Something from way, way back . . .
Here’s a poem I wrote when I was nineteen. I like what it implies about spiritual values and the integration of benevolence and self-interest.
I hope you enjoy it!
My father gave to me a kite,
But I’d no need in its lone flight;
For though it had a nine-foot span,
’Twas not enough to lift this man.
I took it down to old Byrd Park;
On one small face it made its mark.
There was a boy that it could lift;
My present then became my gift.
His small face grew to big brown eyes;
My hand held out, “See if it flies.”
Big wind picked up as if on cue—
Big kite. Big day. Big high it flew.
Now when in flight that kite I see,
It is enough to lift—lift me.
Atheism means almost nothing. It’s just a negation—a rejection of the notion that a god exists.
A person’s rejection of the existence of a god says nothing about what he accepts as true, why he accepts the ideas he accepts, how he arrived at his conclusions, or how he and others should and shouldn’t act.
What do you accept as true—and why? These are the questions that matter most.
What are your thoughts on the nature of existence? Do things that exist have a definite identity? Is a rock a rock, a person a person, a trade a trade, and theft theft? Or can a person be a rock? Or theft a trade?
Must things act in accordance with their natures or identities? Can a rock make a choice? Can a person turn into a pillar of salt? Can a thief have high self-esteem or acheive long-term happiness? Why, or why not?
These are metaphysical questions—questions about the way the world fundamentally is—and your answers to such questions underlie and have consequences for everything else you think, accept, and do in life.
Likewise, what are your thoughts on how you can know what is true? Do you know by observing reality with your five senses and mentally integrating your observations into concepts, such as “rock,” “person,” “trade,” “theft,” “self-esteem,” “happiness”—and generalizations, such as “rocks are inanimate” and “people need certain things in order to live” and “self-esteem is essential to happiness”? Or do you know what’s true by consulting your emotions or feelings in disregard of such observations and integrations? Or by deferring to the claims of a leader or the consensus of a tribe?
These are epistemological questions—questions about the nature and means of human knowledge. And your answers to such questions underlie and determine everything else you think, accept, and do.
Similarly, what are your thoughts on how we determine what is morally right and wrong? How do you decide what you should and shouldn’t do? Do you ask yourself: What are the factual requirements of your life and flourishing given the kind of being you are, and then answer that question using reason, observation, and logic? Or do you disregard such facts and consult your emotions or feelings? Or do you turn to other people, a leader, or a tribe to see what they say you should and shouldn’t do?
These are ethical questions, and your answers to them have profound consequences for your life.
So, being an atheist? Not believing in a god? Sure, it means something. But not much. It doesn’t even say why you reject the existence of a god. Do you reject it because you see no evidence to support his existence? Or do you reject it to be a nonconformist, or to piss off your parents, or to fit in with a group or impress other atheists? Only one of these reasons is intellectually responsible.
And even if you reject the existence of god for that reason, your atheism still says nothing about whether you hold—as a matter of principle—that evidence and logic are the only proper standards for accepting ideas as true.
Atheism is just no big a deal.
Your positive philosophy on the other hand—what you do accept as true and the means by which you accept it—this is a big deal. This is something to think about, talk about, check for accuracy, hone, and refine. And the reason all of this is worth doing is that an observation-based, logically integrated philosophy is your means of keeping your ideas connected to reality so that you can act successfully and achieve happiness in reality.
The philosophy you embrace determines whether your ideas are derived from reality and thus useful in reality. It determines whether you live a wonderful life or something less.
Atheism is relatively trivial. Your positive philosophy is profoundly important.
Amala Ekpunobi eloquently exposes the racist left in this beautifully written, passionately delivered video. What a breath of fresh air!
I’m delighted that Amala will be speaking at TOS-Con 2022 about her journey from the regressive left to independent thinking. Scholarships are available for young adults. So if you know any 18- to 29-year-olds who might enjoy a three-day deep dive into philosophy for freedom and flourishing, let ’em know.
I’m extremely proud of my team at Objective Standard Institute and the amazing work we did together in 2021.
Here are some highlights that Sarah and I shared with OSI’s contributors and supporters. Enjoy!
Objective Standard Institute had a highly productive 2021, full of extraordinary achievements.
In just twelve months, we brought Ayn Rand’s ideas to nearly ten million people through projects with PragerU; taught twenty-one courses to 438 students; produced 109 episodes of four podcasts; hosted TOS-Con 2021 with sixteen world-class speakers and hundreds of attendees (despite travel restrictions); published forty-three articles on LevelUp; held weekly thinking, writing, and editing sessions for OSI’s fellows; gave presentations and taught seminars for organizations such as the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), Students For Liberty (SFL), National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), and Liberty International; and much more.
OSI’s instructors taught twenty-one courses to 438 students. These included:
- Introduction to Ayn Rand’s Philosophy for Loving Life, with Craig Biddle
- How to Get More Enjoyment from Great Literature, with Andrew Bernstein
- The Art of Finding and Creating Opportunity, with Hannah Frankman
- The History and Philosophy of Liberty in America, with Eric Daniels
- Workshop on “Forbidden Facts,” with Craig Biddle
- Your Supersystem for Flourishing, with Robert Begley
- How to Write Powerfully in Defense of Liberty, with Jon Hersey
- Henry Hazlitt Meets Ayn Rand: Economics and Objectivism, with Raymond Niles
- Entrepreneurial Living: How to Profit in Business and Life, with Tim Chermak
- Teaching Objectivism with the Principle of Purpose, with Craig Biddle
- Advanced Writing Workshop: Lead People to Liberty, with Jon Hersey
LevelUp (OSI’s Blog)
OSI’s writers published forty-three articles on LevelUp in 2021, including:
- The Road to Success Is Paved with Grit, by Angelica Walker-Werth
- Staying on Track: Bodybuilder Ashley Kaltwasser’s Lessons for Success, by Maggie Bird
- Ted Lasso Inspires Success through Benevolence and Competence, by Robert Begley
- How to Generate Motivation, by Angelica Walker-Werth
- The Source and Value of Self-Esteem, by Angelica Walker-Werth
- Drawing on Past Passions for New Opportunities, by Joseph Kellard
- Sales Mastermind Lessons for Non-Sales People, by Gabriel Mitchell
- For Maximum Success, “Eat That Frog,” by Robert Begley
- David Goggins’ Key to Perseverance, by Aaron Briley
- Five Steps for Building Lasting Habits/Routines, by Maggie Bird
OSI’s podcasting team produced 109 episodes among four podcasts. Some highlights:
- On “Philosophy for Flourishing,” Jon Hersey presented practical ideas for loving life and interviewed great thinkers such as Michael Strong on education; Cal Newport on personal productivity; Lawrence Reed on moral character, freedom, and flourishing; Rajshree Agarwal on purpose and profit; and Luc Travers on art.
- On “The Hero Show,” Andrew Bernstein and Robert Begley celebrated all manner of great men and women, including Walt Disney, Marva Collins, Babe Ruth, Clint Eastwood, Edmond Rostand, Cecilia Payne, Vivien Thomas, and Francis Bacon.
- On “Culture and Causation,” Aaron Briley interviewed intellectuals such as Mary Grabar on the 1619 Project, Neal McCluskey on school choice, Alex Nowrasteh on immigration, Kerry McDonald on nontraditional schooling, Charles Murray on racially disproportionate outcomes, and Casey Mulligan on how regulation negatively affects the poor.
- On “Innovation Celebration,” Thomas and Angelica Walker-Werth (recently married!) celebrated the individuals and ideas behind innovations in robotics, vaccines, 3-D printing, rocket engines, gene editing, magnet-controlled prosthetics, cancer-detecting blood tests, and more.
TOS-Con: Philosophy for Freedom and Flourishing
OSI held TOS-Con 2021 in July in Boston, with 230 attendees. Travel restrictions prohibited approximately one hundred more people from attending. For those who made it, however, the conference was a highlight of their year. Speakers included Cal Newport, Gloria Álvarez, Doug McGuff, Brad Thompson, Rajshree Agarwal, Andrew Bernstein, David Crawford, Mitchell Earl, and more.
Here’s an indication of what attendees said:
- “This conference was a rejuvenating and intellectually stimulating experience unlike anything I’ve ever encountered.” —Leisa
- “The speakers and topics were outstanding.” —Rodney
- “It was wonderful to be in such a rational and truly benevolent environment.” —Mary
- “Going forward, I will approach my goals with a new sense of purpose.” —Ken
- “The experience was incredible. Enlightening and electric.” —Albulena
- “After this conference, I will not waste a single moment of my life.” —Raja
(TOS-Con 2022 will be in Denver, Colorado, June 22–25. Speakers include Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Peter Boghossian, Timothy Sandefur, Yeonmi Park, Greg McKeown, Eric Daniels, Wolf von Laer, Jason Crawford, Amala Ekpunobi, Zilvinas Silenas, and Adam Carolla. See the full roster and program here.)
OSI’s Republic of Letters
OSI’s Republic of Letters (RoL), a writers’ group led by Jon Hersey, met twice monthly throughout 2021, helping participants to level up their craft by discussing article ideas, getting and giving feedback on works in progress, addressing writing challenges, sharing resources, and networking. RoL has been the genesis of various articles published in The Objective Standard, Quillette, FEE, and elsewhere. Several RoL participants are now writing books.
OSI’s Projects with PragerU
OSI worked with PragerU to create three videos, which were produced and released on PragerU’s various channels in 2021. These videos currently have 9.7 million views and more than 5,500 comments. They are:
- “Understanding Ayn Rand,” a five-minute video narrated by Gloria Álvarez, which currently has 6.3 million views and more than 3,000 comments;
- “A Book Club episode on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged,” with Michael Knowles and Eric Daniels, which now has a million-plus views and more than 1,000 comments; and
- “A Dialogue about God and Ayn Rand,” with Dennis Prager and me, which currently has 2.4 million views and more than 1,500 comments.
In addition to reaching millions of people with Rand’s ideas, these videos have had a significant effect on the sales of Rand’s books. For instance, according to the top three Amazon book sales calculators (TCK Publishing, WildFire Marketing, and Kindlepreneur), in the week following the release of the Book Club episode on Atlas Shrugged, sales of the audio edition of Atlas nearly doubled, sales of the Kindle edition increased threefold, and sales of the paperback increased fourfold. Every time PragerU promotes the videos, which they’ve done several times for each, sales of Rand’s books spike again. And because OSI is credited in each video and our website is linked under each on YouTube, they have driven and continue to drive significant traffic to OSI’s website, where many visitors have joined OSI’s mailing list, enrolled in OSI courses, and/or registered for TOS-Con. (More projects with PragerU are in the works for 2022.)
Here’s an indication of other projects that OSI and its fellows engaged in during 2021:
- In April, Craig worked with SFL to produce a three-part video series for their international students about Ayn Rand’s ideas on the foundations of liberty.
- In June, Craig gave a presentation on Ayn Rand’s ethics to the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) in conjunction with FEE.
- In August, Jon gave three in-person talks at Liberty International in Medellin, Colombia: “How to Sell Marxists on Markets”; “John Locke: The Father of Liberalism”; “Ayn Rand: The Future of Liberty.”
- In October, Jon appeared on Liberty International’s “Liberty Connection Chats” with Kris Mauren (executive director of Acton Institute) to discuss “Morality, Self-Interest, and Free Markets.”
- Also in October, Craig gave a presentation to FEE’s Hazlitt Fellows about writing, creating a career as an intellectual, and the importance of objective morality and philosophy in defense of liberty.
- OSI speakers gave six presentations in October at SFL’s “Freer Future Fest” in Nashville, Tennessee, with more than 400 attendees and 600,000 livestream views. These included a keynote talk by Craig on “Ayn Rand and the Future of Freedom”; a panel discussion by Jon and Craig on “Government as a Necessary Good”; an interview by Angelica with economist Bryan Caplan on “Freedom and Innovation”; a presentation by Robert Begley on “Frederick Douglass: Role Model for Freedom Fighters”; and two breakout sessions, one led by Jon and one by Craig, in which they discussed the vital importance of Rand’s ideas in the fight for freedom with SFL’s top leaders and event coordinators from around the world.
- In November, Thomas gave a presentation for the John Galt School UK on how Objectivism can help people thrive in their careers and relationships; Angelica and Thomas participated in a discussion on Rand’s ideas as part of SFL’s “New Frontiers of Objectivism” program; and Angelica taught two sessions of a JGS course hosted by Ayn Rand Center Ukraine—one on Rand’s We the Living, the other on her theory of concept formation.
- In December, Angelica taught an online session on Rand’s ethics for a JGS course in Israel.
What’s in Store for 2022
OSI’s 2022 is off to an amazing start. Here’s an indication of what’s in store:
We have new courses underway and more planned for every month of the year—including “OSI Reading Group: The Fountainhead”; “Ayn Rand Integrations: Aristotle, Locke, Reid, and Herbert”; “Six Perspectives on Writing in Defense of Liberty”; “Romantic Music and Literary Inspiration”; and “Conceptual Precision and Conceptual Fallacies.”
The program for TOS-Con 2022 is like nothing you’ve ever seen—a mixture of world-class speakers from various disciplines and perspectives, all committed to applying reason to the goals of freedom and flourishing. (Early-bird pricing ends February 28, so the time to register is now.)
OSI fellows will be speaking and teaching seminars on philosophy for freedom and flourishing at various conferences and events around the world throughout the year.
OSI’s video team is producing videos explaining and concretizing the principles of rational, life-serving philosophy. The first of these will be released in the spring.
OSI’s marketing team is working smart to reach our worldwide target audience of active-minded 18- to 35-year-olds who have not yet discovered or integrated the principles of Objectivism.
And OSI will continue to hire the brightest, most active-minded young people we can find and help them to become deeply knowledgeable ambassadors of Ayn Rand’s philosophy for living on earth.
This is how we make the world a better place to live.
If you appreciate what OSI is doing, please make a tax-deductible contribution to support our work. If you would like to discuss a major contribution or estate planning, please contact Craig directly at [email protected] to schedule a call at your convenience.
Thank you for your interest in OSI.
Director of Education and Programs
Having spent a large portion of my life in Richmond, Virginia—where some still refer to the American Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression”—I’ve witnessed mind-boggling mental gymnastics regarding the “great” Robert E. Lee. I’ll spare you details.
However, in “celebration” of Lee’s birthday (Jan. 19), I’d like to share a few words from a truly great American, Frederick Douglass, in response to such drivel.
A few weeks after Lee died, Douglass wrote an editorial for his newspaper, The National Era, about the cause of Lee’s death. After citing several obituaries from sources sympathetic to Lee—such as Jefferson Davis, who said Lee “died of a broken heart,” and a journal that said “he died being sadly depressed at the condition of the country, that he could stand it no longer”—Douglass concluded: “From which we are to infer, that the liberation of four millions of slaves and their elevation to manhood, and to the enjoyment of their civil and political rights, was more than he could stand, and so he died!”
I love Frederick Douglass.
I’m re-launching my personal website, which has been down for several years while I’ve focused on other projects.
Under “Home,” I’ll publish things that are more suited to a personal blog than to other outlets. Topics will include philosophic ideas I find useful, interviews I do, lectures I give, places I go, artworks and performances I love, recipes I love (oh yeah!), and issues I’m mulling over for formal articles, books, or courses. It'll be a melting pot of my thoughts, activities, and interests.
This website will also be home to my new podcast, “Excluding the Middle,” where I’ll apply philosophic principles and either-or thinking to various aspects of life and the overarching project of flourishing. The first episode will air next week. (Update: I put the podcast on the back burner, as I realized that still had too much on my plate. I now plan to launch it in July 2022.)
Also on this site is a specialized blog titled “Discord,” where I’ll address significant disagreements (or attacks) among individuals or organizations about which I have relevant knowledge and think speaking up is required for clarity and justice. (Hopefully, this particular blog won’t be very active.)
If you have questions or subjects you’d like me to address on my blogs or podcast, drop me a note. I can’t guarantee a reply to every message, but I read all of them. And if your question or suggestion is of general interest, I may write or podcast about it.
If you’d like to be notified when I publish new material or make announcements, sign up in the right-hand column for my occasional newsletter.