An explicit act of egoism is rare in today’s culture. By my observation, most people begrudgingly or, worse, apologetically, act in selfishness when they do, even among those who claim that selfishness can be virtuous. As rare as egoism is, it’s even rarer to be publicly practiced among well-known people, and I can’t think of many who practice egoism on principle who work in sports.
This is what makes athlete Chris Borland, who quit playing professional sports this spring after one season with the San Francisco 49ers based upon his judgment that the risk of brain injury exceeds the rewards of playing pro football, a rare American hero. Borland, a skilled 24-year-old linebacker, retired after consulting with his ex-teammates, friends, family and concussion researchers and evaluating the facts about the relationship between playing football and the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephelopathy (CTE).
The young man quit with an explicit rejection of altruism—he said: “I’m not willing to sacrifice…”—in favor of being selfish, stating: “I know this is right for me.”
As Borland told CBS News’ Face the Nation when asked if he had any remorse for his position:
Absolutely not. To play one year, it’s not a cash grab as I’ve been accused of. I’m paying back three-fourths of my signing bonus. I’m only taking the money I’ve earned. This to me is just about health and nothing else. I’ve never played the game for money or attention. I love football. I’ve had a blast and I don’t regret the last 10 years of my life at all. I’d do it over the exact same way. From here on I’m looking forward.”
Borland, who signed a four-year contract with the 49ers which included a $617,436 bonus, acted heroically for putting himself first, for doing so with remarkable poise and eloquence, and for refusing to seek the unearned. That he also chose to do so by speaking up in public and addressing the press to explain his reasons, while rejecting self-sacrifice, makes him a candidate for man of the year.
Though there are other sports heroes and athletes who have embraced egoism, such as Mario Lemieux,Oscar de la Hoya and Michael Jordan, today’s sports often mirror the bankrupt culture with scandals, corruption and thug worship. Mr. Borland offers an elegant, intelligent and heroic counterexample. In a culture in which athletes are urged to put themselves—body and mind—last, not first, Chris Borland’s egoism is truly exceptional.
Examining Aristotle with wonder, admiration and scholarly attention to detail, biology professor Armand Marie Leroi creates a fascinating account of how he thinks Aristotle invented science in The Lagoon (Viking, $27.95), which goes on sale this week.
The writing is excellent because it serves the storytelling. So, while this is a meticulous work, it is not pompous or too technical, though of course this depends upon one’s interest in and knowledge of science. Teeming with questions about reality, nature and life, London-based BBC commentator and science writer Leroi delivers a leisurely, structured narrative of Aristotle’s favorite subject, biology, and Aristotle’s focus on the animal’s life. Retracing geographic points of study and discovery, he covers Aristotle’s writings in detail, errors and breathtaking observations and advancements alike, with reverence for the father of Western philosophy.
For example, after taking the reader through citations, tales and journeys into Aristotle’s pursuits, Leroi concludes that Aristotle’s ethics underscore his passion and amount to the idea that:
The best way that a man can spend his life is in contemplation for that has no utilitarian goal; it’s pleasurable in itself. Elsewhere [Aristotle] relates a story. Someone asked Anaxagoras what was the point of being born, to which the great physiologos replied: ‘to study the order and heaven of the whole cosmos’. The answer rang true to Aristotle; he told the story at least twice. But he warns that none of us can ever achieve a life of pure contemplation. There are so many things, the mundane things of everyday life, and the human things—the sense is disparaging—that distract us from the divine life of the mind. Nevertheless, we should ‘strain every sinew’ to ignore them and devote ourselves to pure reason. That is where true happiness lies.”
For his part, Leroi observes that: “Had I a God—had I a God—it would be Aristotle’s God.” The Lagoon finishes telling a compelling story, which is really a tale of Western civilization, about renting buildings at the Lyceum, teaching and, always, seeking to know more to live life here on earth.
“In our day,” Lerio asks in conclusion, “philosophers and scientists are distinct academic castes with distinct ways of arguing. But who is to say that, more than two thousand years ago, a man could not be both at once?” With glossaries, appendices, notes, bibliography (including a volume by Aristotelian scholar Robert Mayhew) and an index, The Lagoon is an Aristotle story well discovered, considered and told.
On November 25, Penguin gives a new title, cover art (pictured here) and author’s preface to Leonard Peikoff’s brilliant first book, The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America.
The book, The Cause of Hitler’s Germany, is an exhaustive philosophical study of what caused Nazi Germany. As the publisher’s new promotional material promises, Dr. Peikoff examines self-sacrifice, Oriental mysticism, racial “truth,” the public good and doing one’s duty—seductive catchphrases that circulated in Weimar Germany—and he demonstrates how unreason and collectivism led a seemingly civilized society to become Nazi Germany. Peikoff, who grew up in western Canada, lives in southern California and teaches a writing course in which I am enrolled, worked closely with Ayn Rand for 30 years. The preeminent Rand scholar and estate heir taught philosophy at Hunter College and New York University. Here, he offers a breathtaking comparative study and analysis of the rise of fascism in the United States. This was the first book by an Objectivist author other than Rand that I read and I found it utterly absorbing, like taking an intellectual odyssey in a style distinctly different from Rand’s non-fiction in the form of a cogent and captivating lesson in the modern history of philosophy culminating in the Nazi atrocities while ingeniously integrating what the author warns is the impending meltdown of the New Left. I was fascinated to learn that most Germans possessed, read and accepted Hitler’s Mein Kampf and to see how the ideas of Schopenhauer, Hegel and Kant continue to spread and influence the world around me. Philosopher and podcaster Peikoff, who was Ayn Rand’s long-time associate, has written two other books, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand and The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out.
This volume includes the original introduction by Rand, who endorsed The Cause of Hitler’s Germany as “[a] truly revolutionary idea…. Clear, tight, disciplined, beautifully structured, and brilliantly reasoned.”
After being abused by Moslems in Somalia, Ayaan Hirsi Ali moved to the Netherlands. She became an outspoken critic of Islam and wrote a screenplay for Submission, a 2004 movie that specifically critiques Moslem treatment of women. The picture’s director, Theo van Gogh, was murdered by an Islamic fundamentalist. A note found on his corpse threatened to assassinate Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who’d become a member of Dutch Parliament.
Ali, who denounced Islam following the 9/11 attack on the United States, wrote about her internal struggle with her Islamic faith in Infidel, a 2007 New York Times bestseller reprinted with a foreword by the late Christopher Hitchens, which, according to a Publishers Weekly review, “delivers a powerful feminist critique of Islam informed by a genuine understanding of the religion.”
Ali was recently named as recipient of an honorary degree by Brandeis University, which invited her to speak to students during commencement—and promptly withdrew the honor and invitation after a fundamentalist Islamic group raised objections and coordinated a campaign against the infidel, a term which is Latin for without faith.
Upon the controversial Brandeis decision, few spoke up in defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali—and, I noticed, almost no one from Brandeis University came to the infidel’s defense.
As a longtime intellectual who never attended college, I have nevertheless become aware that college professors do not typically speak out against colleges that placate political correctness or submit to smear campaigns, let alone speak up against a college for whom they are employed.
But I recently discovered—and talked with—one who did.
His name is Thomas Doherty, a film scholar at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Doherty, cultural historian with special interest in Hollywood cinema, is chair of the American Studies program at Brandeis, an associate editor for the film magazine Cineaste and film review editor for the Journal of American History. His books include Hollywood’s Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration (Columbia University Press, 2007) and Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 (Columbia University Press, 2013).
Following the Brandeis-Ali affair, Doherty gave a short interview to the press in which he said he refused to sign the letter and added that he thinks Ali is a “courageous freedom fighter”. We spoke briefly before the interview, confirmed the interview in e-mail correspondence and talked at length about the author Ali, the university and the risk of speaking out for reason. This is an edited transcript.
Scott Holleran: Why have you chosen to defy the university by speaking out for a known infidel—an atheist against Islamic fundamentalism—who has been targeted by terrorists, singled out by your employer for denunciation and cast out?
Thomas Doherty: This wasn’t a difficult call. 86 faculty members of about 350 faculty members at Brandeis signed the letter [denouncing Ali and demanding her removal from the list of honored recipients]. I got a call from Associated Press and they asked what I thought. I said that she’s a courageous feminist who is putting her life at risk to defend women’s rights. I didn’t know her work well. I knew her mostly from her film Submission. I thought she was a great choice for receiving an honorary degree from Brandeis, which typically names white males. When I first heard about the letter, I thought it was bizarre that there was controversy. When I read the letter, I was shocked. It’s pretty depressing.
Scott Holleran: What is the most common response if any to your comments supporting Ayaan Hirsi Ali from the Brandeis administration?
Thomas Doherty: I’ve heard nothing from the administration. When you’re tenured, it doesn’t matter. What can they do—give me a smaller raise?
Scott Holleran: What is the most common response if any from fellow faculty members?
Thomas Doherty: I got a very gracious letter from Bernadette Brooten who wrote the [denunciation] letter. I’ve received support and agreement from a couple of my colleagues but that’s here in the American Studies department—so we study America and we might be considered an outlier.
Scott Holleran: What is the most common response if any from students?
Thomas Doherty: I haven’t talked to students yet. I must have gotten 40 or 50 letters in support saying ‘what happened to the university I graduated from?’ Those are mostly from lawyers and professors, alumnus of Brandeis. Frankly, I’d never raise something like this in class.
Scott Holleran: When you first became aware of the campaign against Ali, did you think the campaign would fail or succeed?
Thomas Doherty: First, I was stunned. They announced the honorary degree and then my wife told me Megyn Kelly was talking about the university’s decision on Fox News. I had heard that the women’s studies professors were upset with choice of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. That didn’t sound right to me. Then, I read the letter. I didn’t think their campaign would succeed—I thought it would fail. I was surprised how quickly Brandeis University collapsed.
Scott Holleran: Have you seen Submission?
Thomas Doherty: Yes. I just checked out her new film Honor Diaries. It’s sort of an arty protest against Islam. It has pictures of women in a chador with projections of the Koran over it. It’s your basic art protest against an ideology which happens all the time in film. There are protests against patriarchy, Mormonism, Catholicism. I didn’t think of her  film Submission as especially formidable or controversial. It really came to my knowledge when the movie’s director, Theo van Gogh, was assassinated [by an Islamic fundamentalist]. I thought at the time that people in the arts should have been more aware of that. So I was surprised that the Oscars in 2005 did not honor [Van Gogh]. The guy was literally killed for making a film. I got in touch with a friend at the [trade publication] Hollywood Reporter who confirmed that Van Gogh was not mentioned during the [Academy Awards] ceremony. There wasn’t any kind of homage. I thought then that if there had been a gay filmmaker who made a film against Christianity and had been assassinated by a Christian fundamentalist, there would have been an homage.
Scott Holleran: Have you read Infidel?
Thomas Doherty: No. I have read sections of it. I’m not an expert on this woman. I’ve never met her. I’ve had no contact with her. I’m mostly a film guy, so she came to my consciousness through film. What I know about her is that she was mutilated under [Islamic] law and severely abused and when she told her story in film, someone murdered the director and put a death sentence on her. When someone’s been trying to kill you for 10 years and you speak out against them, it’s not insane.
Scott Holleran: Is it possible that the university became aware of the campaign against Ayaan Hirsi Ali and decided that it was unable to protect and defend the students and faculty against the threat of initiation of force by Islamic jihadists?
Thomas Doherty: I have no idea how the decision was made.
Scott Holleran: Do you agree with Brandeis alum Jeffrey Herf, author of Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (Yale University Press, 2009) and The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust (Harvard University Press, 2006), who wrote to Brandeis President Fred Lawrence that the university’s decision is “an act of cowardice and appeasement”?
Thomas Doherty: Yes.
Scott Holleran: Do you agree with Mr. Herf that “… the Nazi interpretation of Christianity as well as the core texts of the Christian tradition itself, were used by the Nazis to justify their mass murders”?
Thomas Doherty: The Nazis would use anything to justify their mass murders. If you look at the Nazi propaganda, they were propagandizing against the pope too. Look at the cartoons—they did it because Hitler wanted no gods before him, so there’s a lot of anti-Catholicism.
Scott Holleran: Your work centrally addresses the conflict between the individual and the state in your books Hollywood and Hitler and Hollywood’s Censor. Do you see your opposition to the university’s withdrawal of the honorary degree as part of a career theme exploring submission to slavery?
Thomas Doherty: No. This is an easy call. If you believe in freedom of expression then you support people who believe that as well. I oppose the totalitarian mindset. She’s put her life on the line since 2004—we are talking about someone who has literally put her life on the line. The notion that 13 members of the faculty in women’s studies would oppose this woman is mind-boggling. I have no idea why.
Scott Holleran: Both feminists and multiculturalists claim that all people and cultures are equal in every sense, so they accept the egalitarian ideal that all cultures and religions, for example, are equal in every way—if religion means female genital mutilation, so be it—and one must never judge—
Thomas Doherty: —That’s what they put forward but there’s obviously a judgment here in the end against Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I believe in feminism but you have a Third World Somali woman so how much more multicultural can you get? This woman’s being shut down. If someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali isn’t under the umbrella of feminism, who is?
Scott Holleran: What is your estimate of her new movie, Honor Diaries?
Thomas Doherty: I like it. She’s interviewed in it and she executive produced the film. It’s about nine Moslem women fighting to improve conditions in predominantly Moslem countries ruled by Sharia law, with female genital mutilation, and other than Ayaan Hirsi Ali, most of the women self-identify as Moslem so the theological criticism is from within the orb of Islam. [Islamic advocacy group Council for American-Islamic Relations, which drove the campaign to pressure Brandeis University to withdraw Ali’s honorary degree] wants to shut the film down, too.
Scott Holleran: The Brandeis statement said that “[t]he selection of Ms. Hirsi Ali further suggests to the public that violence toward girls and women is particular to Islam or the Two-Thirds World, thereby obscuring such violence in our midst among non-Muslims, including on our own campus. We cannot accept Ms. Hirsi Ali’s triumphalist narrative of western civilization, rooted in a core belief of the cultural backwardness of non-western peoples.” But the Brandeis University motto is: “Truth, even unto its innermost parts.” Is the Brandeis motto a fraud?
Thomas Doherty: In this case it certainly is. If you look back to the 1950s, Brandeis was founded not just as a celebration of the Jewish experience but also from the very beginning we welcomed the liberal leftist college professors—we got Herbert Marcuse—so to see this particular arc come around is particularly distressing given the Brandeis tradition.
Scott Holleran: Do you think your own life may be at risk for speaking out for the infidel?
Thomas Doherty: I hope not. [Pauses] No, I don’t think so. I’ve received no death threats. Brandeis is a great place. [Pauses] There’s an expression in Yiddish shanda which means you’ve disgraced us and reflected poorly on Jews—shanda. This is a big shanda.
Ayn Rand was asked to adapt her first novel, We the Living, which was published 78 years ago this week and has sold 3 million copies since, for the theatre and I recently learned that two never-before published versions of her stage play will be published this fall.
According to Amazon’s book page for The Unconquered: With Another, Earlier Adaptation of We the Living, the hardcover volume by Rand will feature “the first and last versions (the latter entitled The Unconquered)…[w]ith a preface that places the work in its historical and political context, an essay on the history of the theatrical adaptation … and two alternative endings…” The new work is edited by philosophy professor Robert Mayhew, whom I interviewed five years ago about the novel. He also teaches at OCON.
We the Living is a bitter tale of a triangle in Soviet Russia and an epic story of ideas, love and life. The 1936 novel, which I wrote about for an article distributed by Scripps Howard and again in a review of the movie adaptation, is haunting, unforgettable and helpful to living everyday life.
This year gave us two types of men: Edward Snowden and Phil Robertson, or, the man of reason and the man of faith. The young man represents the spirit of youth; Snowden is an idealist who fled his own country for Hong Kong this summer, told the world about indiscriminate government surveillance on the entire population of the U.S. and made thoughtful arguments against government control over people’s lives. He was praised here first before many others even addressed what he did. He was called a hero by Ayn Rand’s heir. He was passionately defended by a prominent conservative intellectual who reported that Snowden had been moved to act by a foreign film about Communist surveillance.
Yet Snowden was roundly denounced for his whistleblowing act of heroism by leftists, conservatives and others, especially those from the Clinton/Bush/Obama administrations, and attacked by government. Tea Party types who made a movement based on opposing government control, challenging the welfare state and demanding new, radical solutions to U.S. problems were split on Snowden’s status as a hero.
They shouldn’t be. Edward Snowden is in every sense the best news of 2013, if America is to remain even partially free. Stating that he does not trust the Obama administration, he brought forth bold new evidence at enormous risk to his own life. From his efforts, we know that the government tracks the American people with the latest technology and captures detailed information about every individual without regard to the law. We know that the government lied about doing this. We know that not a single enemy attack or terrorist siege has been prevented, not that it would make mass surveillance right if it had. We know that the ways and means of government surveillance of Americans is enormous, alarming and unchecked. A federal judge challenged the constitutionality and rightly compared the statism to George Orwell’s novel 1984.
All of this is thanks to Edward Snowden.
Snowden brought Americans together in a way that opposing ObamaCare never could, even paving the way for a more unified, principled opposition to that unconstitutional act of fascism. He did so by thinking, speaking and acting on his own judgment, something few Americans do by my observation. He singularly enlightened the West and changed the world and he did it going by reason, of course, not taking Big Government on faith.
Most Americans do the opposite, as we saw in abundance by their rallying to the defense of an archaic old man who thinks, looks and talks like the mass murdering religious terrorist who destroyed the Twin Towers. He goes by faith, not by reason. He is primitive, not cognitive. His name is Phil Robertson. He leads the religious clan at the center of America’s most watched cable TV program.
During an interview with GQ, Robertson said blacks he observed were fine before civil rights laws were passed and gays, drunks and adulterers among others are going to hell. Robertson, a fundamentalist Christian, has previously made similarly ignorant statements, such as promoting the marrying of females as children, and the cable network suspended him when his new comments were widely broadcast. They did so on the grounds that his views are repugnant to their business ethics. When conservatives, including religious conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, erupted in a fury to defend Robertson on improper grounds, i.e., free speech – ignoring that the suspension does not violate the First Amendment – the network buckled to pressure and restored Robertson to the airwaves.
The man of faith triumphed. That he did so at the expense of another group that touts faith (belief without evidence) in dogma, GLAAD, an irrational gay activist group, is irrelevant to what matters. Robertson brought forth vile and repulsive views, in crude expressions reducing sex to the use of orifices, spreading irrationalism to a wider audience. He singularly darkened the West and changed the world. His dark, malevolent beliefs were defended, sanctioned and accepted based on faith, i.e., in conservatism, in false views of what constitutes free speech, and above all in God, tradition and religion.
Robertson is the opposite of Snowden.
Robertson’s mob is emboldened and they are gathering. What we witnessed in 2013 in the Duck Dynasty media backlash, as with other cultural shifts toward irrationalism, is the mainstreaming of religious fundamentalism. The left’s faith in the welfare state was legitimized long ago by conservatives – the right accepts the left’s morality of altruism – and now the right’s faith in the religious state is being legitimized by the left, and also by secular rightists and libertarians such as Camille Paglia, in return. It’s the convergence of left and right in the name of faith, not reason.
We’ll suffer the consequences soon enough. Phil Robertson’s martyrdom has already paved the way for the emergence of another faith-based media celebrity: former quarterback Tim Tebow, who has been hired as a college football analyst by Disney’s ESPN for college football’s SEC Network in 2014. On Monday, Jan. 6, the athlete made famous more for his prayer than for his ability will make his first appearance as an ESPN analyst. “Tim is a SEC icon with a national fan base and broad appeal,” said ESPN programming executive Justin Connolly.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with a devoutly religious person being popular in the culture. What the Robertson/Tebow broadcasting victories represent is a triumph of ignorance over knowledge, humility over ability, and, in Robertson’s case, depravity over dignity. Anyone who read what Robertson said knows what I mean. It’s bad enough that a publication that once heralded the civilization of man is cashing in on an old bigot’s popularity – and Robertson’s disgusting GQ interview is another instance of the coarsening of the culture which in turn feeds the rise of the religionists – and providing a platform for condemnation of gays, alcoholics and those who have sex outside of marriage, let alone marriage of children and Robertson’s other repugnant views and we should not be surprised if the rise of the Robertsons nets new primitives getting their own shows with high ratings, followings and streams of newly disgusting commentary. Nor will those inclined to denounce such primitives find speaking out easier in the wake of the Robertsons’ rising again.
All it takes to counter the rising tide of the irrational is one voice of reason to object. Like the child in the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes, Edward Snowden pointed and named the reality of Big Government and gave America cause to rally for justice. His heroic example may lead to new, bold acts by radicals for a society based on reason and rights, though there will undoubtedly be new, bold acts, such as the continuing faith-based death spiral ObamaCare, by those in the opposite camp. 2013 delivered in two men powerful evidence of both.