Thursday, May 30, 2013

My Personal Reading of Ayn Rand's "Anthem"

I chose to free myself from Christianity, Catholicism and its catechism during my early adolescence. Reading Voltaire's God and Human Beings was important in my intellectual transformation, but I also remember how Bertrand Russell's essential essay titled "Why I Am Not a Christian" turned to be the final nail in the coffin of my Christian beliefs.

Ayn Rand's "Anthem," to my surprise, rekindled my teenager memories of intellectual struggle with religion. Less surprisingly, it also made me think of my second liberation, which took place a few years later when I rejected socialism. It didn't take me much at that time to realize that socialism was mostly a perversion of Christianity, one that was useful to me only as a temporary buffer between an impractical and obsolete code of conduct and the dangers of Rand's "uncharted forest" - the latter a perfect metaphor for my early political and economic ignorance.

Like Bertrand Russell, Ayn Rand wasn't fond of Christian values. According to a letter that she wrote in 1946:
There is a great, basic contradiction in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism -- the inviolate sanctity of man's soul, and the salvation of one's soul as one's first concern and highest goal; this means -- one's ego and the integrity of one's ego. But when it came to the next question, a code of ethics to observe for the salvation of one's soul -- (this means: what must one do in actual practice in order to save one's soul?) -- Jesus (or perhaps His interpreters) gave men a code of altruism, that is, a code which told them that in order to save one's soul, one must love or help or live for others. This means, the subordination of one's soul (or ego) to the wishes, desires or needs of others, which means the subordination of one's soul to the souls of others.
This is a contradiction that cannot be resolved. This is why men have never succeeded in applying Christianity in practice, while they have preached it in theory for two thousand years. The reason of their failure was not men's natural depravity or hypocrisy, which is the superficial (and vicious) explanation usually given. The reason is that a contradiction cannot be made to work. That is why the history of Christianity has been a continuous civil war -- both literally (between sects and nations), and spiritually (within each man's soul).

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Privately Managed Library of My Childhood

The library in Brasilia, Brazil, from which I would borrow the books that I read during my childhood was privately managed. Member families paid monthly fees to support the library and also paid for literature and crafts classes. It was a wonderful place of discovery, and it didn't need authoritarian, centralized, inefficient and corrupt government to work. The library didn't survive the changes in demand and supply for its services and has been replaced some time ago by an English school for kids.

You may say that this tiny institution served the interests of an economic elite. Not at all. The only elite that it served was an intellectual one, families that cared about books, literature and arts, and that considered cultural spending to be a priority. In our case it was so highly ranked in the family's budget that membership survived two oil shocks and a debt shock, while during the same period our consumption of beef was cut down to almost zero. Families that wouldn't pay for membership clearly had other priorities in life, such as watching soap operas on expensive TV sets.

And no spending on public libraries by the Brazilian government has ever changed this simple reality.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Intrade and Financial Mischief

The Financial Times suggests that financial mischief may explain the insolvency of Intrade, company renowned among the proponents of prediction markets:
A company audit earlier this year revealed that its founder John Delaney, who died while climbing Mt Everest in May 2011, had received $2.6m in insufficiently documented payments from the company in 2010 and 2011. Mr Bernstein confirmed that the legal action the company would pursue was related to those transactions.