Dystopia Weekend: America's Ayn Rand Problem

It was only six years ago — but it seems so much longer than that — that I wrote a book called Why Ayn Rand is Wrong (and Why It Matters). This book emerged from a series of blog posts I was composing (under my then-pseudonym Levi Asher) called Philosophy Weekend.

Philosophy Weekend was a wild ride and a big success on Litkicks, generating an incredible number of intelligent comments from highly engaged readers who wished, along with me, to delve deeply into the topic of morality and political ethics. I loved every minute of this, but eventually had to halt this series because work, family and other projects were demanding my attention. I hope Philosophy Weekend is still happily remembered by the hundreds of people who kept up a vigorous debate with me in our comments section — often about hot topics of the day, which we discussed in light of the writings of various progressive social philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte, William James, Dorothy Day, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Carl Jung, Yoko Ono and Abbie Hoffman (all of whom I respect and consider important) ... along with those of several influential materialists or conservative "realists" like Thomas Hobbes, Friedrich von Hayek, Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman (whose asses I tried to kick in these debates).

Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov: Russia's Eternal Literary #Resistance

Because I love literature, I bristle when I hear Russia described as my country's enemy.

Certainly Vladimir Putin is our enemy, because he is a tyrant who murders journalists. And certainly Donald Trump is our enemy, not only because he's a racist and a sexual predator and a con-man, but also because Vladimir Putin is clearly his role model, his idea of an effective leader.

But Putin does not own the epic Russian soul or mind, and Russia's historic intellectual achievements have formed bridges of human connection that no crass politician can ever tear down. Even if the entire planet explodes this weekend (as it might, since the ignorant Trump thinks he can solve the Korean problem with nuclear weapons), we will burn in friendship with the land that produced some of the most searingly brilliant writers of all time.

It was 196 years ago that the first of the three greatest of the many Russian greats was born. This is the fire-hot Fyodor Dostoevsky, who somehow found the formula to turn existential expressions of rage about the cruel absurdity of human life into taut, gripping works of fiction. I most recently read for the first time his The Idiot, which brought to me once again the special joys of a Dostoevsky novel: the twisted humor, the irony upon irony upon irony, even the simple gorgeous moments of innocent pleasure that enflame his tortured characters, because these moments tie them to their own tragic lives, and to the faulty, impossible Earth.

Miami Diary, August 2017

I've been communing with a view of the Atlantic ocean all summer.

I don't get to spend as much time out there swimming in it as I'd like, because I'm a workaholic no matter where I live. But the view out my window helps keep me centered. The great ocean sparkles and gently churns as I plug away on endless coding errors, architectural conundrums, bug reports. The gorgeous wide sky beckons to me too, swirls of orange fire in the morning, steady pale blue at noon, dusty maroon and magenta in the late afternoon.

I drifted down to southern Florida this summer for no special reason, except that an empty apartment became available to me, and my remote location job (for a very hip and innovative magazine/digital publishing company based in the Midwest) allows me to work anywhere I want. I'll be back in New York City in September, but I'm enjoying the getaway and the mellow Miami lifestyle. Well, I haven't had any margaritas yet, nor smoked a good cigar ... but I have played a bit of poker, done a lot of swimming and listened to a lot of Reggaeton, and I guess I'm getting a decent tan.

Some of you may remember the memoir of my technology career in the Silicon Alley years that I drafted on this blog several years ago. I got a great response to this work in progress, and I'm still planning (yes, really, I am!) to do a final draft of this memoir and publish it as a book. This autobiography covers my life and work from 1993 to 2003. Since then, I've remained fully in the game as a web developer as well as a literary/political blogger. On the web development side, I guess the technical challenges that vex me and my co-workers have only become more overwhelmingly difficult and paradoxical since 2003.

Ride to Think: The Lonely Journey of Robert M. Pirsig

Robert Maynard Pirsig, author of the great 1974 novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, died on April 24, 2017 at the age of 88. This novel was a cornerstone of the late Beat/Hippie literary era, and it continues to touch the hearts of countless readers all over the world.

Though this novel's fetching title makes a big first impression, it's about much more than Buddhist philosophy and combustion engines. As a philosophical novel, it brushes quickly past Eastern philosophy to dive deep into the classics of ancient Greece, and despite all this it's really a novel about parenthood, and about the challenge of staying centered and sane amidst the trials and challenges of everyday American life.

Most of all, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a personal, autobiographical story about a father worrying about how to raise his son. It's mainly because the novel works so effectively on this raw emotional ground — of course, its clever title and zeitgest-y Summer of Love vibe helps too — that it remains so widely loved by so many readers today.

The Great Lost American Rock Memoir: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

The audiobook of Bruce Springsteen's autobiography Born To Run is narrated by Bruce himself. It kicks off with a bizarre, unexpected noise: a slow thundering torrent, familiar but eerily transformed. This is the opening of the great rock anthem "Born To Run" played at half speed: booming drum roll, snaky rockabilly guitar, the surprising ping of a glockenspiel — slowed down to reveal the sonic architecture behind the instrumental chaos.

Well, isn't a revelation like this what a musical autobiography should be all about? And isn't this why I love rock memoirs so much? The uncanny sound that opens Bruce's book prepares us for what we're about to do: slow down musical time, stand still to bask in the ephemeral signposts of subliminal consciousness that bind the listener and the musician together. A great musical autobiography, which is what Bruce's book is, allows us to apprehend the miracle of musical creativity as an act of wonder, a shared journey, a mystery unfolding for reader and author alike.

Midsummer in Winter

I fell particularly in love with Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" when I saw it performed in Central Park in New York City — a perfect setting, long ago, outdoors on a summer night, with William Hurt as a bemused but domineering Oberon.

I loved the play not for its thin various plotlines, but for the metaphysical confrontation at its center. Two quarreling couples and a ragtag theater group wander separately into a forest near Athens where they fall into the clutches of the magical beings who live in wild nature: fairies, sprites, indeterminate magical troublemakers and vengeful rulers of the spirit world, whose various dramas parallel those of the mortals they observe. The play exists where the two realms meet, though the harried souls who populate both worlds are so lost in their private agonies and yearnings that they barely care to register the alternate worlds that exist nearby.

The pranks and romantic mishaps are light touches upon the possibilities Shakespeare's great engine of juxtaposition provides. "Midsummer Night's Dream" succeeds not so much for the play it actually is as for the suggestion of all the plays that could take place in this magical forest where mortals and spirits intersect. The key character is Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, who flits from story to story and laughs about what fools these mortals be. The play's most sublime scene offers the possibility that a hapless but vain local garment worker might find himself suddenly bearing a donkey's head and making love to the great Fairy Queen herself in a comfortable flower petal bed while being tended to by winged forest creatures named Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mustardseed and Moth.

Our Rhinoceros Year

In the play called Rhinoceros by the Romanian dramatist Eugene Ionesco, two men are sitting in a cafe in a small French town when the improbable news arrives that a rhinoceros was seen in town. Soon the two men look out the window to see several rhinoceroses rampaging through the streets. They are surprised at this development, of course ... and then one of the two men starts transforming into a rhinoceros as well.

Eugene Ionesco had grown up in Romania, one of several Eastern European nations shattered by the first World War that eagerly allied with Hitler for the second. Ionesco's Rhinoceros is about Romania, of course — about decent citizens of a modern society who transform into witless, delirious fascists, and about one decent citizen, the protaganist Berenger, who does not catch the disease but cannot cure those who do.

Rhinoceros presents a blunt metaphor, but Ionesco has also delivered subtler messages about the dangerously thin veneer of civil society during his long career as a Romanian absurdist playwright in French exile. His earlier play The Bald Soprano offers a polite dinner party in which a few friends and romantic partners discover that language has ceased to be a connective tissue between them. They all know each other, and yet they suddenly find themselves unable to discern their relationships and even their own identities. The more they try to talk, the more they teeter towards complete estrangement.

Dystopia Weekend: America's Ayn Rand Problem

This article is part of the series Philosophy Weekend. The previous post in the series is What We're Creating Next.
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Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov: Russia's Eternal Literary #Resistance

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Miami Diary, August 2017

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Ride to Think: The Lonely Journey of Robert M. Pirsig

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The Great Lost American Rock Memoir: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

This article is part of the series The Great Lost Rock Memoir. The previous post in the series is The Great Lost Rock Memoir: Inside Out by Nick Mason.
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Midsummer in Winter

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Our Rhinoceros Year

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Eamon Loingsigh in Exile

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A Time For Kicks, A Time For Inspiration

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November 2016: Our Fight Begins

This article is part of the series Big Thinking. The previous post in the series is Big Thinking: Jung and the Electoral Map.
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