Rebirth of Reason


Daily Linz 13 - A Salute to Joe Rowlands
by Lindsay Perigo

There’s a common lament in human affairs that we don’t appreciate the giants amongst us while they’re around. “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Now, Joe Rowlands isn’t going anywhere, but I’d hate to think that if something untoward were to happen, I hadn’t shown my appreciation of him in the warm words that he deserves. For Joe is a giant amongst us.

Joe and I met via the Internet through a mutual friend some four or five years ago. The mutual friend was gay, and fondly hoped that Joe was too. In fact, in a classic case of the wishful thinking that gays are somewhat prone to, my friend thought he’d detected signs of interest from Joe (Joe has about as much interest in men as he has in trees), and visited him one day with the express purpose of consummation. The inevitable disappointment was not without its upside. My friend showed Joe a copy of my magazine, The Free Radical (“Let me show you my Free Radical some time”) and Joe was impressed by that. Somehow, from there, we made contact.

Joe came to SOLOC 1 in New Zealand in 2001. He endeared himself to all with his infectious, inimitable chuckle. He impressed all with the quality of mind displayed in his presentation, The Meaning of Life. Certain young ladies made it plain it wasn’t just his mind they were interested in, and they would like to show him the meaning of life. (As far as I know, they didn’t get to, but at least they stood a better chance than my gay friend!)

In that speech, Joe laid out a theme that has come to be something of a theme song for him: the static/dynamic distinction. Arguing that there’s far more to life than simply not being dead (the “static” view), Joe said:

The dynamic view of life holds that life is a process, not a state. Ayn Rand said, "Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action." Notice the term 'process.' It's a "process of self-sustaining and self-generated action."
In this view, life is not a state, but a series of actions. Life isn't a place you reach, but the process of reaching it. Life is action. It's the things you do. It's the process of accomplishing goals, not just the end results of the goals. Life is action. Life is the things you do and accomplish.
In the analogy I gave earlier, I compared the static view of life to being satiated. In the dynamic view of life, being satiated may be the end target, but it's the process of producing food, cooking, eating, and digesting that we would call life. This is not to say being satiated is not the goal. That is still the end being pursued. But life is not simply the ends. It's the entire process, from start to finish.
So life isn't just the things you accomplish. It's not having a lot of goods, or having accomplished a lot. It very much depends on how you gained those goods, and how you achieved it. It's not the money in your wallet, but how you got the money. Did you earn it? Did you steal it? Or did you find it in an old pair of pants?
In this view of life, values are still important, but for a different reason. They're not there to simply stave off death. They're there to improve your ability to live. Ever heard the phrase "it takes money to make money"? The point is that to accomplish bigger things, in shorter periods of time, you are benefited from wealth that you've already achieved. …

… The goal of your life is to continue your life. Which means the goals of your actions should be to continue acting.

For many attendees at SOLOC 1, these words, so obvious but so little understood or applied, were a defining moment in their own understanding of applied Objectivism.

At this time, Joe and Jeff Landauer were about to launch a new site, ObjectivismHQ. So impressed was Joe with SOLOC 1 that he proposed amalgamating that site with SOLO’s and bringing our respective endeavours under one umbrella. He gave me five minutes to decide. It really was a no-brainer. As SOLO’s founder I stood to gain a state-of-the-art Internet site that left SOLO’s in the dust. He stood to gain the imprimatur of Lindsay Perigo and the SOLO brand. From my point of view, that had “win-win” written all over it (though there are doubtless those who would say Joe got a bad deal!). So, ObjectivismHQ became SOLOHQ, and was launched with appropriate fanfare. I don’t doubt that in the not-too-distant future this event will be seen as a milestone in the history of Objectivism.

Joe chided me once for fretting too much about the rationalism—logic divorced from facts—endemic within the Objectivist movement. I teased him back that he was a rationalist. When he submitted articles with otherwise impeccably-argued themes, I’d shout at him, “Examples! Give examples!” I wasn’t too concerned, though, and I didn’t need to be. At some point—I’m not sure when—a light-bulb must have flashed in Joe’s head, for he went on to become just about the biggest scourge of rationalism in the movement, as any perusal of his articles on this site will attest (the most recent, of course, being All Or Nothing, originally delivered at SOLOC 4).

If I’ve been good for him, he has been excellent for me. When I’ve been under attack, he has come to my side. When I’ve been wounded, he’s despatched those who would twist the knife in further. When my wounds have been self-inflicted, he’s gently pointed that out to me.

I had no hesitation in appointing him Executive Director of SOLO. Consistent with his view on the static/dynamic distinction, he’s never content to rest on his laurels or for SOLO to rest on its. He is the driving force behind moves currently underway to make SOLO not just the repository of the best Objectivist web site in the world but the most potent Objectivist organisation in the world. This is a big goal, but if we want to change the world we must think big. Joe has dragged me to this realisation—my own initial goals for SOLO were much more modest (as he delights in reminding me).

Joe is a much better judge of character than I. He has spotted troublemakers I thought were godsends, identified storm-clouds I thought were rainbows. (In the interests of not reopening old wounds, I shall refrain from elaborating!)

He stayed with me once, and I was confronted with the daunting task of cooking—or rather, under-cooking—his steaks. Virtually raw is the way he likes them. He shares with me a disdain for vegetarianism, though he takes it much more seriously than I. Here’s an except from Sacred Cows:

Vegetarianism is an ethical system. It holds the life of an animal as the standard of value. Animal life is considered good in itself, without reference to the life of the vegetarian. He must sacrifice his own life and interests for those of the animal. He gains nothing in return for this sacrifice. …
Vegetarianism is evil. It calls for the sacrifice of one’s actual values and happiness for an arbitrary standard. There is nothing noble or positive about sacrifice for any reason. It is just mixing a little poison in with your food. Destroying a little of your life for no reason. It’s making life harder and less satisfactory an end in itself.
What’s even worse is the non-vegetarians who see nothing wrong with it, or even respect it. Caught up in the idea of respecting people for acting on their beliefs, these people never question those beliefs. It is noble to stand up for your values when they are rational, positive values. There is nothing noble at all about standing up for corruption, slavery, or murder.
Nor does it matter that vegetarianism only hurts those who practice it. Of course it is their right to believe what they want. They must be allowed the freedom to use their own minds, even if they do it poorly. But this does not mean that what they believe in should be held up as normal or good. It is evil, and it should be proclaimed as such by all.
Vegetarians should feel shame for their beliefs, not pride. They should be embarrassed to tell anyone that they refuse to eat meat, because it shows how foolish and irrational they are. They should be mocked and ridiculed, disdained and despised. People should see the evil for what it is, and affirm their own lives as their moral standard. There should be no sympathy for those who destroy their most precious value - their own lives.

There’s another PC sacred cow Joe and I share contempt for—the Therapy Culturist view that anger is always and necessarily a bad thing. This, from Anger Management:

The emotion anger is much maligned. People tell you it's dark and ugly. Others say it's weak and cowardly. There are countless ways people can try to tear it down. But all of these have one effect. They switch the role of perpetrator and victim, and ensure injustice for all. So next time little green men from outer space start telling you what's right and what's wrong, tell them to go to the dark side.

In his professional and private life, Joe practises what he preaches. He works hard (he is “an engineer building microprocessor SOCs.” He specialises in “cache coherency.” I have no idea what any of that means). He is successful. He is rich—through his own honest, hard graft. He is proud of his success and his wealth. He is generous, not out of mawkish obligation indiscriminately, but toward those he values. I took a bunch of people from SOLOC 2, including Joe, to an Auckland steak-house one night. At the end of the meal, Joe took out his credit card and paid for the lot of us!

So, SOLOists, savour this guy. He is a KASS-NEM par excellence. He will have a place of honour in Objectivist history. He is living proof that the heroes in Ayn Rand’s novels not only can exist, but do exist.

Joe Rowlands, I salute you!
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