September 20, 2017 (Wednesday)

by Yule Heibel on September 19, 2018

Last night W. and I met at John Harvard’s Brew House for a light meal; the café we thought we’d meet at was too packed and loud and discombobulating. Then we headed to the Yenching Auditorium on Divinity Avenue to hear Dave Rubin host and converse with Steve Simpson (of the Ayn Rand Institute – hard for me to believe that her “philosophy” is taken seriously enough to warrant an institute) and Bret Weinstein (both EIs pronounced like the EI in my last name and in Fleishman’s Margarine; it’s amazing how, in Q&A, so many got it wrong, calling him wine-steen instead).

It was typical Dave Rubin – very loose and relaxed. It was not well attended, not least we learned because the barrier to attendance was ridiculously high: you had to be a Harvard student. Not sure how W. and I managed to get in – I had registered on the Ayn Rand Institute website, and perhaps having a Harvard email plus putting GSAS as my school (albeit without the 1991 graduation year) allowed me to slide under the bar. And they weren’t going to turn W. away, whom I introduced as my guest. There was a relatively high level of security there for an event already so shielded and frankly under-advertised.

I liked Simpson the least: Ayn Randians seem to have a tendency to fall in love too much with their own ideas, failing to test them against alternate, competing views. He laid out what at first seemed an interesting thought: that there should be more of a difference, a line, drawn between speech and action, which would make the law able to proscribe marches such as the neonazis held in Charlottesville. They came like a little militia, bearing torches, too. Their actions, in other words (including wearing protective headgear, having a marching formation, and bearing torches) exceeded by far their speech (which should be protected). But in the Q&A a guy pointed to the August 19 Boston free speech rally, where forty (alleged “right wing”) advocates for free speech were met by forty thousand virtue signaling bien pensants protesters, some of whom got violent, and who all tried to shut down and or shout down the lone forty. Which group do you then target for proscription? Simpson was trying to say that there shouldn’t be a right to (mis-)use public property as the KKK had done in Charlottesville. But obviously it gets sticky quickly. Lots of other (more) interesting stuff, from Weinstein, too, of course. I didn’t take notes. Wish I had.

(What I meant re. Ayn Randians falling in love with their own ideas: it’s a sign of a kind of juvenile mindset to do that, and it seems Rand herself as well as her followers are touched by that kind of immaturity. I’ve been listening to more Jordan Peterson podcasts re. Bible stories, and he makes a point about questioning his own ideas 50,000 ways to make sure they’re solid. He too read Ayn Rand as a kid, but seems to have moved way beyond that.)

(And just a quick note re. the café we initially thought we’d meet at, but then decided was too packed and loud: it struck me, after opting for the at that hour relatively very quiet, old-fashioned Brew House, that [café] is filled with kids who grew up going to the mall – albeit while also using their phones to post about their visits. It seemed to me that they are somewhat immune to their surroundings. But maybe that’s a juvenile idea which wouldn’t pass muster beyond a few simple objections. Still, what does account for their willingness to sit, overstimulated by coffee, Ritalin, and harsh noise – nothing in these cafés is upholstered, which means sound bounces like crazy – amidst what seems to me discomfort? Is it a way to feel alive?)

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