Amusement at Incompetence and Confusion

Comments on the article here:

It’s been a rough week in the news. And it’s been a rough week in comment sections … and Facebook posts … and Twitter.

If you, like us, could use a bit of Internet delight right now, consider this:

Politeness memes are silly. At best they add unnecessary delay to stating an idea. (I wonder how many days over the course of a lifetime are spent on politeness BS.)

At worst, if you don’t get them correct, people can actually get upset and refuse to interact with you over them. Which is maybe why Nan is careful to even put them in her google searches JUST IN CASE. sad story 🙁

Also they are forced on children without explanation.

That’s a tweet by 25-year-old Ben Eckersley, who lives near Manchester, England. He was visiting his grandmother’s place to do laundry — he and his boyfriend don’t have a dryer, he told the BBC.

Then he happened to notice this eminently charming search, and decided to share it with the world.

“I asked my nan why she used ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and it seemed she thinks that there is someone — a physical person — at Google’s headquarters who looks after the searches,” he told the BBC.

“She thought that by being polite and using her manners, the search would be quicker.”

Now this explanation is deficient for several reasons.

But first, I could see this sort of thing making sense to say a very young child who doesn’t know much about the world.

But how do you get to old age and have this kinda stuff make sense?

Also, Nan apparently knows enough to USE GOOGLE, albeit not super effectively. But still, that beats not being able to use google at all by quite a lot.

So she could try and refute this theory of hers, if she cared to. She could find out, for instance, that …

1) approximately 40,000 searches per second occur on google.
2) google has only 57,100 full time employees

These numbers don’t bode well for what we might call the “telephone switchboard operator theory of Google searches.”

Also does she think the searches are CONSTRUCTED in real time by a person? Or that there’s some huge archive of every possible search that individual humans somehow access and provide?

Doesn’t she notice how fast Google is already? How much does she think politeness helps?

Has she tried comparing the speediness of polite and non-polite searches?

If Google worked at all like she imagined, wouldn’t you expect Google to have very fast, standard response times required of its Google operators?

I worked in a McDonald’s for a while and we had to hit certain minimum speeds for making burgers etc. They tracked the speed. I would imagine Google would do the same if it worked at all like how Nan thought it did…so there wouldn’t be much room for the Google operators to treat stuff preferentially based on stuff like liking politeness.

It might not have helped speed up the servers, but it certainly warmed many an Internet-hardened heart.

The grandma in question — May Ashworth, who was born in 1930 — spoke to the CBCafter her grandson’s tweet went viral.

She said she’s not very computer-savvy; she uses Google only a few times a week.

“I thought, well somebody’s put it in, so you’re thanking them,” she told the radio network.

Very vague what “somebody’s put it in” means…

“I don’t know how it works to be honest. It’s all a mystery to me.”

No surprise here.

Google UK and the main Google account have both responded on Twitter — politely, of course.

Gross pandering.

Meanwhile, how did Ben and his grandmother celebrate her new Internet celebrity?

“We’ve gone really British and she just made me a cup of tea,” Eckersley told the CBC.

People’s amusement at incompetence and confusion seems disgusting to me. What do people like about it?

Marriage/Social Conformity Propaganda at FrontPageMag

The site mostly does political commentary. I like them quite a lot and read them regularly. But they had a cultural/social commentary type thing recently which i thought was quite bad and wanted to comment on.

Love and Marriage: Putting the Horse before the Carriage.
December 30, 2015 Dennis Prager

Part I in a series of widely held beliefs that are either untrue or meaningless:

In every age, people say and believe things that aren’t true but somehow become accepted as “conventional wisdom.”

Note btw, he’s posing as a challenger of conventional wisdom up front, but his basic message in his article is: get married young. Don’t wait. Just do it and it will probably work out fine. Ladies, if you don’t marry young, no good men will want you. Gents, grow up, and stop being so self-involved.

Lots of people agree with large parts of this. Even the people he’s criticizing, which seems to include people getting married in their early 30s, are typically just haggling a bit over specific timelines while accepting basic conventional premises regarding marriage, romance, etc. Even lots of self-described feminists worry about things like becoming undesirable as they age, etc.

The statement “I’m not ready to get married” is a current example. Said by more and more Americans between the ages of 21 and 40 (and some who are older than that), it usually qualifies as both meaningless

The statement conveys a meaning. It may not do so very precisely, but there’s meaning behind it.

Often I think the meaning is something like: I feel some pressure to get married but don’t wanna rush into it, want to wait for the right person.

and untrue. And it is one reason a smaller percentage of Americans are marrying than ever before.

So, here’s a truth that young Americans need to hear:

Most people become “ready to get married” when they get married. Throughout history most people got married at a much younger age than people today. They were hardly “ready.” They got married because society and/or their religion expected them to. And then, once married, people tended to rise to the occasion.

So Prager says that people used to make lifelong commitments to live with/have children with/share resources with someone at very young ages due to social pressure from one’s coreligionists or society at large. His attitude is basically that this was fine and produced overall good results as “people tended to rise to the occasion.”

Except stuff like generally unhappy marriages, feeling trapped in a role, or like you’ve “wasted your life”, or cheating, or financial hardship due to divorce, or even stuff like domestic violence, are well known problems that come up with marriage (and some of these come up in other long term relationships too). These issues weren’t invented by lefties as a false narrative. Lots of them have been issues for long time.

Some have become more of an issue recently due to stuff like: people are wealthier, and not so grindingly poor that they don’t have the time or energy to worry about wanting more out of life. Or, laws liberalized in the direction of more freedom, including allowing divorce. Or, being unmarried past a certain age, or divorced, does not make one a social pariah anymore. So in other words, not stuff we’d want to roll back…

I suspect what’s behind this “people tended to rise to the occasion” stuff is incredibly low standards.

The same holds true for becoming a parent. Very few people are “ready” to become a parent. They become ready … once they become a parent.

This is really dumb.

Parents would benefit ENORMOUSLY from preparing and thinking carefully about whether they want a kid, and engaging with good ideas on parenting like TCS. Most don’t think about it, just have kids, and then do a very bad job of it.

So yeah this guy has low standards.

In fact, the same holds true for any difficult job. What new lawyer was “ready” to take on his or her first clients?

I think the idea is that they will be prepared after the four years of undergraduate education, three years of law school, mandatory bar examination covering both state and federal law, mandatory ethics examination, and (rather intrusive) character and fitness assessment required of new lawyers in most states.

I don’t think we’ve got a great system for lawyers at all, but like, this guy should maybe pick his examples better if he wants to make out a case for the virtues of “just doing stuff” without being prepared. Judging by the way our social institutions are structured, it seems that quite a lot of people think lawyers need quite a lot of preparation. But he’s appealing to his lawyer example like it will be super obvious for any reader.

The only worse example he could have picked for his case that I can think of off the top of my head is doctors….

What new teacher, policeman, firefighter is “ready?”

Again, there’s various certifications/examinations/etc for these professions as well…

You get ready to do something by doing it.

Lots of people try “JUST DO IT” and fail.

Going back to lawyers example, lots of people say “I’M GONNA GO SOLO!” (i.e. set up their own one person law firm) by getting pumped up over a solo success story they read, and then they fail…

And people tend to be much *less* irrational about how they run their business than about stuff like romance.

In addition, at least two bad things happen the longer you wait to get “ready” to be married.

One is that, if you are a woman, the number of quality single men declines. Among deniers of unpleasant realities — people known as progressives, leftists, and feminists — this truth is denied and labelled “sexist.” But, as Susan Patton, a Princeton graduate, wrote in an article titled “Advice for the young women of Princeton,” published in Princeton’s student newspaper: “Find a husband on campus before you graduate. … From a sheer numbers perspective, the odds will never be as good to be surrounded by all of these extraordinary men.”

Now, I think if you have conventional goals and are on conventional life track, this is true.

But why be on that track? WHERE IS ARG?

And if someone’s doing something like a deviation from life track by not getting married, why try to push them back on that track? Maybe take the hint they want something a bit different than life, and stop being pushy towards people trying to live their own lives?

The other bad thing that happens when people wait until they are “ready” to get married is that they often end up waiting longer and longer. After a certain point, being single becomes the norm and the thought of marrying becomes less, not more, appealing. So over time you can actually become less “ready” to get married.

So basically here he’s saying, if you wait, you might realize marriage isn’t so great or important. SO BETTER GET LOCKED IN NOW!!

And one more thing: If you’re 25 and not ready to commit to another person, in most cases — even if you are a kind person, and a responsible worker or serious student — “I’m not ready to get married” means “I’m not ready to stop being preoccupied with myself,” or to put it as directly as possible, “I’m not ready to grow up.” (No job on earth makes you grow up like getting married does.)

If you get married, you can more fully adopt the grown-up social role, and condescend with authority at younger people with different ideas about life!

People didn’t marry in the past only because they fell in love.

Right, as he said earlier, people married cuz of social or religious pressure. Which he thinks is good…

And people can fall in love and not marry — as happens frequently today. People married because it was a primary societal value. People understood that it was better for society and for the vast majority of its members that as many individuals as possible commit to someone and take care of that person. Among other things, when people stop taking care of one another, the state usually ends up doing so. Just compare the percentage of single people receiving welfare versus the percentage of married people.

What does he mean by “take care”?

He mentions welfare. So like, financial help in tough times?

I don’t really see the argument here. Like, I guess if one spouse loses their job, another working spouse could take care of the bills for a while (does Prager approve of two-income households btw?)

But there could be a variety of ways of solving this issue that don’t involve the state or marriage. Like private charity, or help from family members, or real (private) unemployment or other kinda hardship insurance, or a cultural shift towards people being more thrifty and thus being able to weather unexpected stuff better, etc.

I don’t really see the necessity of having this sort of financial arrangement be packaged in the form of a purportedly lifelong cohabitation/sexual/coparenting relationship with big problems and potential MASSIVE financial liability if the arrangement fails.

Notice by the way the structure of the argument here. He mentions this argument after “[a]mong other things.” So if he gets rekt on this argument, he can say “oh that was only a tiny incidental thing which came to mind in addition to all the big obvious stuff.” He’s pretending he’s appealing to some big body of well-known and well-understood args, but really what is being appealed to is the social authority/approval of his position, which he is masking as an appeal to some unspecified rational arguments.

If you know that tons of people are rejecting marriage, and you think this is a problem, and you want to persuade them with REASON about why it’s good to take care of other people, you don’t hide your arguments under a bushel. But he does, cuz he’s not really very interested in reason. He’s not making THE CASE for marriage to skeptics. He’s trying to pressure/bully them, and topping this pressure off with some incidental attempts at argument.

Also, what about individual responsibility? People taking care of themselves?

Nor is the argument that the older people are when they marry, the less likely they are to divorce. This only applies in any significant way to those who marry as teenagers versus those who marry later. Moreover, the latest data are that those who marry in their early 30s are more likely to divorce than those who marry on their late 20s.

I totally buy that people who marry as teens are more likely to have buyers’ remorse and people who marry in their 30s are more likely to be extra picky.

And then there is the economic argument. Many single men, for example, say they are not ready to get married because they don’t have the income they would like to have prior to getting married. As responsible as this may sound, however, this is not a particularly rational argument. Why is marrying while at a low income a bad idea?

I bet some of this is low-income bros rationalizing their inability to find the mates they want, honestly…

In fact, marriage may be the best way to increase one’s income. Men’s income rises after marriage.

Citation needed, at least if he’s trying to link these causally… (like, the likelihood of getting married and of having more job experience/skill both go up with age…)

They have less time to waste,


and someone to help support — two spurs to hard work and ambition,

Heh I guess he doesn’t approve of two income marriage…

Also lots of guys don’t feel this “spur” is a very positive/nice thing…and can be resentful of their stay-at-home wife.

not to mention that most employers prefer men who are married.

So this means “it’s easier to navigate common employment-related social situations when married, and this can lead to higher income”?

And can’t two people live on less money than each would need if they lived on their own, paying for two apartments?

Yeah, though roommates can have big drawbacks too … wait this is an argument for marriage? <_<

In addition to economic benefits, the vast majority of human beings do better when they have someone to come home to, someone to care for, and someone to care for them. And, no matter how much feminists and other progressives deny it, children do best when raised by a married couple.

Lots of single parents have bad values and are thus on stuff like welfare cuz they can’t support themselves. I think the bad values are big driver here in whatever bad outcomes he’s thinking of.

Also you can have parental helpers without marriage.

There are, most certainly, superb single parents. But every superb single parent I have ever spoken to wishes they had had a spouse with whom to raise their children.

I not really impressed with his anecdata.

Throughout history, and in every society, people married not when they were “ready” to marry, but when they reached marriageable age and were expected to assume adult responsibilities.

Finally, this statement reflects another negative trend in society — that of people being guided by feelings rather than by standards or obligations.
We live in an Age of Feelings. Aside from the rational and moral problems that derive from being guided by feelings rather than by reason and values, there is one other problem. In life, behavior shapes feelings. Act happy, you’ll feel happy. Act single, you’ll feel single. Act married, you’ll feel married.

If you don’t have some plan to avoid the common, KNOWN pitfalls of some project, and just DO IT, you are acting irresponsibly and giving into cultural pressure. You’re hurting yourself, will hurt people engaged in the project with you, and in the context of marriage, will likely hurt children.

Do it, in other words. Then you’ll be “ready.”

In summary: submit. Conform. Give in.

In a recent post I wrote (replying to an Anon, who is quoted with two quote levels here, me one)

Can early crit potentially derail the process a bit?  Especially compared to a situation where a person has gotten the idea to a place where it WAS worked out with sufficient thoroughness and detail.  Are early ideas fragile in this way?

Well, consider if someone was gonna work on the idea of figuring out induction or arguing for marriage. Even if there were something there to figure out (so let’s assume it’s not totally a bad problem for the sake of argument), wouldn’t it be hugely beneficial to them to know FI crits on these issues in order to be able to address them, instead of spending a bunch of time thinking about and writing up already-refuted args?

This Prager guy does a bad job of addressing even pretty conventional concerns. Like someone in the FPM article comments points out the huge financial risks involved in marriage, which he doesn’t address. Forget about addressing the relevant stuff at

I don’t think his efforts to work out his ideas with sufficient thoroughness and detail have yielded much fruit. And he puts effort into it. He’s like a noted author, columnist, speaker. What’s the issue, then? Well, I think he’s probably not very interested in getting crit on his stuff. He wants to lecture others with his wisdom and grown-up role, not improve his own ideas.

Reply to Patrick O’Neil’s “Ayn Rand and the Is-Ought Problem”

This is a reply to this article criticizing Rand:
Some big picture comments:

A big premise of the essay is that the Is-Ought Problem is a BIG DEAL and Rand fails to address it. And furthermore that she claims to have addressed it, and wrote post-Hume, so according to O’Neil, these facts make her failure to address Is-Ought is a bigger failing of hers when compared to lots of other philosophers who have failed to address Is-Ought.

And O’Neil thinks that every time a moral argument involves engaging with an actual reason existing in the mind of a real human trying to solve a real life problem, it’s okay to use this as the basis of calling the moral argument subjective/subjectivist, presumably because it fails to provide an ironclad, universally applicable justification in all situations. No matter how widely applicable the want, this approach treats such args (or piles of such args) as not mattering at all in terms of objective morality.

O’Neil states this explicitly. Page 14-15 of the PDF (94-95 on the internal pagination):

Any reason offered for why one should not act contrary to moral law must either be a fact or a value. If a fact, it will need to he made relevant by the acceptance (envaluation; not epistemological acceptance) of that fact by the individual’s will, which condition, in turn, renders it subjective.

Also minor annoyance is O’Neil talks about “Randian” ideas a lot. Sigh.

Before offering more detailed comments on the O’Neil article, I want to paste a short curi post in which he addresses the Is-Ought issue, along with some brief comments. He basically wrecks the bad approach laid out in the article and offers a better one, so it seemed very relevant:

The is/ought problem is the claim that theories should be supported by facts, but that moral theories apparently cannot be supported by factual statements about what exists. This leads to the problem: how can we justify our moral theories? Can we somehow bridge the gap and infer moral theories from facts? Can we derive moral theories in another way? Or are moral theories always to be mere assumptions or guesses without any sound basis?

A lot of the crit in the essay focuses around failures to justify/prove moral theories.

This is a bad problem, and we can avoid it.

We should start with the moral question: “How should I live?”

And we should start with the life we have now, not take a revolutionary view and try to discover morality starting from absolutely nothing.

O’Neil would likely criticize this as rendering morality subjective.

We should take our current life, and our ways of making decisions, and we should try to improve them. In particular we can criticize them and look for problems in our life, and then we can try to think of new ways of life that wouldn’t have those problems. Through this process of brainstorming and criticism we can improve on our life. Then we’ll have a better life. We’ll have made moral progress. We’ll have learned something about morality, which means to have created moral knowledge.

And thus the is/ought problem is circumvented. The is/ought problem is only important when you approach morality in the wrong way, e.g. by asking “What is good?” or by asking “How can we justify our moral theories?” If we are not essentialists or justificationists (ways of thinking that Karl Popper refuted) then we won’t care too much about those questions. If they were fruitful then they’d be fine, but if we find they are not (which is the thing the is/ought problem asserts: it says that these questions are very hard to answer) then that is not a serious problem, we are not required to answer them.

I like this approach. And I would add, the way to approach Rand’s moral thinking is not to try and see if she succeeded at justifying or proving her moral philosophy from the ground up (she didn’t), or whether we can do so with some modifications and tweaks (we can’t), but whether we can gain anything from Rand’s moral views in dealing with real life problems in our current life and ways of making decisions (we most certainly can!)

Ok so more specific comments on O’Neil.

O’Neil claims that Objectivism takes its name from claim to objective (as opposed to subjective) ethics. He’s trying to set up a frame of trashing Objectivism extra hard for failing to live up to its name. I seem to recall, though, that Objectivism name was more about the nature of reality — an objective external world — and not objective ethics so much. And that one alternative name which was taken but which Rand would have liked was Existentialism (as in, Existence Exists). Also Rand thought there was a philosophy hierarchy and metaphysics as at the base. All of which is consistent with emphasis on the metaphysics.

One thing I want to note is this: observe that curi above gives a succinct definition of the is-ought problem. This prestigious O’Neil guy in his essay, however, starts talking about is-ought gap and Hume’s Law without even a brief definition. He goes into some detail later, but still, seems like bad form.

O’Neil mentions that Rand talks about how Objectivism offers a “rational, scientific, objective code of ethics” and doesn’t like Hume cuz Hume’s a skeptic.

O’Neil quotes this crit of Hume by Rand, which O’Neil thinks is unfair:

Hume’s conclusions would be the conclusions of a consciousness limited to the perceptual level of awareness, passively reacting to the experience of immediate concretes, with no capacity to form abstractions, to integrate perceptions into concepts, waiting in vain for the appearance of an object labeled ‘causality.’ “

O’Neil says:

It is not the case, of course, that Hume’s consciousness does not draw the same conception of causality from witnessed events that virtually all humans do, but rather, that upon analysis, he cannot justify these conceptual products of his consciousness deductively. Intellectually, Hume would maintain that the concept of causality must rest upon faith, for all empirical evidence of its existence becomes evidence only by a prior assumption of the notion of causality.

So Hume wants to accept on faith something his consciousness uses because he can’t justify it deductively. Why is the alternative to “can’t justify deductively” faith? Why not “causality seems to work, pending crits”? Faith has lots of crits. It doesn’t help anything.

Page 5-6 PDF (85-86) O’Neil lays out his thoughts on is-ought problem. He says its an ethical problem not a logical problem. (I’m summing up quite a bit, he goes on in some more detail.)

He says that if you need a “prescriptive premise” in the assumptions of your ethics, then either you need an infinite regress of prescriptions (which he notes Aristotle says is illogical), or you need to have basic prescriptions or set of prescriptions. He says if you’re assuming something is a basic prescription, then either you can disobey that prescription or not. If you cannot disobey it, then it seems silly to call it an “ought” cuz there’s no choice involved. However, if you can disobey it, then you’ve got to offer some sort of reason to follow it, either a positive thing or the absence of a negative sanction. But by offering this reason, which can be rejected if someone lacks the personal desire to get the thing you are offering, you’ve made morality subjective, because you’re relying on the personal subjective desire of the person for your arg to work.

He follows up on this some page 14 PDF (94).

One can admit the intellectual correctness of a proposition of moral law (even of its ultimate value), and yet deliberately defy it.

If morality is knowledge about how to live well in the world, it’s not an issue of whim, and is an objective issue. And trying to defy the problems that choosing to live in a bad way causes will prove futile.

This being the case, we must question what moral law means: If one could not, by any means whatsoever, defy moral law, great difficulty would arise over the appropriateness of the use of “ought”-for we do not normally use that word to command actions which in any event cannot be avoided.

One can choose to live immorally but one cannot avoid the consequences of doing so.

If, on the other hand, one can and does defy the imperative of a moral law, how is one still seen as bound by it?

If you act as if being a thief is okay, other people may punch you in the face when you try and steal their stuff. Or you may be imprisoned. You can’t escape the consequences.

Your assent cannot be COMMANDED by moral truths — you are not a slave to moral truths —  but that doesn’t mean moral truth fails to have an effect on you. SLAVE or ZERO EFFECT aren’t the two alternatives. You can choose to live immorally, and suffer as a result. That is a possible outcome.

Punishment or other ill consequences do not suffice to make moral law objective, for if the person committing the violation of the maxim(s) prefers the object of his illicit action, even when coupled with punitive or other unfortunate consequences, that seems to mean that there is no apparent reason why he should not act contrary to that moral law.

So this is an appeal to the possibility of unspecified arbitrary preferences as an attack on objective morality, which I’ve noticed is very common amongst bad philosophers.

Let’s consider a concrete case: let’s say that someone steals someone’s PS4 because they wanted a PS4 to play Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain. Then they are quickly caught and put in jail for 6 months. Pretty shitty plan for getting to play the game, wasn’t it?

Now an academic philosopher might say “but what if he GENUINELY PREFERS the moments of possession of the PS4 and values them higher than the months he’ll spend in jail.” But nobody has this preference. It’s ridiculous. Nobody steals PS4s for fleeting moments of possession which they know will be followed by lengthy incarcerations. They wanna play games on them or sell them or stuff like that.

Now, they may have very short sighted and unrealistic models of how likely they are to suffer negative consequences. But that just means they made a mistake. If a TIME WIZARD popped in their jail cell and offered them to rewind time back right before they stole the PS4, they’d take this option — they wouldn’t sit there, shake their head with a satisfied smile and say “No, I don’t think so. I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve. My work is done.”

On Page 6 PDF (86), O’Neil says that if people say they want Y, and you say that if you want Y you need to do X  and that they therefore ought to do X, and they seem to agree but then don’t do X, then the possibilities are: they did not actually want Y, or they did not believe you about needing to do X. And if you eliminate these possibilities, then the possibilities are that they are illogical/crazy/etc.

This ignores a case like:  someone wants to lose weight, and is convinced eating less would help, but doesn’t manage to do that. We do not assume they are illogical/crazy…this is common.

Page 7 PDF (87), O’Neil says:

Since Rand has admitted (often) that the entity can choose death over life, however, it is at this critical juncture that the subjectivity enters and dominates Rand’s entire ethical edifice. The whole Randian moral system rests upon the most basic moral command that one ought to do that which preserves one’s life (qua man) […]

I don’t think Rand would agree that her system of ethics is about moral commands. Like imagine describing Roark as someone who “followed” the moral command “do not be a second hander.”

This sounds kinda ridiculous to me. It’s obligation-kinda ethics. But Roark wasn’t following some externally imposed moral obligation which he needed to avoid the sin of second-handedness. He wasn’t tempted by second-handedness. It had no appeal for him.


It makes no difference, then, that the standard is not variable in response to the individual, subjective will, for the commitment to the command (“one ought to behave so as to survive qua man”) demands a more basic deontological moral imperative-setting up the pro- spect of an infinite regression of moral commands-for a rational creature has the option to choose nonsurvival as well as survival: “Metaphysically, the choice ‘to be conscious or not’ is the choice of life or death.” 35

Apparently, there is no reason not to select death over life.

Well if you want to do stuff then you should choose life.

Sometimes people choose death because they are e.g. suffering from some horrible illness that will kill them soon anyways. They value less suffering over continued existence where they can’t do much at all anyways. That seems reasonable.

But generally there’s plenty of reasons to choose life. Np.

Oh next he talks about Kant:

Despite Rand’s frequently expressed loathing for the German philosopher Kant-“the man who . . . closed the door of philosophy to reason, was Immanuel Kant” — she seems to have borrowed an ethical notion from Kant’s moral theory. She attempts to utilize one of the underlying principles of Kantian ethics, that immoral actions are self-contradictory.

He then quotes Rand:

Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy-a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction.

I’m skeptical of his Kant-Rand connection here … like he doesn’t say exactly what Kant mean, or even give a Kant quote on the topic.

On page 8 PDF (88) he asks

Rand says (through Galt) that “rationality is a matter of choice.” This presents an immense problem for the Randian philosophy, for one is forced to ask: If ration- ality is a matter of choice, is the choice to maintain rationality or to abandon it a rational choice or a non-rational choice? This involves a great deal more than semantics, for if it is the case that either choice is non-rational (or even pre-rational), then the Randian system of morality depends, at root, on a happenstantial, unfree choice.

People do stuff instead of reason. Stuff like evasion, whim, authority, closing paths forwards, etc.

Our best understanding of complex human decision making is that it involves choice. Not always super directly — for instance, one cannot simply will one’s emotions to change. But one’s emotions are open to being changed by choosing to acquire certain knowledge and apply certain methods.

Likewise with the issue of choosing to be rational. One does not typically sit around and ask “Am I going to be rational, or a whim-worshipper?” But one makes choices which connect to and affect that choice. Like whether to read Rand or go to a getting-drunk get-together. Stuff like that matters.

So there’s choice involved in whether to be rational or not. Np.

The Randian might attempt to claim that there was a bifurcation, with the choice of rationality amounting to the rational choice, and with the choice of irra- tionality amounting to an irrational choice. This raises a double difficulty.

First, it is unclear how the selection of one of two alternatives can possibly alter the nature of the prior choice that produced the selection, but this point may be debatable. Secondly, the elimination of the possibility of a rationally chosen commitment to irrationality means that there can he no such thing as freely chosen evil.

While evasion involves an evil choice, it is a different kinda choice than what I think may be connoted by “freely chosen evil”, which sounds more like the “am I going to be rational, or a whim-worshipper?” kind of question I criticized above.

I think some philosophers make a rather big deal out of the idea that people do not consciously choose evil from the perspective of their current values, because if they thought something was evil in the sense of being wrong to do, they wouldn’t choose to do it. And they go so far as to attack the idea of evil itself on the grounds that if it requires choice, and no one can consciously choose evil, it can’t exist.

But that’s a bit like arguing that because people don’t consciously choose to wind up broke and penniless, there’s no blameworthy moral choices involved in someone choosing to blow his money at the track. It’s silly. Of course there’s choice involved, and of course some are good and bad.

Rand seems to reject this possibility, however, for she does appear to require the existence of freely chosen evil:

Man’s basic vice, the source of all his evils, is the act of unfocusing his mind, the suspension of his consciousness, which is not blindness, but the refusal to see, not ignorance, but the refusal to know.

For the choice to unfocus the consciousness to be evil-to he a refusal to see rather than blindness and a refusal to know rather than ignorance-it is necessary that it be a freely adopted choice by the reason, for if the individual did not freely and consciously choose it, it cannot be said that the individual acted as he ought not to have acted.

I think this is relying on a mistaken model of how minds work. Like there’s lots of somewhat autonomous ideas in a human mind. It’s not like one central executive freely making conscious choices all the time. We can say that maybe there is something like an executive or a judge or whatever when you consciously focus on some issue and consider it. But that’s not the only model that’s relevant. There’s like unconscious habits and emotions and stuff.

And in evasion, one way to look at what’s happening is, one part of your mind notices something, but another part of your mind refuses to hear/refuses to think about it. Slams the door shut. It is a bit like suppressing dissent.

So by refusing to consciously consider an issue, you’re doing evil. The refusal need not be made as a conscious decision — it can be made at like an emotional level and not really thought about. It can be made in a fog. I think it frequently is.

I think it’s a bit silly to basically say that for the choice to unfocus your consciousness to be evil, it has to be made consciously.

It’s a bit like saying that if a drunk driver didn’t choose to consciously mow people down on purpose, then they didn’t act evilly, because they didn’t really know what was going on at the time they killed the people, since they were so drunk. But everyone knows that nobody is drunk behind a wheel by accident … there is a long train of choices and decisions that put them there, and the driver is responsible for the outcome of that train of choices and decisions, whether they knew what was happening at the time or not.

The issue to focus on in moral evaluation of people’s decisions is more like: was it possible that you could have done better? If so, why didn’t you?’

PDF 9 / Page 89, O’Neil says:

Evil choices and evil actions cannot be seen as contradictory or impossible for the simple reason that they can be done. Since one can choose to will values which will lead to his demise, Rand is left with the problem of why one ought not so to will if one feels inclined in that direction.

There is more than one sense in which something can be contradictory.

Like, strict logical contradiction isn’t the only thing that counts here.

For instance if one wants to have great wealth but not expand any effort getting it, it’s possible that one can play the lotto and get lucky and have this happen. But is a very poor strategy for having this happen. It’s something like a contradiction.

Most of the remainder of the essay wasn’t engaging with Rand but with some would-be Rand defenders, which I found boring and didn’t have many comments on. One more thing though:

Rand and her defenders have done little to treat the problem of the effect which the inevitability of the loss of life has upon the role of life-as-the-ultimate-value. Since one must (will, if you prefer) die at time t+x, Rand and her defenders must elaborate why that loss of life at time t+ x is to be preferred (automatically) to the loss of life at time t+(x- 1) or at time t+(x- 1,000) or at any other time. This problem flows out of the lack of time differentiation in the Randian valuation of life, and it will not be pursued further here.

Life as the ultimate value does not make Oists lifespan-maximizing utilitarians, which seems to be the assumption here.

Nozick had a similar confusion.

If the pursuit of some value involved reduction in maximum lifespan it could be fine. Even in common usage, when people talk about having a good or great or successful life, they are not talking about absolute maximum lifespan.

NOTE: If you liked this post, FRIEND OF THE BLOG Alan Forrester posted various replies to Nozick’s criticism of Rand (including mine) here