Tibor Machan - Why I am a Fly Swatter

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Why I am a Fly Swatter

by Tibor R. Machan


When the Russian born American novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand decided to discontinue The Ayn Rand Letter—her publication in which she advanced nifty ideas about various aspects of the (mostly social) world—she explained her decision by quoting Frederick Nietzsche who said that "it is not your job to be a flyswatter." Nietzsche preceded this advice by advising, "Flee, my friend, into your solitude: I see you stung all over by the poisonous flies. Flee to where a rough, strong breeze blows! ...No longer raise your arm against them! They are innumerable, and....

Alas, for great creative geniuses such as Ayn Rand and Frederick Nietzsche—and the superior human beings he was instructing in his famous work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra—the advice makes perfectly good sense. Occupying themselves with going after all the nonsense being put forth by thousands of people who sound of—and may, alas, have some influence in their culture—could be a waste; unless these flies produce deadly poison, that is. Mere irritants clearly do not warrant the attention of the geniuses among us—they would do much better thinking up grand ideas instead of responding to the zillions of silly ones being created in endless streams.

But it is not only geniuses who fight the good fight in most cultures. There are all the foot soldiers who also put pen to paper and with the emergence of all the means of communication and record keeping, some fly swatting seems to be very much in order for them.

I am, of course, just such a fly swatter. I have not had too many original ideas—one I can recall has to do with why nostalgia is so appealing, but it's no great shucks, that one. Mostly I have found others, the geniuses, who have taught me a thing or two and after making sure they are sound ideas, I have set myself the task of applying them to various problems I see around me, including the problem of being "stung all over by the poisonous flies."

Not only that but I also see that it is imperative that those good ideas I have learned from the geniuses must be reiterated many times over. As George Orwell is supposed to have opined, "Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious." Notice his careful choice of words—intelligent men isn't the same thing as geniuses!

A few days ago I ran across a discussion of some of my works at a blog and found that there are people out there in cyberspace who find it really annoying that I repeat points in various forums—books, essays, articles, scholarly papers, conferences, lectures, seminars and so forth. These critics haven't said why exactly it is a fault to repeat oneself, especially if the repetition is spread out over, say, forty years or writing and several dozens of books and hundreds of papers and thousands of columns. But never mind that. On its face it does appear that too much repetition is pointless and boring, does it not?

When I try to figure out why it doesn't seem to me that this is true, I think of the guy who has fallen into a well and keeps yelling "help," "help," and "help," over and over again. It would surely be idiotic to shout down to him to say, "Stop being so repetitious, you are boring us to tears."

Fact is, some matters are important enough to be repeated a lot, especially when one is good at doing so and isn't taking time from more important tasks, such as those one would have if one were a genius. I have admittedly repeated myself, though I hope in interesting enough and varied ways, about some crucial matters. Mostly I have been on alert to watch out for all those flies, with their poison, who would throw overboard the principles of human liberty in a jiffy and must be stopped from doing so, at least in the realm of punditry, of public discussion.

So unless I am found out to be a genius and learn that fabulous notions are being left undeveloped by me because I spend so much time crying "help, "help" as the enemies of liberty keep producing their poison, I shall continue despite my critics' lament. I think it is not a wasteful thing for me to do this.

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Tibor sent me this article via e-mail and has granted permission to post it on OL (the mechanics of posting articles on OL are not as easy as they could be, so I posted it instead of him).

Thank you very much, Tibor. Let me state for the record that I do not consider you a flyswatter. Sometimes you manage to "swat" much bigger game. And I, for one, am glad you repeat and keep the flame burning.

Humility is not much of a virtue in Objectivism, but I found your lack of pretentiousness in this article extremely charming.


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