Daily Show Sums Up America’s Biggest Problems

I’m usually not one to do a post like this, but this segment of The Daily Show just struck me as near genius. John Oliver, in Jon Stewart’s absence, teams with correspondent Jessica Williams to neatly sum up two of the biggest problems in America in a hilarious and deliciously ironic joke news segment that, as often happens on the show, is more relevant and topical than any other news show on the air.

If you’re short on time, I’d suggest the second video for the crux of the joke.

 

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Rand Rants Part 3: Ayn Rand Defines A Screwdriver

 

Characters:

Me

Ayn Rand

A Screwdriver

 

Me: Hey Ayn, what’s that?

Ayn: Zat is a screwdriver.

Me: Define a screwdriver.

Ayn: It eez a tool vich drives in and pulls out screws.

Me: Well, that describes what it does.  What is it?

Ayn: It eez a tool.

Me: Again, Ayn, ‘tool’ describes the object’s functionality.  What is it?

Ayn: It eez a piece of metal vith a rubber grip.

Me: Ah ah ah, Ayn.  ‘Grip’ also defines its functionality.  If objects exist independent of the subject, you should be able to define this object independent of its usage.

Ayn: Ok ok, it is a piece of metal surrounded by a piece of rubber.

Me: Okay, now define metal and rubber.

Ayn: Zey are substances vith certain properties, such as hard, soft, rigid, maleable, etc.

Me:  Now aren’t you again describing these substances in relation to a subject?

Ayn:  No, zey retain zese properties independent of consciousness.

Me:  But the terms hard and soft are only applicable to my interaction with the substances.  They have varying degrees of resistance to force, but hard and soft implies this degree in relation to a subject, doesn’t it?

Ayn:  Zen how shall I put it?  Zey are substances made up of a specific set of atoms vich gives zem specific properties.

Me:  So objectively, this screwdriver is merely a collection of atoms.

Ayn:  Yes.

Me:  Now is this definition of the object useful to me?

Ayn:  Yes, it allows you to know its true nature.

Me:  But if I’m trying to build a dresser from Ikea, which definition is more useful to me?

Ayn:  Vhat eez Ikea?

Me:  Nevermind.  If I’m trying to build something, is it more useful for me to know that the screwdriver is a collection of specific atoms, or that it drives in and pulls out screws?

Ayn:  Of course the latter is more useful to you, but the object still retains its true nature.

Me:  That’s true, but you claim that objective reality exists independently, and that consciousness and reason are the means by which we understand that reality.

Ayn: Yes.

Me:  But without a high-powered microscope, as well as mountains of other research, no amount of awareness and reason could lead me to the conclusion that this screwdriver is merely a collection of specific atoms.

Screwdriver:  Hey, do I get any say in this?

Ayn:  Shut up screwdriver.  Zis is all irrelevant.  You are a modern man vith knowledge zat all zings around you are made up of atoms.  And even if you veren’t, ze zeory of atomism was arrived at by philosophers using pure reason razer zan experiments and technology.

Me:  This is true, but until this theory was proven, there were conflicting schools of thought about it, and each was logically valid until one was proven right by experimentation.

Ayn: So?

Me:  So consciousness and reason are not our only means to understand reality.  They must be validated by experimentation.

Ayn:  Yes, and experimentation is a product of our reasoning.

Me:  But this means it takes a conscious observer interacting with objects to validate their properties, and hence, their existence.

Ayn: It does, but only to validate it to our consciousness.  The objects retain zese properties vhezer ve validate zem or not.

Me:  Subatomic particles don’t.  They behave differently when they are being observed.

Ayn:  Zis is a fringe field of very complicated science zat is not yet fully understood.

Me:  I agree, and I don’t think that this is indicative of the nature of all reality, yet you must admit that if objects retain their properties independent of consciousness, then these phenomena should not occur.

Ayn:  Ve are just beginning to understand ze nature of zese particles, and laymen’s speculation about zem is hardly progressive.

Me:  But Ayn, these particles are supposed to be the foundation of the objective reality that you claim exists, and if their properties are subject to consciousness, how can you say that all of reality is not?

Ayn:  Ze same vay I make all of my claims:  By simply asserting zat zey are true while providing no reason to believe zem and no argument to the opposing viewpoint.

Me:  That’s what I thought.  Alright, until we meet again, Auf Wiedersehen.

Ayn:  Zat is German, I am Russian.

Me:  Whatever.  Peace.

Rand Rants Part 2: Ignoring the Obvious

Ayn Rand

You’d think it’d be obvious that, when creating a ‘new philosophy,’ that you’d have to provide some argument against the obvious and inherent alternative to your philosophy.  Especially when that alternative is 300 years old and a widely held as a philosophical standard.  But when touting their completely unprecedented philosophy they call Objectivism, Rand and Peikof don’t even address the obvious opposition to this philosophy, Subjectivism.  From the Wikipedia page:

“Subjectivism is the philosophical tenet that “our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience”.[1] The success of this position is historically attributed to Descartes and his methodic doubt.”

Along with basically inventing graphs, Descartes laid the groundwork for modern philosophy, basing his technique on methodic doubt, something Rand and Peikof seem to have been born without.  He called into question every knowledge claim that he could think of, and ultimately determined that he could only know for certain that he exists, because he can doubt these claims.  Hence his famous line, “I think, therefore I am.”  Every other facet of his existence and perception was subject to some degree of doubt, and so cannot be said to be wholly true.  Yet Rand and Peikof claim, without providing any argument against his reasoning, that reality exists objectively, independent of consciousness.

Along with completely ignoring, while at the same time opposing, Descartes’ subjectivism, Rand and Peikof completely ignore subjective experience as part of their logical equations.  Their attempt to prove the axiom of existence, through the character of John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, goes something like this:

“If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness.”

Sound logic yes?  But the something of which you must be conscious is not objective reality.  Descartes is quite clear that the only thing of which he is conscious is his own thoughts.  What we are aware of is the experience of our senses, i.e. subjective experience.  Whether or not the data gathered from our senses corresponds to objects that exist independently, is something that Descartes showed as clearly dubious.  We know that we cannot always trust our senses, and we also know that what we actually experience is our brains’ interpretation of that data, not the data itself.  But Rand and Peikof need not doubt these things, because they simply know them.  They are axioms, and hence unquestionable.  Even though the father of modern philosophy saw fit to question them, according to Rand, we don’t need to at all.

Rand Rants Part 1: Objecting to Objectivism

There’s a debate going on on Dan O’Brian’s blog The Search for Truth about Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.  I had never read much by or about Ayn Rand, but this debate sparked my interest, mainly because I had no idea that she dabbled in pure philosophy.  And by dabble, I mean she dips her toes in just enough to get wet and then says she went swimming.  The more I read of her ‘philosophy,’ the more I want to bring her back from the dead just to slap her across the face.  Yet for some reason, I can’t stop reading it; it’s like picking at a scab.  It’s frustrated me so much that I’ve come back from a short hiatus just to write a series of posts strictly dedicated to deconstructing every facet of her flawed ‘logic.’  I’m not sure how many I’ll write, depending on how soon this rage wares off, but hopefully it will be more than just this one.  If these posts seem a bit unorganized and ranting, I apologize, but that’s just the kind of thing someone like her does to my ADD-addled brain.  It’s hard to even pick a place to begin with her, but I suppose it’s best to start at the foundation of her self-proclaimed ‘new philosophy.’

When introducing her philosophy, Rand audaciously claims that it is unprecedented and entirely of her own conjuring, which should be a huge red flag to anyone interested in philosophy.  She also claims that it is a philosophy based entirely on reason, and that reasoning is the only way a person makes sense of the world, so it seems odd that she doesn’t even consider that another person could reasonably come to the same conclusions she has, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  Rand calls her entirely new and revolutionary philosophy ‘Objectivism,’ opting against ‘Randism’ as Mike Wallace suggests in his 1959 interview with her (though it wouldn’t be out of character for her).  Objectivism is based on three propositions that Rand claims are ‘axioms.’  This an extremely convenient way to start a philosophical discussion, because an axiom, by definition, cannot be called into question.  By claiming these propositions are axioms, besides kicking logic squarely in the scrotum, Rand evades the very line of questioning that would unravel her entire philosophy.  Let’s take a look at each of these ‘axioms’ in depth, and see if they are in fact unquestionable.

The first axiom is the axiom of existence.  The simplest explanation of this axiom that Rand provides is “Existence exists.”  This is a bafflingly muddled and ultimately meaningless statement for several reasons.  If Rand means existence as ‘the state of existing,’ then the statement is definitively untrue.  ‘Existence’ by definition does not have the attributes of itself, i.e. can’t exist or not exist.  If we start to argue for or against the existence of existence, then we end up in a grammatical conundrum of endless meaninglessness, so let’s hop off that train right now.  Rand clarifies this axiom in The Objectivist Newsletter (1962) by stating, “Reality exists as an objective absolute – facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes, or fears.”  This seems to be Rand’s attempt to completely disregard the entire branch of philosophy known as metaphysics.  The objective existence of reality may be one of the oldest questions of philosophy, and one that has yet to be definitively answered, except by Rand’s own volition.  To claim this proposition to be true beyond question is to completely undermine the works of Aristotle, DesCartes, Kant, Russell, and of course, our boy Wittgenstein, just to name a few.  The second part of the statement just shows more of Rand’s ignorance, as well as her tendency to generalize all opposition to her theory as superstition.  If she were a real philosopher, that statement might have gone something like ‘facts are the case independent of consciousness,’ which is just untrue.  Facts do not exist in objective reality.  A fact is something understood by a mind.  The fact that a cup is blue is not a physical object.  The cup is a physical object, blue is a certain wavelength of light, but the blueness of the cup is something understood by a conscious observer.  Leonard Peikoff, a Rand acolyte who is much more well-versed in philosophy than herself, clarifies even further, stating, “If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms.”  This is logically true, but it does not prove the objective existence of reality.  If I hallucinate an object, then I am conscious of something that doesn’t exist.  You could argue that the object exists as a construct of my consciousness, and so exists in reality, but this is not the ‘objectively absolute’ reality that Rand claims exists.

The second axiom is that of consciousness.  It’s at this point that anyone who’s read even a little bit of philosophy would throw their hands up in frustration.  These first two axioms combined completely contradict Cartesian Dualism, arguably the most widely-held philosophy of mind, without directly addressing it or providing any kind of argument against it.  Once again, Rand states these as axioms to avoid any such discussion, and fails to see that in an objectively absolute reality, consciousness cannot exist.  Rand also claims that existence has primacy over consciousness, that consciousness conforms to existence.  Again, providing no evidence or reasoning, she and her lackey Peikoff claim this as axiomatic, and that any philosophy that claims the primacy of consciousness is mystical, superstitious mumbo jumbo, despite the overwhelming evidence that consciousness does in fact directly affect reality.

The final axiom is the law of identity.  This is a law of logic set down by Aristotle, and may be the only actual axiom of the three.  The law of identity is that “A is A,” that a thing is itself.  This is foundational for defining logic and is hardly new to philosophy, though Rand and her devil’s advocate Peikoff claim that “You have never grasped the meaning of his statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.”  And the audacity continues.  With not even a morsel of respect for any thinker since Aristotle, Peikoff claims, based on Rand’s teachings, that no one has fully understood this basic and not-at-all-hard-to-understand principle of logic.  They use this axiom to neatly tie together all three into an absurd and unfounded statement that defines their entire philosophy, and which, according to them, is not subject to debate.

Stay tuned for more ranting about this non-philosophic philosophy and its self-obsessed and deluded founder. 🙂