Saturday, July 11, 2009

OCON Final Days

It’s been a long week.

Saturday afternoon, and my optional courses are completed. I’m going to crash the closing dance tonight, and then quickly pack as my flight out is early tomorrow. Not much to update but here are the remainders:

  1. Peter Schwartz gave a great lecture on the role of the free unfettered mind as part of a free market. Peter is a marvelous speaker and specializes in analyzing key controversial topics such as multi-culturalism, and libertarianism. He did this topic justice, literally!
  2. Harry Binswanger completed his two part series on the nature of objectivity. In this lecture he analyzes the subjectivism/intrisicism/objectivism trichotomy and then illustrated the disastrous effects effects of subjectivism and intrisicism and the redeeming value of objectivity in various fields including ethics, law, art, and politics. He offered to illustrate the same in baseball, but alas we didn’t get to hear it. Binswanger is a master of epistemological concepts, especially at showing their immediate relevance to real life actions and current events.

Social

  1. Diana’s Obloggers dinner was a success, with such notable bloggers attending as C. August of Titanic Deck Chairs, the husband and wife duo of One Reality and 3 Ring Binder, Gus Van Horn, TOS’s Criag Biddle, and new blogger Rational Egoist’s Jason Crawford in addition to Paul (GeekPress) and Diana (Noodlefood). We burned the midnight oil back at the hotel discussing all sorts of topics!

Beyond that I’m exhausted, but in the good way. I’m looking forward to the flight back and a little bit of downtime before work on Monday. Also, next week is the week of my move so plenty of other excitement going on. Within a week or so I’ll be calling Philadelphia home.

Thanks to everyone I met! What a great time, filled with intellectual discussion, fun and food. See you Vegas next year!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

OCON Day 6 & 7

It’s Thursday afternoon and I’m parked at the Seaport enjoying some downtime between classes. I find that, as an introvert, I get drained by continued interactions with others and have to recharge my batteries periodically, so I’ve got the iPod plugged into my brain and thought I’d post another entry. These are discussions of Session 2 courses

Academic

  1. Greg Salmieri gave his first OCON general session presentation. His talk focused on the role of man’s mind in Atlas Shrugged. Specifically he focused on two classes of action, productiveness and valuing. Excellent talk. While most people could easily point to Atlas as an example of productiveness in action, the act of valuing, at least in Rand’s conception of it is harder. I think her conception of valuing is a very unique perspective, specifically as active rather than contemplative
  2. John Allison, former CEO of BB&T, gave a rousing talk detailing how philosophy enters into the core values of BB&T and how BB&T operationalizes those values. It’s stunning to see the success that BB&T has had over Allison’s 20 year tenure and the operationalization of these values is certainly one driver of that success.
  3. I’m taking two history courses this session. The first is Eric Daniels “History of Religion in America” which examines what the role of religion has been in America both prior to and after the founding. The second is John Lewis’ “History of Archaic Greece” which looks at the period of Greece’s infancy, prior to the Classical Period. both are excellent courses, and I think that Daniel’s course contains analysis relevant to today, while Lewis’ course is a bit more enjoyment and part of a larger series on Greek history.
  4. I’m taking Ellen Kenner’s course on psychological visibility in relationships and in Atlas Shrugged. I think that this principle is a fundamental principle for evaluating and enhancing personal relationships, and this course is excellent. If you’ve not been exposed to the thinking here, I highly recommend it.
  5. Finally, last night was the academic panel where key Objectivist academics discussing their activities in academia. I twittered this even heavily and it’s worth looking at the detailed points if you want to build your enthusiasm. Three years ago, academics were talking about trying to place Objectivist philosophers in academia and scratching to get a seat at the table. Today, there are several Objectivist philosophers at key universities, and active dialogue with non-Objectivist philosophers on Rand’s ideas.

Social

  1. Tonight is Diana Hsieh’s Obloggers dinner, and I’m looking forward to seeing many of my fellow bloggers!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

OCON Days 3,4 & 5

Session 1 is over. Session 2 began this morning. I’m going to limit my comments to the material in session 1, and pick up session 2 in a few days. My crow is overloaded and I’m blogging on break so I’ve got to unload now, as there’ll be more coming right behind.

Coursework

  1. Biddle course on Rights and Metaphysical law: still superb, still highly recommended
  2. Tara Smith followed up her first General session presentation with a second one on the significant threat of Non-Objective Law. This course was more technical in nature and paralleled her talk last year on the menace of Pragmatism. Bottom line is that non-Objective Law is a danger, not simply because it fails to provide for the protection of individual rights, but that it enables and activates their destruction.
  3. Harry Binswanger is the king of teasing out the intricacies of epistemology and highlighting the absolute necessity for good epistemology on downstream ethics. His lecture dealing with the nature of Objectivity is no exception.

Social / Personal

  1. I’ve met several fellow Obloggers and OAC students, many of whom I’ve only known virtually up until now. This includes Reasonpharm’s Stella Daily, Titanic Deck Chair’s C August, the husband and wife team of One Reality and Three Ring Binder. The OAC students met up at a mixer a few nights ago which also served as graduation ceremony for 4th year students. 
  2. I’d have mentioned Galileo Blogs’ Ray Niles in the above, but he deserves a note of his own as he’s also my roommate and a significant source of intellectual discussion.
  3. Due to my lighter schedule in Session 1 I had 2 afternoons entirely free so I availed myself of the hotel facilities and obtained a massage, steam bath, and an hour or so by the pool reading Tolstoy. Yesterday I went over to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and spent a very enjoyable afternoon exploring. Highlights include Leighton’s Painter’s Honeymoon, John Singer Sargent’s Daughters of E.D. Boit, and Monteverde’s Columbus as a Boy.
  4. Just a side note, I decided to use my netbook for taking notes, and it has surpassed all my expectations. I can take notes very effectively, and with roaming wireless access from the hotel Twitter in real time. Battery life is exceptional as long as I cut processor speed and screen brightness, and the weight of my briefcase is significantly less. The only downside is that my fountain pens which I dearly love using are seeing little use.
  5. Finally, I’ve had a large number of conversations both light, and technical with various persons throughout the conference. Highlights include a discussion with Prof. Doug Altner regarding the status of Objectivist economists, and more coaching from Diana Hsieh on blogging and her experience running a multi-contributor blog.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

OCON – Day 1 & 2

It’s lunch time on Day two of 2009 Objectivist Conference. I had intended to blog daily but alas, yesterday was so full, I’ve not gotten to the post until today. In essence that is the theme concretized. This is my third conference and what always amazes me is the level of intellectual stimulation, through presentations, dinners, and the casual side conversations that arise spontaneously.

Highlights from the first few days of Session #1

Lectures

  1. Craig Biddle’s course on Metaphysical Law and Moral Rights. This is a phenomenal course. Biddle essentially develops Rand’s basis for individual rights, as contrasted with the Founders. In essence day 1 he analyzed the philosophical basis behind the lines in the Declaration of Independence, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights…” Self-evidency and endowment by their creator are not accidents. They trace back to Locke in his ideas of “natural law” and Jefferson’s conception of “moral sense.” Starting with Day 2 he masterfully develops Rand’s contrasting basis for rights from the facts of reality. Biddle’s case is clear and well presented, and I highly recommend this course.
  2. Dr. Tara Smith’s lecture on Atlas Shrugged, entitled No Room for Ceasar: Good and Evil in Atlas Shrugged examines the either / or nature of key hero’s decisions in Atlas Shrugged. It is a powerful look at how the facts of reality give rise to absolute decisions, and how one cannot shirk from making those types of decisions in leading a fulfilling life.
  3. Finally, today Dr. Onkar Ghate presents a tremendous analysis of the philosophical basis of the “separation between church and state” essentially articulating what is meant by the term, and tracing it’s roots back to Locke’s proper conception of rights, and the role of government and the church. He then illustrates how both today’s religionists (“freedom of religion”), and secularists (“freedom from religion”)make incorrect and unfounded arguments for the meaning of this separation. Dr. Ghate is brilliant and this lecture shows it. Highly recommended!

Themes

A few themes I see in this year’s conference

    • Several courses are analyzing Locke’s influence on philosophy. Biddle examines Locke’s incorrect conceptions of natural law, and the divine basis for rights, while Dr. Ghate examines his very well formulated concept of the separation between church and state.
    • The courses are increasingly presented in a way that does not require a background in Objectivism to be clear. Biddle’s development of Rand’s idea of rights is inductively based and relies at each step upon observations of the facts of reality.
    • The passion exuded by both speakers and the attendees gives on a sense of how importantly ideas are taken, and how clearly and powerfully those ideas are presented. Whether its Tara Smith forcefully entreating us to commit to live our own lives, or Craig Biddle beginning to tear up as he relates the story of an 11 year-old girl whom the FDA restricted from obtaining experimental cancer drugs, as a way to show that force is anti-life, you see real concrete evidence of the power of ideas and philosophy in living on earth.

Social

  1. Opening Banquet. I always go to this, as it’s a great chance to meet everyone at the start of the conference, and to meet new people as well. I had a great dinner with Paul and Diana Hsieh, and fellow OAC classmate Brian Olive. Paul and I continued a discussion we’d started via email on methods and tips to help get some of my newly written op-eds published.
  2. Dinners. I had dinner last night with my roomy Ray Niles, Richard and Lisa Salsman, and John Lewis and his wife. It was fantastic! Good food, good wine and certainly fantastic intellectual conversation.
  3. I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet several objectivists who I knew only online or who were fellow OAC students. It’s always a pleasure to meet people who I’ve only known electronically, and finally put a personality to the ideas we’ve exchanged.

Communications

Just a quick reminder that there should be several bloggers posting on Ocon as well. I saw Paul Hsieh writing a post in lecture just this morning so Noodlefood should have something new. Also, multiple OCON attendees including myself are Twittering their activities at OCON. You can follow them all if you look for the #OCON tag.

Friday, July 03, 2009

OCON

Quick note for those of you who’ve missed me. I’m at the 2009 Objectivist Conference in Boston, and plan to blog some highlights from it during the conference. Stay tuned!