Monday, March 31, 2008

Bernstein at University of Michigan

"Religion vs. Morality"
by Dr. Andrew Bernstein

Thursday, April 3, 2008, 8 pm
University of Michigan — Ann Arbor, MI

Location: Angell Hall, Auditorium C
Maps and directions
Contact: sardone@umich.edu

Conventionally, most people believe that morality can only be based in religious faith, that in a world without God no principles of right and wrong could exist. Related to this, philosophers have long held that no objective, fact-based, rational code of values is possible.

Regarding both points, this talk shows that the exact opposite is true. The purpose of morality is to guide human life on earth and religion is utterly incapable of it. Flourishing life requires a code of secularism, rationality, egoism and freedom. Religious faith clashes with every principle of a proper moral code, and, as such, has led, and can only lead to hell on earth.

Dr. Bernstein is a visiting professor of philosophy at Marist College and author of The Capitalist Manifesto.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Objectivist Round-up, March 27th, 2008

Welcome to the March 27, 2008 edition of objectivist round up. A great issue for you today. I hope you enjoy it!

Kendall J -

Stella presents An aphorism in practice posted at ReasonPharm, saying, "Have you noticed it's harder to see your primary care doctor than it used to be? There's a reason for that."

C. August presents A Brief History of Presidential Doctrines posted at Titanic Deck Chairs, saying, "In this post, I analyze presidential foreign policy from Monroe to the present, detailing the transition from rational self-interest to altruism as the guiding principle. It's not as dry as it sounds, and you'll definitely want to read what Teddy Roosevelt had to say."

rootie presents beautiful song, ugly message... posted at Optional Values, saying, "older post, but my first ever carnival entry"

Dan Edge presents Opposite-Sex Friendships posted at The Edge of Reason, saying, "In this whopper of a blog entry, I discuss why I avoid developing intimate relationships with other women (besides my wife). From the article: "So, acknowledging that I could have an enriching, totally platonic relationship with another woman, why would I avoid it? My answer to this question is grounded in two key points: 1) Emotions respond to how one *acts* in a relationship, not how he *labels* the relationship, and 2) There can be more than one soulmate for any given person." Feedback is appreciated! --Dan Edge"

Ari Armstrong presents To Hell with Hell posted at AriArmstrong.com, saying, "Philosopher Wes Morriston offered a fascinating review of Christian perspectives on Hell, along with various problems with the standard Christian view."

Flibbert presents Flibbertigibbet posted at Flibbertigibbet, saying, "I've been making YouTube videos on a roughly weekly basis and I recently discussed Ayn Rand and homosexuality. My view on the origin of homosexuality has changed over the years, but my basic conclusion about it has not. The video spawned a little bit of discussion, so I had a follow-up post: More on Rand and Homosexuality (http://flibbertigibbet.mu.nu/more_on_rand_and_homosexuality) Because I've taken the position that homosexuality is primarily (fundamentally, even!) I'm surprised my non-Objectivist readers/viewers didn't speak up more."

Kendall Justiniano presents The White Rose and Living by Principle posted at The Crucible & Column, saying, "A emotional day and a good book bring the author a clear example of living by principles."

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of objectivist round up using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The White Rose and Living by Principle

For all of those folks who have been checking The Crucible faithfully for the last 4 weeks, I have to extend an apology. I've been in the process of finalizing the sale of my house, buying a new one, moving my entire life over and getting settled. Along with a busy work month, it didn't leave a whole lot of time for blogging. I know some of my fellow Obloggers use their blogs like diaries, but I can't seem to do that. I seem to always want to try to make the posts novel and substantial and that means I have to have the time to use my brain. That's what I want The Crucible to be known for, and that's what I want you to be able to expect. So if it means that I don't post when I don't have the time, I hope you'll understand.

Today's post requires that I tell you a short story.

Back around Christmas time while visiting family in Washington D.C. I spent one day at the Holocaust Memorial Museum with my sister. The experience was nothing short of an emotional wringer. It was hard to keep it together for most of the day. I recommend that anyone who spends time in D.C. devote at least an afternoon to this memorial. For me, it concretized and made real the horror and fiendishness of the Holocaust, especially when you come so close to the actual physical remnants of those acts.

I saw a synagogue ark (where the torah scrolls are kept) defaced on Kristallnacht night, the violent gashes of Nazi axes across the face of it making the violence palpable. I entered a room completely bare but for a floor filled with tens of thousands of shoes, discarded from a concentration camp "selektion", and read a poem which is only a few lines long, but in that room carries the weight of millions of the dead. I stood in a boxcar not much bigger than the 12x14 room I'm in right now, which held hundreds of people for days without food, heat, water, or sanitation as they traveled to their deaths. And I stood in a three story atrium covered in black and white photos of the daily life in one eastern European shtetl, or Jewish community. You pass through the atrium three different times in a chronological journey, first getting to know the families, and learning of their lives. At the final pass, you learn that the entire town of 3,500 was wiped from existence by Nazi death squads. I knew this would be the end when I passed through the first time, but it never prepares you for how you'll feel once you've come to know them in the vibrant midst of their lives.

I bought three books from the memorial bookstore, and it is one of those books, which I just finished that I wish to highlight for you. The book is Newborn and Dumbach's Sophie Scholl and The White Rose. The book tells the true story of a group of student activists in Munich who covertly published and distributed anti-Nazi tracts in late 1942 and early 1943. Members of the group were caught in the act of distributing one of the pamphlets, were arrested, tried and summarily executed. Eventually the Gestapo tracked down the remaining members of the group and all were executed.

I found this story inspirational, as opposed to the other books I bought which focused on the tragedy of the Holocaust. While the narrative is straight forward, the book did an excellent job of taking you into the motivations and growth in the members of the group, the events which inspired them, and the reasons behind their decision to act. Unlike the millions of Germans who witnessed the events unfolding in Nazi Germany and rationalized them, finding reasons not to act, this group of young men and one women held onto their independent judgement, formed their own conclusions, and once convinced of the immorality of the regime decided that they must do something to try to counter it.

Educated children of a liberal father who detested the Nazi's, Sophie's brother Hans, the key leader of The White Rose, served in the Hitler Youth as a boy until becoming disillusioned with its focus on propaganda, hypocrisy and rejection of even rational discourse. Strong-headed Sophie spoke up when she disagreed with the party line and quickly rejected its tenets. Both witnessed Nazi book burnings of the literature they so loved. Though she became a member of the group late in its development it is through Sophie's sensibilities and early writings that one begins to understand the mind of The White Rose. Her words are incredible, and inspirational, rivaling the sense of life of Rand. From a high school journal entry,

I could shout for joy that I am so alone, with the wild, rough wind drenching my body. I'd like to be on a raft, standing upright above the gray river, whose hurrying water the wind cannot disturb... The sun comes out and kisses me tenderly. I'd like to kiss it back, but I forget that immediately because now the wind has leaped on me. I sense the wonderful firmness of my body; I laugh out loud for joy because I can offer the wind such resistance. I feel such strength in me.

The members of the White Rose are models of integrity, independent thought, and the belief that one must act upon ones values in order to be happy. As Sophie wrote in her diary,

After all, one should have the courage to believe only in what is good. By that I do not mean one should believe in illusions. I mean one should do only what is true and good an take it for granted that others will do the same.

The White Rose published only 6 pamphlets in two phases, the first four in the summer of 1942, and the last two after the male members returned from a tour of duty as medics on the Eastern Front, in Winter of 1943. The wrote the tracts themselves and published them on a hidden, hand-cranked mimeograph. The first phase of pamphlets were published each in the hundreds and mailed randomly to people selected from the phone book within Munich. After their return from the front, the members linked up with like-minded groups in other cities, and the last two pamphlets were published in the thousands and the members couriered stashes of pamphlets to other cities for distribution. Hans and Sophie were spotted by a Nazi sympathizer dropping leaflets of the 6th tract from a university window, and they were turned into the Gestapo. They were interrogated, tried and summarily beheaded before their families could even mount a defense.

I was inspired to write of this group because I so often encounter Pragmatists among the ranks of Objectivists. People who believe in the concept that ethics and morality are some sort of survival cost-benefit analysis. That when faced with a mortal threat, life, any sort of life will be preferable to death, and one should act accordingly. To me it's an indication that to value life is to value a certain kind of life and if one dies in the careful attempt to create or preserve that life, that that is preferable to life as a slave. I also loved this story because it highlights the incredible importance of the thing in which The White Rose was dealing, of the importance of ideas. They were not pursued because they were caching arms, or mounting a physical resistance, but because the spread around pieces of paper with ideas on them.

One might look at the fact that the tracts were only published in small numbers and resulted in little immediate outcome and conclude that the acts of The White Rose were merely the futile acts of a suicidal band of idealistic students. But then one reads the following,

News of the White Rose, and the spirit of their resistance, reached the American public as well, despite the blanket of silence and Gestapo intention. On August 2, 1943 -- three weeks after Alexander Schmorell and Kurt Huber had gone under the executioner's blade, an editorial appeared in the New York Times under the title "Young German Martyrs." It concluded with the following words: "... these Munich students, few or many, representative or otherwise, rose gloriously... protesting in the name of principles which Hitler thought he had killed forever. In years to come we, too, may honor [them]."

Once they reached the West, the leaflets of the White Rose were reprinted -- now in the tens of thousands -- and dropped from Allied aircraft over the cities of Germany.

...

The leaflets made people like Thomas Mann, in exile, weep with happiness. For those who read them or heard about them, inside or outside of Germany, they brought a sense of joy that is hard to express. They were testimony to the fact that there were Germans, locked inside the Third Reich's fortress of death, who still cared, who did not look away, who stood up, who fought back.

and can't help but conclude that even small acts, and simple ideas can have a meaningful impact.