Dr. Burzynski and Hank Rearden: Real Life Mimicks Atlas Shrugged…Again

atlasshruggedIn the novel, Atlas Shrugged, the great steel tycoon, Henry “Hank” Rearden and his assistants create a metal alloy that’s stronger, lighter and cheaper to produce than steel. For this great achievement, the government subjects Rearden to every form of business obstruction it can muster. This includes a propaganda campaign, new laws and attempts to badger Rearden into selling the rights to the metal to a government institution.

In the real world, Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski and his team developed a cancer treatment that’s more effective (for some cancers), safer to administer and that produces much milder side-effects than radiation and traditional chemotherapy. For this great achievement, Dr. Burzynski was subjected to a harrowing, multi-year ordeal of interference by the FDA and state government.

This incredible, real-world progression of events is meticulously and compellingly documented in the 2010 film, “Burzynski,” currently available on Netflix streaming.

While the documentary is a searing indictment of the FDA, it is less compelling in its attempt to implicate the competitive drive of big pharmaceutical companies as the motive power behind the persecution of Burzynski. The evidence for this connection is relatively scanty. But it is certainly possible that there is some influence there, and it is definitely true that the FDA’s persecution of Burzynski served to insulate “big pharma” from competition. This would be another real-world parallel to Atlas Shrugged. There the politically connected steel baron, Orren Boyle, is involved in the government persecution of Hank Rearden, in order to eliminate his more able, productive and efficient competition.

But the lesson to draw from “Burzynski” is not that the pharmaceutical industry needs to be more heavily regulated, or that the FDA needs more “oversight.” The lesson is that the FDA needs to be abolished. Companies of all kinds will always want to remove obstacles and competition from their paths, but without the FDA regulatory machinery, they would have no way to do this by legalized force. They would only be able to overcome competition through superior efficiency and customer service. (Any coercive methods would be criminal.)

Moreover, the regulatory institutions of the state give politicians and bureaucrats the power to violate the decisions of individuals and private companies in the name of “the public interest.” This distorts economic decision-making, cripples market efficiency, and leads to pressure group warfare as described by Ayn Rand in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal:

‘So long as a concept such as “the public interest” (or the “social” or “national” or “international” interest) is regarded as a valid principle to guide legislation—lobbies and pressure groups will necessarily continue to exist. Since there is no such entity as “the public,” since the public is merely a number of individuals, the idea that “the public interest” supersedes private interests and rights, can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others.

‘If so, then all men and all private groups have to fight to the death for the privilege of being regarded as “the public.” The government’s policy has to swing like an erratic pendulum from group to group, hitting some and favoring others, at the whim of any given moment—and so grotesque a profession as lobbying (selling “influence”) becomes a full-time job. If parasitism, favoritism, corruption, and greed for the unearned did not exist, a mixed economy would bring them into existence.

‘Since there is no rational justification for the sacrifice of some men to others, there is no objective criterion by which such a sacrifice can be guided in practice. All “public interest” legislation (and any distribution of money taken by force from some men for the unearned benefit of others) comes down ultimately to the grant of an undefined, undefinable, non-objective, arbitrary power to some government officials.

‘The worst aspect of it is not that such a power can be used dishonestly, but that it cannot be used honestly. The wisest man in the world, with the purest integrity, cannot find a criterion for the just, equitable, rational application of an unjust, inequitable, irrational principle.’

In this case, the “public interest” coincides with the short-range “protection” of the major pharmaceutical companies, since their “partnership” with the FDA represents the “established system” of “ensuring the safety and efficacy of drugs.”

If the US were to institute a system of government that only protects the individual rights of citizens from the coercion and fraud of others, its people would be much better off than with the FDA.


Related Posts:

America Before The Entitlement State

19th-Century Capitalism Didn’t Create Poverty, But Reduced It

How to Show That Taxation is Robbery

QuickPoint 2: Altruism Supports Coercion…

What Caused the Financial Crisis: It Wasn’t Capitalism or Deregulation

Ayn Rand on Politicians, Ideas and Compromise


“Commentators often exhort some politician to place the interests of the country above his own (or his party’s) and to compromise with his opponents–and such exhortations are not addressed to petty grafters, but to reputable men. What does this mean? If the politician is convinced that his ideas are right, it is the country that he would betray by compromising. If he is convinced that his opponents’ ideas are wrong, it is the country that he would be harming. If he is not certain of either, then he should check his views for his own sake, not merely the country’s–because the truth or falsehood of his ideas should be of the utmost personal interest to him.”

–Ayn Rand, “Selfishness Without a Self,” Philosophy: Who Needs It

The Social Metaphysics of Communism: MiG Pilot

MiG_PilotThe book, MiG Pilot, is the true story of a Soviet pilot who defected to the United States in 1976. As a MiG-25 pilot, Lieutenant Viktor Belenko was among the most elite officers of the Soviet military. Like all Soviet military men of the period, he was thoroughly indoctrinated in Communist ideals and fed misinformation about the West his whole life. Yet through many years of observation and logical thinking, he came to see that there was something deeply wrong with the USSR. The rampant drunkenness, dishonesty and economic stagnation he witnessed eventually drove him to fly his MiG-25 to Japan, seeking asylum in the United States–the very heart of the “Dark Forces” he had been taught to fear.

The following incident is from Lt. Belenko’s time as a MiG-25 pilot stationed at Chuguyevka in Southern Siberia. Belenko’s thoughts at the time are represented in {green braces.} Again, I stress that this book is nonfiction; as in, this actually happened:
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A Refutation of the Argument from Design

The following is my short refutation of the Argument for God, from Design:

The Argument from Design purports to show that God exists by showing that only he could have designed the universe (or some part of the universe.) So, what does “design” mean? The relevant definition here would be: “conceived in a mind [God’s mind] and intentionally implemented in reality.” So the concept of “design” requires the existence of a mind (conceptual faculty) to conceive the idea for the object(s). Further, in order to do anything, the mind must have an intention or purpose. A “purpose” is a goal of a conceptual consciousness; the value for which it acts. Take careful note of the meanings of these concepts in reality and their relationships to each other; it is these concepts on which the Argument from Design rests.

The refutation of the Argument from Design is to observe what is actually required to infer design in an object and to show that this cannot be done with “God.” To infer design from an object: a) You must already know of some type of purposeful entity (based on other evidence) whose goals could potentially be served by the object. b1) Further, you must be able to observe some sort of purposeful function for the object as a whole (the object is a means to a goal beyond itself, whether practical or artistic.) OR: b2) You must be able to find evidence of a method of purposeful manufacture that is already known as such by other evidence. c) In order to observe that (b1) or (b2) is true, you must be able to contrast the purposeful nature of the construction of the object in question with something else that was not manufactured and has not been altered for a purpose.

The argument from design is capable of producing evidence of human-like aliens from observations of human-like alien artifacts, since human goals could potentially be fulfilled by such artifacts. But because of (a), the argument from design can’t apply to an immortal and radically different creature, whose alleged goals we cannot fathom. We have no basis for thinking that living beings have any purpose beyond themselves. They grow, metabolize, reproduce, and die in an endless cycle. The forms evolve over time, but to no clear goal beyond their own continuance and survival. Of what possible value could a succession of mortal humans be to an ultra-powerful, immortal, unchanging being? There’s no basis even for speculation, because there’s no basis even to consider it possible for an immortal, unchanging being to have values. (This supposition is arbitrary.)

The only known reference we have for purposes, and the relationship of designer to designed object, is humans and their creations. Indeed, the very concepts of “purpose”, “goal” and “value” only have meaning in reference to temporal, living entities that face an alternative between life and death. Goals and values are what living entities pursue in order to keep themselves alive, growing, flourishing, as opposed to deteriorating, suffering, dying. The concept of “purpose” is the same as “goal,” except that “purpose” involves the conceptual consciousness of a living being that is intent on the goal.

Thus, to say that an immortal and unchanging being has a “purpose” is literally meaningless; it defies the actual basis of the concept. Therefore a “design” by such an entity is meaningless and impossible to hypothesize.

In other words, whenever anyone talks about “God’s design” or “God’s purposes,” they are literally not making sense. The only way such phrases can be made comprehensible at all is by anthropomorphizing this alleged God into a mortal, very powerful human.

(For more on the nature of concepts and values, I refer the reader to Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Exp. 2nd Ed. and The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand, and to Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality by Tara Smith)


Related Posts:

Link Highlight: Introduction to Objectivism Playlist

The Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

The Quran Promotes Violence Against Non-Muslims

The Axioms of Objectivism

Proceeding from Axioms in Objectivism — YouTube Edition

Free Market Revolution by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins

Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government is now available at Amazon.

From the description:

A look at how our current crises are caused by too much government, and how Ayn Rand’s bold defense of free markets can help us change course.

The rise of the Tea Party and the 2010 election results revealed that tens of millions of Americans are alarmed by Big Government, but skeptical that anything can or will be done to stop the growth of the state. In Free Market Revolution, the keepers of Ayn Rand’s legacy argue that the answer lies in her pioneering philosophy of capitalism and self-interest -a philosophy that more and more people are turning to for answers. In the past few years, Rand’s works have surged to new peaks of popularity, as politicians like Paul Ryan, media figures like John Stossel, and businessmen like John Mackey routinely name her as one of their chief influences. Here, Brook and Watkins explain how her ideas can solve a host of political and economic ills, including the debt crisis, inflation, overregulation, and the swelling welfare state. And most important, they show how Rand’s philosophy can enable defenders of the free market to seize the moral high ground in the fight to limit government. This is a fresh and urgent look at the ideas of one of the most controversial figures in modern history – ideas that may prove the only hope for the future.

To anyone who is relatively unfamiliar with Ayn Rand’s ideas, but interested in solving our current economic and cultural problems, I encourage you to read this book. I encourage anyone who is very familiar with Rand’s ideas to tell friends about this book, loan your copy to them, or give it to them as a gift.

To purchase, click here:
Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government

EDIT: Here’s a really good video from the CATO Institute with the authors of Free Market Revolution: Free Market Revolution at CATO

The DIM Hypothesis by Dr. Leonard Peikoff

Dr. Peikoff’s last work of philosophy/historical analysis,The DIM Hypothesis was released today.

From the Amazon description:

With his groundbreaking and controversial DIM hypothesis, Dr. Leonard Peikoff casts a penetrating new light on the process of human thought, and thereby on Western culture and history.

In this far-reaching study, Peikoff identifies the three methods people use to integrate concrete data into a whole, as when connecting diverse experiments by a scientific theory, or separate laws into a Constitution, or single events into a story. The first method, in which data is integrated through rational means, he calls Integration. The second, which employs non-rational means, he calls Misintegration. The third is Disintegration—which is nihilism, the desire to tear things apart.

In The DIM Hypothesis Peikoff demonstrates the power of these three methods in shaping the West, by using the categories to examine the culturally representative fields of literature, physics, education, and politics. His analysis illustrates how the historical trends in each field have been dominated by one of these three categories, not only today but during the whole progression of Western culture from its beginning in Ancient Greece.

Extrapolating from the historical pattern he identifies, Peikoff concludes by explaining why the lights of the West are going out—and predicts the most likely future for the United States.

Available now from Amazon:

The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

After a brief introduction to Atlas Shrugged, this essay provides a very good overview of the alternative between altruism and egoism. While not a work of technical philosophy, it is substantial: it quotes philosophers and textbooks that explain the meaning of altruism and clearly differentiates what rational egoism means for one’s life, versus what altruism means. It also generally outlines Ayn Rand’s argument for life as the standard of value and for rational egoism.

Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s Morality of Egoism by Craig Biddle

The book-length version can be found here: Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It by Craig Biddle

Recommended technical works are here: Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality and Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist by Tara Smith

Proceeding from Axioms in Objectivism – YouTube Edition

Well, it’s finally happened: The impoverished reasoning methods employed by academic philosophy have infected YouTube comments….Shocking, I know….

But, all kidding aside, when most academic philosophers (who aren’t deeply acquainted with Objectivist literature and lecture courses) read about Ayn Rand’s axioms, they tend to deride them as tautologies. They can’t possibly imagine how you could deduce a whole philosophical system from such tautologies. Well, they have something in common with my interlocutor (mirabileamavi) in the comments of a YouTube video. Hopefully, my concise answers to him (her?) should be clarifying:

Interlocutor: …How do you derive causation from tautologies?

Me: The “tautologies” you speak of are axioms. If something is truly an axiom, it is too fundamental to be conceptually analyzed, but is perceptually self-evident. You need only observe reality to see that it is true.

An entity is itself, therefore it acts as itself. This mode of action consistent with its nature is causality. See: objectivismfordeepthinkers.blogspot.com/2012/06/axio­ms-of-objectivism.html

Int: i still dont understand how you can derive causation from tautologies.

‘john’, from that i can infer ‘john’ is ‘john’ but i can’t infer that ‘john is a fireman’ can i? the predicate ‘is a fireman’ is not contained in ‘john’. while ‘john’ is ‘john’ is necessarily true and tautological, ‘john is a fireman’ certainly is not. from a=a we cannot infer that a=b.

heres an example: ‘frank ramsey’, who is his father, what is his occupation? obvious all you can infer is that F.R. is F.R., nothing else.

Me: At the level of bare axioms, all we can say is that, because John is John, John must act as John. That’s it: causality is a corollary of identity. But to identify John as a fireman, we cannot simply deduce from the axiom. We must specifically observe firemen in order to form the concept “fireman.” We must then observe John and see that he fits the concept. (Intro. to Objectivist Epistemology) Once we have observed he is a fireman, causality tells us he can’t swim and lay eggs as a female squid.

Int: ‘is’ is not equivalent to ‘act’.

okie, look at this from another angle. since identity is universally necessary, 2 is 2 is also an identity statement. but what does it mean to say that 2 act as 2? or for that matter, john act as john? if not just ‘john is john’.

from john is john nothing else follows. not causality, not anything. let me ask you again, what casual anything can you deduce from ‘frank ramsey’. thats right, nothing.

Me: An entity’s identity includes its qualities and capacities for action/reaction. We can isolate and focus on them in our thinking, by abstraction, but they cannot be separated in concrete reality. Causality is a corollary of identity, not a separately deduced fact. As a corollary, it is simply another way of looking at the same fundamental fact: an entity is itself. It’s self-evident: look at reality.

2 is a quantitative abstraction. Whatever 2 entities you are focusing on will act as themselves.

Int: take our friend ‘fr’ as an example, obviously we can infer ‘fr’ is ‘fr’ via any standard of formal logic. but we can’t infer ‘fr’ is also p. why? because additional information is needed to establish the new inference.

to say something is corollary is to say that something follows from another. but how do you infer from ‘fr’ without the additional info. that ‘fr’ is also p? can i seriously validly infer that A, therefore B, C, D, X…?

i.e. how am i justified in seeing arsenic for the first time to infer that it can or cannot kill? surely none of its properties follows from my visual perception of it or the mere knowing of its name. yes we can know its effects/properties through observation, but thats an additional step, not something that merely follows from our acquaintance with it.

Me: For the last time, Objectivism doesn’t say you can infer any specific properties/actions of entities from “A=A.” To see that arsenic is deadly, you make specific observations of its effects. Once you have induced that arsenic is deadly, you know that once you have identified a specific sample as arsenic, it will be deadly when taken. Without causality, arsenic wouldn’t have to behave as arsenic, and there’s no way to know what will happen if you ingest it; it could make you live 1000 years.

So the basic point here is that, in Objectivism, proceeding from the axioms does not mean deduction, but induction. The truth of the axioms (including the validity of the senses) makes induction from observation possible (that is, generalization; including concept formation as a certain type of induction.)

The major model of system building in modern Western philosophy has been that of the rationalists, who deduce consequences from “a priori postulates,” “intuitive” starting points, or mathematical axioms. Thus, when confronted with a philosophic system like Objectivism that claims axioms, most contemporary philosophers simply assume that the axioms are intended as a deductive starting point. They then rightly observe that nothing can be deduced from the axioms alone, and claim that Objectivism is a failure, or is not “serious” philosophy.

This is what I was referring to by “the impoverished reasoning methods employed by academic philosophy”: Real induction, which is a method of generating principles, has been largely supplanted by probabilistic reasoning, which most contemporary philosophers call “induction.”

The details of how induction works in various fields of knowledge is an active area of research among Objectivist philosophers. But we have cases of induction and general guidelines for how to form valid inductions left by Ayn Rand, and explicated by Leonard Peikoff. I recommend Understanding Objectivism: A Guide to Learning Ayn Rand’s Philosophy and Objectivism Through Induction by Leonard Peikoff.

The video below is not directly relevant to the above, but is an excerpt from one of Rand’s essays that makes general points about philosophy, reason and emotions.

[Edited: 9-1-12]


Related Articles:

The Structure of Objectivism

The Axioms of Objectivism

Rachel Maddow Fails “Ayn Rand 101”

At the link below, Don Watkins of the blog, Laissez-Faire, describes Rachel Maddow’s misrepresentation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Anyone who actually reads Atlas Shrugged should be able to tell that Maddow’s statement is a misrepresentation. Yet this seems to be a rather common falsehood passed around by Rand’s detractors.

Rachel Maddow Fails “Ayn Rand 101

Here is a YouTube video of her misrepresentation: Maddow Misrepresents Rand @ 8:30