democrat's subjectivism to the rationalist strain of some Republicans. It's almost as though they don't like to compete with fellow rationalists."

While I'm not sure what is meant by Republicans rationalists, I do think there may be something to the competition angle. Rand and the ARI folks do seem to be less sympathetic with the right than they are with the moderate left. Indeed, the closer a position comes to Objectivism, the more they despise it. Think of excommunicated Objectivists like David Kelley and George Walsh. Or libertarians (whom Peikoff describes as "worse than communists").

There may be a personal component to this as well stemming from Rand's break with the conservative movement after Chamber's review of AS and her annoyance at the Libertarians for not accepting Objectivism en toto. However, when confronted with a candidate far enough on the Left (i.e., McGovern) even Rand had enough sense to support the Republican (the lackluster, price-controlling, Great Society extending Richard Nixon). Now that we are confronted with a candidate even further to the Left than McGovern, will the orthodox Objectivists recognize the threat and vote for McCain-Palin? Or are they too uptight about Palin's religiousity (which little affects her actual conduct in office) to do the sensible thing?

Neil Parille said...

Objectivists have become rather preocuppied with the foibles, real and imagined, of conservative (generally Evangelical) Christians. Rand didn't seem to know or care much about them.

meg said...

OMG.. I hate Palin so much, she is so stupid
- The user formerly known as Meg

Damien said...

meg,

Are you being sarcastic or do you really not like Palin?

gregnyquist said...

Meg: "I hate Palin so much, she is so stupid."

I don't understand this. Do you really hate Palin because she's "so stupid"? Or is it simply a case of not agreeing with her, ergo she must be stupid and object of hate? But even then I don't understand this. I don't agree with Senator Obama and I suspect he would make a poor President; yet I don't regard him as stupid and I certainly don't hate him. Since when do we have to hate people we don't agree with? Or regard them as stupid?

Michael Prescott said...

Another Objectivist has weighed in with his opinion that Palin should have aborted her Down Syndrome child.

This latest article is getting a lot of play in the blogosphere.

Damien said...

Michael Prescott,

I see a similarity between David Veksler's argument. Now I'm also wondering if Nicholas Provenzo realizes his argument could be used as a reason to force women against their will into having abortions. Take a moment to think about what the two of them are saying. David compares bringing a down syndrome baby into the world to rape, while Nicholas says she is forcing other people to care for her baby against their will by letting him live.

Neil Parille said...

Apparently Provenzo goes so far as to think that the decision not to abort a child with Down's Syndrome is "wicked" and "immoral" --

__________

Now if a woman chooses to be part of the 10% and knowingly give birth to a retarded child, that's her choice (and her responsibility), wicked as it may be. But to celebrate such a decision (like the Concerned Women of America do, claming that the "Palin family is a wonderful example of a family who made the right choice to embrace their child and his future") or to condemn those women who choose to abort retarded fetuses (like Lew Rockwell, the Paulian pervert of liberty does, linking the support of legal abortion with support for the gas chambers), well, that is the worship of retardation. It is to say that if a woman finds out that she will give birth to a severely handicapped child, her life simply stops being her own, such is the powerful "blessing" of life with this tragic affliction.

My philosophy labels such a position as immoral. It says that a woman has the unconditional right to veto giving birth while the unborn exists as a potential life inside her womb. And it says that those who would deny a woman this right are no friend to individual freedom and rights--and that they deserve be condemned as such.
________

The claim that such people "worship retardation" comes, I guess, from Rand's statements that people who disagree with her "worship death."
-NP

Michael Prescott said...

Damien wrote, "... his argument could be used as a reason to force women against their will into having abortions."

Indeed it could. For years Whittaker Chambers has been bashed by Objectivists for his hostile review of Atlas Shrugged. But I find him prescient:

[The mindset of the author] supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: "To a gas chamber — go!"

Neil Parille said...

I find incredible this statement of Provenzo:

______

I nevertheless do not support those who wish to use coercion to support the lives of such people. Support for people such as the mentally disabled is the proper domain of voluntary charity, not the forced redistribution of wealth. It has been my experience that when people are prosperous and free, they have no issue with assisting those injured though no fault of their own. In my mind, I have the specific example of children born to mothers addicted to drugs that stunt the cognitive development of their children.

_______

He is apparently playing on the fact that most of his readers will not know that Rand was not a supporter of charity (although her views aren't completely clear) and made occasional snide remarks about the retarded (as Dan Barnes has noted).

I've been discussing the charity issue on my blog, FWIW.