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The following is a sample post that Harry Binswanger uses for example of his mailing list. I wonder if the economist was Greenspan, because Harry uses the past-tense of objectivist.

I also thought someone would be dying to add their comments since the board has been over run with a flurry of posting. <g>

In the late 70s, I and an economist who was then an Objectivist had
a conversation with Ayn Rand which included the topic of the
relative roles of philosophy and economics in a culture. This
conversation is relevant to our ongoing HBL discussion of the
future of the Arab states, so I thought I would relate it.

The economist was maintaining that if laissez-faire capitalism were
(somehow) instituted in a society, that would lead to the emergence
of a philosophy of rational self-interest. His argument was that in
such a society, those individuals who were rational and productive
would rise to the top. These individuals would become wealthy and
influential. The irrational and altruistic would stay poor and lose
influence, and the average person would see concretely, he argued,
that rational selfishness leads to success and happiness, so the
philosophy of the culture would shift towards rational selfishness.

Against this, I argued that philosophy not practical, worldly success
is the only thing that matters. I don't remember, but I probably
accused the economist of implicit Marxism, because he was holding
that economic conditions create philosophy.

Then Ayn Rand spoke. To my shock, she acknowledged a certain,
limited validity to what the economist was maintaining. Her
position, if I am both recalling it correctly and stating it correctly,
was that philosophy was, indeed, the fundamental, but that a good
economic system does indeed reinforce, through practical
demonstration, the rightness of the philosophy it requires. There's a
reciprocal causation, she explained. *First*, there's the issue of
having the right philosophy, but then, secondarily, the right
political-economic conditions reinforces, "downwards," so to speak,
the social acceptance of that philosophy.

I was impressed by her non-rationalistic approach. Rather than
dogmatically holding to some absolute of "philosophy and nothing
else," she looked at the facts of reality--which do include the fact
that (in my wording) people can learn from observing the practical
effects of one way of life vs. another.

I vaguely recall her adding something to the effect that this practical
demonstration of the link between capitalism and success/happiness
could be overwhelmed by a bad enough philosophy. And even if she
didn't say that, it is clearly true that if no one in a culture is willing
to question bad philosophical premises, or if the people who "rise to
the top" continue themselves to push the bad philosophy (and
assume unearned guilt, exhibiting the sanction of the victim), the
practical demonstration of the link between rational selfishness and
happiness will not accomplish anything, philosophically.

The relevance of all this to the current situation in the Muslim
countries is that one can neither dismiss nor exaggerate the impact
of an improving political-economic condition on the populace of
these countries.

And crucial here is the mixed nature of the influence of America.
On the one hand, America is both the philosophical and material
symbol of the right philosophy. Philosophically, America means to
the world: the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Materially, America is constantly beaming to the world the image of
a nation awash in a wealth that stands in a dramatic and continuous
contrast to their abject poverty. Plus, psychologically, American
culture is a concretization of a life of happiness and self-esteem.

On the other hand, America's intellectual leadership is constantly
pumping out the opposite message. And America's culture, too, is
suffused with malevolent, anti-rational elements--particularly in our
art, such as many of our movies, gangsta rap "music," and the
whole Religious Right's opposition to life on this earth.

If America were morally and intellectually self-confident, if we
were proudly propagandizing for rational selfishness, I have no
doubt that the whole world, even the Arabs, would move with
rapidity toward the right philosophy and politics. But given the
actual state of affairs, with the mix of elements I outlined above, I
think it is impossible to predict which way the world will go.

Binswanger concludes with:

In the end, the battle for the world's philosophy and freedom depends on what happens in that battle here in America.

Let's roll!


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