On Ayn Rand, Senator Kamala Harris, etc… (Sean O’Connor’s Public Comment Video Diary Vlog– Episode #25)

I am utterly in love with the experience of thought. It’s like one can grasp any aspect of the universe one wants to touch and make sense of it, or integrate it with some other aspect….thus…keeping records of thoughts for me helps me pay homage to my love for them. But also, I believe that keeping records of thoughts is akin to tracing pieces of a soul…akin to aiding in the effort of expanding awareness of one another beyond the conventional depths.

TRANSCRIPT:

For the first time in… I actually don’t know how many years—maybe as many as half a decade (?)– I’m taking a look at Ayn Rand’s diaries.

Why?

Since my artistic interest here developed into keeping a video diary, and since I appreciate Ayn Rand’s epistemological clarifications of Aristotle’s laws of identity and non-contradiction, and her talks on objectivity and “Objectivism,” I thought I could at least find some insight or common ground with her, even-though ethics and politics…there Ayn Rand I essentially go our separate ways…Ayn Rand’s being an egoist, and myself…believing in what I call an ethical principle of compassion, which, requires caring about both one’s self, and others– not as an act of self-sacrificial or altruism;(ironically I think it is in one’s self interest to care about helping others, lest the society one lives in should crumble into a rather miserable ethos).

One thing I like about what Ayn Rand writes in the December of 1935 (when she’s only roughly 31….just two years younger than I am now) she is identifying her purposes for what would become The Fountainhead.

This leads me to wonder if I’m doing a good enough job defining my own purposes.

To review and perhaps clarify (?) first and foremost: I am utterly in love with the experience of thought. It’s like one can grasp any aspect of the universe one wants to touch and make sense of it, or integrate it with some other aspect….thus…keeping records of thoughts for me helps me pay homage to my love for them. But also, I believe that keeping records of thoughts is akin to tracing pieces of a soul…akin to aiding in the effort of expanding awareness of one another beyond the conventional depths.

(One reason I love YouTube so much more than Twitter is that someone can post a vlog that is really as long as they feel like, you can gaze into his or her eyes and see the expressions on his or her face as he or she bears his or her soul to you… very little is more precious to me than this.)

There is also my love for preserving time…and essentially traveling time in a way… one reason why I am willing to share with you old videos of myself…despite feeling actually depressed by re-watching them; they bring up awful memories and a lot of shame and humiliation. It is… nonetheless, life preserved…kept…tangible…time travel of sorts again as I was saying.

Anyway, I don’t want to get too caught up with my refrain of purpose though in the context of pointing out what I read from Ayn Rand it seemed appropriate to me.

Whenever I think of Ayn Rand I think also of my Grandfather. When I was…roughly 13 and told him I was an atheist he encouraged me to read The Fountainhead and talked about how Ayn Rand was an interesting atheistic philosopher. He said sometimes that she was his favorite philosopher.

I’ve been waiting for the right time to begin talking to you about Ayn Rand more…a woman who changed my world so fundamentally and so powerfully that I suspect the impact will last most of my life.

To be sure….I can’t tell you everything in a single entry because it’s a complex and extraordinarily long-winded topic…and I think Ayn Rand is complex to discuss because her epistemological ideas are so different than her political ones.

Its like she’s two different people. Objective and then idealistic.

I barely recall the first time I read Ayn Rand…The Fountainhead… I was 23 and a half. Living in Chesterfield, NJ. All I took from the novel… initially was the value–which I already possessed, I thought– of not shying away from one’s individuality, not being afraid to be “different” and challenge [like the novel’s protagonist Howard Roark] the conventions of the masses [Toohey, et al]. That was nothing new to me though… so on a first reading it was essentially Ayn Rand preaching to the choir.

[see 17:41- 20:34 in the video here to get a sense of what I was like at 23 years old in Chesterfield.]

The seocnd reading a year later was quite different. I had just recently turned 25 (or was just about to. I don’t have my dates exact here) and had just thrown out my second novel and quit my brief ustream.tv/YouTube vlogging phase, and was reading Ulysses by James Joyce, which was just too hard at the time for me to read or appreciate.

The problem I had with Joyce was that I would spend hours just looking up words because he went out of his way at times to use words that were obscure and archaic. I can in hindsight appreciate the artistry of that effort. Maybe I’d enjoy his writing more today. But at the time it was not resonating with me. I don’t know what it was I felt I needed to read or expose myself to intellectually then that Joyce just wasn’t offering but I felt myself in a tremendous rut.

I don’t know how many of you know the story but I confided in my wife about the rut and…noting (because she always knows me so well) that I value individualism, she suggested I re-read The Fountainhead and that maybe I’d find some inspiration from it. It felt like I was reading it for the first time. I saw “individualism” in a new light…not as an obvious self-esteem thing but rather…as a philosophical idea deeply in contrast to what she called “collectivism.”

I mean, I hadn’t thought of the philosophical debate before…I hadn’t thought of individualism as a theme to delve into because prior to this…again…the value of individualism… to me… was just a given.

Why did I need to therefore plunge into something which seemed so obvious?

It was also the case, as I recall it now, that, having failed to sell my self-published book, and noting that Ayn Rand managed to write best sellers, perhaps I could learn something from her. How had she managed to be a philosopher who could also make a lot of money?

That was when I decided I needed to delve into her and see if I could figure out her secret.

In exploring the writings about her and things she wrote herself, I was exposed to the notion of money as private property…something you work for that… when taxed… is taken from you… despite your right to that money.

I lacked a nuanced way to contemplate the concept of taxation then but I was thinking for the first time about rights and function of government on the one hand, and delving also into Ayn Rand’s more “esoteric” writings on knowledge, logic, conceptualization and such. I was, for the first time, gaining an understanding of knowledge… as possible! (My prior subjectivst epistemology is a loaded discussion. Let us just say for now I refused to accept any absolute, unchanging sense of “reality.”)

So key aspects of fundamental philosophical consciousness were developing within me directly as a result of exploring and contemplating Ayn Rand. That summer especially, I spent every second I could, when not working at the grocery store, studying my Ayn Rand books. I borrowed someone’s copy of Atlas Shrugged and took that novel on, taking notes and writing responses to ideas and such. I want to cite just a few lines from this novel that remain today central to my thinking :

She writes the axiom:

existence exists….something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of percieving that which exists.

A is A. A thing is itself… the law of identity….a leaf cannoty be a stone at the same time…”

And she defines reason as

the faculty that percieves, idenifies, and integrates the material provided by [one’s] senses

the art of non-contradictory identification [adding that] A contradiction cannot exist

(see pp 929-930)

Say what one will about where Ayn Rand unfortunately deviates from there but… the importance of embracing these fundamental metaphysical and epistemological principles, in my view seems like something that one just can’t overstate. It is the basis of science, journalism and truth…of constructive thought.

Still…oh the irony of how Ayn Rand made this tremendous contribution philosophy yet…alas…beyond that, fails to apply her own ideas of non-contradiction.

As opposed to being an Objectivist I think she is more like an idealist…I think she sees ideologies in there pure forms, and sees them only in their pure forms, and I believe Ayn Rand has this view of humans as sort of naturally prone to extreme rationality and thus…in the case of say…a  libertarian political system, where people are given immense freedom…they abuse it…slavery, exploitation, et cetera.

I’ll have more to say about Ayn Rand in the future but I will stick to bringing her up only as is appropriate to where my thoughts are in a given point in time, as opposed to writing some massive thing about her.

***

Two Friends of mine and I yesterday debated some of the candidates in the Democratic Presidential primary election. We spoke specifically about Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. My friend criticized Kamala Harris for changing her views on prostitution.

At one point, he says, she apparently supported legalization and then flaked out. A New York Times article published…conveniently…just today….reports Sen. Harris as on the record in support of decriminalizing prostitution, citing an undated Facebook interview from The Root.

She did also say at a CNN Town Hall event on April 23, that she is in favor of decriminalizing prostitution. Strangely, Reason magazine characterizes what she says as not decriminalization.

Literally putting words in her mouth and misrepresenting her, Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes:

Harris still thinks paying for sex should be a crime, she just wants to classify all female sex workers as victims so as to avoid arresting them.

Disturbingly…in my opinion…. Brown completely ignores Sen. Harris’s point that pimps trafficking minors should be prosecuted. Sen. Harris did not say “paying for sex should be a crime.” I’m not sure why Brown says this. Harris says

we should not be criminalizing women who are engaged in consensual opportunities for employment

My other friend made a comment saying that Kamala Harris flip-flopped on healthcare. I am not sure where he got this information from but it is inaccurate.

Conservative and Libertarian sites widely reported that Kamla Harris said she wanted to eliminate private health insurance plans and then changed her mind. That’s not what she said though. She listed complaints about how private plans tend to harm people and said “let’s eliminate all that” but she never said “let’s eliminate private health insurance.”

It is really haunting how people put words in one another’s mouths. One more reason why I feel so passionate about keeping this video diary…it seems as if many in the media get away with not really listening and that people seem to believe it regardless of what the record actually is.

The first friend I was telling you about….this fellow also criticized Elizabeth Warren for being so adamant about the need to impeach president Trump. This friend emphasized that a year ago when the two of us were passionately pro impeaching president Trump, Senator Warren was not. He thinks she is merely an opportunist who, now running for president thinking she can score political points, says she wants to see the president impeached.

My friend contrasted her to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, saying Pelosi is is more measured. But I disagree. I think Pelosi may be trying to appear measured but comes across as tepid and a slave to re election anxiety.

(By the way…news just recently broke around 10 am this morning…from The Hill and The New York Times:  that Sen. Warren is calling for making it clear that a president can be indicted. This by the way, makes sense, and I am impressed by Sen. Warren saying what absolutely must be said with respect to where policy must go!)

But back to impeachment…my friend views Pelosi’s cautiousness as politically smart…that by leaving the option open but not committing to it quite, she is rallying support so to speak without alienating independents and moderate or uncertain Democrats who will be turned off by rushed impeachment. But Sen. Warren says over and over again that… essentially… some things matter more than “politics” and I agree!

What my friend fears is that if rushed impeachment hurts Democrats that could lead to the GOP’s taking back power and abolishing Obamacare and other healthcare protections. I do understand feeling protective of healthcare policy but I think if every policy position is excessively based on gauges of public support or constituents giving up their support then what conscience does one have? How safe would our healthcare be in such a world then?

My name is Sean O’Connor and I thank you for checking out my video diary vlog. I call it “Public Comment” to underscore the value of commenting on one’s most valued thoughts publicly, of soul-sharing. Though I like to think wide and deep in our increasingly specialization -and -niche oriented international society the three most basic subjects my diary tends to focus on focus on include politics, culture and self. Though my approach is philosophical, political and intellectual, I’m also emotional and artistic. I’m a registered Democrat and thus lean liberal but I don’t bind myself to any political party. I’m 33, live in New Jersey with my wife, recently graduated William Paterson University with a BA in Liberal Studies, and currently work as a writing tutor for Mercer County Community College. Please enjoy my videos, subscribe if you want to follow along, and join the conversation in the comments sections.

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Why I Am a Democrat: Response to a Critic Who Calls My Views “Very Unrefined” (a manifesto of sorts)

[My response, my story, my fundamental principles, for the record, part 1 of 2]

[My response, my story, my fundamental principles, for the record, part 2 of 2]

I pay attention to my critics because I value transparency, accountability, and intellectual discussion about challenging issues, especially in the realm of politics because policies directly affect us.

Policies affect whether we are at war or at peace. Policies impact matters of poverty and wealth. Policies determine whether or not our civil rights are protected. They influence the harmony or discord in a diverse, cosmopolitan, pluralistic, democratic society. They can cause great anxiety or great relief. If we are going to talk about policies we should do so with great care.

When one of my critics- Duke Manning, a student of philosophy at Temple University, who is also a bassist- wrote a six paragraph complaint describing his belief that I do not discuss politics with great care, tremendous thought, and synthesis and logical analysis of research, I took issue to it because it could not be further from the truth. You might even note the irony that I spent over three hours articulating my refutation to his comparatively short Facebook comment.

Here is his critique:

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 9.01.01 AM

While Mr. Manning’s critique is inaccurate I must thank him for one thing because it is fair to say that if I am going to advocate staunchly for a set of policies it would be beneficial to all who consider my commentaries on the matter if I were to take extra efforts to clarify with greater intensity, why I think what I think.

With respect to my thinking, Manning suggested to me that I “seem to jump in head first with a thought [I] have without really doing enough research and considering how certain” I am. He adds that I “tend to be the kind of person who gets an idea and runs with it without really investigating it deeply or without considering that you are wrong.”

He cites the fact that in 2013, when I was a member of the Libertarian Party (which I am no longer. Now I am a registered Democrat) and running for the New Jersey Assembly, I advocated establishing a voting poll tax.

He notes that he insisted to me that it was a bad idea and that I disagreed with him. (I didn’t disagree for long however. Within months I came to realize the utter absurdity and injustice of such a policy.) This to him, proves that my “views are very unrefined”  and causes him to “worry that [I] will eventually promote an idea that might harm [my] appearance.”

While it is true that Manning’s description of my intellectual shortcomings in 2013 are accurate, he fails to account for the fact that over the last half of a decade I have first of all disavowed a plethora of false assumptions I used to hold.

Secondly he fails to note that my commentaries are in fact heavily sourced and cite experts with a diversity of perspectives. In fact, in his assault on my intellectual integrity he does not cite a single published commentary of mine.

Instead he relies on statements I made half a decade ago which I in fact disavowed within months of having made those statements as proof of my intellectual laziness and “very unrefined views” today. 

I want to provide you with my refutation of Manning’s characterization and while doing so explain to you in the form of an extemporaneous statement, the story of political evolution, and the fundamental concepts that underline my social democratic political philosophy.

It is my hope that first of all, this will serve as proof that I value and contemplate feedback even when it is negative, even when it is wrong. Secondly, I hope that you will find me transparent- that it does not seem as if my point of view came to me hastily out of some vacuum. Finally, I hope that by having done this you have gotten to know me better.

As always, let me know what you think.

A BRIEF ON THE SUPERIORITY OF NATURAL LAW

-An evaluation of the major theories of jurisprudence, with an explanation as to why the ‘natural law’ theory is the best one

naturallaw
John Locke. Philosopher & Advocate of “Natural Law”. IMAGE VIA SIR GODFREY KNELLER VIA https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Godfrey_Kneller_-_Portrait_of_John_Locke_(Hermitage).jpg

(Note: I originally stated in this post that I wanted to be a philosophy professor. That is no longer the case. I want to concentrate on advancing a Social Democratic agenda via activism and commentary.)

 

All questions pertaining to politics and law, in my view, are a result of one question that is so consequential that its answers can cause genocide, or protect the freedom of individuals so that they may thrive.

The question is: “what should people be allowed to do, and not allowed to do?”

Answers to this fundamental question give us political philosophies and theories of jurisprudence. As someone who aspires to be a philosophy professor, and has run for political office three times, I have had much to say about political philosophy, and yet little about that branch of philosophy called jurisprudence.

Now I shall for the first time say a bit on the topic. In my opinion, the “natural law” theory is the superior theory of jurisprudence, and is so because it is based on reason (a word with many different definitions. For the purposes of this paper, when I refer to reason, I refer to non-contradiction) and morality.

That being said, there are some valid criticisms of other aspects of the theory, in particular, the assertion by some, that natural law is necessarily based on a God, and also, the fact is, some proponents of natural law theory have misapplied it.

Before I elaborate further, I shall be clear about exactly what natural law theory is said to be. In an academic outline on the term “natural law theory,” where it is also referred to as “classical naturalism,” it is defined as “a group of theories that contend, in a variety of ways, that law is to be identified by reference to moral or ethical (as well as formal) criteria of identification.” (Principe, 1)

I think it is worth adding that most proponents of classical naturalism- including Grotius, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and John Finnis (Banks, O’Brien, p. 82) (as well as Locke, even if merely by implication) to name just some- believe that inherent to the discovery of morality and natural law is the application of reason.

The standard of reason that is upheld by so many ‘natural law’ theorists is, in my opinion, its most important and fundamental element, for, as I view it, everything in life should be and absolutely can be approached via reason. (As Aristotle would say, A is A, i.e., a thing is itself, therefore A cannot be B, or C, or D, ad infinitum, i.e., a thing cannot be both itself and not itself.)

In my view, the very proof for this lay in the fact that it is empirically verified when one sees, or hears, or even feels with his or her skin, the letter “A,” and not any other letter, and thus, no other standard of knowledge should be used, as it would be incorrect, irrational, illogical, contradictory.

This is an epistemological idea, however, that every other major theory of jurisprudence introduced by Banks and O’Brien in their textbook on the American Judicial System, refuses to accept, either by a most obvious and fundamental misapplication of reason, or the complete disbelief that reason is the correct standard, or even a possible one.

For example, consider what I believe to be the profound irony and most basic contradiction of legal positivism.

We are told that according to legal positivism, “law is empirically discovered by reason,” yet on the other hand, we are told that law is “free from moral judgements about what the law should be.” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 85)

But a person cannot be both rational and legally amoral.

In fact there is no such thing as legal amorality.

That which one calls “moral” is how one thinks he should fundamentally treat himself and others, or put another way, what is a right action, and what is a wrong action.

For example, in my view of morality, right actions are ones that a person takes in order to thrive, which means he or she must take care of him or herself first, out of self-compassion, and should, further, do for others, out of compassion for them, whatever he or she is best equipped to do, when he or she can.

I call this the “morality” or “ethics” of “compassion.”

This necessitates political action- specifically, the protection of individual liberty, with safety-nets, to protect the integrity of individual liberty, i.e., protection against a laissez faire state where the utterly immoral people exploit the highly virtuous ones.

But all moral views necessitate political/legal action. Quite literally, a legal view that claims morality should be kept out of law merely confesses that one thinks implicitly that it is moral for the law to allow and prohibit particular actions, but, at least as I see it, either they do not recognize the implication or they are being dishonest.

 

At least legal positivism claimed to be rational. American Realism, according to the outline referenced earlier, is fundamentally skeptical, and “play[s] down the role of established rules (or the ‘law in books’) to discover other factors that contributed towards a judicial decision in order to discover the ‘law in action.’” (Principe, 2)

Moreover, American Realism claims to discover “what is empirically and pragmatically ‘realistic’ about judging” based on “sociological and psychological factors.” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 95) The empirical and the pragmatic and sociological and the psychological however, apparently have nothing to do, fundamentally with reason, only skepticism, which simply means chronic uncertainty.

To be fair to American Realism, at least it can be argued that empiricism could suggest probable guesses based on consistently observed things; at least it makes some kind of appeal to a notion of a more likely truth versus a less likely one, and/or maybe there is a truth, however not graspable by people.

At least then there is a sort of reaching for a semblance of logic. The theory of “critical legal studies” however, claims to “destroy the notion that there is one single ‘truth,’ and that by disclosing the all pervasive power structures and hierarchies in the law and legal system, a multitude of other possibilities will be revealed, all equally valid.” (Principle, p. 2)

If analyzed we see that the claim that there is no single truth is a contradiction in terms. Taken at its word, we must somehow accept it as singularly true that there is no single truth (that A is B, that a thing is not itself) when we are told that there is no single truth.

That is like saying I am not a cat but I am a cat.

That being said, I do concede that this theory of “critical legal studies” has at least one logical concern (although I guess adherents would not describe it as logical in my sense of the term)-  “all pervasive power structures and hierarchies in the law and legal system” should always be scrutinized because application to logic is not automatic and guaranteed, even when the application is referred to as logical, and it has resulted at times in racist, classist, elitist actions. Similarly of feminist legal studies: chauvinism and misogyny can be problems within the legal system and elsewhere which is irrational and immoral which is why I would argue that an honest and consistent application to basic natural law theory would treat all fairly.

Although I have touched on the moral element of natural law briefly already, I believe it deserves more attention. It is one thing to say that it logically follows that morality must dictate law, but it would sell natural law theory short not to also mention in a bit more detail the nature of just how, in my interpretation, consistent and logical natural law theory would inject morality into law, and contrast that with how others might interpret the role of morality in natural law.

Nowhere in the texts I considered upon doing my research does it explicitly say that Natural law theory necessarily posits that all moral principles must be codified into law. In contrast, if we consider how natural law is the basis for “individual natural rights” such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 83) it follows that it is a right thing to do, i.e., a  moral action that the law be made to permit and prohibit certain things- specifically to permit freedoms, and to prohibit violations of freedom.

That does not mean however, that an action which might be immoral, say prostitution, should therefore be illegal.

The moral claim is that the law should protect freedom, i.e., self determination, and thus prohibit coercion; only immoral acts which are coercive in nature require legal prohibition.

Adherents to natural law, throughout history, unfortunately, have not always understood this, despite it being the very meaning of their premise.

For example, in my view, it is a totally misguided idea of morality, based on a totally erroneous reasoning, how, “the Court appealed to natural law principles in asserting that blacks were not citizens entitled to constitutional rights in Dred Scott v Sanford (1857) [and] [i]n Bradwell v Illinois (1873), [when] the Court ruled that women could not practice law because it was ‘in the nature of things’ for them to remain relegated to the ‘domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood’ [and further, how] [m]ore recently Justice Clarence Thomas cited natural law and the Deceleration of Independence in criticizing the rationale in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the landmark case ending racial discrimination in public schools.” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 84)

Those are completely irrational moral claims that do not represent a proper application to natural law, but rather, forms of statism, altruism, collectivism, racism, chauvinism, and misogyny.

Although it is my opinion that classical naturalism, in its most general and popular sense – being explicitly based on the application of reason and morality- is the superior theory of jurisprudence, that is not to say the theory is perfect.

For example, many of the proponents of classical naturalism ascribe, with certainty, that its ultimate basis is in a God. As Banks and O’Brien write, “Natural Law is thought of in divine terms as God’s law.” (p. 81) Now, it very well may be, as I personally speculate, that a God does exist and that all truth is God’s creation, however, if so, it’s yet to be proven. Logic only tells us that there is no proof that a God does not exist but that nevertheless, one could. But a “could” does not justify a “does” and thus those classical naturalists who assert with certainty that a God does exist and that natural law is to be thought of as God’s law are, in my view, being hasty.

Briefly, on other theories of jurisprudence I have deemed inferior compared to classical naturalism, they at least have fair points regarding aspects of law they are critiquing- for example, American Realism, although “skeptical” at least leads us to question that which is asserted as moral-legal fact, and at least Critical Legal Studies dares to question the sometimes corrupting roles of power and higher status within the legal system- where economic status or race or sexual orientation, et cetera, is sometimes a factor when they should never be, and at least feminist legal studies dares to call out where the judiciary has unfairly treated women.

If classical naturalism could be revised and stripped of its contradictions, and if the mistaken applications of it could be made clear, I believe we would have a theory of jurisprudence which would be as perfect and logical as Aristotle’s laws of identity, and non-contradiction.

REFERENCES
Banks, C.P, O’Brian. D.M. (2016) The Judicial Process [Adobe Digital Editions] Retrieved from https://play.google.com/books
Principe, M. (2016) The American Judicial System POL226 Outline #2 Classical & Contemporary Theories of Jurisprudence. William Paterson University