Reason and ethics

In a comment on one of his posts, Sanjeev Sabhlok says

Reason must be balanced with ethical conceptions.

Where does he think ethical conceptions come from?

Promoting ideas

This is an interesting way to promote the ideas you believe in. From the post

Some folks here at Office Nomads have asked me to give a talk. I figured I’d open it up to the public.

Details:

  • Location: Office Nomads, 2nd Floor, 1617 Boylston, Seattle.
  • When: Noon to 2pm, October 5, 2010
  • Cost: Proof of a $25 donation to EFF or Fix Congress First. (If you’re tight on cash, let’s talk.)

[Some links removed]

What’s in a name?

Shobha De writes

…Ten days ago, i received a call from a Muslim friend. She sounded a little concerned. Her anxiety had to do with her nephew’s admission into one of Mumbai’s better colleges. His marks were good, his conduct exemplary. He had been a prefect at school and participated in several extracurricular activities. I asked what the hitch was. She sounded almost embarrassed as she said, “Well, we are Muslims and that seems to be the problem in a lot of colleges.”

There is no getting away from the current polarization. … At the time (post- 26/11), we believed it was a passing phase that would disappear once everything ‘settled down’. Except that nobody quite knew what was meant to settle down or whether it would ever happen. … Two years down the line, there are no alibis, no screens to hide behind. Positions have obviously hardened to such a degree that now city colleges have begun to follow their own quota system and turn down eligible students because they are Muslims. … That awful attack was the work of hardcore terrorists. What we are doing may be much worse — we are killing the spirit of innocents. The latter crime may have far more lethal repercussions!

Ten years ago, I might have fully agreed with De. Today I know better. Religion is not like race or caste. It is not something you are born with or into. It is a label for a system of beliefs. Those beliefs can be chosen or rejected. When an overwhelming majority of terrorist activities are carried out by Muslims, it is clear that there is something about belief in Islam that incites people to violence. Religious profiling is hardly comparable to discrimination on the basis of race or caste.

On the other hand, it is also a fact that there are many, many Muslims who are just as rational (or irrational) as people of other religions. These people do not deserve to be profiled out just because they have a Muslim name. What are they to do? There is a simple solution. They can change their names. What’s in a name anyway?

One of my father’s PhD students suspected that her research papers were being discounted because of her gender. She simply resorted to using her initials and surname instead of her full name. Problem solved.

However, this solution only works for those who really do not care about their religion. And that is as it should be. Those Muslims who are irrational enough to believe that they are really losing something by adopting a non-Muslim sounding name get to live in a world filled with people just like them. In other words, they deserve what they get.

Is and as

Question:

Is is as or is as is?

Answer:

de jure is is is, and as is as is is, but de facto is is as and as is isinst

To find out more read this post by Eric Lippert.

Dr Rodger’s testimony against subsidies

I came across this testimony delivered by Dr Rodgers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductor via this essay by Paul Graham. 

Rodgers begins his testimony with

In my right hand I have a data-communications chip made by Cypress Semiconductor. We call it HotLink. It is capable of transporting information over a wire, or through an optical fiber, at the rate of 330 million bits per second. In my left hand I have a 4,196-bit static random-access memory (SRAM) chip made by Cypress. It is capable of storing and retrieving data in three nanoseconds–about the time it takes light to travel one yard. It is the fastest SRAM of its type available from any company in the world. Our HotLink chip would undoubtedly be part of any data communications network created in the United States–and in high volumes. Our super-fast SRAM is currently being used in conventional supercomputers.

Another excerpt:

So please allow me to reintroduce myself: I am an excess of the 1980s. Based on my ownership stake in Cypress, I am one of the people who, in the President’s words, “profited most from the uneven prosperity of the last decade.” I became a paper millionaire in the 1980s–eight times over, in fact.

How did I profit? I started a company in Silicon Valley. I obtained stock in that company when it had one employee (me) and one used computer. I worked with that company for a decade–sixteen hours a day, six days a week–to help get it where it is today.

And where is it? Over its ten-year history, Cypress has generated over $1 billion in cumulative revenue, made over $160 billion in profits on which we paid $60 million in taxes, created 1,500 jobs which paid cumulative salaries of nearly $500 million, on which our employees paid further taxes of $150 million. We have shipped cumulative exports worth $300 million. We have generated a market value of $500 million for our shareholders and employees–all of whom own stock in the company.

Vow! That reads like Henry Rearden’s courtroom “defense” in Atlas Shrugged. It is great to know that there are people like this in the real world. From some of the other public statements by Rodgers (links can be found on the wikipedia page on Rodgers), it is clear that Rodgers has read Rand. This is what great works of art can do.

Superstition and the free market

These days, several local TV channels here in Mumbai show advertisements for trinkets, bracelets, necklaces, armbands and what not with mystical powers. Usually these advertisements are preceded with a disclaimer stating that the channel does not take any responsibility for the claims made in the advertisements. I suppose most rational people would be disgusted by this and would be indignant at the channels and the swindlers who make such “products”. I cannot help feeling disgust myself but this is merely the free market at work and it is all for the good. There is a large number of people who are superstitious and desperate enough to try out these things and it is inevitable that someone will cater to them. The beauty of the free market is that it “works” even when the participants in the market are irrational. Whatever one may think of the swindlers and the channels involved, the free market (in this case) transfers money from superstitious fools to more rational people. That is good. And as more and more such “entrepreneurs” step into the market, the ineffectiveness of their “products” becomes easier to see. That is good too. Perhaps some fools will come to their senses after burning their fingers. That is good too. Those who don’t deserve to lose their money. That is justice. And the free market achieves this without coercion and without the altruism involved in activist efforts to reform people. Leave men free to deal with reality on their own terms and you have freedom, justice, efficiency and progress.

Consider the opposite where a government tries to regulate and restrict the sale of such “products”. Who pays for the government’s efforts? The rational tax payers. Who benefits? The superstitious fools. The net result? Money is transferred from the productive rational people to superstitious fools. Virtue is penalised and stupidity is protected. Can one imagine injustice worse than this? The only thing that can justify this is the miserable doctrine of altruism. Prevent men from dealing with reality on their own terms and you have bureaucracy, injustice and inefficiency.

Value – Intrinsic or Subjective?

Value is not intrinsic. It is not in things and conditions but in the valuing subject.

                                    —Ludwig von Mises, Theory and History (posted at Aristotle The Geek)

Or, in other words: Value is subjective. This reminds me of the second paragraph quoted below taken from the Ayn Rand entry in the Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (Incidentally this also reminds me that I need to complete reading Theory and History which I started a few months year back and failed to finish.)

Fundamental to Rand’s outlook—so fundamental that she derives the name of her philosophical system, “Objectivism,” from it—is a trichotomy among three categories: the intrinsic, the subjective, and the objective. (Rand 1990, 52–54; Rand 1965, 13–23) An intrinsic phenomenon is one whose nature depends wholly on factors external to the mind; a subjective phenomenon is one whose nature depends wholly on the mind; and an objective phenomenon is defined, variously, as that which depends on the relation between a living entity’s nature (including the nature of its mind) and its environment, or as that which depends on the relation between a properly functioning (rational) mind and extramental reality. Commentators are divided over the best way to interpret Rand’s views on this issue.

Rand holds that there is a widespread tendency to ignore the third category or to assimilate it to the second, thus setting up a false dichotomy between the intrinsic and the subjective; on Rand’s view, many of the fundamental questions of philosophy, from the existence of universals to the nature of value, involve fruitless debates over the false alternative “intrinsic or subjective?” in cases where the phenomenon in question is neither intrinsic nor subjective, but rather objective.

(Bold mine. Italics in original)

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