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Interesting Quotes

Quick Hits 2/27/2010

Amit Ghante makes an excellent point about the FDA in reviewing a NYT article about the accessibility and cost of experimental medical treatments:  “If drug companies had the right to sell and market experimental drugs, and patients the right to take them, all of the (man-made) problems, and many of the costs and delays cited in the article would vanish.”

Seth Godin writes “Genius is the act of solving a problem in a way no one has solved it before…It’s about using human insight and initiative to find original solutions that matter.”

In light of Citigroup’s appointment of former Mexican President and economist Ernesto Zedillo to his board, I wonder, if an American company is serious about becoming international [as I had advised Sallie to do], should it add foreign members of the board as a catalyst to that transition?  Is that boots on the ground experience needed for oversight, strategic planning, and contacts?

Colbert King presents an analysis about how WH chief of staff Rahm Emanuel threw the President under the bus. This indictment should be expanded to include most all congressional Dems, who in their role as superdelegates selected Obama to be their congressional spokesmodel and now publicly blame him for the failures of their legislative initiatives.

Nik Steinberg, of Human Rights Watch, writes “Under Cuba’s ‘dangerousness’ law, authorities can imprison people who have not committed a crime on the suspicion that they might commit one in the future. ‘Dangerous’ activities include handing out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, writing articles critical of the government and trying to start an independent union.”  Consider this in the context of CNN not actually reporting from its Havana bureau and the Obama Administration’s tendency to thaw our relations with Cuba.  Sanctioning American tourism to a country which can arrest individuals arbitrarily when they exercise their fundamental right to free speech does not sound like a well thought out policy.

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President George Washington’s First State Of the Union Address

In light of President Obama’s recent State of the Union Address, I decided to revisit the first State of the Union Address from President George Washington.

By my reading, President Washington’s address was less than 9 minutes long.  While it has become a modern convenience that the presidential budget address and state of the union address be combined, the first state of the union focuses on the highest priorities and lacks the laundry list of spending initiatives that we see on TV.

My favorite part of President Washington’s address expounded upon the importance of knowledge and education as a foundation for our experiment in free government:

Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness. In one in which the measures of government receive their impressions so immediately from the sense of the community as in ours it is proportionably essential.

To the security of a free constitution it contributes in various ways – by convincing those who are intrusted with the public administration that every valuable end of government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people, and by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; between burdens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of society; to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness – cherishing the first, avoiding the last – and uniting a speedy but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws.

Today, when we gaze into the maul of the federal Leviathan, we should understand that it is the failure of our education system that has accelerated our decay by lobotomizing the citizenry.

While the full text of President Washington’s address is available on-line, I have created a video with a reading of that speech.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ch358YiTvQ]

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Not An Emergency, but A Suicide Attempt

Are our current economic problems an emergency?  Politicians in both parties have said so and claimed that we have to abandon principles, act for the sake of action, and when those actions fail we must blindly act again.

In “The Ethics of Emergencies” [Virtue of Selfishness, p. 47], Ayn Rand wrote:

An emergency is an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible—such as a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a shipwreck.  In an emergency situation, men’s primary goal is to combat the disaster, escape the danger and restore normal conditions (to reach dry land, to put out the fire, etc.)…The principle that one should help men in an emergency cannot be extended to regard all human suffering as an emergency and to turn the misfortune of some into a first mortgage on the lives of others.

How does this relate to the current situation perplexing our befuddled President Obama?

First, this situation was chosen.  For decades, our government has pursued policies using force in an effort to make contradictions facts.  Through careful deliberation by legislators, planning by the executive, and the participation of the electorate, we chose to create this problem.  Sarbanes-Oxley, the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac…by our choices, we chose our consequences.

Second, this situation was expected.  Attempts by government to use force to violate fundamental contract rights have certain consequences.  History has demonstrated this fact.  It is not a question of if but when they will be felt.  The consequences of our policies were identified by Aristotle millennia ago…didn’t you get the memo on political degeneration?  Fools may claim that they did not know, but evasion does not mitigate their crime.

Third, this situation is not a function of time.  True, it will end in some fashion, at some point, but it will do so as a consequence of our choices.  Having failed to properly identify government’s role in causing this problem, our politicians proscribe poison as a cure.  Continued evasion of facts will extend the duration and escalate the intensity of our previous mistaken choices’ consequences .

Fourth, in misidentifying our present circumstance as an emergency, our politicians have hijacked what would be a reasonable response to an emergency and misdirected it towards an illegitimate political end.  We have a bipartisan consensus that force by government is a practical way to achieve altruistic moral ends, subordinating the individual to the needs of others.

This orgy of sacrifice characterized the Bush Administration’s rhetoric.  Our last election was a choice between a candidate that said that individuals should be immediately forced to sacrifice to others (Obama), and another that said that such force should only be used after individuals failed to volunteer themselves for sacrifice (McCain).  As elections have consequences, it should be no surprise that our President and Congress have accelerated the rate of compelled sacrifice as chosen by the electorate.

Fifth, as this situation continues to degenerate in response to ill-conceived government interventions, we risk creating a condition in which human survival is impossible, a political cannibalism of the weak feasting on the strong.  This gets to the heart of naming the nature of our current economic problems; we are not experiencing an emergency but instead a suicide attempt.

Contrary to the protestations of our pragmatic leaders, now is precisely the time that we need to act according to principle.  In directing government action, this means refocusing on the fundamental question posed by Socrates, “What is Justice?”  In the political context, the answer is the protection of individual rights.  In order to save our lives and our republic, the Congress must begin by undoing what it has previously done in violation of that principle.

Update 3/14/2009:  Dr. Hurd has an excellent post on our current problems.  He writes in part:

Human beings possess free will, and there’s nothing inevitable about decline or disaster. The only inevitability is that stupid and wrong ideas–consistently practiced–will always lead to decline and disaster. That, in fact, is what is reaching its climax today, right before our very eyes, with stunning clarity. Reality is crashing down upon us, for all the reasons it must have–for reasons only a few of us dare (as of yet) name aloud. But people can correct and change wrong ideas.

Update 3/17/2009:  I have converted this post into a YouTube video:

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuCa4vWW5c8″]

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So Help Me God

Historian Peter Henriques presents an interesting examination of the anachronism of attributing George Washington as the source for appending ’So help me God’ to the presidential oath of office. As Henriques reports, it was Chester A. Arthur, in 1881, who made the first documented utterance.

Interesting to me, as evidence contrary to Newt Gingrich’s assertion of a modern liberal attack on God in public life, Henriques cites Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story from a publication in 1833 on the constitutional prohibition of religious tests for office.

Having found the relevant statements from Story on page 307 in my edition of Story‘s A Familiar Exposition of The Constitution of the United States, let me provide a fuller context, which supports Henriques points:

The remaining part of the clause declares, that “no religious test shall ever be required, as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This clause is recommended by its tendency to satisfy the minds of many delicate and scrupulous persons, who entertain great repugnance to religious tests, as a qualification for civil power or honor. But it has a higher aim in the Constitution. It is designed to cut off every pretence of an alliance between the Church and the State, in the administration of the National Government. The American people were too well read in the history of other countries, and had suffered too much in their colonial state, not to dread the abuses of authority resulting from religious bigotry, intolerance, and persecution. They knew but too well, that no sect could be safely trusted with power on such a subject; for all had in turns wielded it to the injury, and sometimes to the destruction, of their inoffensive, but, in their judgement, erring neighbors. And we shall presently see, that, by an amendment to the Constitution [the First Amendment], evils of this sort in the National Government are still more effectively guarded against.

Ironically, my edition of Story’s work was published by the same company that published Newt Gingrich’s unchristian and unrepublican attack on secular authority found in his book Winning the Future.

Are Americans still so well read in history as to obstruct the ascension of faith-based power-lusters, who in the name of their God would restrain our liberty?

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Hatred of the Good

A friend recently described what she considered an odd but common experience at work. She found that her bosses and peers resented her for being productive and increasing the firm’s revenue.

It is called the hatred of the good for being good. Ayn Rand described it as follows:

Today, we live in the Age of Envy.

‘Envy’ is not the emotion I have in mind, but it is the clearest manifestation of an emotion that had remained nameless; it is the only element of a complete emotional sum that men have permitted themselves to identify.

Envy is regarded by most people as a petty, superficial emotion and, therefore, it serves as a semihuman cover for so inhuman an emotion that those who feel it seldom dare admit it even to themselves. Mankind has lived with it, has observed its manifestations and, to various extents, has been ravaged by it for countless centuries, yet has failed to grasp its meaning and to rebel against its exponents.

Today, that emotion is the leitmotif, the sense of life of our culture. It is all around us, we are drowning in it, it is almost explicitly confessed by its more brazen exponents–yet men continue to evade its existence and are peculiarly afraid to name it, as primitive people were once afraid to pronounce the name of the devil.

That emotion is: hatred of the good for being the good.

This hatred is not resentment against some prescribed view of the good with which one does not agree. For instance, if a child resents some conventional type of obedient boy who is constantly held up to him as an ideal to emulate, this is not hatred of the good: the child does not regard that boy as good, and his resentment is the product of a clash between his values and those of his elders (though he is too young to grasp the issue in such terms). Similarly, if an adult does not regard altruism as good and resents the adulation bestowed upon some ‘humanitarian,’ this is clash between his values and those of others, not hatred of the good.

Hatred of the good for being the good means hatred of that which one regards as good by one’s own (conscious or subconscious) judgment. It means hatred of a person for possessing a value or virtue one regards as desirable.

If a child wants to get good grades in school, but is unable or unwilling to achieve them and begins to hate the children who do, that is hatred of the good. If a man regards intelligence as a value, but is troubled by self-doubt and begins to hate the men he judges to be intelligent, that is hatred of the good. (A. Rand, “The Age of Envy”, The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, p. 152-3).

In his study _Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap, and Others Don’t_, Jim Collins identified the organizational benefits of eliminating this emotion, although he does not make that identification himself. He says that “Good is the Enemy of Great”, by which he means that good enough prevents the realization of full potential. Another thing he found was that for an organization to become great that getting the right people and getting rid of the wrong people is essential; the people you describe were the type to get rid of. The organizational reason is that these individuals undermine what he calls the Hedgehog Concept, which is focuses on passion, excellence, and drivers of success.

In contrast to the hatred of the good, in his book _Prime Movers: Traits of the Great Wealth Creators_, Edwin Locke makes the case that virtue is the key to success. Further, the Prime Movers he examines are lovers of ability in others.

In the close of her essay, Rand provides guidance on the appropriate response to those that hate the good for being good:

What is the weapon one needs to fight such an enemy? For once, it is I who will say that love is the answer–love in the actual meaning of the word, which is the opposite of the meaning they give it–love as a response to value, love of the good for being the good. If you hold on to the vision of any value you love–your mind, your work, your wife or husband, or your child–and remember that that is what the enemy is after, your shudder of rebellion will give you the moral fire, the courage and the intransigence needed in this battle. What fuel can support one’s fire? Love for man at his highest potential. (Ibid., p 186)

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Hierarchy

In his lecture “How to Study Ayn Rand’s Writings” (available on tape), Harry Binswanger sited how important it is to consider the word choice and order in Rand’s writing as such selections are purposeful for communicating the ideas fully.

With the phrase “reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement” there are four elements that I notice: (1) it is a list, (2) there is no conjunction, (3) the order of words seems important, and (4) in Objectivist epistemology, there concepts omit specific measures so they could exist in varying degrees. In total, I see a continuum with each subsequent concept depending on the preceding concept; further, the degree or measure of the subsequent concept is dependent on the preceding concept.

Without Reason, there is no Justice; without Justice, there is no Freedom; without Freedom, there is no Production; without Production, there is no Achievement.

Further, as Reason increases, Justice can increase; as Justice increases, Freedom can increase; as Freedom increase, Production can increase; as Production increases, Achievement can increase.

However, as Reason decreases Justice, Freedom, Production, and Achievement will all decrease.

In American politics today, the liberals and conservative both start with Justice but ignore Reason as it would invalidate their revealed truth standard of Justice. Libertarians begin with Freedom and ignore not only Reason but also Justice. Orthodox Marxists began with Production and fudged the rest by working backwards from the consequences.

This hierarchy reminds me of a stepped pyramid, like those at Tulum. Further, it is reminiscent of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need in structure; however, it offers a view of man which is very different from Maslow. If it is a competing hierarchy, is it of values, of virtues, of what?

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Follow The Money

For many years now I have been fascinated by the implication of the list: reason, justice, freedom, production, and achievement. Not because they contain some revealed truth, but just the opposite. They simply organize a natural relationship of concepts that are essential to not only revitalizing what America’s Founders had started, but in surpassing them in the realization of the promise in those words.

Where did this list come from? It was articulated in Francisco’s Money Speech in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. The speech was a response to the false assertion that money is the root of all evil. Relevant to the purpose of this blog and this list of words, Francisco responds:Â

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    You stand in the midst of the greatest achievements of the greatest productive civilization and you wonder why it’s crumbling around you, while you’re damning its life-blood—money. You look upon money as the savages did before you, and you wonder why the jungle is creeping back to the edge of your cities. Throughout men’s history, money was always seized by looters of one brand or another, whose names changed, but whose method remained the same: to seize wealth by force and to keep the producers bound, demeaned, defamed, deprived of honor. That phrase about the evil of money, which you mouth with such righteous recklessness, comes from a time when wealth was produced by the labor of slaves—slaves who repeated the motions once discovered by somebody’s mind and left unimproved for centuries. So long as production was ruled by force, and wealth was obtained by conquest, there was little to conquer, Yet through all the centuries of stagnation and starvation, men exalted the looters, as aristocrats of the sword, as aristocrats of birth, as aristocrats of the bureau, and despised the producers, as slaves, as traders, as shopkeepers—as industrialists.ÂÂÂ

    To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money—and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. [Ayn Rand, “Francisco’s Money Speech“,ÂAtlas Shrugged; via Capitalism Magazine]

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Don’t Let It Go

One of the last things Ayn Rand worked on before her death was planning a collection of essays that would be published as Philosophy: Who Needs It. The collection begins with her address to the graduating class at West Point in 1974, and ends with her 1971 essay “Don’t Let It Go.” This final essay attempted to predict Americas future based upon an assessment of its present course of action, conscious convictions, and sense of life. This essay concludes:

Can this country achieve a peaceful rebirth in the foreseeable future? By all precedents, it is not likely. But America is an unprecedented phenomenon. In the past, American perseverance became, on occasion, too long-bearing a patience. But when Americans turned, they turned. What may happen to the welfare state is what happened to the Prohibition Amendment.

Is there enough of the American sense of life left in people under the constant pressure of the cultural-political efforts to obliterate it? It is impossible to tell. But those of us who hold it, must fight for it. We have no alternative: we cannot surrender this country to a zero—to men whose battle cry is mindlessness.

We cannot fight against collectivism, unless we fight against its moral base: altruism. We cannot fight against altruism, unless we fight against its epistemological base: irrationalism. We cannot fight against anything, unless we fight for something—and what we must fight for is the supremacy of reason, and a view of man as a rational being.

These are philosophical issues. The philosophy we need is a conceptual equivalent of America’s sense of life. To propagate it, would require the hardest intellectual battle. But isn’t that a magnificent goal to fight for? [A. Rand, “Don’t Let It Go”, Philosophy: Who Needs It (New York: New American Library, 1982), p. 214-215.]

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Contest: Name That Statist!

In his work on George Washington, biographer Douglas Southall Freeman made an interesting observation regarding Gen. Charles Lee during his parole preceding the prisoner exchange of him and the British Gen. Richard Prescott.

“If any change had occurred it was of the sort that disposes a prisoner or invalid to be autocratic and to covet more power than usual because he has been exercising less.” [D. S. Freeman, Washington (New York: Touchstone, 1968), p. 386]

The preceding quote reminds me of a certain Senator, who having run once for his party’s nomination appears to be seeking the Presidency again, having a character that seeks to limit individual rights (including free speech), especially when its exercise would frustrate his effort to maintain an autocratic rule of whim in his reign over American commerce through the committee he chairs.

Can you name this villain?

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All or Nothing

With Easter coming up, I came across an interesting passage by Craig Biddle about a church father named Tertullian defending the belief in the resurrection of Christ from arguments against it by Marcion.

    Marcion had argued that it is irrational to believe that Christ had been resurrected. Tertullian’s argument is that if Christians deny Christ’s resurrection on the grounds that it is irrational to accept it, then Christianity is doomed. The Bible is full of impossible events and contradictions; if Christians reject one biblical idea on the grounds that it is irrational, then they have to reject all the irrational ideas in the Bible. If it is false that Christ was resurrected, writes Tertullian: “False, therefore, is our faith also.” So he takes the bull by the horns: “[T]he Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible.” [Craig Biddle, “A Matter of Scholarship“, Feb. 2005 ]

As I was earlier reading some Christian attacks on evolution in the Capitalism Forum, there were some interesting parallels to this quote. Evasion is a necessary tool of anyone attempting to live based upon a revealed truth without reference to reality, and thus they blank out their mind.

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