Monday, February 28, 2011

Rationalism in Objectivist Romance : Common Errors Among Young Objectivists

I had a discussion with a recent college graduate who considered herself a devotee of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism.  Ayn Rand's position on friendship was that one should be friends with others in proportion to their values.  Romantic love is friendship in the extreme, sharing life's most intense pleasure with the person one values the most.

My friend believes that you value or disvalue someone based solely on their values, which are chosen rather than inherited.  This means that in any kind of friendship, including romantic, their physical attributes, including their gender, should count for nothing.  (Many people believe similar things without being Objectivists.  Witness how often we hear that we should look past someone being overweight.  Or watch the movie Shrek).  She is frustrated because she believes that a homosexual male friend should commit to her, but he doesn't want to because he's also attracted to guys - even guys who share his values less than she does.  She said that "being a woman or a man is not a virtue...I have dated a number of guys that I was not initially attracted to, but as I got to know them and discovered their virtues, they became more attractive to me."  These arguments have had some success persuading this guy to date her.

I give her credit for taking the position to its logical consistency.  Usually, I find myself arguing with people that in romance, physical attributes are primary and fundamental.  It's not simply the genital equipment - it's also the body features and aesthetic associations with the equipment.  Otherwise, we would have sex with a person with similar values regardless of whether s/he were male or female, transvestite or hermaphrodite.   Also, if values were the only thing that mattered, all Objectivists would be friends with each other, and they are not.  Values and other personality qualities clearly amplify physical attraction, but I would argue that there are serious physical minimums well beyond just having the right gender.

To illustrate a point, I asked my friend how eating food could be a value given that none of us chose to be food-eaters.  Things don't become values simply because we choose them; things are values because they stand in a certain relationship to our lives/minds/happiness.  Objectivists should not pick values and stick to them just because we picked them; we should pursue what we know through reason and experience with maximize happiness.  And no amount of telling yourself that a person should bring you sexual gratification from his/her virtues will actually bring that gratification.  I suppose you could go without that gratification because you're obtaining other kinds of values, but that would be a major sacrifice.  It's forcing a square peg into a round hole. 

In order for objectivism to work, one has to make assumptions about what makes the mind happy.  Objectivists think we'll be happier as producers than simple inheritors of fortunes or recipients of nepotism because something about the way the brain works makes us happier as such.  Likewise, the brain responds to the physical stimuli of other people, or it doesn't.  My friend basically asked me, "have you tried not being consistently  heterosexual?" - just as absurd as asking a gay person if he's tried not being gay.

As we continued the conversation, she said "it's ridiculous to have the single most important quality in a mate be something [gender] that is no more a virtue than eye color."  I'd say avoiding anal penetration is on a different level of importance to me than the satisfaction of seeing a pleasant eye color, though I didn't mention that to her.

People reward good lookers all the time whether they have the values one wants or not - they're more likely to get good jobs and better mates (at least ceteris paribus), etc.  This skews the conditioning we want to encourage good values.  But if any particular person leaves looks out of their mate calculus, they are not going to reform the society.  What could be more altruistic and futile than doing so?

This is rationalism at its most extreme, because one is ignoring what one feels and forcing oneself to feel what one thinks s/he should feel.

I pursued this argument no further.  She was obviously getting testy and in my view, I planted a seed of doubt.  The only thing to do is wait and then hand her a box of Kleenexes and some Edith Packer pamphlets when the car wreck happens.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Should you date activists in the same movement?

America's Future Foundation had a Valentine's Day themed forum on "diving in or steering clear" tonight.  A member of the audience pointed out that the Catholic Church has been encouraging people to have sex with other Catholics for thousands of years.   Center/right think tanks have several socials a month where you can meet desirable members of the desired gender.  And yet, two libertarian women debated this proposition in a panel tonight. 

Whether by accident or on purpose, the two people arguing for romance with other activists were males and the two arguing against it were females.  Here are the salient points I can recall:


1. Even if you meet an activist from a different workplace at a social like AFF, they might become a coworker.  There are a lot of mergers, cross-think tank pollination, and changing jobs in DC.
2. Other women you work with might become enemies if they know you have slept with an ex or are dating someone they are simultaneously dating.
3. Philosophical purity is boring; disagreement makes conversations more interesting.
4. Dating is a numbers game, and there are a lot more men outside of the movement than in the movement.
5. There are more men than women in the center-right movement, which sounds good until you've had the experience of "rabid wolves" and "eager beavers" pouncing on you at the happy hour.  A more even balance is actually preferable.
6. It's distracting to you and your coworkers if you're dating someone at the same think tank.
7.  You and your romantic partner become seen as a couple rather than as individuals.
8. You miss out on networking opportunities at networking events if you are mainly making sure your date is happy.
9. Gossip is bearable in the relationship but becomes quite painful post-breakup.
10.  If you date older men in the movement they have huge egos and if you break up with them, they become angry and accuse you of giving them mono (a joke that fell flat).
11. By dating out of the movement, you help to spread the word.
12.  By dating out of the movement, you'll hear about different meet ups, events, activities than you would hear about with someone on the same email lists as you.


1. Obviously, you share common political beliefs, and you're more likely to share underlying values, than some random person.
2. Dating is tough.  Why would you want to restrict yourself from dating any pool of people?
3. You can mitigate damage from gossip and rough break ups by being professional at work and mature/honest with your dates.
4. You have one less thing to argue about.  One of the speakers mentioned an argument in the car with a significant other while picking up Karl Rove from the airport.  According to him, the S.O. glared at him as if she was contemplating a car wreck for the future of the country.
5. How about spreading the word from libertarians to conservatives, or vice versa?  We'll understand each other better.
6.  Best case scenario - soul mate.  Worst case scenario - water cooler gossip.  The ratio of benefit to cost seems favorable.  [Of course, worst case scenario is really sexual harassment or some other career damage.]

In the rebuttal, one of the women mentioned that consequences are much worse for females.  Women can be seen as social climbers if they date within the movement, whereas men give each other high fives and say "atta boy!" if they date a superior.  Men are also much more forgiving of men who have dated/slept with the same woman than women who have slept with the same men.

I thought it was odd that conservatives and libertarians were seen as obviously part of the same movement.  I thought the differences were serious enough that they would not see each other as family.

In the last question, a man said that at CPAC, a woman took down his email to add him to an organization's email list.  She not only added him but sent a friendly email.  One of the female speakers called that "an indicator of interest."

A man in the audience blurted out "Atta Boy!"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Supply and Demand of Dating 20 somethings

 The dynamics of online dating are totally different for men and women.  In February 2005, long before the Craigslist killer, I proved this to a skeptical friend by doing an experiment on Craigslist.  This is old news, but I might as well share it with someone other than my original interlocutor. 

I wrote an ad for myself with no photo attached in the "men seeking women" section.   Here is the ad, entitled "Renaissance Intellectual Seeks Counterpart."

"I was raised by wolverines since the age of 3 (OK, that's a lie, but they might have done a better job than some real parents). I have been a part time instructor at a college, but I'm starting a PhD program in political science. I'll do whatever it takes to become a college professor: juggling, flame throwing,etc. I like Epicurean delights, cheating death with extensive exercise, hitting the road for some serious soul searching, and sipping a cafe latte while reading a book by Milton Friedman (I can't help it - I was raised by insensitive wolverines). I'll be happy to send a pic if you send me yours. I have light brown hair, thin but toned build, and blue eyes."

In one week, I received 6 responses from women.  None of the responses were interesting to me, and half of them had spelling or grammar errors that were deal breakers.

After the week was over, I took the same ad and posted it in "women seeking men."  Again, the ad had no photo.  I received 43 responses in the next 24 hours, and 83 over the next seven days.  If you ever reply to a woman's post (on Craigslist or any personals website where you email as many as you want for the price of one), that's what's you're up against.

I've heard women complaining that men send them pictures of their anatomy or request big breasts in their responses. Old (sometimes married) men with no chance send them pics. I received much higher quality responses. If the pics and self-descriptions were semi-accurate, most of the responses I got were from successful, polite men.  One guy looked like a Calvin Klein model. A few of them were bald.

The most interesting responses were:

"Interesting profile, I too was raised by wolves however, and after sever years of hearing about the 3 little pigs and the little girl riding through the Hood I decided to abandon that part. I'll start slow with just a small picture and If I hear from you I'll continue. I have a big one too,Picture I mean.. stop that . lol"

"The wolverine understands strength, understands power, understands endurance, respects the alpha male. The alpha male controls the pack because even if all beta males would attack him at the same time, he would always kill at least one other before being killed. The female with the greatest wisdom, greatest endurance, leads by action or inaction, chooses the which pack’s alpha to follow, holds the ultimate power of the wolverine. Therefore, alpha must be not just strong, but wise and kind to keep her. This alpha is sick, reads craigslist instead of Faulkner, loses meaning of symphonic clause sentences when writhing in intestine pain. No doubt I would have lost the pack for the week, been killed by the betas."

"What do you think? Could two people reading Milton Friedman and Leo Tolstoy be compatible?"

"I dont think i have ever met a woman who was raised by wolves but you sound like one of the more normal cl women who happens to also be raised by wolves."

"Epicureanism? Cheating death? Hitting the road? Very nice. Milton Friedman? A little troubling but the 'insensitive wolverines' joke makes it seem less troubling."

"While I was not raised by wolverines myself (which has left me with a lifelong complex) I was born in IN next to Michigan (home of the Wolverines) and my twin brother and I were almost named Romulus and Remus (who were raised by wolves, as you know) but then my Dad relented at the last minute. It's too bad that is not a joke. I mean, could I make up something like that?"

"as a greek am an antiquity intellectual.. perhaps we can communicate ;) ?"
- This was the entire message. What a scholar!

There are far more men seeking women than women seeking men for this age bracket - not surprising.  What I think it proves, though, is that women should be more understanding of men who have a mostly generic personal ad response and send it out to a lot of women.  If a woman only dates 6 of the 83 responses she receives from her ad, a man's odds are not very good if he puts all of his eggs in one basket or even a dozen baskets.  If women only have relationships with one in 6 dates, that means that men have to write 83 unique  responses to a 83 different personal ads.

The ratios are ostensibly even at popular bars and clubs,  but men nearly always would like to meet women there, while many women go just to dance, hang out with their female friends, and be seen.  Additionally, the lights are dim and the noise is high, so it is difficult to accurately assess how they really look and talk at such places.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

C Change at CPAC

I met New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson at the Cato Institute in July and gave him my card.  His campaign contacted me and offered me admission to CPAC for $15.  I wouldn't have been interested except I remembered that CPAC chose Students for Liberty over Bob Jones University last year, so I knew that you didn't have to be a social conservative.  This year, the Family Research Council, the Concerned Women of America, the American Principles Project, and Sen. Jim DeMint all declined to attend because the gay organization Go-Proud was there.

Apparently, that wasn't the case just 3 years ago - in 2008 or before, you would have found lots of participants gung-ho for the Iraq War.  Even last year, Ron Paul only filled the smaller rooms.  Admittedly, 50% of the audience were college students.  Nonetheless, I imagine there were a lot of students in 2008 as well.

This year, Ron Paul was filling the largest halls.  Republican C-man Paul Ryan started his speech with "How many of you like Ron Paul?  How many of you like Rand Paul?  How many of you like Paul Ryan"? Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are not safe at CPAC anymore - someone yelled "war criminal" when
Rumsfeld appeared.  If they're not safe at CPAC, where are they safe?   The Young Americans For Freedom president was booed for calling Ron Paul supporters "nuts," as was Donald Trump for saying his candidacy was unrealistic.  As it happened YAF had tons of leftover cake, which the presidents served himself.  Some students started taking the silverware and cutting it themselves, but not trusting the spontaneous order, the president said "I'll handle that" and students (including me) walked away.

On Thursday night, both Rand and Ron Paul gave a talk.  The talk was preceded by a 20 minute humorous cartoon about the history of central banking and the Fed. The huge audience cheered when Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton.  The movie ends with the protagonist talking to Ben Bernanke in Spartan clothing and
Bernanke attempt to buy the protagonist's cooperation.  The protagonist then yells "THIS IS AMERICA!" and kicks Bernanke down the hole.  At many times people got up and yelled either "End the Fed" or "Run Ron Run."

Overall, I found the experience dull.  I went Thursday and didn't go back Friday or Saturday (except for evening festivities) for the price of my time.  Most of the speeches were "pander...stand up and clap...pander...stand up and clap...pander...conclusion."  Most of the participants avoided deep thoughts as well, seeming to view political candidates as saviors instead of recognizing the need for cultural change or realizing that American values were not yet consistent with pure capitalism.

I voted for Gary Johnson and Mitch Daniels in the straw poll.  Ron Paul had his shot in 2008, and he's now too old at 75.  But Paul nonetheless trounced Johnson - over 30% compared with Johnson's third place finish of 6%.

I went to a bar both Thursday and Saturday night, and was mostly bored at both.  The bar Adams Mill was packed like a sardine can and you had to charge your way to the bar.  I left after 20 minutes.  Saturday night was "Reaganpalooza," and was slightly less packed and less crowded.  I mainly talked to my UCLA colleague Emily, who was at CPAC for field research.  I also heard about this incredible story ( about James O'Keefe - the ACORN pimp - attempting to seduce a reporter with dildos and Viagra on a boat, but the reporter was warned by his assistant, an acquaintance of mine.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cranks: An Academic Work Hazard

After a long day at a political science conference, I went to the hotel's whirlpool with one of my fellow conference goers.  There was also a muscular, tattooed, middle-aged Native American.  My colleague and I talked about my presentation earlier in the day, along with the discipline.

After about 10 minutes the Native American jumped in and started talking about politics and history.  He said America was settled by the debtors, rapists, and thieves of Europe. He pointed out American institutions derived from the Iroquois.

Furthermore, Native Americans did not cross from Asia to the Americas, but from the Americas to Asia.  The proof is in the Bible, which refers to "red people" in various parts.  [Of course, the Bible has a completely different god than his tribe's god.]

He also mentioned that his god gave the four races of Earth each a gift.  The four races - his words - were the red men, the yellow men, the black men, and the white men.  The yellow men were given knowledge of technology.  He said that black men were given the gift of athleticism, and nodded respectfully to my colleague on the other side of the whirlpool, who happened to be black.  Finally red men were given the gift of compassion, and white men, knowledge of how to wield power.  This guy thought it was outrageous that Natives were called Indians, but calling them red was okay.

My colleague excused himself and went to the sauna calmly and silently.  According to him, I had a glazed look on my face as if I were struggling to find a way to bring the conversation back to a reasonable level.

I asked, what about the Aztecs?  They ran an empire.  He said, "well, just as there are regional differences in Asia between the Chinese and Japanese and Koreans, there are some regional differences among the Native Americans."  I excused myself shortly after this point.  Arguing with random strangers like this is not worth my time.

The next day, my colleague and I came home from dinner and went to the hotel bar, rather than the elevator, since the Native American was about to take the elevator.

What's your favorite story of a crank?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Predicting Obama's Place in History

In 2008, I wrote an unpublished op-ed about why liberals should vote for McCain and conservatives Obama.  The short version - if Obama won, he'd have little political capital, and disappoint the liberals, and if McCain won, he would hasten the demise of the Republican Party. 

This conclusion was sparked by a political science book called The Politics Presidents Make, by Yale political scientist Stephen Skowronek.  US history consists of regimes where one party's ideas and institutions are somewhat more dominant for a generation.  "Opposition presidents" who oppose the dominant regime always run into trouble - Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, and Andrew Johnson were examples that were almost impeached because they overreached and alienated both sides.  In order to accomplish something when the other party's ideas are more popular, they need to be sneaky, compromising, and two-faced.  There are five regimes in US History - the Jeffersonian Regime, the Jacksonian Regime, the Lincoln Regime, the New deal Regime, and the Reagan Regime.  In early 2008, when I wrote the op-ed, I believed that the ideas of the Reagan regime still had vitality in 2008; Bush fatigue should not be confused with Reagan fatigue.  I predicted that Obama would be an opposition president.

Generally, regimes end with a leader who tries to straddle the stalwarts of their party and those who think the party's solutions no longer work in modern times.  Think of Jimmy Carter.  McCain would have fit that mold perfectly.  He had a record of being a maverick, and yet tried to prove that he was a loyal conservative during the campaign.  Skowronek calls these leaders "disjunctive presidents."  Streamlining things by vetoing pork was a good plank for McCain, because that's something that appeals to everyone, both the base and the reformers.  Carter did that too - he promised to improve welfare services without spending any more money on them, and tried to streamline government with deregulation.  Yet, their political failures hasten their party's demise as the public believes their party's solutions no longer work.  Some presidents are dealt a losing hand.  I didn't think of Bush as a disjunctive president, however, because disjunctive presidents have never won reelection, and almost never have the political capital to launch a war.

Two things seemed wrong with this in the fall of 2008.  First, Obama's indictment of the Reagan regime seemed a lot more thorough than Clinton, Nixon, and Johnson's indictment of the Reagan, New Deal, and Lincoln regimes.  It even seemed to generate a movement for transformational leadership.  Second, I thought the really poor economy would give Obama much more capital than normal, and the Congressional election was a landslide for Democrats.  Other presidents we might consider transformational did not have supermajorities in Congress as big as Obama's (especially the most recent one, Reagan, whose party never controlled the House).  Even Franklin Roosevelt's majorities contained a lot more conservative Democrats than now exist in the Senate.  The poor economy could have skipped the disjunctive phase and placed Obama right in the transformation phase. 

Now, I think my original prediction was more on target.  If Obama were to be a transformational president, as he hoped to be (remember his praise of Reagan), he would have to energize liberal followers the way FDR did (with unions) or Reagan did (with the conservative movement).  The only movement he's energized is the Tea Party, an opposition he helped crystallize.  Crystallizing an opposition is much more characteristic of opposition presidents than transformational presidents.  The movement behind Obama's election was more about the man than his issues.

For conservatives, the bad news is that opposition presidents often win reelection.  Presidents Tyler, Taylor, Cleveland, Wilson, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Clinton are opposition presidents, and only the first two lost reelection.  Obama has also passed a lot more of his liberal proposals than any of those presidents except Woodrow Wilson.  The good news is that a McCain presidency would have been a disaster for conservatives.  The Tea Party, lacking a bete noire, would have been much less powerful while liberals would have formed a strong group opposed to "Bush's third term."  With the recession looming large, a McCain presidency would have been a prolonged test of conservative ideals in the public mind (the public, rightly or wrongly, would see Bush and McCain as conservatives).  Having a Democrat in office has deflected much of that feeling.  Republicans can marginalize Bush and don't need to explain away McCain.

I say this with hesitation; the stimulus and health care proposal are truly repugnant to conservatives.  The health care proposal will be very hard to dismantle, and perhaps worse than anything McCain would have done, but the alternative might have been a worse health care proposal down the line.