Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘pragmatism’

It was an old fashioned frame building, this headquarters of the great Danagger Coal Company. Somewhere in the hills beyond the window were the pits where Ken Danagger had once worked as a miner. He had never moved his office away from the coal fields.

When she glanced at the clock on the wall of the anteroom, she caught the secretary glancing at it at the same time. Her appointment was for three o’clock; the white dial said 3:03.

“Please forgive it, Miss Taggart,” said the secretary, Mr. Danagger will be through any moment now. Please believe me, this is unprecedented.”

When she raised her head to glance at the clock again, the dial said 3:06. Dagny looked at the closed door of Danagger’s office. She could hear the sound of a voice beyond the door, but so faintly that she could not tell whether it was the voice of one man or the conversation of two.

“How long has Mr. Danagger been in conference?” she asked.

“Since a few minutes before three,” said the secretary grimly. “It was an unscheduled caller.”

The door was not locked, thought Dagney; she felt an unreasoning desire to tear it open and walk in. She realized that she was thinking of Hugh Akston. She had emailed him at his diner in Wyoming. The email had bounced back from a new spam filter. She told herself angrily that this had no connection with the present moment and that she had to control her nerves.

Dagny asked the secretary slowly, as a demand, in defiance of office etiquette, “Who is with Mr. Danagger?”

“I don’t know, Miss Taggart. I’ve never seen the gentleman before.”

“Did he give his name?”

“No.”

“What does he look like?”

“I don’t know,” she answered uneasily. “He’s hard to describe. He has a strange face.”

They had been silent for a short while, and the hands of the dial were approaching 3:08 when the buzzer rang on the secretary’s desk — the bell from Danagger’s office, the signal of permission to enter.

They both leaped to their feet, and the secretary rushed forward, smiling with relief, hastening to open the door.

As she entered Danagger’s office, Dagny saw the back exit door closing after the caller who had preceded her. She heard the knock of the door against the jamb and the faint tinkle of the glass panel.

Ken Dannager (from Atlas Shrugged part II)

He did not rise when she entered — he looked as if he had not quite shaken off the reality of the prior caller and had forgotten the proper routine — but he smiled at her with such a sarcastic twist that she found herself smiling in answer.

“How do you do, Miss Taggart,” he said. “Forgive me, I think that I have kept you waiting. Please sit down.”

“I didn’t mind waiting,” she said. “I was exremely anxious to speak to you on a matter of urgent importance. I came to speak to you about your indictment.”

“Oh, that? Don’t worry about that. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to pay off the judge by making a big donation to one of his favorite ‘charities’.”

She sat still, feeling nothing. Her first movement was a sudden jerk of her head toward the exit door; she asked, her voice low, “Who was he?”

Danagger laughed. “I have no idea! Some sales guy I assume. He was apparently talking about some property he wanted me to invest in — Galt’s Gulch, can you believe that? Trying to cash in on that whole ‘Who is…’ meme? He had some kind of rationalistic morals appeal and said it was some kind of perfect Nirvana!”

“Oh God, Danagger!” she moaned.

“You’re wrong, kid,” he said gently. “I know how you feel, but you’re wrong. Oh, it sounded great — like most of those guys sound — but I told him it wasn’t ‘practical’. I have my business here and I’ve spent years building it up, I can’t retire now! I’ve almost paid off my condo and I want to buy that new boat next spring. And I have to think about my kids! I have to get them into the right schools after all!” And at that he laughed.

Dagny nodded.

“I wonder if he was the same guy Wyatt told me about. Some guy hit him up too, trying to get him to burn his oil fields and go to some remote place in Colorado for goodness sake! Wyatt said with his new fracking method he can pull out enough oil in North Dakota to make this entire country energy independent in just over 5 years — well that is if he can get that pipeline built and get the permission to drill in that national park where he says the big deposit is located. And of course, he’s dealing with all the red tape from the EPA and the BLM.  They’re giving him some song and dance about a rare field mouse in the area. But I’m sure they’ll come around, right?”

Danagger just shrugged.

“OH, can you do me a favor. If you’re heading back to your office in the next few days, can you drop this check off in Washington?”

She picked up the check and could see the 5 zeros on the sum next to the words ‘Republican National Committee’.

“What is this?” she asked.

“Oh, just a donation to someone’s favorite ‘charity’ — I want to make sure they get it in time to make good use of it for Christie’s 2016 run against Hillary….

Read Full Post »

The following is an example of an extreme allegorical situation. In that it is an extreme, it serves only as an example scenario to examine a moral premise under more contrasting circumstances.

Imagine you are taken captive by a group of thugs. You are with someone you truly care about deeply and someone who is just a good friend. One of the more sadistic of the thugs tells his comrades to hold you at gun point and to shoot any of you if you ‘try anything funny’.
He somehow managed to figure out that you were closer to one of the people you were with than you were to the other, so he grabs the person you care deeply about and holds his gun to their head. He then reaches down to his belt with his other hand and pulls his knife out of it’s sheath and throws it to your feet. Then he commands you to slit your good friend’s throat or he is going to shoot the person you care deeply about in the head.

What made me bring this up was a combination of a number of people around me arguing in favor of pragmatic decisions combined with a quote I had on my facebook some time back:

“I have learned that I have it in me to be a prick to people who earn that treatment and deserve it, but I do not have it in me to do the ‘wrong’ thing regardless of what someone else does.”

I left the above scenario intentionally unqualified for the most part, but assuming you are well overpowered and doing anything other than what you are told is going to end up in at least the person you care about being shot in the head, and resisting or trying to fight back may well result in all of you ending up dead.

Do you pick up the knife and cut the throat of your friend?  What about if it was someone you didn’t even know well? Would that (or should it even?) make a difference in your decision?

Sometimes using an ‘extreme’ scenario puts things in better focus by drawing the contrasts more vividly between moral rights, moral wrongs, causes and effects. Let’s examine some of the things that are either specified, apparent or implied by this scenario.

  1. Regardless what you do or don’t do, you are being commanded to take a given course of action by someone who is a sadistic thug
  2. This thug wants you to kill someone, something you (should) know is morally wrong
  3. The thug is counting on you to follow his orders because he is holding something you care about ‘more’ hostage to get you to do harm to something you care less about, presumably for his own amusement.

The other thing that made me think of posting this scenario was a quote someone posted today from John Galt’s radio broadcast from the Ayn Rand book, Atlas Shrugged:

“Now that you know the truth about your world, stop supporting your own destroyers. The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it. Withdraw your sanction. Withdraw your support. Do not try to live on your enemies’ terms or to win at a game where they’re setting the rules. Do not seek the favor of those who enslaved you…theirs is a system of white blackmail devised to bleed you not by means of your sins but by means of your love for existence.” – John Galt [from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged]

The point of this analogy is to point out a very extreme case of pragmatism. The reality of the situation is that when you deal in evil or attempt to deal with the irrational, you have no reasonable expectation of a result. If you cut the throat of your friend, not only have you committed a moral wrong, but you only have a passing assurance that no further harm will come to you or the person you care about. All you have done is ‘buy a little time’ while demonstrating that under extreme enough of circumstances, you will do what you are asked to do so long as the stakes are high enough for you to not be willing to accept a potential alternative.

I’m sure most of you can guess as to the other reason I am posting this example. Some of you may think this example is too extreme to be relevant. I admit it is extreme, but only for the sake of pointing out the factors involved in more vivid detail. If a thug holds those you care about at the point of a gun, it is the thug that will bring them to harm one way or another, whether you willingly go along with their insane demands or not.

It is the thug that takes away your choice in such a situation. It is the thug that puts you at risk. It is the thug that poses the threat to the life of the one you love. It always was and it always will be — until you pick up the knife! The question is whether you become evil along with them for the sake of expedience. The question is whether you end up with blood on your hands.

Read Full Post »


If someone has evidence to show how Romney is going to be ‘so much better’ than Obama, please bring it forward. (and because ‘he says so’ is not evidence – I can show you how he says just about anything to garner support)

How is Romney ‘better’?

We can’t say he’ll be better when it comes to national healthcare – he already says he doesn’t intend to get rid of it, he intends to replace it. And Romney said he supports mandates.

We can’t say he’ll end progressive taxation – he’s already said he supports taxing the haves to provide for the have-nots.

We can’t say he won’t be for expanding government, his enacting Romneycare in Massachusetts shows otherwise.

We can’t say he’ll be better at ending cronyism, he’s being funded by many of the same sources as Obama.

We can’t say he’ll be better when it comes to encroaching on rights and liberties…

Romney supports:

Romney is against:

We can’t say he’ll be better when it comes to ending wars. (Romney on Iraq)

So what is he ‘better’ at????

Some have argued that they don’t want to see Obama appointing new justices to the supreme court. Yet when Obamacare came up for a Supreme court challenge, it was Chief Justice Roberts that cast the swing vote in favor of Obamacare – a Bush appointee. One that was endorsed by none other than Mitt Romney.

Ryan as Romney’s VP Choice

Now we are told that Paul Ryan having been chosen for the role of vice president will make all the difference. We are told he is a conservative’s conservative. The media even portrays him as a radical and extremist. But what does Ryan’s record have to show?

Paul Ryan voted for:

  • Tarp
  • the auto bailouts
  • Medicare expansion
  • housing subsidies
  • extending unemployment compensation
  • a national ID card
  • making the Patriot Act permanent
  • the NDAA and surveillance without a warrant
  • No Child Left Behind
  • keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely (and against removing troops from Afghanistan)
  • both the 2008 and 2009 stimulus bills

Ryan’s so called ‘extreme’ budget plan doesn’t even seek to balance the federal budget until the year 2045!

Ahhh, but some say ‘he is a supporter of Rand’ or at least that he mentions the ideas of Ayn Rand and brings them into the forefront of national news. Let’s recall how he last chose to spoke of Ayn Rand:

“I later in life learned about what her philosophy was, it’s called Objectivism. It’s something that I completely disagree with.”- Paul Ryan on Real Clear Politics

The best that objectivists can hope for is that Paul Ryan obtaining the position of vice president will lend validity to his assertion that her ideas are not suitable for government.

So I ask again, R&R is better how? More Rationalization and Recidivist politics?

Read Full Post »

William James - philosopher and author of 'Pragmatism'
For some time I have dubbed myself a ‘theoretical idealist, but a practicable realist’. But at the same time, I am a very staunch denouncer of pragmatism. I was thinking more on the differences between ‘practicable realism’ and ‘pragmatism’ lately and finally hit on a succinct way to describe the difference.

When I say that of myself, what I mean is that I can conceive of the ‘best’ course of action or the ‘best’ possible result in any circumstance, but that I also understand the nature of reality. Reality is such that not only are some results not possible, but in some cases, some courses of action are either not available or not worth pursuing when faced with the potential for success.

When I refer to pragmatism, specifically in my condemnations of it, what I refer to is the practice of placing the most worthiness or value in courses of action that are the likeliest to succeed and/or to produce a desired result. More often than not, ‘likeliest’ also entails, the ‘easiest’ course or the one requiring the least effort to accomplish.  It materializes through cliches such as “the ends justifies the means” and “picking the lesser of two evils” and is often referred to as ‘acting out of expedience’. Pragmatism is rampant in both the behaviors of our politicians and in the votes of those electing them, so it is often a subject for me when speaking on politics, as well as many other areas of life where it appears.

The reason I find a problem with pragmatism is that most people oversimplify situations. The term ‘lesser of two evils’ is a prime example of this. In most cases where this phrase is applied, two alternatives do not constitute the entire pool of choices. Instead, the ‘two’ refers to the ‘two’ pragmatic, or most-likely/easiest choices. The less likely choices are disregarded out of expedience, and often become a self-fulfilling prophecy since the pragmatic never pursue them in the first place — especially in populist arenas like democratic elections or assemblies.

The main and most outstanding difference between this form of pragmatism and what I refer to as ‘practicable realism’ is that realism requires taking all possible or available options into account. Acting in this way, one might use pragmatic-like criteria to determine their actions (picking the lesser evil from a given list of alternatives) but ONLY when no other alternatives exist. In contrast, the pragmatist ignores or otherwise disregards the difficult or unlikely choices in favor of the easy or likely ones.

Besides being bad philosophy, this pragmatic approach to decision making is lazy, cowardly and irresponsible. If a better alternative exists, you should pursue the better alternative in ALL CASES. This does not mean that some aspects of pragmatic thinking might help you determine what is the ‘best’ alternative, but it means that you must rank likeliness as secondary to what is proper, good and right whenever considering a course of action.

** editor note: to further differentiate this concept from ‘pragmatism’ which is often expressed through ‘practical’ solutions, I am changing my wording to use the word ‘practicable’ (which is more accurate to the concept anyway) for better clarity.

“If you have standards that you wish to live by, by all means live up to them and demand the same from others around you. To do otherwise is to be disingenuous to yourself, to others and to those standards you hold.” – Scott Webster Wood

Read Full Post »

I am no fan of pragmatism.  Pragmatism is the historical cop-out.  I am not a fan of apathy or complacency either, but these are the direct off-spring of pragmatic thinking.  The combination of these elements turn even the most principled men (and women) into wet noodles and ultimately into willing slaves.

An interesting concept popped into my head this week.  It’s one that I’ve actually spoken on in the past such as with my previous entry on Galt’s Oath.  For lack of a better term for it, I am going to call it ‘anti-pragmatism’, but it is in fact a form of pragmatism and one made possible through either apathy or complacency.

My thoughts on this concept came up, among other discussions, in regards to a discussion on the ‘Sanction of the Victim‘ from Atlas Shrugged.  The Wiki entry does a good job of explaining this concept from the book saying:

The concept “Sanction of the victim” is defined by Leonard Peikoff as “the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the ‘sin‘ of creating values”.[23] This concept may be original in the thinking of Rand and is foundational to her moral theory: she holds that evil is a parasite on the good and can only exist if the good tolerates it.

This ‘Sanction of the victim’ extends from the kind of pragmatism I speak of, a pragmatism spawned from either a complacency or a judgment call on behalf of the individual.  Those that choose to call it a judgment call will defend it staunchly as the ‘moral’ and ‘rational’ choice.  This is the principle I have been mulling over in my head this week – is it really?  In reality, this is the concept I’ve been mulling over my whole life – probably that most volitional people struggle with – but I have arrived at a different conclusion.

My life is non-negotiable!

Property that has been ethically obtained is a product of the application of one’s life.  When someone comes to appropriate your property without proper cause or your specified consent, they are appropriating a portion of your life.

If someone came and demanded your foot, or your eye, or your kidneys would you be so willing to concede out of expedience?  Yes, I understand, one cannot survive without a lung and losing a hand is more significant than losing 25% of your latest check, but that’s the point – that’s why it’s easier to take your paycheck – because you will accept it!  Because you will tolerate it!

There is an evil embedded in those that will take advantage of the willingness of people to accept levels of tyranny knowing that those exploited will tolerate it rather than fight it.  There is an evil inherent in those that are fully aware of this fact and continually push the border of it gradually, but stay just short of exceeding the tolerance of such tyranny.  But that evil is enabled by the evil that is the tolerance itself.

Pragmatism is summed up by ‘the ends justifies the means’, but the type of reverse-pragmatism I speak of is summed up by asking ‘What difference will it make to compromise your own ethics and morals [for the sake of expedience] if the end result comes out the same?‘  In other words, it results in convoluted logic such as “I pay my taxes because the government forces me to.  I do it because they hold a gun to my head.”  I say if that is your argument, then make them show up with the gun – then and only then pay with reluctance.  It is because people continue to comply that nothing ever changes.

How many of you have actually had a tax man show up at your door with a gun?  What you are saying is that it ‘could’ result in that, and I don’t want to put up with that.  (what would the neighbors think?  what would my boss think?)  I can’t afford to and still maintain the ‘other’ things I want. (after all, you might have to give up the SUV or the big screen TV!!!)  I’ll trade my morals for security and comfort.   You are saying in big bold letters to all the lawmakers “my life is negotiable so long as the balance is tolerable.”

The end result is the same.  Government grows, freedoms wane and tyranny wins because people are willing to tolerate a given quantity of it.

I say again, My life is non-negotiable!  When you tolerate a given amount of evil for expedience, you only teach those pursuing the evil that there is an amount of it you will tolerate.  At that point, all they need to do is change that level in gradual steps, bit-by-bit, until it is too late for you to realize you are a slave.

Read Full Post »

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

I just got through the end of “So Long and Thanks for the Fish” earlier today in the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams and after writing that last paragraph in my previous posting last night, recalled the portion of the book that inspired it. I just wanted to give proper kudos to Mr. Adams and post the relevant portion because I think it is so succinct, albeit on politics rather than psychology:

[Ford Prefect speaking to Arthur Dent regarding the 100′ tall robot who’s first words to earth were “take me to your Lizard!”]

“On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”

Read Full Post »