Category Archives: Education

Kafka, The Girl, and the Doll …

H/T to my friend Larry Abrams; there’s even an illustrated book about this tale.

Kafka, the year before his death at 40.

At 40, Franz Kafka (1883-1924), who never married and had no children, walked through the park in Berlin when he met a girl who was crying because she had lost her favourite doll. She and Kafka searched for the doll unsuccessfully.

Kafka told her to meet him there the next day and they would come back to look for her.

The next day, when they had not yet found the doll, Kafka gave the girl a letter “written” by the doll saying “please don’t cry. I took a trip to see the world. I will write to you about my adventures.”

Thus began a story which continued until the end of Kafka’s life.

During their meetings, Kafka read the letters of the doll carefully written with adventures and conversations that the girl found adorable.

Finally, Kafka brought back the doll (he bought one).

“It doesn’t look like my doll at all,” said the girl.
Kafka handed her another letter in which the doll wrote: “my travels have changed me.” The little girl hugged the new doll and brought her happily home.

A year later Kafka died.

Many years later, the now-adult girl found a letter inside the doll. In the tiny letter signed by Kafka it was written:

“Everything you love will probably be lost, but in the end, love will return in another way.”

Scholarly Publishing Collective Launches – JARS Free Till March 31st!

A Major Announcement Today:

The Scholarly Publishing Collective (the Collective) is pleased to announce that its online content platform is now live, with content from over 130 journals published by Michigan State University Press, Penn State University Press, SBL Press, and the University of Illinois Press.

Through the Collective, managed by Duke University Press, publishers have access to resources that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive, such as a best-in-class web platform, proven customer relations and library relations teams, and a network of global sales agents with insight into university press content. Journals are hosted on the Silverchair hosting platform, which is home to Duke University Press’s publications as well as publications from the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Wolters Kluwer, and many other distinguished publishers.

Through the Collective’s partnership with Silverchair, publishers benefit from fully responsive journal websites that adapt to any display size and have a user-friendly, easy-to-navigate interface. Features of the platform include support for advance-publication articles; the ability for non-subscribers to purchase access to full issues and articles; the ability to search and filter results across journal, publisher, or Collective content; robust usage statistics; and support for supplemental data files, including media.

“Being part of the Scholarly Collective will take Penn State University Press’s commitment to journals publishing to a new level. We’re excited about this exciting growth opportunity for our society partners, our library friends, our contributors, and the editors of our journals,” said Patrick Alexander, Director of Penn State University Press.

The Collective platform currently hosts the journals content of four publishers migrating from the JSTOR Journal Hosting Program, which is ending after 2021. All content is temporarily free to access until March 31, 2022.

“Duke University Press has developed infrastructure for our own publishing program that we can share with our fellow UP journal publishers and society publishers to support them at a time when sustaining their journals program is critical to sustaining their overall mission. Through the Collective, the partners expand their ability to disseminate, promote, and increase the impact of scholarship. More than fifteen years of investment and experience and skill-building have gone into being able to do this, and we want to leverage our experience for our Collective partners,” said Allison Belan, Director for Strategic Innovation and Services at Duke University Press.

What does this mean for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies? Simple! Go here and check out our contents (going back to 2007; all contents going back to 1999 are still available on JSTOR)—free till March 31, 2022. (And speaking for myself and my coauthor, Pavel Solovyev, check out “The Rand Transcript Revealed” in all its full-color glory on the site!)

The Rand Transcript Revealed (Part III)

This is the conclusion of a three-part preview to a newly published article coauthored by Pavel Solovyev and me: “The Rand Transcript Revealed” (The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, December 2021, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 141-229). Part One informed readers of the publication of this important article, while Part Two situated it in the growing scholarly literature on Rand’s Russian roots.

In today’s final installment, I’d like to turn attention to what this newly published project offers. In this article, Pavel and I analyze and interpret facsimiles of important original documents—published for the first time—that are deeply relevant to the education of the young Ayn Rand at the University of Petrograd. We contribute what we consider to be a definitive reading of source material that provides a significant documentation of Rand’s courses, teachers, and textbooks—and what she might have learned from them. Other original source materials are revealed to advance further investigations of this key period in Rand’s life. We also include discussion of recent commentary on Rand’s education by other writers (such as Gary H. Merrill, in his book, False Wisdom: The Principles and Practices of Pseudo-Philosophy, which is reviewed in the same December 2021 issue by Roderick Tracy Long).

I was first introduced to Pavel in October 2020, through my friend Marsha Enright, after he posted many of these images to the public Ayn Rand Facebook page. What I found there astounded me—only because I possessed poorer black-and-white photocopies of many of these same images, and here they were, in pristine color, with brief descriptions by Pavel. Contacting him, learning from him, working with him has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. He has become not only a colleague and coauthor, but a friend.

Pavel earned his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry. His “hobby” over the last 10+ years has been research in history, genealogy, and Russian and foreign archives. Some “hobby”! I was so deeply impressed by Pavel’s meticulous research, which, over our many months of working together, produced an overwhelming amount of information—the raw material—for use in this article.

Every time we came upon a puzzling detail, somehow, someway, Pavel would discover a startlingly new piece of information that opened promising paths as our research project unfolded. Based on his painstakingly accurate translation of key sources and his remarkable ability to decipher signatures on Rand’s university records—and then to track down matching signatures to authenticate them (images of which are also provided in the article)—we were able to diligently analyze, contextualize, and interpret this material. His superb detective work is an invaluable contribution to our understanding—such that no future scholarship on Rand’s university years will move forth without reference to it. Indeed, the publication of this important project is simultaneously an invitation to other scholars to critically examine and evaluate, so as to widen the community for interpretive analysis and discussion of this significant period in Rand’s formative intellectual development.

Rand certainly bore the scars of her Russian past but she also absorbed gems of wisdom bestowed on her by professors of significance. It’s all in the article—including information with regard to whether or not Rand studied with Kareev or Karsavin or even Lossky—a mystery that we devote much space to. We offer short biographies of every professor whose name appears on Rand’s matricula. Our work confirms that the overwhelming majority of those who were signatories to the matricula were among some of the finest teachers that Petrograd University had to offer.

But the story that unfolds is also a portrait of a very precarious time for intellectuals in the years after the Bolshevik Revolution. As we write:

An omnipresent thread that runs in the tapestry of academic life during the period of Alissa Rosenbaum’s university education was the politicization of scholarship, in which some professors targeted their colleagues as “counterrevolutionaries,” leading to their dismissal from teaching posts or exile abroad, only to be attacked later by university and state administrators who rewarded their formerly “loyal” informants with internment in prisons and concentration camps or execution by firing squad. As we will see, the lives of many of Rand’s professors at Petrograd University—regardless of their political beliefs or affiliations—were affected profoundly by this tragedy of mounting proportions, which devastated an entire intellectual generation.

Back in 1997, in reply to the many critics of my historical work on Ayn Rand, I freely admitted that on the basis of limited evidence, I had “engaged in an empirical investigation with a dose of judicious speculation.” As that evidence has unfolded over the years, we have gotten closer and closer to understanding more and more of what Rand studied and with whom she studied. In an appendix to the article, we present a table in which readers can see how our knowledge of Rand’s education has evolved over these last 2+ decades of research.

And that is as it should be. I’ve always viewed this research project as open-ended. Speaking for myself, I got a lot right, and some wrong—that’s what a learning experience is all about. In the end, however, I firmly believe that the data, though still incomplete, fully supports my argument that Rand was exposed to something of great value from her teachers—a profoundly dialectical way of looking at the world—and that this mode of inquiry would have an enormous impact on her life’s work.

For those who have been offended by the mere suggestion that Rand could have learned anything of value from her Russian teachers, all I could say in reply is to quote Hegel: “No one . . . can escape the substance of his time any more than he can jump out of his skin.” Rand proclaimed that she was a “radical” thinker, a person who sought to go to the root of so many important issues. But not even the most radical among us exists—from some Archimedean standpoint—outside the world we seek to change. Even as we seek to shape the world, we are shaped by it. Part of what it means to be dialectical is to accept what is as the basis for all that could be.

We invite you to check out our project. Yep, and here’s the sales pitch: It’s currently on JSTOR. I will announce its appearance on Project Muse shortly. And it will be in the hands of JARS subscribers soon—though the full color images can only be found on e-platforms. To subscribe to the journal, see here.

One final teaser … taken from a page of the article: An image of the title page of Alissa Rosenbaum’s Second Matricul …

Postscript: And check out the public Facebook discussion that followed. In one thread, one commentator stated that in many ways, Rand was like an “inverted Bolshevik”—with her emphasis on the opposition between productivity and parasitism. I responded:

A very interesting observation (and in many respects, my reconstruction of her thought in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical shows the very inversion you allude to).

I should point out of course that some of the worst “parasites” in her novels, especially The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are “capitalists” of the crony kind, part of “the aristocracy of pull” peddlers, using government to gain privileges and wealth. But her antipathy toward business extended as well to the stifling atmosphere of corporate conformity—against which Howard Roark (her protagonist in The Fountainhead) must struggle. In fact, her earliest published writing (while she was still in the Soviet Union) on Hollywood films and film stars contain some strong indictments of studio owners. A recent two-part article by Shoshana Milgram quotes Rand as follows:

“But directors have an enemy. An omnipotent and indomitable enemy. An enemy whom it is difficult to fight — the firm’s owner. At any moment in his work, any director may be interrupted by the appearance of a decisive businessman, who states categorically: ‘This must be changed. This must be cut. This character must be omitted entirely. Cut out the ending.’ And the studio’s sovereign dares not argue.” The owners and presidents of film studios force their views and demands on the directors. They greedily pursue the public’s tastes. Like obedient slaves, they strive to satisfy every desire of the omnipotent public. They want to release only that which is popular. They are frightened by the new and unusual.”

Milgram’s article is in two parts:

‘Capitalism’: When and How Ayn Rand Embraced the Term (Pt. 1)

‘Capitalism’: When and How Ayn Rand Embraced the Term (Pt. 2)

In a follow-up reply, that pertains to the differences between the views of Karl Marx and Ayn Rand on productive work, I said:

There’s a section in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical that speaks to the issue … [of] Rand exhibiting traits of the ‘inverted Bolshevik’. I’ll quote a long passage from the book (pp. 271-73):

Interestingly, Rand enunciated a principle that Marx would have accepted in starkly different terms. For Marx, capitalist “exploitation” is a direct outgrowth of the separation of the product from the producer. In the production process, the laborer endows the product with its value and receives in return only enough for his or her own subsistence. The extraction of surplus value makes possible capitalist accumulation. But it is symptomatic of a condition in which the capitalist consumes value without producing it. In this regard, Marx views the capitalist qua capitalist as a parasite on the production process.

Paradoxically, Rand’s criticism of the Marxian doctrine of exploitation illustrates her own endorsement of a form of the labor theory of value. Rand presents a caricature of the classical labor theory, when she argues that in Marx’s view, “the material tools of production” (that is, “machines”), determine thinking, and that it is “muscular labor” which “is the source of wealth” (New Intellectual, 33). As we have seen, Marx’s conception of human labor was far richer than Rand presumed. Nevertheless, Rand criticized Marx for obscuring the intellectual praxis at the foundation of production. For Rand, an innovation, an idea, is the creative force behind the production of material values. The implementation of creative ideas are a permanent benefit to the day laborer, much more valuable than the hourly expense of merely physical work that extends no further than the range of the immediate productive process.

Rand presented a view of the capitalist as creator, inventor, and entrepreneur. It is the creator who stands at the top of the intellectual pyramid of ability, contributing “the most to all those below him,” but receiving far less in material payment than his or her innovations make possible. In Rand’s view, even though day laborers contribute their energy to the production process, they would starve outside the wider social context because they depend for their employment on the innovations introduced by those above them. Even the machines that laborers use are “the frozen form of a living intelligence,” expanding the potential of the laborers’ lives by raising their productivity (Atlas Shrugged, 1064–65).

Contrary to Rand’s assumptions, Marx did not endorse a vulgar version of the labor theory of value. Marx postulates all sorts of complex labortime derivatives, such that the labor-time expended by a skilled worker, even by a capitalist in his capacity as a skilled innovator, is a multiple of simple labor-time. And for Marx, it is obvious that the material forces, the “machines” as Rand puts it, do not strictly determine consciousness. In Marx’s view, “Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules, etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified” (Grundrisse, 706).

Rand grossly distorted the mature Marxian perspective. But in contrast to Marx, she offered a more sophisticated view of the creative process. As I have suggested in previous chapters, Rand saw creativity as a constellation of rational and emotional, conscious and subconscious, articulated and tacit elements that cannot be quantified as complex multiples of simple labor-time. Creativity is the lifeblood of human action. It is the very fuel of the capitalist system. It is an expression of the individual’s integrated nature as a rational being, and it is the source of values for human consumption and enjoyment. Indeed, as Barry (1983, 109) remarks, there are times in which Rand seems so awestruck by the creative qualities of the innovator and the entrepreneur that she occasionally “slips into a crude intentionalist explanation of the free economy; as if it were the virtues of capitalists that produced the system.” This, however, is not Rand’s view, but it does underscore Rand’s conviction that capitalism as a social system rewards such virtues, raising people to a higher standard of living, and challenging them to greater knowledge and greater achievement. Such a system enriches the efficacious, self-esteeming individual. It promotes the mastery of particular skills, even as it beckons the laborer to expand his or her capacities and earn the values that sustain life.

The Rand Transcript Revealed (Part II)

Yesterday, in “The Rand Transcript Revealed (Part I)“, I discussed the publication of my new Journal of Ayn Rand Studies article, coauthored with Pavel Solovyev, which features 28 archival images in color (and four tables), documenting—as never before—the details of Ayn Rand’s Soviet education at the University of Petrograd.

Today is the second of three posts previewing our newly published article.

My 1995 book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, was the first scholarly work to argue that Rand had a deep intellectual debt to the Russian context within which she came to intellectual maturity. This debt didn’t relate merely to some substantive similarities with ideas current during the Russian Silver Age of Rand’s youth. It was a distinctly methodological debt, which she owed to the dialectical modes of analysis that were endemic to virtually every school and tradition she would have encountered during that period. As my own work on Rand’s education at the University of Petrograd documented, these dialectical motifs were present in Rand’s coursework, textbooks, and in the lectures given by the teachers with whom she most likely studied.

To reiterate for the umpteenth time: Dialectics is the art of context-keeping. It demands that the theorist never disconnect a single event, issue, or problem from its relationships to other events, issues or problems, all existing within a larger context, examined across time.

My seemingly innocuous argument that Rand learned something from her teachers was initially met with a firestorm of criticism—from Rand-haters who viewed her as outside the Western canon of legitimate thinkers and from Rand-acolytes who viewed her as having sprung ahistorically from the head of Zeus as a modern-day goddess of wisdom.

Ironically, those acolytes, who accept Rand’s own acknowledged debt to Aristotle and even the early influence of Nietzsche, drop historical context, since even Hegel, Marx, Engels, and Lenin viewed Aristotle as the “fountainhead” (Hegel’s term) of dialectical inquiry. Moreover, Nietzsche’s influence on the Russian Silver Age was one of its defining cultural characteristics.

In the years that followed the publication of Russian Radical, a growing number of writers have been exploring Rand’s Russian roots. I’ve discussed these in previous articles, such as my “Reply to the Critics of Russian Radical 2.0: The Dialectical Rand” and in my essay, “Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism” in The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom.

Other discussions of Russian influences on Rand have appeared in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, including essays by Peter Saint-Andre and Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal. More encouraging is the appearance of recent Russian-language books by Ludmila L. Nikiforova and Mikhail B. Kizilov and Anastasiya Grigorovskaya, each exploring Rand as a Russian émigré writer. And a new book by Aaron Weinacht, Nikolai Chernyshevskii and Ayn Rand: Russian Nihilism Travels to America, is a “profoundly significant” contribution to Rand studies—as I state in a blurb that I provided for the book. (Weinacht previously published in the July 2017 issue of JARS.)

Unfortunately, Weinacht’s superb book was moving toward publication as our own article was already in page proofs, so we were unable to discuss his thoughts on Rand’s education. It’s worth noting that Weinacht worked in the Ayn Rand Archives and his book benefits from access to its collections. Among those collections are documents that my coauthor Pavel Solovyev was able to secure independently from the Saint Petersburg Archives. Pavel’s superlative detective work will be the subject of my concluding post tomorrow.

Of all the professors that Ayn Rand may have studied with, only one—Nikolay Onufriyevich Lossky—was named by her in the Branden Biographical Interviews (specifically in Interview 6, conducted on 3 January 1961). I devote a full chapter to Lossky’s life and thought in Russian Radical. Weinacht writes:

As Sciabarra has noted, it is impossible to prove conclusively that Losskii was one of Rand’s teachers, as she claimed, but it seems likely that she took at least some instruction from him, albeit in an unofficial capacity. Losskii was banned from teaching at his St. Petersburg State University post in 1921, the same year Rand entered the university, and was exiled in the fall of 1922, along with Nicholas Berdiaev, Semen Frank, and Sergei Bulgakov of the Vekhi group (among others). I am inclined to agree with Sciabarra’s judgment that Rand had no compelling reason to lie about her connection with Losskii, particularly given her usual reticence to mention any thinkers other than herself. Additionally, Losskii’s mother-in-law Mariia Stoiunina ran a girl’s school, that was located at #20 Kabinetskaia Street in St. Petersburg. Rand lived in two main locations in St. Petersburg, one of which was approximately two-thirds of a mile southwest of the school, and the other less than half-mile northwest of the school. Between Rand’s own mention of Losskii and the fact that she lived in two locations that were within close walking distance of a school with which Losskii was personally connected, the suggestion that Rand took some unofficial instruction from him does not seem implausible. (p. 17)

On the Stoiunin gymnasium, I should note that there is firm evidence that Rand attended the school—something I first proposed in Russian Radical and documented in my follow-up essays on her education. This was subsequently substantiated in 2010 by Anne C. Heller in Ayn Rand and the World She Made (pp. 17-20, 26), and Shoshana Milgram in Essays on Ayn Rand’s “We the Living” (second edition, 2012, pp. 108-10, n. 23).

Weinacht hypothesizes that also among Rand’s teachers was

the well-known Russian historian N. I. Kareev* [who] was on the university faculty in St. Petersburg when Rand was a student there. … Rand’s college transcript lists a total of sixteen history courses she took at the university, and also contains the signatures of the courses’ instructors. The signatures on twelve of Rand’s history courses are illegible, and circumstantial evidence would suggest a high likelihood that Kareev was the professor of at least a few of these courses, and probably at least one non-history course, as well. (p. 17)

Weinacht expresses his “thanks to Professor Cynthia Ruder, of the University of Kentucky, for assistance in deciphering the signatures on Rand’s transcript. Sciabarra has made similar conjectures as to Kareev’s teaching” (p. 29, n. 90).

Tomorrow, in the conclusion of this miniseries, I will discuss how my colleague and coauthor, Pavel Solovyev, not only deciphered the signatures, but provided us with the most conclusive evidence yet of those with whom Rand studied—and what they taught.

For now, I’ll leave you with another archival image from our article … a photo of the young Alissa Rosenbaum taken from her second matricul (“matricul” is the name of a document certifying the admission of a student to the university, and also serving as the examination book).

* The name Kareev shows up in Rand’s fiction (see below). There was also a professor named Lev Platonovich Karsavin in the History department of Petrograd University. Does his name or the name of Kareev show up on the transcript? Readers will find out, but I’ll have more to say in the concluding part of my miniseries preview to the JARS article tomorrow. From Russian Radical (p 414 n37):

Karsavin is a White Army leader who is captured by Andrei Taganov, the idealistic communist soldier. Captain Karsavin is forced to commit suicide. It is possible that Rand modeled the captain after his namesake at the university, who was eventually exiled by the Bolsheviks for his counterrevolutionary ideals. The “Captain Karsavin” episode appears in We the Living, 101–3. Another of Rand’s early Russian characters, from the screenplay Red Pawn, is named “Kareyev.” Kareyev is the commandant of Strastnoy Island. Rand (1931–32), “Red Pawn,” in Early Ayn Rand, 111. Likewise, Rand may have taken the name “Kareyev” from Petrograd history professor, Kareev.

Postscript: And check out the public Facebook discussion that followed.

Serpico: 50 Years Ago Today!

It’s hard to believe… but fifty years ago today, detective Frank Serpico sat before the Knapp Commission in NYC to expose systematic corruption in the NYPD. The whistleblower’s experiences became the subject of a terrific 1973 film, “Serpico,” starring Al Pacino.

From a New York Daily News article marking this anniversary, Larry McShane writes:

Serpico remembers the day clearly. He sat before a bank of 11 television cameras inside the jam-packed Great Hall of the New York Chamber of Commerce. He recalls no nervousness, just a deep belief in his message. … Serpico testified about a meeting with a top Lindsay administration official where he provided names, places and the amount of payoffs to crooked cops. “After hearing all I said, he said, ‘Well, what do you want me to do about it?’” he told members of the commission. Those words resonated through the decades given the NYPD corruption cases that exploded over the years: The Mafia Cops, the “Dirty Thirty” precinct, drug-dealing cops in the 75th Precinct, the “Buddy Boys” of the 77th Precinct.

“We must create an atmosphere in which the dishonest officer fears the honest one, and not the other way around,” he said bluntly. “I hope that this investigation and any future ones will deal with corruption at all levels within the department.”

“The #BWS (blue wall of silence) like the KGB is more of a threat to equality, freedom and justice in a society than the Mafia’s Omertà,” read one recent [Serpico] tweet. “Until it is abolished policing will not improve.”

Empathy—and Dismay

On Facebook, I gave a H/T to my friend Joshua Zader for his re-posting of this graphic on the subject of “empathy” …

As I wrote on Facebook, this encapsulates one important way by which to celebrate the goodwill of the holiday season: Learning empathy.

I added: “If I’d boxed myself within the conventional left-right continuum, I would never have opened my mind to learning from a Marxist mentor (Bertell Ollman), who both encouraged me and challenged me in my growth as a student of intellectual history. (In fact, Bertell was more encouraging of my work on Ayn Rand than 98% of the folks in Rand-land.) I’ve been enriched by drawing from all parts of the ideological spectrum. The very origins of what it means to be “dialectical”—grasping the full context—emerges from the art of dialogue, and it is through such dialogue with those outside our framework that we evolve intellectually, psychologically, and even emotionally.”

Well, I’d like to say that this message got through loud and clear, but it never ceases to amaze me how consistently people show up to demonstrate the point of the posts—in reverse.

Before you know it, my opinions on the nature of the Enclosure Acts and of the origins of capitalism suddenly took center stage, with one person suggesting that I’m parroting “Marxist” and “totalitarian lies.” I pointed out that in Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, I critique Marx on a number of issues, including his theory of history. I give credit to Marx on a methodological point: the dialectical method applied to the analysis of social problems, a method that goes back to Aristotle and that has been used to varying degrees by thinkers in the classical liberal/libertarian tradition, from Menger to Hayek to Rand. I most definitely reject the materialist theory of history. 

Well, that just took us down a road that had nothing to do with the topic of the thread, but which illustrated what happens when folks refuse to give you the benefit of the doubt or to adopt even a remotely charitable interpretation of your views.

First, it should be noted that empathy doesn’t mean that we are required to empathize with those who are out to kill you. I would limit it to folks with whom we just might have some civil disagreements … not folks looking to gouge my eyes out. In civil discourse, I think much can be learned from Nathaniel Branden, who stated in his essay, “Objectivism and Libertarianism“:

About ten years ago, I came across a saying from the Talmud that impressed me profoundly. I have not been able to stop thinking about it. I have often wondered what might have happened if I’d had the chance to discuss the idea with Ayn—if there would have been any way to break through. Who knows what might have been different in the years that followed?

The line that so impressed me was: “A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy.”

After nearly 50 comments, I concluded with the following statement:

Well, before I turn in for the night, I’d like to extend my thanks especially to those who understood the spirit of this post. My empathy is alive and well, not just at this time of year, but all year round.

For those who didn’t quite get the spirit of this post, I’ll repeat what I said above, alluding to my half-Greek, half-Sicilian ancestry: “The ‘Greek’ side of me is always trying to find reasonable common ground with an open heart. The ‘Sicilian’ side of me tells me when no common ground is possible, and I’m like: ‘Fuhgedaboudit! Enough with this!'”

Given that no common ground is possible in some instances here, I’ll therefore conclude with “Fuhgedaboudit! Enough with this!”

Many more threads to follow… to the delight of some and the dismay of others. G’nite, folks!

Uncle Nick, Godfather: RIP

On Thursday, November 11, 2021, my Uncle Nick Michalopoulos died at the age of 91, after several years of battling serious health issues. He was my mother’s brother.

My relationship with Uncle Nick was blessed quite literally from the very beginning. As my godfather, he held me in his arms when I was baptized on June 11, 1961 at the Three Hierarchs Church in Brooklyn (the church whose first pastor was my grandfather, Vasilios P. Michalopoulos, and my mom was his sister).

Born on June 14, 1930, Uncle Nick would go on to serve in the medical unit of the Navy during the Korean War. Thereafter, he worked thirty years at Western Electric. He was the only one of eight siblings to go on to attend college—Brooklyn College, to be precise. (My sister would follow in his footsteps, becoming the first in our extended family to graduate from Brooklyn College some years later.)

Throughout his life, Uncle Nick exhibited a remarkable range of wonderful talents—from singing to athletics, crafts to parenting. Indeed, he and my godmother, Aunt Vina, raised three children—my first cousins—to whom they have passed on their loving gifts: Will, Marie, and Christine. Add to that seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. In his retirement years, Uncle Nick enjoyed golfing and traveling, and was very handy, even crafting golf clubs and pitching-in with the church here in Brooklyn and out on Long Island, a testament to his strong Greek Orthodox faith.

Over the years, as I truly got to know my godfather, I saw that he had a sweet sense of life and a wonderfully dry sense of humor. Because he lived out on the island, we didn’t see each other as much as we would have liked, but we spoke regularly. I never missed a birthday, a holiday, or a Father’s Day wish.

I am deeply saddened by his passing. And I will carry his love in my heart forever. Rest in Peace, Uncle Nick.

Aunt Vina (l) and Uncle Nick (r)

Take What You Want and Move the F&*K On!

This is a Facebook post from my friend Ryan Neugebauer. I’m reposting it here because I’ve been thinking the same thing for a long time, given my experiences on social media. From Ryan:

I’ve noticed that there are trends for hating on certain thinkers/figures in different political spheres. People in both groups will chastise them and make them out to be valueless.”In left-wing spaces it will be Ayn Rand or some free-market economist (Hayek, Mises, Rothbard, or Friedman). In right-wing spaces it will be Karl Marx, Saul Alinsky, Noam Chomsky, or some self-described Socialist politician.

I have NO USE for this kind of tribalism. I take insights from thinkers across the political spectrum. I’ve read people like Edmund Burke, G.K. Chesterton, F.A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Benjamin Tucker, Mikhail Bakunin, P.J. Proudhon, Kevin Carson, and numerous others. Some of those are Traditionalist Conservatives, Classical Liberals/Right-Libertarians, left-wing Anarchists, as well as State Socialists & Social Democrats.

I have disagreements with all of the thinkers I read. Some more than others for sure. But I won’t throw an entire person out just because of significant disagreements. I won’t pretend they don’t have insights just because I really hate something they say. I take the good, understand and reject the bad, and simply move on.

It’s important to learn to engage diverse thinkers and not close yourself out. It’s also important to be reasonably charitable and not write someone off entirely unnecessarily.

Though this approach will not help you with group membership in a political tribe, it will help you with being a better thinker and a better interlocutor. So please choose that over fitting in.

And let me just add: If you’re not capable of thinking outside the square of a stultifying ideology, you’re impoverishing your own critical thinking abilities. My own approach for every thinker I’ve ever read has always been the same: Take what gems you can find in each writer and/or school of thought you are exposed to; criticize that which you reject (but PLEASE, OH PLEASE understand what you’re accepting and what you’re rejecting!), and MOVE THE F&*K ON!*

* This is a play on the old Spanish proverb often quoted by Ayn Rand and her followers: “God said, take what you want and pay for it.”

Postscript: In the Facebook discussion that followed, I made these additional points:

1. Evil may be real, and we can call it for what it is. But there are many insights that one can glean from thinkers that many libertarians and Objectivists might consider “evil”. Many of those on the left brand Rand and Hayek as evil, as apologists for a system of exploitation, but if left-winger Slavoj Zizek can find value in Ayn Rand, and “postmodernist” Michel Foucault can find value in F. A. Hayek, surely those on the other side of the divide can find something of value in the works of Hegel, Marx, Engels, and others.I, myself, give enormous credit to Marx for bringing a dialectical sensibility to the analysis of social relations. As I point out in my “Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy” (Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism), it was Hegel who viewed Aristotle as the “fountainhead” of dialectical inquiry (and he used that word), which compelled the theorist to look at every issue, problem, or event by tracing its relations to other issues, problems or events within a wider system across time. Both Marx and Engels did enormously important work in applying these insights to the analysis of social systems, crediting Aristotle (in the words of Engels) as “the Hegel of the ancient world,” among “the old Greek philosophers [who] were all born natural dialecticians … the most encyclopaedic intellect of them, [who] had already analyzed the most essential forms of dialectic thought.”

Even Lenin (!) worked on a lengthy treatise dealing with dialectics, in which he praised Aristotle for providing theorists with “the living germs of dialectics and inquiries about it.”

One can reject so much in Hegel, Marx, Engels, and others, and still marvel at the ways in which they applied this essentially Aristotelian mode of inquiry to the analysis of social relations, systems, and dynamics. The whole point of my own trilogy was to reconstruct that mode of inquiry as a tool that could be used fruitfully by libertarian social theorists. And for this project, I had to face the wrath of scores of folks who labeled me a nutjob.

Well, I may still be a nutjob—but I stand by my conviction that dialectical inquiry is something of great value, and that there is much to be gained by studying the works of those on the left who have used it. I may disagree with many of their conclusions, but I can still give credit where credit is due and, as I said in my post, “move the f&*k on.”

2. As someone who embraces dialectical method (the art of context-keeping), it is context above all that matters here. Which is why we can take the gems from other thinkers and reinvent them, reconstruct them, invert them, and place them in a larger context that speaks to the real conditions that exist, in our attempts to change them fundamentally.

Facebook: Trust, but Verify!

Earlier today, I was invited by Facebook to complete a process of authentication that would secure my profile with a “verified badge,” such that people who read my posts on my Timeline can trust that the words come from me! A check mark now appears to the right of my name on my profile page and to the right of my name anywhere that I make a comment. Hovering over that check mark, you’ll see that “Facebook confirmed that this is the authentic profile for this public figure.” Public figure! Wow!

As Facebook explains:

The verified badge appears next to a Facebook Page or profile. It means Facebook has confirmed that the Page or profile is the authentic presence of the public figure or global brand it represents. We don’t use the verified badge to endorse or recognize public figures or brands. The verified badge is a tool to help people find public figures and brands’ real Pages and profiles. If a Page or profile has the verified badge, we’ve confirmed that it represents who it says it does. If the badge isn’t there, it may not be the real Page or profile. Posts, stories and other content from verified Pages and profiles aren’t verified by Facebook.

So rest assured, my Facebook account is not a sock account (or, more properly, a “sock puppet account“), and my page represents an “authentic,” “unique,” “complete,” and “notable” profile. Given all that’s happened on Facebook over the last few years, I don’t know if this is a plus or a minus. But there aren’t many other folks who would want to “own” the dialectical libertarian “brand” I represent. I knew who I was before this verification process. I know who I am today. And, now, apparently, so do you!

smh 🙂

WTC Remembrance: Twenty Years Later

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Since 2001, I have been writing annual installments to a series that came to be known as “Remembering the World Trade Center.”

My 2021 installment encapsulates all of the previous entries in the series, revisiting my own personal reflections, pictorials, and interviews of people who were deeply affected by the events of that day. Folks can read the newest essay here:

Twenty Years Later: Remembrance and Rebirth

As I state in the conclusion of my essay:

I have always touted the importance of a dialectical method of understanding the world—a method that requires us to look at each issue, social problem, or event by situating it in the larger context of which it is a part.

In this series, however, I made a conscious decision not to focus on the “big picture” in which the events of 9/11 took place or their historical background. I have not examined the wider political, social, and cultural context that made 9/11—and its aftermath—possible. I have done that elsewhere. I was less interested in those larger questions and more interested in understanding the personal tragedies of that day, because all too often, it is the personal that gets lost when one looks at the sheer scope of the catastrophe that was 9/11, with its monstrous loss of human life. Over these last two decades, I was persuaded that something unique was to be gained by piecing together a tapestry of tragedy—and of hope—not only through my own reflections and pictorials, but through the voices of individual human beings, each of whom had their own contexts, their own lives, their own futures altered so fundamentally by the events that unfolded on that late summer morning.

I have long believed that a future of more humane possibilities can only emerge when one does not disown memories, no matter how painful, sad, or tragic these might be. In the context of September 11, 2001, remembrance and rebirth entail one another. Remembrance has its therapeutic value, but it is also cathartic insofar as it makes possible our own ability to rise above the tragedy. Rebirth is itself an act of catharsis, of cleansing, almost by definition. It is my hope that this series of twenty-one installments has contributed to that project of remembrance and rebirth. It has been a tribute to those we have lost, and a paean—a song of praise, indeed—to those who survived, who demonstrated the life-affirming power of a community of individuals coming together to aid one another in the face of unimaginable horror. It is the power of life over death. It is the power of love over hate.

Though each of the previous installments is noted in the current piece, I provide below a convenient index to the entire series:

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

2013: My Friend Matthew: A 9/11 Baby of a Different Stripe

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial

2015: A New One World Trade Center Rises From the Ashes: A Pictorial

2016: Fifteen Years Ago: Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine

2017: Sue Mayham: Not Business as Usual

2018: Anthony Schirripa, Architect

2019: Zack Fletcher: Twin Towers, Twin Memories

2020: Firefighter Gerard Gorman: Ultimate Survivor

2021: Twenty Years Later: Remembrance and Rebirth

Never forget. ❤

The Twin Towers, from the Staten Island Ferry, May 12, 2001
Photograph by Chris Matthew Sciabarra