2006 TAS/TOC Summer Seminar Highlights


Michael Stuart Kelly

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2006 TAS/TOC Summer Seminar Highlights

This is a quick note from Kat and me to let everybody know that the Seminar is fabulous. Whoever thinks that this organization is not doing a good job really needs to attend something like this (either that, or such a person has a personal stake in talking bad about the good).

Barbara's talk was simply magnificent, as were other ones we attended. The people could not have been better people to get to know.

More details will be forthcoming, but we wanted to say hi to the OL people who are not here with us. We wish you were (we miss you).

If anybody who attended wants to share their impressions or anybody else wishes to comment or even ask about what went on, please do so.

The event ends Friday - way too soon. Stay tuned for more later.

Michael & Kat

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I'll briefly chime in here -- this is by far (so far) the most enjoyable TOC (now TAS) event I've ever attended. I think what really makes it special is the one-on-one and group interaction, discussing ideas, problems, past experiences, hopes and future projects, families, relationships, etc., as well as sing-alongs, playing charades (Phil Coates is "da bomb"!), etc. I even learned some things about Ayn Rand's "tiddly-wink" music that I didn't know before, thanks to a reminiscence that Barbara Branden shared.

Unlike the Advanced Seminars I attended from 2001 to 2004, this Summer Seminar's content ranges over much more than academic philosophy topics. Robert Campbell gave a delightful survey of different blues stylists, Michael Shapiro presented a biography/appreciation of Modest Mussorgsky, and Phil Coates shared some helpful insights about heroes and role-models -- just to name three sessions that I attended. Ed Hudgins' "State of the Culture" address very nicely laid out the problem of achieving a mature Objectivism in a culture that fosters immaturity, incivility, dependency, and irresponsibility -- and while hampered by segments of the movement that more closely mirror the culture at large than they do the direction in which TAS/TOC is trying to move. And Barbara Branden's talk about Objectivism and Rage showed both a depth of analysis and understanding and a depth of passion and concern for the problems that challenge our movement. If it's possible, magnificent is an understatement.

On the academic side, I enjoyed Tibor Machan's talk on Wittgenstein's status as a naturalist, cognitivist in moral philosophy (as against the conventional assessment of him), but I really deeply admired and enjoyed Shawn Klein's masterful three-part series on Empiricism and Skepticism (Locke, Hume, and the Objectivist alternative). Great stuff! And there's more great stuff to come in the remaining two days.

REB

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Michael said:

This is a quick note from Kat and me to let everybody know that the Seminar is fabulous. Whoever thinks that this organization is not doing a good job really needs to attend something like this (either that, or such a person has a personal stake in talking bad about the good).

Count me among those who disagrees that TAS/TOC is “doing a good job.” If the primary goal of TAS/TOC was the production of successful seminars, then I suppose your point would be valid. However, my understanding is that TAS/TOC’s purpose is that of transforming our irrational culture into a rational one. To accomplish this, it would need to consistently show through its various teachings how Ayn Rand’s ideas can improve the world we live in. To take one very crucial example, it would need to proclaim in as loud a voice as possible how an ethics of rational self-interest would have prevented the sacrifice of innocent American lives in a futile effort to create a viable democracy in Iraq.

With all its faults, ARI is doing just that, by publishing article after article showing how our policy of “compassionate war” and the application of “just war theory” leads to the tragic waste of our valiant soldiers’ lives in that mid-Eastern hell-hole. ARI’s essays reveal how bad philosophical ideas are not merely academic analytical exercises but substantive ideological frameworks with life and death consequences.

What does TAS/TOC have to say?

“…The Objectivist Center does not endorse particular government policies; rather, it promotes the principles that underlie good policy in general." ( http://www.objectivistcenter.org/showcontent.aspx?ct=586&h=54 ://http://www.objectivistcenter.org/sh...px?ct=586&h=54 ://http://www.objectivistcenter.org/sh...px?ct=586&h=54 )  

At the same time, TAS/TOC comes out in defense of “just war theory,” ( http://www.objectivistcenter.org/cth--353-The_Justice_War.aspx ://http://www.objectivistcenter.org/ct...tice_War.aspx ://http://www.objectivistcenter.org/ct...tice_War.aspx ) thereby lending its tacit sanction to all the horrible, senseless carnage this fundamentally altruistic viewpoint has caused.

With respect to this one critical issue, the approach of TAS/TOC reduces Objectivism to the status of a worthless ivory tower enterprise whose announced “principles” give a cavalier stamp of approval to one of the ugliest, most destructive policies ever adopted by our nation’s misguided leadership. The fact that so many of TAS/TOC’s commentaries tend to be virtually value-free, avoiding controversial ethical positions in favor of broad-based cultural or economic analysis, is further evidence of the same problem. ( http://rebirthofreason.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0559.shtml )

But, hey, they put on a really fun seminar. Well, not that anyone asked, but now you know why I wasn’t there. I am sorry if my words in any way dampen or detract from anyone’s experience. The spiritual vitality that such events can provide is enormous and invaluable, while the opportunities for Objectivists to refuel are precious and few. I am not criticizing those who chose to attend, nor do I mean to imply that many of the presentations were not important or worthwhile. (In particular, I would love to have heard Barbara’s lecture. And witnessing Barbara and Nathaniel together again would have been a memory to treasure.)

On the other hand, I have to honor my own conscience. If you want to suggest that I have a personal stake in talking bad about the good, so be it. I am the one who has to face me in the mirror tomorrow morning.

Dennis

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Dennis,

I just got back from the seminar and, no, your words did not dampen my enthusiasm one bit. TAS/TOC, from what I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears, is doing one hell of a job. I feel like I just returned from a week in Atlantis.

I did not wish to imply that you are a person who likes to demean the good. I was referring to some people who definitely are. (btw - I am sorry I did not get to meet you.) I believe you are sincere in your focus on the Iraq war and if you get more benefit from the ARI publications on it, obviously you should read them more than TAS/TOC stuff and support them more.

I would like to warn you against doing something Rand did, though, by condemning Ronald Reagan based on his views on abortion (which, to her, apparently was a far more important issue than the cold war). "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" still gives me goosebumps. Reagan was one hell of a President and was very good for America, even if he wasn't good for abortion rights.

I will have more information I will write tomorrow, especially about the upcoming Atlas Shrugged movie (and the news is quite exciting). This issue alone should do more to help change the world than any protest against a war could ever do.

There are so many great things to share...

More later.

Michael

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This was my first summer seminar and I had a great time and met so many wonderful people. It was a real treat to be hanging out with people who I have come to know through OL and the online Objectivist community. We also made several new friends as well. A big group hug to Barbara, Nathaniel, Leigh, Roger, Becky, Robert, Fran, Phil, Jordan, John, Marsha, Felicia, Chris, Jerry, Glenn, Wallis, Walter and the girls, Ann, Cathy, Judith, Jack, Duncan, Alec, Clarence and all the other wonderful people we met at TOC-Con 2006.

I really enjoyed getting to know Barbara and spending some time with her. She is truly an amazing woman. One of the highlights of the conference was Barbara's talk on Rage and Objectivism. It was truly inspiring and she received a long standing ovation from a packed house. I felt like I was witnessing a truly historic speech, along the lines of "I have a dream."

The other sessions were very good as well, and quite a few Objectivist Living members gave wonderful sessions. Some of the other highlights were Robert Campbell's session on positive psychology, Nathaniel Branden's talk on romantic love, as well as the joint session with Barbara with Duncan Scott. Ed Hudgins on Mature Objectivism, and then there was Roger Bissell's concert where he put down his trombone and started singing opera in German! Wow!

There was also a wonderful series on the Philosophy of Atlas Shrugged and some very positive news about the Atlas shrugged movie and the Objectivist History project, a theatrical adaptation of Anthem and a wonderful dinner/dance at the end of the conference. It is a week I will never forget.

A big thank you to David, Will, Robert, Gene, Ed and all the TOC sponsors and volunteers for a wonderful conference. I am already looking forward to next year!

Kat

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Enjoyed meeting everyone at the Summer Seminar! This was a terrific seminar. Of the eight I've attended this was probably second only to 1995 when David Kelley gave his Benevolence talk, Allan Blumenthal gave a stirring piano concert and Kirsti Minsaas gave terrific lectures on Ayn Rand's fiction.

I especially enjoyed Joe Rowlands' talk on eliminating the altruist baggage, Walter Donway's talk on neuroscience, Jay Friedenberg's lecture on cognitive science, Joe Duarte and Robert Campbell's lecture on positive psychology. I also was blown away that the Atlas Shrugged movie is reaching pre-production soon.

Some more thoughts later.

Jim

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I already made a brief comment. I agree with Jim and the others that it was the best Summer Conference. The news about the movie is great. The Baldwins seem like people who love the book and want to do right by it. I thought David's and Will's early course was great. I also liked Barbara's talk. Roger Donaway should have come sooner.

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I mentioned a few talks in the post above that especially got me thinking. There was also a terrific arts series including Roger Bissell's tremendous smooth, and soulful trombone and Ben di Tosti on the piano, there was Michael Shapiro's wonderful presentation on Mussorgsky, Phil Coates' presentations on heroes and Marty Lewinter's comic and brilliant presentation on mathematics

My differences with Barbara aside, she gave a terrific talk about what constitutes mature debate in Objectivism. My attitude about this is Ronald Reagan's motto of after six. Reagan would frequently tear his opponents apart in debate, but after six he would be courteous, charming and have dinner with many of them. This is what Objectivists should aspire to. The concept of a worthy opponent.

There are very big things at stake in debates between Objectivists and fellow travelers, but the biggest things are what we share. Those things we share are surely greater than the things that divide us. If we approach our differences openly, honestly and with good will we can at least acknowledge a worthy opponent and give him his due.

Jim

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