studiodekadent

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  1. Do you seriously expect anyone to believe your only concern in this is linguistic? Remember that we're talking about Civil Marriage here, not religious marriage (which is defined by each religion on its own basis). What legally relevant reason is there to have two legally identical (by your own admission) institutions that differ only in name (i.e. marriages and legally-identical civil unions)? "Proper concept formation" is not legally relevant. So why give the same thing (legally speaking) different names? It seems to me that there's no legal reason for doing so, so why not just call it the same thing? It would be more efficient and less wasteful, no? By analogy, zoosadism (torturing animals) is illegal in our society; do we have separate names for the torture of kittens and the torture of puppies? No, we don't, they are legally considered the same thing, but I don't see you manning the barricades and bellowing "BUT CATS AND DOGS ARE DIFFERENT!" The fact is that Scalia was right about one thing; "preserving the traditional definition of marriage" is nothing more than a politer way of morally devaluing same-sex relationships. There is no platonic form of marriage; marriage for romantic love is a modern ideal that's barely three generations old in the Western world. Arranged marriages are still common in India, Africa and Asia. Marriages purely for social convenience, out of social convention, or the like were common amongst the aristocracies of Europe and still are. Polygamy was common in the ancient world and many Biblical figures practiced it. The idea of one man and one woman meeting and falling in "true love" and marrying each other and practicing lifelong monogamy and raising children in a house of their own is a very, very novel concept historically speaking. Perhaps you'd argue it should've been left to democratic decision making, but isn't establishing and defining one's own relationships an individual right? Individual rights must be protected from the collective. The Supreme Court didn't "take away a State's rights" or "take away the people's rights," it recognized that marriage is a right of the individual, and thus prohibited anyone from taking that right away from others. Personally, I'd rather there be no civil marriage contracts as I believe individuals should be free to experiment with a very wide variety of associative relationships and see what works best for them on an individual level; as Hayek wrote, "It is always from a minority acting in ways different from what the majority would prescribe that the majority in the end learns to do better." But since the government has legally institutionalized marriage and attached policy significance to it, it is bound to do so in a manner which does not exclude any (consenting adult) citizen from participation within it. As for your classification of "leftist homosexual activists," please remember that not all same-sex marriage supporters are leftists (or non-heterosexual themselves). In addition, not all homosexuals (or non-heterosexuals more broadly) are leftists. Furthermore, same-sex marriage was actually once rejected by the gay left (and it still often is, at least in Europe and amongst the real radicals Stateside) as being "assimilationist" and "integrationist" and therefore destroying the distinctiveness of gay culture. Finally, the arguments which actually won the debate for gay marriage were all libertarian/classical liberal/individualist arguments - equal treatment before the law, individual self-determination and the pursuit of happiness, the right to privacy, the idea that one should be able to do whatever one wants as long as no one else is infringed upon, etc.
  2. That leaves "marriage" wide open for the polygamist, incest, man/boy, and bestial citizen classes. It's anything goes now! Greg Actually it doesn't, because marriage is a consensual/contractual arrangement, which means that it can only be entered into by consenting adults. This automatically rules out zoophilia and pedophilia. It would permit polygamy (and polyandry, and polyamory of all kinds). I don't see anything wrong with polyamory. So "anything goes" is frankly a ridiculous statement. There's a built-in limit; if marriage is like a contract then it is automatically restricted to people able to enter into legally binding contracts.
  3. "Do you think it is moral for an Objectivist to join a Libertarian organization?" I wrote the gambling policy for my country's equivalent of the US Libertarian Party (specifically, the Liberal Democratic Party or LDP). I've been involved with libertarian organizations for quite some time. There is nothing immoral about joining a libertarian organization and any Objectivist who argues such is frankly an idiot. Peter Schwarz's "Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty" is a disgrace and a monument to bad sampling and atrocious reasoning (as well as a secret underlying authoritarian mentality). Join up. You'll lose nothing and at the very least gain intellectual stimulation.
  4. The ruling certainly is the correct outcome, and even though the majority opinion was full of emotionalistic gobbledygook, it was principally founded on the proposition that marriage is an individual right and therefore cannot be denied to any class of citizens. This ruling draws on Loving v. Virginia (which elevated marriage to the status of a fundamental right in SCOTUS jurisprudence) and also Kennedy's majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas. I'm not a fan of the idea of "substantiative due process" but the simple fact is that after the Progressives shredded the Privileges and Immunities clause, its the only way to incorporate individual rights against States. Kennedy's reasoning was, like his reasoning in Lawrence v. Texas, profoundly libertarian. And I wasn't the only person to pick up on this; Justice Roberts did so too in his dissent. He argued (correctly) that Kennedy's decision was based on an ideal of unbounded individual autonomy and treated marriage like an individual contract. He also relied on Progressive jurisprudence in his rebuke to Kennedy, even perpetuating Richard Hofstadter's infamous "social Darwinism" smear against Herbert Spencer. He likens this decision to Lochner v. New York (a decision which struck down a New Deal economic regulation as a violation of the right to contract, IIRC) in its endorsement of radical individualism; Roberts thus shows how he isn't that different from Progressives after all (he also showed this when rewriting Obamacare). Alito's dissent correctly pointed out that "liberty" as an ideal means different things to different ideologies, but the Declaration of Independence makes it pretty clear which ideology was intended to be the basis of the American system. Scalia threw a premenstrual temper-tantrum over the ruling and screeched that the ruling denied the right of "self-rule" to the American people; his collectivist reasoning is obvious. "The people" are not an entity, only individuals are entities. Allowing a fundamental right to be subject to democratic restriction is to allow two wolves and a lamb to democratically decide on what's for dinner, and Scalia's "self-rule" is really just "the right of a majority of individuals to violate the rights of a minority of individuals." This proposition is fundamentally at odds with the entire Anglo-American Enlightenment-Individualist tradition, and an obvious contradiction since there can be no right to violate rights. Scalia argues that the decision is really about "who decides the meaning of marriage," but in doing this he package-deals civil marriage (which is what the ruling is about) with religious marriage; religions can still decide whom they will offer religious marriages to, and individual citizens are free to treat marriages which they don't "believe in" as being illegitimate. Is the faith of the religious so fragile that their convictions require government reinforcement? Thomas' dissent was interesting, however; he argued that gay marriage turned "liberty" into a positive liberty (i.e. State entitlements) rather than a negative liberty (i.e. self-sovereignty). Thomas is right that "liberty" as understood by the Founders meant negative liberty, but Thomas therefore implies that marriage in its current form counts as a positive liberty. If Thomas wanted to be consistent, he should therefore come to the conclusion that civil marriage is itself unconstitutional (because it violates the understanding of liberty held by the Founders), but he doesn't. His dignity argument is also mistaken; he argues that Kennedy implicitly treats dignity as something bestowed by the State (rather than innate within individuals) but this is a misreading of Kennedy's ruling. Kennedy argues that because individual dignity is innate, denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples counts as an "injury" against the dignity of the individuals who constitute these couples. Yes, in the ideal world there would be no legislatively-defined marriage or any laws which differentiate between people on the basis of family status/arrangements (i.e. no tax breaks for the married). Relationships and their attendant institutions/labels/styles would be exclusively a matter for civil society and contract law. But to the extent that the government does define and regulate marriage, it must do so in a matter consistent with the fact that marriage is an individual right which subsists within every individual (and therefore subsists equally within every individual), and that individuals also have the rights to pursue their own happiness. Ultimately the government would acknowledge that every individual human being has the right to do whatever they want to so long as it does not involve the initiation of violence, fraud or coercion against any other person; to quote Herbert Spencer, "the absolute liberty of all, constrained only by the like liberty of each" (a sentiment echoed by J. S. Mill). Privatizing marriage entirely is the ultimate goal, but equality under the law is an incremental step towards doing that. Another wonderful thing about this outcome? The Christian establishment (all the Catholic Ecclesiarchy and Fundies and Evangelicals) have expended a massive amount of political and social capital on this debate; in their rabid bible-thumping and moral condemnation, they have effectively become the face of Christianity as a whole. I believe I read an article a few years ago which stated that the adjective most young Americans associated with Christianity was "anti-gay." This ruling will demoralize and discredit a huge proportion of the Christian power-base and further bring ridicule to the entire religion, particularly amongst the young (who are far more secular than their parents). The simple fact is that the gay marriage issue was effectively their last stand in the Culture Wars, and now the Court has thwarted them. This battle is the hill upon which Christ will finally die... sort of like Golgotha but a lot longer lasting! (Note to those quote-mining: the previous statement was meant to be humor).
  5. Peter, Given your reply, frankly I don't think its worth continuing this discussion. Being goth in and of itself violates no one's rights. One does not need to commit force, fraud or coercion in order be be a goth. You talk about crimes committed by a goth minority but I see absolutely no evidence of this; in my experience goths are generally very nonviolent people. I have better things to do with my time than try and educate the closed-minded. William, Thank you for your post, but I doubt it would convince Peter of anything. He seems to have already made his mind up and swallowed a more-than-decade-old moral-panic narrative manufactured by the politicians, press and "parent's groups."
  6. As I said in my essay, it basically is composed of two things: 1. A sense of proud alienation from "conventional" society, and a high respect for individuality and thinking independently. 2. An appreciation for a set of historically and stylistically interrelated music genres, as well as the visual appearances associated with those genres. The music genres in question are Goth Rock/Post Punk, Industrial-Electronic, Synth Pop/Darkwave, and also (to some degree) Industrial Rock and certain kinds of Metal (but generally NOT Black Metal/Death Metal). First, there are multiple different goth styles (and in actual fact, they usually do not look like zombies or corpses). There's the "romantic" style (Victorian-esque formal clothing and the like), there's the futuristic/cyberpunk style (typically associated with the Industrial/Electro part of Goth), there's the more punk-rock-inspired look, but really there's a lot of flexibility. Oh, and the makeup isn't corpse-paint (i.e. white and black facepaint is not associated with the Goth scene, its primarily associated with the Black Metal/Death Metal scene). Typically it doesn't go much further than eyeliner, lipstick/lipgloss and perhaps some foundation to make one's complexion one or two shades fairer. As to why I like it? I think it can look very good (at least the kind/s of goth style I like... I prefer to avoid the punk look), I enjoy and share the goth scene's attitude about being proudly alienated from the mainstream, and I like the music. Okay, we need to separate out the different movies and news stories you're talking about. I'll start with the news stories first. The news in general loves sensationalism and stories about the latest thing "corrupting the youth" - comic books, video games, pen-and-paper RPGs etc all caused moral panics. The moral panic over goth, however, started specifically due (unfortunately) to Marilyn Manson (who's album "Antichrist Superstar" caused its share of outrage). Manson's music isn't goth music but it has some influence from goth, and to some degree it popularized a version of the goth look (typically a more messy, punk-like version) amongst his relatively young fanbase. At this time we had Tipper Gore and the whole moral panic over violent and offensive music going on in congress. Then Columbine happened and that moral panic absolutely exploded. The shooters, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, weren't exactly gothic but they were distantly affiliated with a semi-gothic clique on campus called "the trench-coat mafia" (black trenchcoats are legitimately part of goth fashion), and they were also fans of an Electro-Rock/Industrial-Rock band called KFMDM, who are popular in the goth scene (that said, if you take a listen to KFMDM's music, its actually not particularly dark and they have a surprising amount of rather pleasant and dancey songs). Of course, the press decided to blame Marilyn Manson (although the shooters didn't like his work). The religious right got involved; they defamed Manson and accused him of murdering puppies on stage and holding Satanic baptisms (Manson sued them for defamation and won the case). They jumped on the gravy train and began hyping up the whole "goths = your child is going to be worshipping satan" panic alongside panics over 'ungodly' music blah blah blah. Some Christian ministries even actively focused on trying to convert goths to Christianity! This filtered down into talk shows like Jenny Jones, where Manson fans and some goths (after Columbine, actual goths tried to distance themselves from Manson rather aggressively, mostly as a defensive tactic) got dragged on stage to be systematically humiliated by the audience and condemned by their parents before being forced to undergo a makeover into a "normal" child. The schools banned gothic attire in the aftermath of Columbine too, claiming it was somehow gang-affiliated. Now, onto the movies. I presume you're talking about Tim Burton films right? How can you describe them as "ghoulish"? The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride are both perfectly family-friendly movies and Corpse Bride in particular is a very sweet love story! Edward Scissorhands is hardly some twisted evil film either... and Edward's costuming is exaggerated owing to the fact that its a movie. The Crow (not a Burton film but still) is a goth classic yet gothic people actually don't wear that kind of facepaint (except perhaps if we're specifically dressing like The Crow on Halloween). First, how did you know they actually were goths? They could've been metalheads or Manson fans or punk rock fans (mohawks, for instance, are pretty common amongst punk rock fans). Second, "looking like Marilyn Manson" doesn't necessarily imply dressing in a filthy, punk-like style; his image during the Mechanical Animals era (his critical and commercial high point) was derived from Bowie-esque glam rock and during the Golden Age of Grotesque era and afterwards there was a lot of dapper formal wear and suits and pinstripes. Third, you openly admit you've only seen a "few" alleged goths so perhaps you should refrain from making judgments without sufficient background knowledge. But you know what? I'm going to point out something; you seem to think dressing conventionally is a norm which requires no explanation and can be taken for granted, yet dressing unconventionally is a deviation from the norm which requires explanation. I disagree, because dressing conventionally is just as much of a choice as dressing unconventionally. All of these conventions are man-made, not metaphysical, so why do you take the norm for granted rather than ask yourself why these norms exist in the first place and what justifies them? And what, pray tell, justifies rendering moral condemnation upon people simply for having unorthodox aesthetic preferences?
  7. Peter, If "change their bodies with cuts, piercings, tattoos, and wear makeup and clothing to simulate a dead human" is your image of what a goth looks like, you are only further confirming your ignorance about the subculture. Seriously, this is the kind of stereotype which the politicians and the MSM promoted back during the uproar over Marilyn Manson (even though his music isn't technically goth), and the post-Columbine moral panic (even though Klebold and Harris were not goths). You might consider trying something novel and make some good faith inquiries as to what goth culture is actually like. I'm happy to answer genuine questions (such as "what is goth culture about?" and "what kinds of music are considered gothic?" and "why do you like the goth style?"). Feel free to send them in a private message if you wish. What I am NOT happy to answer are loaded questions which are burdened with false assumptions (such as "why are you seeking attention?" or "why are you dressing like a corpse?" or "why do you sacrifice kittens to Satan?"). If, Peter, you are willing to "check your premises" (so to speak) I'll be more than happy to discuss this topic with you, but so far you haven't demonstrated much willingness to accept the possibility that your current view of goth culture is extraordinarily inaccurate. Deanna, Thank you for the support, and I appreciate the compliment about the jacket. I've actually modified it slightly; there's mink around the cuffs now, so it looks even better (by my standards). It is quite fun to wear it around animal rights/eco-nut types.
  8. Peter, Frankly I don't know whether those points you made are Swiftian satire or sincere criticisms, because if they are sincere criticisms they're based on regurgitated stereotypes. Clearly you lack any first-hand knowledge of what you're criticizing, if those criticisms are actually sincere. MSK, Frankly, I don't care what Keefner does on facebook. I don't use facebook anyway, and my review certainly is critical. I stand by what it says. If Keefner somehow thinks of me as some sort of representative of "cool," he's flaunting his ignorance (and his rationalistic insistence that his theoretical framework overrides actual life experience). Of course he'd say I was "really pissed" - in a way, people have turned that into a substitute for argument. "You getting angry about my argument proves my argument is right and you just can't handle the truth/you're in denial/etc." being the logic. In practice, it reduces things down to "contesting my argument proves my argument." Kurt Keefner can claim I am a "Pretender" all he wants (considering his only contact with me has been this book review and the emails regarding it, that would be a pretty rationalistic claim to make). I like this forum because it is generally beyond the "More Randian Than Thou" purity contests/pissing contests (contests which, going by their history within the Objectivist movement, follow the exact same social dynamics as "cool" does), so I have no desire to get involved in one with Keefner. Trust me, I am certainly not going to be abandoning OL or abandoning Objectivism just because of someone else's shallow pop-culture criticism.
  9. Thank you! Ahh yes, the "reverse-conformist" as I call them. Doing X because other people do Y, irrespective of one's own genuine preferences. It certainly is not rebellion, since it is allowing yourself to be controlled by what other people do (note the line: if you will go against your own preferences just to go against the group, that's a problem). Non-conformism means that you'll always follow your preferences irrespective of the group. Your principal point of reference is your own desires, not those of others. Agreed. "Cool" is social esteem and second-handing. That's a very good point. I do think Sense of Life can change, but clearly it is a LOT more complex than many Objectivists tend to think. Life experience matters a lot, at least as much as one's premises, and tons of these experiences are ones people have little control over. Rand herself, unfortunately, often tried "correcting" other people's senses of life. Her words weren't heeded by herself. I'd be more likely to understand it in terms of there being multiple Objectivism-compatible Senses of Life. Or perhaps there's a more general kind of sense of life that's broadly associated with the entire Enlightenment-Individualist tradition overall rather than Objectivism per se. Surely, the idea that there can be only one acceptable set of music tastes for Objectivists is insane.
  10. Peter, I actually took you seriously at first and wrote out an entire point-by-point refutation. Only then did I see the "satire" disclaimer. I'm glad you enjoyed the review.
  11. "What's The Matter With Kids These Days!" A Review of "Killing Cool" by Kurt Keefner http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Cool-Fantasy-Reality-American/dp/0692252525/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1433585603&sr=1-1&keywords=killing+cool&pebp=1433585596100&perid=182V0S1XZSR4H4W57ENC by Andrew Russell I will begin by stating I am most reluctant to write this review. The reason for this is that this review will be critical and it will be critical towards a fellow Objectivist. In addition, the author sent me a free copy of his book to review, because he liked an essay of mine which I had posted on Objectivist Living (specifically the essay about Alienation, as understood by Erich Fromm and discussed by Nathaniel Branden). In other words, he did everything he could (within the bounds of fairness) to give me a positive disposition towards his work; he complimented my work and gave me a free copy of his. And yet, upon reading "Killing Cool," I cannot help but disagree strongly. Keefner's book seems, frankly, to be an Objectivist's rationalization for the age-old parental (even though Keefner himself is not a parent) complaint of "what's the matter with kids these days?!?" It is filled with disdain towards contemporary pop culture, a neo-puritanical fear of politically-incorrect intoxicants (and even some politically correct ones), a terror towards contemporary (yet not "old world") fiction, hatred of anything which feels "immature" or "adolescent" or "childish" by some undeclared standard, an extreme suspicion of any new forms of media combined with what appears to be an extremely limited experience of these forms, a phobia of artistically-atypical subcultures, a revulsion towards sexual non-monogamy or even sexual explicitness or sexual openness (particularly in women), paranoia about non-Abrahamic religions (but to be fair he isn't particularly friendly towards Abrahamic religions), anxieties about a "fast" and "connected" world one would typically expect from conservatives, a view of 'Once Upon A Time' as an idealized past, and dislike of any music written during and after the Jazz age. I am not arguing that Keefner's book lacks any value - he makes some very compelling insights from time to time (his discussions about the primalistic mentality (particularly what he calls "animal primalism") are certainly on to something, and how Freud used "id" (Latin for 'it') to refer to our bodies and natural urges, for instance). However, the overall tenor, or "sense of life" (so to speak) of his book, is that of a small-town conservative Midwestern American returning home after being disillusioned by "the city" - like Nick Carraway's own fleeing from New York at the end "The Great Gatsby" - fleeing a cosmopolitan and bustling world of novelty and innovation and the destabilization of social orders in favor of returning to a world of stability and tradition. I will also point out that Keefner admits that a lot of his work runs the risk of over-generalizing. In my judgment this is a significant understatement but he does seem to realize the vocabulary he uses is easily construed as excessively prejudicial. I do have a problem though - after he makes these clarifications he seems to throttle ahead on extreme generalizations and rarely moderates his tone. At one point he blames Seasame Street for ADHD! Really, I'm almost at the point of speculating where the actor-in-a-costume-playing-Elmo touched him when he was a child. On a personal note, I am a Goth. This is shown on my profile here at OL. My freakiness is, perhaps, one of the reasons Keefner wanted me to review his book. With this book, he is challenging my gothicness and claiming my subcultural preference is inconsistent with Objectivism. This review is therefore, in part, a rebuttal. Part 1: The Theoretical Framework Keefner is courteous to the reader by outlining his theoretical framework in the first full essay of the book; he says it is derived from Randian ideals and lays out a full schema with various concepts. I will congratulate him on his theoretical rigor, however Keefner's theory itself seems to be in many ways a product of the same rationalism he condemns. He seems determined to reduce every cultural difference from his own preferences down to a philosophical difference. In effect, he is trying to claim that people with a different taste in music/fashion/art/whatever must somehow subscribe to an anti-realist metaphysics or be a cryopto-communist. This same tendency towards rationalistic judgmentalism and the philosophical interrogation of cultural preferences is (unfortunately) inherited from Rand, and the Objectivist movement has a regrettable history of engaging in such "philosophical detection." Keefner seems determined to bring back the Bad Old Days. Keefner's core argument is based on Rand's idea of the "Sense of Life." Someone's "Sense of Life" is basically the emotional climate generated by their subconsciously-held beliefs about the human condition, humanity's role within existence more broadly, and the general nature of the world around us. Someone who believes that life is about service to a higher power and this existence is a punishment we deserve for transgressing this higher power's will, for example, has a very different outlook upon life compared to someone who believes that life is about achieving happiness and fulfilment in a world which is open to our actions; it follows that these persons will have very different overall emotional reactions to life in general. Keefner correctly points out that this Sense of Life develops not primarily through consciously-held ideas but rather through lived experiences; through our experiences we develop a (usually tacit) assessment of the human condition as we have experienced it. In essence, a Sense of Life is an emotional response to our "life narrative." But Keefner argues that many people suffer a syndrome he describes as "being a Pretender." A Pretender, according to Keefner, is a person who's Sense of Life is fabricated; instead of going through certain experiences in reality and then deriving a viewpoint from those experiences which in turn generates a Sense of Life, a Pretender decides to adopt a specific "Sense of Life" and emulate it. The "life narratives" of a Pretender are discarded and replaced by a fiction which serves the pretense; as such a Pretender begins to mentally blur the distinction between reality and fantasy. As Keefner describes it, a Pretender begins to see the world itself as a work of fiction and other people as characters within it. This results in a diminished empathy since one doesn't see other people as fully real. The facts of reality are twisted to fit into the Pretender's desired narrative. The Pretender thus lives in a "Bubble Universe" where reality is mentally censored, stylized and sometimes even falsified so as to keep up the pretense. My only problem with this theory is that I am not sure anyone actually does this in the first place. Keefner seems to inconsistently portray the adoption of a false Sense of Life as being either an arbitrary choice where a false Sense of Life is picked up "off the rack," or as something adopted for personal psychological needs, but he never seems to confront the question of why someone would adopt a false Sense of Life in the first place. Except for situations where people adopt a false Sense of Life in order to "fit in" with their friends, it seems to me that people would only adopt any Sense of Life because that Sense of Life appeals to their values and resonates with their life experience, which in turn would mean that adopted Sense of Life is not truly falsified nor is it an arbitrary choice. Of course, as people's experiences continue to unfold over time, their Sense of Life may be modified as they readjust their overall view of the world in response to those experiences, but this does not somehow imply that a Sense of Life based on a small set of experiences is an invalid one; a Sense of Life, like an abstract concept, must remain open-ended and thus open to future revision, but this does not imply the invalidity of this Sense of Life. In a later chapter, Keefner even says that "teenagers just aren't ready to create their own culture" (p167). Presumably, he believes someone needs to have reached a certain threshold of experience before they can have a legitimate Sense of Life, which is an ageist and frankly silly statement due to the open-ended nature of a Sense of Life in the first place. However, another problem with this statement is that a "culture" is really just a shared set of values and life-narratives drawn from common experiences (and all the resultant products thereof, such as a culture's art/stories/mythology). It seems pretty clear that being a teenager within our society is in fact a common experience with its own shared narratives like the challenges of maturity and the struggle for finding one's place in the world (narratives which have been a part of countless works of fiction); one of these shared narratives (a narrative Keefner seems absolutely determined to reinforce) is the consistent refrain of disapproval and/or bewilderment from the "elders" who gripe about "kids these days" and have a completely closed mind about anything new. Part 2: On Killing Cool The quote about teenagers not being old enough to have their own culture is presented in the titular essay of the book. Despite my criticism of Keefner so far, this essay makes a few good points that I wish to highlight. Keefner begins by looking at "Cool" and acknowledges the phrase has a myriad of uses; casually it can be just used as a term of personal approval, but Keefner targets the two more formal uses of "Cool" and defines them as "Vanguard Cool" and "Outsider Cool." Vanguard Cool is about being at the bleeding edge of fashion and effectively defining what is cool, whereas Outsider Cool is based upon an appearance of cultivated aloofness and "transgressiveness." This is an interesting split but in today's world, it is probably fair to argue that both of these concepts have effectively united with each other in a subculture known as "hipsterism" (where they see themselves as defining what will be cool in a few months, by which time they will be doing something new and transgressive). Something which is truly transgressive is neither Vanguard Cool nor Outsider Cool, but rather uncool. Uncoolness (including failed coolness) is correctly noted by Keefner as a critical component of Cool, because (as Keefner correctly notices) Cool is a matter of social positioning. To be cool is to be held in high esteem whereas to be uncool is to be a social outcast (this, however, seems to make "Outsider Cool" rather paradoxical since true outsiders are uncool by definition - "Outsider Cool" must therefore be little more than a pose). One of the biggest problems with Coolness, therefore, is how it creates a hierarchy where some people are bound to be victimized and cast out. Keefner thus manages to define Coolness as "an attempt to achieve superiority in the realm of popular culture by means of an alleged esoteric wisdom about style." This captures the elitist nature of Cool perfectly, however Keefner's argument goes off the rails. He talks about how "Cool" needs to have an "Establishment" to position itself against, but this is an inconsistent argument given that "Cool" is in fact the "Establishment." The false rebellion in "Cool" is typically a product of the fact that "Cool" originated in youth culture which typically has to deal with extreme levels of dismissal and disapproval from the more established elders - clearly, Keefner's desire to kill cool cannot be achieved whilst "what's the matter with kids these days?" remains a common refrain. In addition, as Keefner accepts, there's a "grown up" version of cool (although he doesn't discuss the relationship between coolness and the adult/child divide). His argument also descends into philosophical speculation; he argues that "Cool" inherently reduces into a belief in an Hegelian Zeitgeist. However the simple fact is a lot of the people who are "Cool" probably cannot understand what an Hegelian Zeitgeist actually is; to most people, "Cool" is a purely intersubjective phenomenon defined by what the "Cool" people are doing. "Cool" has never been thought of objectively. When the discussion of dealing with the problem of "Cool" comes around, Keefner improves by looking at the brutish, dog-eat-dog pack-mentality-warzone of high school and argues that the solution is to "show young people that the herd isn't that important by herding them less" (p167). On this, I have to agree; if you act as if dominance hierarchies are the natural methods of human interaction, one should not be surprised if schoolchildren set up the same hierarchies amongst themselves. Bullying is far less intense in less controlling education systems, such as Montessori. Yet after this, he immediately falls back into arguing that leaving children on their own (which is what a less-regimented school does precisely more of) leads to a "Lord of the Flies" situation (he doesn't note that perhaps the common denominator between the Lord of the Flies situation and the ruthlessly controlling school is the age = authority factor) and argues that adults should intervene more in youth culture (even though attempting to control and regulate this culture would quite plainly lead to a backlash). By the end of the essay, his concept of cool has degenerated to little more than things Those Kids are doing which he doesn't like. Adult "coolness" (the fashion industry, for one) receives no further mention, let alone analysis. Part 3: Vampires - As 'Red' As Blood? Keefner seems bizarrely preoccupied with vampires, even though they have lost popularity in the post-Twilight era (arguably due to Twilight) in the first place. Keefner tries to exhibit some knowledge about the genre, but unfortunately for him his analysis is patently superficial and burdened with some ludicrous allegations. Let us begin with where his analysis is faulty. First, he argues that vampire stories are "patently unhealthy" owing to the fact that vampires are "creatures that feel entitled to murder innocent people for dinner" (p137). Yet in the early part of the essay, he acknowledges the existence of reluctant vampires (like Louis from Anne Rice's novels), who clearly lack such feelings of entitlement and experience incredible levels of guilt over killing people. He notes that it is this kind of vampire whom the audience tends to feel sympathy for, and that Edward Cullen from Twilight (which helped bring vampire fiction into mainstream pop culture) is generally one of these combined with being a vampire who subsists on animal blood. There are vampire stories and vampire mythologies where vampires do not need to kill their victims, such as Anne Rice's work, and even one of the most popular vampire Role-Playing Games contains game mechanics which actively penalize players if they kill humans whom they feed upon. Keefner's statement about vampires feeling entitled to commit murder is flatly false; some vampires fit this description but a substantially popular and influential contingent frankly do not. Indeed, probably the core theme of Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles is the ethics of vampirism, with different characters having different perspectives on the issue. Some even safeguard their human descendents across generations. And Edward Cullen, probably the most mainstream vampire of all, is a self-loathing Christian-by-allegory who considers his vampirism to be the equivalent of Original Sin. One of Keefner's most bizarre statements is that fans of vampire fiction are "trying to escape, in fantasy, the bourgeois way of life. Not just ordinary life or the mundane life, but specifically life under capitalism" (p131). In other words, vampire fiction is driven by anti-capitalism according to Keefner. His justification for this is that the antithesis to what he believes to be the core traits of fictional vampires and vampire fiction (specifically Atmosphere, Superiority, Coolness and Passion) are the Mundane, Vulnerability, Squareness and Prudence, which to him are the key aspects of the middle-class lifestyle. The logical leaps and package-deals are truly stupefying. Disliking a certain lifestyle somehow implies anti-capitalism, even though the society we live in is not capitalist in the free-market sense of the term, and the "middle class lifestyle" (two-opposite-sex-parents-with-a-male-sole-breadwinner-a-white-picket-fence-and-two-and-a-half-kids-nuclear-family-fifties-etcetera) was a product of government social engineering post-World-War-2 (and not only that, but is a mostly Anglosphere phenomenon since many non-Anglosphere countries still embrace the extended rather than nuclear family). Of course, many people long to escape the mundane and have a life more dramatic and more meaningful than simply working as a sales assistant in the middle of Nondescript, America; this is hardly indicative of a desire to escape capitalism! It is a desire to escape drudgery, a desire to escape boredom, a desire for thrills and stimulation and variation; this is completely normal for human beings and has no political import other than a simple acknowledgement of the fact that most people do not have careers they love, but rather have jobs they grit their teeth and bear. Keefner may do well to remember that there was an author who took capitalism and made it exciting and thrilling, who gloried in technological achievement and treated human genius as "cool" and "superior," who wrote of heroes and heroines who struck out against social norms without a second thought and lived lives of great passion; her name was Ayn Rand. Keefner seems to realize these two things; he openly admits that "you don't have to be a Marxist to believe that selling your labor to an organization whose goals you don't personally care about can be alienating" (p139), and that the cure for those who are bored with the repetitive drudgery of most people's day-to-day existence is to have more open markets and less red tape so as to help people escape work in confined corporate cubicles and to start new businesses and experiment with other forms of workplace culture ("a purer form of capitalism" (p141)). Yet in his zeal to condemn vampire fiction, he simply cannot seem to make the connection; he assumes that any distaste for the conventional-suburban-American-normalcy must be built from a desire to flee in the opposite direction from more-free-markets. I don't remember either Dagny Taggart or Howard Roark embodying conventional normalcy, nor Ayn Rand (who practiced consensual polyamory and never had children). Yet Keefner's suspicion of the culturally unorthodox is so hilariously mired in conservatism (rather than classical liberalism) I barely know where to begin; invoking icons of counterculture rebellion like James Dean and Brando-esque "Bad Boys," he argues that these kinds of image undermine free markets. This is the Weber-esque argument that free markets depend on Calvinistic, socially-conservative values. This argument was shot to pieces not just by Rand (an atheist polyamorous illegal-immigrant who, if I remember correctly, had an abortion), but by the economists Joseph Schumpeter (who pointed out, in Randian fashion, that it is novelty and innovation led by scientists and inventors and maverick entrepreneurs that drive the economy) and Friederich von Hayek (who once wrote that "it is always from a minority acting in ways different from what the majority would prescribe that the majority in the end learns to do better"). Howard Roark did not accept the conventions of his profession, but let us look at real life; "freaky" countercultures have in fact generated entire niche industries and businesses, have created entirely new genres of art, and have even spawned revolutionary new technologies (the "nerds" of Silicon Valley ended up revolutionizing our economy). Novelty and experiments in living are the driving force behind free markets; indeed, a great virtue of individual rights is that individual rights enable such creativity and variation. Is a craving for exciting, new experiences symptomatic of wanting to escape from free markets? Or is it really an indication of someone who may perhaps be the kind of person that would flourish more fully in a more free world? Keefner goes even further than arguing that vampires are products of anti-capitalism; he argues that the vampire character boils down to a Nietzschean Overman bordering on a Master Race figure (an Objectivist should especially be wary of deploying such a comparison given how it is frequently lobbed at Rand's works), with vampires being at least superpowered and frequently aristocratic. If all stories with superpowered individuals count as a "Master Race" fantasy, I wonder how Keefner would analyze the X-Men franchise (where the superpowered individuals are rejected and spat upon by many within mainstream society, and the idea that superpowered individuals are a "Master Race" is an opinion held by villainous factions). Another criticism Keefner makes of vampire novels is that they reflect an alleged reversion to traditional gender norms; he argues that "many women are uncomfortable fitting themselves into capitalistic life and long for a return to a time when women were ladies, courted by knights" (p136). The problem with this argument is that plenty of famous vampire works with all of the aristocratic tropes (Bram Stoker's Dracula for instance) were written long before women, spurred on by Second Wave Feminism, began to enter the workforce. Second, the fantasy of having Prince Charming (or Prince Darkly-Sexy in this case) come in and whisk a woman away from normalcy goes back to our childhood fairy tales, which have been around for much longer than the modern career-woman. Third, the exact same fantasy is virtually omnipresent in romance novels in general and not confined to vampire fiction ("Paranormal Romance" a la Twilight is in fact a new genre). Finally, Keefner equates vampirism to a sort of hypermasculinity embodied in predatory male sexuality, forgetting the existence of female vampires (including lesbian vampires), and also basically ignoring the entire corpus of Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton, who's works explore very gender-atypical themes; Rice's male vampires are typically all somewhat androgynous and (the undead equivalent of) bisexual, and Laurell K. Hamilton is rather similar in this regard (with the addition of shapeshifting lycanthrope sex and BDSM). Is vampire fiction a hotbed of gender-traditionalism? I don't think that's a fair charge. Part 4: What Can Vampires Tell You About Reality? Keefner and Allegory Of course, Keefner doesn't think all fiction is bad; the fiction he likes is perfectly wholesome and reality-focused (gee, what a coincidence!). As he says, "If I watch Mad Men, for example, I am immersed in the fantasy of a world that no longer exists, but that story sheds light on the present, sheds light on big questions about identity, men and women, and the function of advertising and commerce in American life. It puts me more into the real world, even though it is a fantasy" (p138). Presumably, Keefner would thus consider fantasies with a relationship to the real world to be acceptable fantasies; if a story illuminates reality, it is healthy. Keefner, of course, presumes that vampire stories cannot do this; "Vampire stories, and genre fiction generally, don't connect me to the real world, but take me deeper into my own head, into the self-contained Bubble Universe of the Pretender" (p138). Keefner is either irrationally prejudiced against specific source material and/or he is completely incapable of grasping a very important component of fiction known as allegory. Indeed, most fiction is allegorical and most people relate to fiction not on a literal but rather on an allegorical level; the fantastical elements within stories are representative of aspects of the human condition. Sentient aliens in science-fiction shows usually embody specific aspects of human beings (there's the rational race, the proud-tribal-warrior race, the evil-totalitarian race, etc.). Mutants in X-Men are meant to be stand-ins for people who are cast out from mainstream society for whatever reason. Vampires themselves are also symbols and meant to be understood in an allegorical manner; it isn't that the readers desperately wish to go around and kill people and drink blood, but rather that the readers are attracted to what vampires represent. Vampire fiction has a long history and different authors address the concept in radically different ways; in addition, individual readers will probably identify with different takes on vampires so there is no "one true meaning" as to what vampires represent. However, I can compare two incredibly different takes. In Anne Rice, vampirism was a moral challenge to the prevailing asceticist, Christian order (which she rebelled against after her daughter died of cancer). Vampires were written as Nietzschean, but not in the sense Keefner describes; rather, they were symbols of rejecting God and embracing one's inner sinner! They forged their own moral paths in dealing with their new condition, they embraced this-worldly pleasures with unrestrained abandon, they relished in beautiful art and the company of beautiful humans and wearing sensuous fabrics and explored forbidden sexuality (even if they didn't have actual sex). Stephenie Meyer, on the other hand, completely inverted this; vampirism became a symbol of Original Sin, with Edward knowing he was deep-down a killer and craving redemption alongside Bella's blood, which he continuously denies to himself because the book is one giant piece of pro-abstinence propaganda written by a Mormon who wants to encourage people to save their virginity for marriage. The same fictional idea can be used as allegories for completely different things. This destabilizes Keefner's case for stigmatizing certain subject material or assigning it some sort of intrinsic meaning. But even more important than this is that allegories are by definition ways in which a story relates to something in the real world (in the case of both Rice and Meyer's vampire stories, they're principally about the morality of Christianity and, in Rice's case, the flaws of it). People do not like stories which they cannot relate to; this is even true of purely escapist fantasies (escapism allows people to fulfil their dreams and live up to their values on an epic scale far beyond what real circumstances practically permit - dreams are based on values which can be derived from reality (if someone's values are irrational, then persuading them to change their values should be the priority, not taking away their stories)). Humans have always used stories to spread and discuss moral ideas, to communicate alleged truths or facts about the human condition, and the like. Human beings relate to stories which embody their values and experiences in real life (at least allegorically). There is no such thing as a story which has zero connection to reality (or at the very least, someone's understanding of it). Allegory bridges the gap between the fantasy of the story and the real life of the reader. Anyone who thinks fantasies have no relation to reality, or form no more than an attempt to "escape" from it, is severely lacking in the ability to perform abstraction (the process from which allegory is derived). Part 5: Some Less Detailed Criticisms I was going to criticize several other aspects of Keefner's book at length but this review is getting too long already so I'll be brief. His idea that our culture is going "too fast" (with quick-cut-editing in films, video games being extremely quick for him, and cartoons) is ridiculous and greatly misrepresents many video games (plenty of games, even violent ones, often have a slower and more thoughtful pace). Frankly, this point of his only reinforces his image as a "cranky old man." In addition, he argues in his theoretical chapter that dark humour or any sort of violent entertainment or comical reaction to death is proof of a chronic lack of empathy that arises from not viewing others as fully real; he fails to understand that dark humour is premised precisely upon the horror of violence, and the humour derives from treating such a subject with levity. As for violent entertainment there is not a single reliable study which shows a link between violent video games (or movies or television) and real-life violent conduct, so Keefner's concerns about diminished empathy have never borne out. Part 6: In Defense of Goth Keefner explicitly attacks Goth as a form of "Dreamy Pretenderism" - a form of Pretenderism which Keefner diagnoses as as being based in feeling "helpless in the face of an oppressive social environment" (p49) and as being "reaction to mistreatment at the hands of brutish family members or bullying classmates" (p48). Goth is certainly in part based upon a sense of alienation from "mainstream" society, but Keefner effectively contradicts himself by saying that Dreamy Pretenderism has a cause. Keefner's theoretical framework says the primary problem with Pretenderism is that it isn't an authentic response to life experiences; isn't the experience of being within an hostile social environment a genuine life experience? Why shouldn't it be incorporated within someone's sense of life? Keefner also argues that Goth is a passive response to the hostile social environment; this is also false. The aesthetic of Goth, much of its music and mindset are in many ways a counterattack rather than wallowing in a sense of defeat. Indeed, the Goth mindset is actually quite a proud one; we are proud to NOT fit into "normalcy" and we are glad that we aren't one of the "sheep," and our culture places incredible value on individuality and independence of mind (values which are shared by Objectivism). If Keefner listened to some of the more harder-edge Goth music he'd find it hard to characterize the subculture as "defensive" or "passive," but the only Goth bands he names explicitly are Delerium and The Cure so it seems like his research wasn't extensive. I am not surprised; he talks about "those pairs of Goth friends you see in high schools sometimes, the kind that make you cringe as they walk by because you're afraid they're working on a suicide pact" (p48). This is a frankly ridiculous stereotype with no basis in reality and Keefner's invocation of it proves he has absolutely no personal acquaintance with any persons who are in fact Gothic. Keefner says what he'd tell a Dreamy Pretender, including a Goth, is "Don't carry your family or your high school around on your back. They don't define you." But a Sense of Life is a cumulative phenomenon, and so Keefner is effectively telling people to jettison their own pasts; rewriting reality is not a very Objectivist thing to do. Now, I'm sure Keefner would argue he's only talking about people who ignore the present and "close off" the development of their Sense of Life at the stage of those miserable experiences, but Keefner implicitly underestimates just how much of those terrible formative experiences can persist after high school and well into the adult world. The bully-driven pack-dynamics do not end after high school is over; old habits die hard and many people who were bullies in high school persist in being bullies afterward. The social cliques of "Queen Bee" females and the brutish jock-mentality of thug-like sportsmen persist well into adulthood and always have (particularly in countries like mine where sport is treated as the embodiment of true heroism). Even with an open-to-present-experience Sense of Life, one can still experience an hostile, enemy world and have one's Sense of Life affected by it (a good example is Ayn Rand's own depression after the publication of Atlas Shrugged). But, unlike Keefner's description of Goth as being reactive and self-pitying, I'm not merely going to counter his rebuttal; I'm going to provide an outline of what I believe Goth is and why it is compatible with Objectivism. First, Goth has little ideological or philosophical content beyond a sense of proud alienation from the mainstream (i.e. being glad to not be "normal") and a belief (shared by Rand) and independent though and individuality are to be cherished. Goth is thus "uncool" (rather than "outsider cool") and it looks down on "coolness" precisely because coolness indicates a person who cares more about what other people think about them than a person who thinks for themselves. People who adopt aspects of Goth culture for "outsider cool" reasons are castigated as "poseurs" (because if they're being "outsider cool" they aren't really being outsiders and they're operating on opposing premises to that of Goth, therefore they aren't members of the subculture properly understood). Goth is thus (properly understood) against any form of second-hander mentality. Second, Goth is principally defined by a set of historically and artistically interrelated music genres and the visual styles associated with these genres. But, Keefner might ask, how could anyone like music which has such a "bad sense of life" as Goth music? In advance, I would ask Keefner to actually research Goth music as a whole and listen to a wide variety of it; it actually is quite diverse. But for my primary argument, I'll flat-out state that Rand's condemnation of certain music as having an innately bad Sense of Life (and therefore proving philosophical and moral corruption on the part of the music lover even if they've been an Objectivist for many years and even defended Objectivism as part of their master's thesis) is simply wrong. Yeah, I went there. Of course a person's Sense of Life will determine how they relate to a piece of music, but this process is extremely complicated and individualized. As each set of experiences is particular, each Sense of Life is particular. In addition, not everyone may see each piece of music in terms of being a general statement about the entirety of life and the human condition but rather as commentary on certain aspects of the human condition. I'm going to use my favorite song of all time - "Joy" by VNV Nation - as an example here. This song deals with a certain aspect of the human condition; the struggle to live one's own life on one's own terms. We all live within societies that are at least significantly prone (socially if not politically) towards a pack-animalistic tribalistic mentality where individuality is scorned and compliance with social norms is commanded. What about those who wish to go against the grain (like Howard Roark, for example, or like myself in real life)? Well, the song sings from this perspective; the individual must fight a metaphorical war in order to assert his own right to his own life. "Have I no control? Is my soul not mine?" are the first two lines of this song; a question which many people have asked themselves, and a question which forms the basis of Classical Liberal political theory. The song's lyrics involve explicit rejections of Christian beliefs and assertions of individual self-sovereignty; "never to be ruled nor held to heel, no heaven nor hell just the land between." I find it ridiculous that someone could listen to this song and argue that the instrumentation alone voids all the lyrics, that an enjoyment of the instrumentation proves any sympathies one must have for the lyrics are false and that secretly one desires to institute a totalitarian dictatorship, but Keefner's desired return to the days of "Philosophical Detection" will inevitably elevate different stylistic preferences in music to the level of denunciation-worthy heresies. I'm going to place a link to the relevant song below; if anyone wishes to listen to the song and afterwards claim that I am somehow faking my Objectivism or my Sense of Life, they are welcome to make that allegation. They'd be quite stupid. This song's lyrics reflected my own experiences and the instrumentation suited my taste and reflect the emotional climate within myself over the experiences the lyrics discuss. Sense of Life does affect how one responds to music. But it does not follow that everyone with the same set of convictions will have the same Sense of Life (since Sense of Life is a product of life experiences), which in turn means that not everyone with the same set of convictions will have the same taste in music. Rand's speculations about music slipped into a near-fanatical Rationalism, and until we start treating the Sense of Life with the same level of particularism that we treat individual human beings we're going to keep falling into this trap. Part 7: Some Surprising Omissions, Including The Obvious Often, Keefner doesn't discuss things which one would think make perfect examples of his idea of being a "Pretender." He comes close in "Killing Cool" to doing so, where he looks at the "Cool Kids." But what he seems to forget is that "Cool" in many cases means culturally normative and fitting in. So why doesn't he go after the culturally normative? Why does he end up defending the bland and banal "middle class lifestyle" exactly? Why doesn't he go after the conformity of 50's suburbia or "wholesome small-town America" which suffers under religious orthodoxies to hilarious degrees? I mean, sure, he mentions it and spends one chapter attacking religion but he never rips into it with the same venom he deploys against Goths or vampire literature or anything like that. Why do his discussions on sexuality seem paranoid about female promiscuity (to be fair he attacks the "pickup artist" scene which means he's not holding to double standards though)? Why does he look down upon "rebellious" traits rather than conformist ones? Why does he think "table manners" are an issue of philosophical importance? Why does he complain about coarseness and rudeness in contemporary pop music? Why doesn't he go after country music for Pretenderism? I mean sure, he mentions the "folksy Pretender" (yet never subjects this type of pretender to any substantial analysis), but he doesn't go after Country and Western, even though he could easily argue that style of music is based on fantasies of being a cowboy and/or romantic nationalism and/or drowns in its own misery. Nope, apparently Goth (a niche genre at best) is a far greater threat than the Nashville machine (which makes, to put it gently, a hell of a lot more). I could go on with various different examples of this, but I really want to point at the biggest elephant in the room. Keefner argues that a central aspect of being a Pretender is to see life through a narrative filter; life follows a specific plot formula and other people are thus characters in a work of fiction rather than complex human beings. A Pretender fashions themselves around a preconceived archetype and lives inside a mental universe where everything is interpreted to fit this narrative. This, frankly, sounds an awful lot like the NBI-era Objectivist movement and it sounds a lot like something many young Objectivists do after discovering Objectivism for the first time (and something which some elder Objectivists still fall into from time to time); they try to become just like Howard Roark and not feel any pain or fear or guilt. People are no longer individuals with particular experiences, they are walking allegories for specific principles. Geopolitical events with complex causes and motivations become simplistic morality plays between the forces of good and the forces of evil (anyone remember the general Objectivist foreign policy shift towards neoconservatism after 9/11?). Because one must become an avatar of one's principles, one's taste in art must become Rand-approved. And of course, when you want to show contempt for someone, you must inform them that you do not think about them, and rationalize your thinking-about-not-thinking-about-them as a rational response to their obvious immense philosophical depravity. Small personal differences become intellectual wars between the rational and the irrational. Liking the wrong kind of fiction means you're secretly pining for an end to Capitalism. In Part 1 of this review I argued that Pretenderism may not (except in the case of social conformity) be a real pattern, since no one would adopt a style or image or worldview which didn't actually resonate with their actual Sense of Life. However, on second thought, it is amongst Objectivists where Pretenderistic-like behaviour seems to be disturbingly prevalent, although this isn't as common as it used to be. But why would Objectivists become Pretenders? In order to be perfect Objectivists! Rand's theories about art and aesthetics and psychology in general make some reasonable points, yet they are applied in such a simplistic, rationalistic fashion to such a degree that Objectivists will often see having divergent tastes as proof of treachery. Ergo, a Pretender Objectivist will try and purge their Sense of Life of its complexities and subtleties and nuances and try to make it exactly like how an Objectivist "should" be. Whereas an authentic Sense of Life will bear the imprint of a person's real life experiences and viewpoints, including but not exclusively limited to their Objectivism, a Pretender Objectivist will remove anything which doesn't match up to the plot of The Fountainhead. No, they didn't feel any pain or misery over being socially exiled, even before they had the philosophical strength to know of the virtue of independence. Why? Because Howard Roark felt absolute pure indifference to those who didn't-really-hurt him, so therefore they must feel the same way! Is Keefner's entire argument projection? Is the "Pretender" syndrome something he hasn't fully removed from himself? Because except for people who "pretend" in order to fit in, I cannot really see any comprehensible motive to embrace "Pretenderism." People would only "adopt" a Sense of Life if that sense of life resonated with at least the general tenor of their experiences (or substantial aspects thereof). But a Sense of Life is complex, and the general tenor of one's sense of life doesn't capture all the nuances, nor does it capture how one's sense of life responds to particular facets of the human condition, nor does it reflect only one's conscious convictions. The process by which someone became an Objectivist would matter; surely someone raised in a secular moderate-liberal household would probably find becoming an Objectivist a lot less fraught with trauma than someone who was raised a fundamentalist Calvinist. However, Rand's simplistic theorizing on the subject leaves room for only one legitimately Objectivist Sense of Life, one legitimately Objectivist taste in art, etcetera. Which drives individual Pretender Objectivists to attempt to strip out (in fact suppress) the nuances and variations and complexities which genuine Senses of Life possess, and instead to try and become a character in an Ayn Rand novel by any means necessary. The history of the Objectivist movement is well-known by Objectivists like Keefner. His complete lack of mentioning this phenomenon within the entire book (he spends a whole essay morally praising himself for being a teetotaller yet cannot write even a paragraph about the Pretender Objectivist), even though it seems a facially obvious instance of the "syndrome" he devotes his entire book to criticizing, is a nearly unforgivable blind spot. Conclusion Keefner gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I've done my best at being honest. "Killing Cool" begins with a theoretical argument of debatable contribution - is the Pretender a common phenomenon or a floating abstraction? I find it hard to imagine much beyond conformism that would encourage someone to just arbitrarily falsify a Sense of Life in the first place. From there he basically just goes through almost every aspect of modern popular culture and complains about it. He assigns a bizarrely pathological assessment to practically everything and even recites arguments which have been demonstrated as false (i.e. that violent video games are psychologically damaging). He goes so far as to argue that the vampire craze is latent anti-capitalism and that teenagers shouldn't have a culture. Coffee and energy drinks and quick-cut-edited films are going to drag us away from objective reality, and dark humor shows we're not seeing other people as truly real. Sesame Street is causing ADD and people having casual sex is just more proof we are slouching towards Gomorrah. Keefner's discussion of "Cool" has some genuine value, but the overall book just amplifies one of Ayn Rand's most unfortunate habits; philosophically rationalizing one's cultural preferences as the only acceptable ones. The pervasive neophobia of this book manages to reach a degree one would typically expect from Christian Conservatives. The "What's The Matter With Kids These Days?" mentality - a complaint which goes back to Plato - practically drips from every page. Finally, he ignores what would appear to be an obvious example of Pretenderism which exists in his own ideological backyard. This omission is a glaring oversight at best, and evidence of psychological projection at worst. "Killing Cool" would take the Objectivist movement back to the Bad Old Days, where liking the wrong piece of art could get you psychologically cross-examined for incorrect premises. "Killing Cool" provides a disturbing amount of ammunition for anyone who wants to package-deal our philosophy with that of those who thought that comics, movies, video games, rock music, roleplaying games or anything else of that ilk were going to destroy society and corrupt the youth. There is much room for Objectivist cultural criticism, but Kurt Keefner's "Killing Cool" is more complaint than insight, more condemnation than analysis, more contempt than contribution.
  12. I think Deanna's experiences show that culture probably plays SOME part in this. I mean, let's face it, many women are often told to act like bimbos because that will mean boys won't be frightened of them (the mere thought of giving into this belief system is what makes d'Anconia slap Dagny across the face, btw. It clearly happens to at least some women in our culture). On the other hand, biology may play a role. Spatial reasoning (imagining objects moving in 3d space) seems to be (in general) a little more advanced in males, whilst verbal reasoning seems to be (in general) a little more advanced in females at the same ages. Of course, culture may play a part in this too since we encourage females to play all those "Mean Girls"-esque social politics. At the ultra-high-end of the outliers spectrum it is still possible there may be a biological predisposition towards one sex or another. Still, I think it is frankly irrational to try and boil things down to one exclusive factor. It also reeks of determinism. Clearly the differences between the sexes are most rationally understood through a bio-social interactionist lens. Nature and nurture both play a role, as do factors at the individual level. I would reject the idea that the "real" difference is zero, but on the other hand I don't think "Mars/Venus" is true either. I think the Danish describe the sex difference as "The Little Difference," i.e. its there but its modest and hardly the end of the world. I think that's probably the most rational attitude to take. Its there in aggregate but its not massive and there's variance around that and really its no massive deal.
  13. Male Chess grandmasters and men who are skilled in highly-abstract thought in general are a very significant MINORITY of overall men, too (the same is true for women). Calling this a Male/Female issue obscures the fact that we are not dealing with the general population. We're dealing with outliers. It is plausible (and arguably probable) that the sexes may differ in terms of the likelihood of producing outliers in certain areas, but this doesn't say anything about the "typical" members of either sex.
  14. You may have noticed recently that a lot of people are very into "empathy." The recent U VA/Rolling Stone rape hoax story, before it got discredited, caused people to protest outside the house of the accused fraternity; at least one banner waved by the protestors demanded that the fraternity develop more "empathy." The online Intersectional Social Justice movement (often referred to as "Social Justice Warriors") regularly demand that their opponents develop more "empathy." For many years, psychologists have describe the psychopathic and sociopathic in empathy-related terms, conceptualizing these conditions as a fundamental lack of empathy. The same argument is often made about those with Autism (a neurological condition which is demonstable via a brain scan) and also people on the so-called "autistic spectrum" (i.e. quirky and quiet people who don't have any objectively-demonstrable neurological difference from the general population, but are stigmatized as having Autism because they don't fit in with "normal" people). Our society often sees psychotic killers and predatory rapists as "inhuman" and rightly so. This judgment, however, is often extended towards anyone who is seen as having insufficient amounts of "feeling-ness" or "empathy" - make a statement about economic policy informed by economic reasoning rather than "compassion" and suddenly you're "inhuman" and engaging in "cold calculation." The Hellenic philosophers argued that reason was the essential characteristic of human beings; our ability to reason separated us from the other animals. Even with the many errors made by all the various Hellenics (including Aristotle on several matters), they placed reason at the very core of what-it-means-to-be-human. Yet these days, too much reason and insufficient "empathy" makes you a psychopath/sociopath/rapist/just-plain-horrible-person/cruel and therefore "inhuman." According to popular culture, reason is not the essence of human-ness; "feelings" and "empathy" and "compassion" (which popular culture seems to cast as the antithesis of rationality) are the core of humanity. What happened? How did this come about? As is basically obligatory for an Objectivist, I'll play the blame game. And as much as I respect the British Empiricists, it is they who appear to be responsible. Hume's "reason as the slave of the passions" argument obviously helped marginalize the role played by reason in the popular understanding of the human condition. But it was his overall theory of moral sentimentalism (developed by himself initially but further developed and defended by his student Adam Smith) which seems to have caused the most damage. Hume's theory is not without worth nor is it entirely negative in terms of its consequences; in many ways it represents an attempt to reverse the idea of Original Sin and fully bury the Hobbesian view of human nature. Hobbes argued that human beings were naturally predisposed towards cruelty and violence; according to Hobbes we are not merely capable of such things but inclined towards them. This was made culturally-palatable to many by the Christian worldview which placed evil at the core of human nature; the slaying of Abel by Cain is, after all, the second great transgression against God. Whereas Hobbes argued man was by nature cruel and prone to violence against his brethren, Hume and Smith argued the opposite; they noted that humans in general do not wish misfortune or cruelty upon their fellows and pointed out that if we were inclined to kill each other then humanity as a species would be extinct. We also possess a strong natural predisposition towards relating to each other's situations owing to seeing other people as fellow humans and thus fundamentally "like us" - ergo we see a cruelty towards fellow humans and imagine such a cruelty happening towards ourselves which leads us to oppose cruelty to each other on a generalized level. Instead of being naturally inclined towards cruelty, Smith and Hume argued we are naturally inclined towards benevolence. Instead of bearing the Mark of Cain, we bear a natural empathy. Smith and Hume's argument was built off common sense and empirical facts (clearly this natural benevolence exists in general and violent people are the exception rather than the rule), but they erred in how they argued this natural empathy was the source of all morality. By arguing that morality was an outgrowth of innate empathy, the (perhaps unintentional) effect was to dichotomize "moral" behavior from "rational" behavior. Hume's own "slave of the passions" argument only further enforced that dichotomization by casting reason as a purely instrumental faculty for achieving emotionally-selected ends, rather than as a faculty that could be used to discern proper ends. "Moral" became an issue of the passions and the reason-passion dichotomy played along nicely. Smith and Hume's concept of empathy was not necessarily devoid of rationality (a lot depends on how one interprets their work, after all), but their work clearly was part of the process which resulted in the creation of the concept of empathy we know today. This contemporary idea of empathy sees empathy as a completely emotional faculty; not a rational understanding of others as fundamentally like oneself owing to the fact of them being recognizably the same species, but rather a "just feeling" thing. Relating to the situations of others is simply not good enough unless you FEEL how they do, via some instinctual reflex. Comprehending that person X is a person like you, comprehending X's situation and imagining that X's situation is not one you would personally want to be in, and thus feeling sorry for and/or wanting to help X? No, that's not good enough! It isn't "real empathy." Its "cold" and "heartless" and "calculating" and too rational to really be "caring." "STOP UNDERSTANDING AND START FEELING!!!" they cry from the rooftop. And of course, if you're someone who actually understands one's feelings, has a rational temperament, believes in a Cognitivist theory of psychology, well then you "lack empathy" which means at the very least you have a neurological disease that makes you "anti-social" and at worst you're no different to Jeffrey Dahmer. After all, humans are (in this worldview) defined by a natural and completely-unrelated-to-reason "empathy" which is what stops them from being rapists and murderers. Rapists and murderers are of course inhuman, and if you aren't simply OVERFLOWING with FEELS then obviously you must be the same kind of person as these rapists and murderers; an inhuman. And probably only a hair's breadth away from chopping up tons of innocents. Were Hume and Smith alive today, I'd suspect they'd be rather critical about how their work has been taken to support this emotionalistic worldview, however that is mere speculation. Still, their work clearly seems to have contributed to the feelings-fetishism of today's empathy-ejaculating attitudes towards psychology; once, reason was seen as the core of humanity, but today reason is seen as inhuman and humanity is seen as the possession of some completely instinctive/reflexive and non-rational empathic faculty. Which means those who prefer to think rather than feel are not properly human and only a hop, skip and jump away from being psychotic killers. Hume and Smith unfortunately contributed (perhaps unintentionally) to this modern attitude. In that, they have done a disservice to our culture by intensifying our culture's denigration of reason. They may have attempted to bury the Hobbesian view of mankind, yet the practical consequence of their ideas (at least in how other people have interpreted their ideas) was to replace the image of the mindless violent brutish thug with the image of the cold and calculating serial killer who's Original Sin is a lack of "empathy."
  15. Absent until April 19

  16. You know what I loved about this piece? We have an Objectivist defending young people. Rather than sinking into all the "what's the matter with kid's these days?" crap, an Objectivist is defending the younger people and saying they are GOOD. This is something Rand often did herself, and thank you Ed for continuing that tradition.
  17. MPP, You asked me about a whole number of things which could be possible. They are POSSIBLE in the sense they don't violate an axiom. Logically speaking they're possible. But I'm talking about the existence of Jehovah as described classically in most Christian theology. And this is NOT possible. Jehovah as understood by most Christian theology DOES NOT EXIST (and if a similar-yet-not-axiom-violating-entity did exist he'd be an evil disgusting monster, more evil than Cthulhu and deserving of nothing but the absolute hatred of every member of the human race). Jehovah as described in classical Christian theology is CERTAINLY not real because the only way for such an entity to exist would be for the Law of Identity and the Law of Non-Contradiction to be false. A Is A, A Is Not B, ergo all existing entites are finite and thus Jehovah cannot exist as defined by classical Christian theology. Jehovah as defined in OTHER theological schemes MAY exist (in theory) but I've seen no evidence for such a being and in addition, if such a being existed, he'd probably be a total douchebag.
  18. The issue of atheism and "knowing there is no god" is complicated by the fact that in these discussions, "god" is typically defined in the terms of Abrahamic Monotheism (i.e. an omniscient-omnipotent-omnipresent-omnibenevolent creator-god whom created all of existence ex nihilo blah blah blah). THIS concept of god is logically impossible and thus I can be 100% sure that this entity, as described (or any entities with the same description) does not exist. When we look at non-self-contradictory conceptions of god/s (I think a small number of branches of Christianity, including Mormonism, have conceptions of god which aren't self-contradictory, and the vast majority of neopagan faiths have non-self-contradictory ideas of god as well), then the atheist case shifts to the Burden Of Proof argument; I lack belief in these gods because I have seen no evidence that these gods exist. However, at least THEORETICALLY, these gods COULD exist... but that doesn't constitute evidence that they DO exist. In other words, I am a Hard Atheist (and also an anti-theist but that's a different issue) with respect to Jehovah (and similarly-situated entities). I am a Soft Atheist with respect to Thor (and similarly-situated entities).
  19. To an extent I have to agree with Kyle. It should be noted that rappers of the kind the OP is criticizing (mainstream super-rich "glam rappers") are both a relatively recent invention (they simply did not exist in old-school hip-hop and plenty of rappers still focus more on the issues of poverty and violence and oppression-by-the-cops endured by African-American and urban-poor communities.... Rapping about Cristal, Bitches, Blow and Bling is only done by the most mainstream and popular of rappers) AND they often get criticized by other hip-hop artists and fans (precisely because they aren't looking at the social issues which the genre often focuses on, and are instead too busy rapping about pimping out their bitches and cars). So, in fact there is NOT universal approval of "glam rappers." Or "artists being materially indulgent" in general.
  20. Many people have addressed the religious angle but there's another reason why the "born this way" argument is seen as critically important, and unfortunately it comes down to politics. I absolutely agree that the legal status of homosexuality should not be logically dependent on whether or not people are "born gay" (i.e. sexuality being biologically determined). If two members of the same sex decide to screw, or decide to get married, this act violates the liberties of absolutely no one else. If Rex and Pete get married, in and of itself this act does not initiate violence, fraud or coercion against anyone else. Therefore, it should be legally permitted, even if you believe its immoral. I mean, the USA doesn't make apostasy illegal, even though pretty much every religion on earth considers apostasy to be an immoral action. By the same token, the morality of a sex act should have no bearing on its legality - the only question which is relevant to the issue of any act's legality is whether or not the act involves the initiation of force, fraud or coercion. This is why laws against rape (which by definition involves force, fraud and/or coercion) are justified but laws against consensual sex of any kind are unjustifiable. But the above reasoning is libertarian reasoning, and unfortunately we don't live in a world where libertarian reasoning is widely accepted by everyone. Most people, due to religion or really bad political-philosophy ideas (typically both), believe that the State's role is to ban immorality; both the left and the right effectively embrace the idea that the State is a tool of moral instruction and moral training for its citizens. They have different ideas about what "immorality" consists of, but they still embrace the idea that immorality should be the target of State censure (as opposed to the libertarian/classically liberal principle that only violations of individual rights should be the target of State censure). This means that for gay rights activists, preaching pure political tolerance does not work, because most people do not believe in politically tolerating that which they consider immoral. Most people are not politically tolerant. It also helps that some gay rights activists themselves are not politically tolerant - they don't always embrace the idea that the State should be restricted to banning rights violations. Instead, many gay rights activists believe that the State should ban immoral things, they just define "immoral" differently to how the homophobes define "immoral." So the classical liberal argument from tolerance and individual rights does not fly consistently with either side of the debate. This meant that gay rights campaigners had to come up with a different argument to use. Both sides generally accepted the premise that the State's role is to make people be moral, so the obvious tactic is to argue that sexual preference is an innate thing and therefore not a moral issue. Even in our mostly-Christian society, most people (remember that the average person is not educated in Christian theology) accept the premise that moral judgment can only be rendered upon things one voluntarily decides to do. Innate, unchangeable characteristics are commonly seen as amoral. As such, the "born this way" argument was the most effective argument that gay rights activists had at their disposal. This is why so much effort is spent on substantiating the "born this way" argument (even though there are broad swathes of the Lesbian community who are political lesbians that do not accept "born this way" is true and instead accept a social-constructivist view of sexuality). It is the most persuasive argument when you're addressing a society that does not wholeheartedly accept a genuinely tolerant political philosophy. If people cannot be persuaded to tolerate nonviolent acts which they believe to be immoral, the only alternative is to convince those people that the act one wishes to promote tolerance of is a moral or amoral act. It should go without saying that I fully accept that homosexual desires and acts are themselves not immoral. If the person you want to shag is an embodiment of your values and worthy by your standards, then dancing the horizontal lambada with them seems perfectly moral to me as long as they render informed consent. Gender preference in sex partners is IMO just as amoral as flavour preference in icecream.
  21. In other words Varoufakis is arguing that bailing out Greece is deontologically correct. Or is he? He then talks about his party's policy agenda as being "the right thing to do" and then seems to demand a bailout as instrumental for such an agenda to be implemented. I obviously have issues with Kant but I can't see how Kant would approve of this either. Bailouts of Greece would effectively treat German and British taxpayers as means-to-an-end rather than ends-in-themselves. In addition, are bailouts logically universalizable? If everyone just bailed out everyone else the result would probably destroy the entire global financial structure and thus make it impossible for any more lending or borrowing (or bailouts) to take place. If everyone kept bailing out everyone else, would the concept of "debt" even have a meaning in the first place? No, it wouldn't - a debt has to be paid back and if bailouts were universal then there would be no paying back. Also, Varoufakis' argument about looking into the eyes of the poor is horribly emotivist/sentimentalist... something which Kant would dismiss as a motive based on "inclination" rather than sincere rational conviction. It also seems to be verging on consequentialist reasoning... a big no-no in Kantianism. As for Varoufakis' policy agenda and whether or not is satisfies the Kantian standard, I'll let Robert Nozick's work serve as my rebuttal.
  22. In theory, Sharia as a form of Private Binding Arbitration could coexist with freedom (presuming it was a voluntary legal code), and the previous example of Jewish religious courts in New York City is roughly similar in how it acts. However, the Jewish courts certainly didn't work to prevent the molestation scandals. Indeed, it is arguably no different from the Catholic Church's "internal" dispute resolution process (after all you can't POSSIBLY damage the reputation of the Church/Jewish People in front of the world/the Gentiles!) in that it swept things up under the rug for PR reasons. There's no reason to believe an Islamic court wouldn't succumb to the same pressures. Not only that but several punishments endorsed in Islamic law are on-their-face violations of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause. And of course, there's an important issue with respect to "voluntary" legal codes being based in religion; people tend to bring up their own children within their own religion (and this often gets into the realm of full-on indoctrination in the case of theologically-conservative religious groups). We can hardly say a child growing up in a family that has "voluntarily" accepted Sharia law (ditto for a child growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family!) has voluntarily accepted that legal code. If we are to accept the existence of religiously-based Private Binding Arbitration when voluntarily accepted, I think the law must do two things: First, there has to be some sort of 'supremacy clause' in which Constitutional rights and secular law trump religious law. For instance, if the 'crime' violates secular law it must immediately be referred to secular authorities (irrespective of whether or not the crime also violates religious law). In addition, cruel and unusual punishments must be forbidden. Secondly, children must be exempt from these religious laws. After all, PBA must be agreed to via contract and children cannot sign contracts. Religious PBA must be an "opt-in" thing and a person should have to be a legal adult before being able to exercise the choice to opt in. Naturally, these restraints will have to be applied across any form of religious PBA, including but not limited to Sharia. Equal treatment, after all. Under these constraints I can at least in theory see a coexistence between some form of religious PBA based upon Sharia (to at least some extent) and a classically liberal society.
  23. Christianity devolved into secularism? Really? And this as a one-way trip? Ever heard of the three "Great Awakenings" where religiosity greatly increased amongst the US population? Historically speaking it is NOT a one-way trip. There are plenty of historical examples of religions becoming more fundamentalist over time; indeed Islam is a good example (the Islamic Golden Age was less fundy than today's Islam because there wasn't the Salafist hegemony of today). The majority of people in Europe may have became secular but to say Christianity has completely devolved into secularism is flatly ridiculous and at best a first-world-centric view; look at the growth of theologically-conservative Christianity in Africa. Look again at the Third Great Awakening, where even American Christianity generally grew more conservative. Yeah, Europe is mostly secular (in its civil society) but still there are strong religionists in parts of Europe too. As for Islamofascism being 1500 years old, please explain the fact that the terrorist attacks against the US only started in 1983 with the bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut? Islamic terrorism of the Al Qaeda kind is a relatively recent historical phenomenon. I have no ability to tell what is in the mind of Muslims worldwide regarding religious sincerity but I'm very tempted to think they are sincere; suicide attacks generally require true believer fanatics. Perhaps all the leaders cynically exploit religiosity. That isn't something I think can be proven or disproven although we know wealth in general tends to encourage a shift towards social liberalism, so its plausible. I certainly agree with you that the solution to fundamentalist Islam is NOT to bomb the crap out of the middle East.
  24. "Economic theory" and "excuse for power grabbing by the intellectual-political elite" are not mutually exclusive categories. There are plenty of sincere Keynesians, however. Do you have any actual commentary on the refutation or do you just wish to preach to the choir?