INTERVIEWS AND NOTICES
An Interview, conducted by Jason Dixon
Exclusive to Notablog, this interview was conducted by Jason Dixon and published on 18 April 2006. Comments welcome (post here).
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Over ten years ago, during the same week of August 1995, two packages were delivered to a Brooklyn doorstep. Chris Matthew Sciabarra had published his first two books. Envisioned as a trilogy, the second book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, lit the Objectivist world on fire�for some, with inspiration; for others, with outrage. A study of Ayn Rand�s intellectual development and influences, the book challenged the notion of Ayn Rand as a figure springing fully formed from the head of Zeus. Whereas Sciabarra�s first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, sought to reclaim the idea of "dialectics" from a history of Marxism and statist central planning, Russian Radical sought to demonstrate that this indeed was a method of thinking Ayn Rand herself employed�and that she had learned it from her Russian teachers. � Jason Dixon
Jason: Can you give us a brief background on what gave rise to Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical?
Chris: From the time I was a senior in high school, I was a fan of Ayn Rand�s work. I�d read everything that Rand had ever written and was attracted to her radicalism. I always believed that she was a "radical" in the original sense of that word: one who sought to go to the root in order to understand, explain, and resolve any philosophic or social problem. But it wasn�t until years later that I began to appreciate the role of dialectical method in radical thinking. That realization led me back to Rand�s work with a new appreciation of the means by which she achieved her particular brand of radicalism. It also led me to an historical exploration of Rand�s intellectual development as a radical thinker. These factors gave rise to the book that eventually became Russian Radical.
Jason: Ok, I knew it wouldn�t take long for the word "dialectics" to come up. That seems to be the biggest sticking point for those who would otherwise welcome your work. I mean, wasn�t it something that Marx talked about?
Chris: Well, you�ll have to give me a little time on this one.
I define dialectics as the "art of context-keeping," but I develop a more formal definition of dialectics as a "methodological orientation" in my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. That book is the concluding part of my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy of which both Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical are a part. And, in a sense, the three parts of this dialectical trilogy are an example of a dialectical approach. I view the three books as an integrated unity, such that no single book can truly be appreciated apart from the other books or from the "whole" context that the three books jointly constitute. I�ve had many readers write to me, telling me that their reading of Total Freedom, for example, first gave them an appreciation of what I had proposed in Russian Radical.
Now, this wasn�t just a marketing ploy! I had projected a trilogy on this subject that was twenty years in the making. I knew that in order for me to argue that Rand was a radical, dialectical thinker, I�d also have to confront the Marxists who had claimed a virtual monopoly in this area (hence, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia) and to reconstruct the history of dialectical thinking (hence, Total Freedom) so as to separate the rational Aristotelian wheat from the irrational Platonic chaff that had poisoned various dialectical conceptions. I say "rational Aristotelian wheat" because it was Aristotle, after all, who was the acknowledged father of dialectical inquiry, the first theoretician of dialectics, recognized as such even by Hegel and Marx. And any dialectical value that one might find in their works is, for me, traceable to whatever influence Aristotle had on their thought.
In my view, to be "dialectical" is to work with various techniques of abstraction so as to understand the object of one�s inquiry more comprehensively, more contextually. This requires us to examine any object not only from a variety of perspectives�or from what Aristotle called many "points of view"�but on different levels of generality as well. It also requires us to trace the development of the object over time and in relationship to other objects. These various techniques will often lay bare the complex nature of the object, its antecedent conditions and tendencies, and its place in a larger system of interrelationships.
When we apply this general methodological approach to social theory, where the object of our inquiry is "society," the advantages become apparent. Because "society" is not some ineffable organism; it is a complex nexus of interrelated institutions and processes, of volitionally conscious, purposeful, interacting individuals�and the unintended consequences they generate.
As I�ve stated on many occasions: A dialectical approach to social theory is one that recognizes that any given social problem will often entail an investigation of related social problems. The emphasis here is on investigation. I really want to stress that we�re not talking about a dialectical approach as if it were some kind of floating abstraction or a priori framework for interpretation. We truly need to do the difficult work of actually investigating the world objectively, if we are to grasp the real, concrete, empirical, and historical conditions before us.
What makes a dialectical approach into a radical approach is that the task of going to the root of a social problem, of seeking to understand it and to resolve it, requires that we make transparent the real relationships among social problems. Understanding the complexities and relationships at work within any given society is a prerequisite for changing it.
Jason: So how does all this apply to Ayn Rand?
Chris: Well, I think these various techniques are manifested in Rand�s literary work, philosophy, and social criticism.
Let�s just focus on the social criticism for a moment. In teaching these techniques to my students, I have used Rand�s analysis of racism as a particularly striking example of this dialectical approach in action. You�ll find my discussion of that analysis in Chapter 12 of Russian Radical. (And, of course, the whole book is devoted to tracing the many manifestations of dialectics in the body of Rand�s work.)
In examining racism, Rand does not focus on any specific aspect to the exclusion of any other; rather, she takes all the aspects together and develops a comprehensive critique. She aims to understand racism on many different levels of generality and from many different vantage points: psycho-epistemology, psychology, morality, culture, politics, economics, and so forth.
She condemned racism as an immoral and primitive form of collectivism, which negated individual uniqueness, choice, and values. Racism substitutes lineage for self-value, collective guilt and the psychology of victimization for individual achievement, and associational, concrete-bound methods of awareness for rational cognition. It has relied upon the development of legitimating ideological doctrines that target individualism as a cultural ideal, and the development of various political and economic policies that promote racism institutionally. Rooted in anti-conceptual tribalism, racism was a reciprocally reinforcing effect and cause of advancing statism. This was a crucial point of Rand�s analysis. In her view, statism both requires and perpetuates the proliferation of social fragmentation and internecine interest-group warfare, a kind of institutionalized "balkanization" of which racism is a chief expression.
So, by analyzing racism as a "whole" with different, though intimately related, aspects, Rand grasped its significance historically and as part of a larger system. This is not just an example of the "art of context-keeping" in action. It is the kind of analysis that is necessary if human beings are to triumph over racism and over the doctrines and institutions that have made racist injustices possible.
I get very passionate about this particular subject as an illustration of Rand�s dialectical thinking because it upsets me when I hear from critics who argue, for example, that Rand�s work is not relevant to the plight of minorities. It certainly is relevant in the most profound, the most radical sense imaginable.
Jason: So what would you say to the critics who say that analyzing from different perspectives is simply a cover for never being able to gain a "true knowledge" of a thing (e.g., a culture)?
Chris: "True knowledge" is never achieved except contextually; there is no "synoptic" god-like perspective on anything. It is partially through a process of selective abstraction that we are able to piece together a more integrated understanding of the phenomenon before us, and being able to switch the perspective is among the ways by which we engage in that process of abstraction.
Jason: You mentioned the trilogy was twenty years in the making. Did the central thesis of RR appear mostly "whole" or was it something that occurred to you as you explored Rand�s (and other�s) ideas?
Chris: Well, the central thesis is actually two-fold: That Rand exhibited a dialectical sensibility in her work, and that she most likely learned that way of thinking from her Russian teachers. It was certainly not something that occurred to me from "Square One." It only came to me after intense study of Rand, dialectics, and the history of Russian philosophical and social thought. In other words: I didn�t come to the study with preconceived conclusions; the study lent itself to the conclusion at which I ultimately arrived.
Jason: You�ve expressed not just interest but admiration for Rand�s system of thought. Did you find it difficult to bridge the gap between "Rand in a context" and "the intellectual giant standing alone"?
Chris: I personally didn�t find it difficult, but I know some of my readers found it difficult, if not downright insulting, to suggest that Rand learned something of value from her Russian teachers, with emphasis on "Russian," which is frequently treated as a synonym for everything Rand opposed. And, substantively speaking, Rand did in fact oppose the mysticism, collectivism, and statism so prevalent in various Russian approaches. But my emphasis has always been on a specific kind of valuable methodology to which Rand was most certainly exposed as a student in Russia.
Of course, I don�t think any of us should forget that intellectual giants stand on the shoulders of those who came before them. And while it is also true that a thinker�s self-descriptions are an important starting point for one�s investigation of that thinker�s context, much more work is required to grasp the significance of that context to the thinker�s development.
I have never suggested that my own take on Rand�s context was beyond all doubt. And, having recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of the publication of Russian Radical, I have never allowed my initial work in this area to remain untested. My own historical explorations have continued over the past decade as I�ve explored additional archival materials and subjected these to rigorous analysis. I see nothing in the additional records that fundamentally undermines my historical theses on Rand. If anything, I think the archival materials bolster my case, in some instances, substantially.
The point is: If I had believed that my initial historical work was written in stone, I would not have devoted time over the past ten years to analyzing new information as it has come to light. This is an ongoing and exciting investigation, one to which other Rand scholars are also contributing.
Jason: Speaking of scholars, there�s a well-known resistance in academia to the view of Rand as an intellectual at all, much less a philosopher. Do you think this is getting better?
Chris: I think there has been positive movement in both the general culture and in academia.
With regard to the general culture, I should note that Rand has become a cultural icon of sorts; references to her can be found in fiction and nonfiction, film and television, comics, cartoons, and music. Some of these references are not flattering, but all of them suggest a much more important truth: That Ayn Rand is here to stay. And on the occasion of this Centenary year, that�s a truth worth celebrating for those of us who do take her ideas seriously.
In academia, despite the resistance of which you speak, there has been an increase in attention paid to Rand in mainstream journals, textbooks, encyclopedias, and other reference works. Scholarly books on Rand are being churned out regularly and there�s even an interdisciplinary, semi-annual double-blind peer-reviewed Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, of which I happen to be a founding co-editor (along with Stephen Cox and the late Bill Bradford). JARS is now nearing the conclusion of its seventh year of publication, indexed by over a dozen professional abstracting services in the social sciences and humanities.
Noting the founding and flourishing of JARS at this time is particularly gratifying, if somewhat bittersweet; the journal was the brainchild of my friend and colleague Bill Bradford, who supported it and sustained it. He recently passed away after a bout with cancer; his passing has left me and many of his friends very sad. But the journal will continue: its foundations are strong, its reach is growing with each published issue.
Jason: Do you think the change is more organized (i.e., as a result of efforts of "mission" organizations like the Ayn Rand Institute and The Objectivist Center) or more spontaneous (i.e., individual fans or people interested in Rand�s work)?
Chris: I think that the only appropriate response to this is: Both. And I see no reason to impugn either "mission" organizations or more "spontaneous" efforts in this area. There is room for "mission" organizations, and it is in the nature of the development of intellectual movements that such organizations will multiply over the course of time. Each will attempt to fill another niche in the expanding marketplace of ideas. Some will perform certain tasks better than others.
Meanwhile, many individuals will continue to pursue the study of Rand independently. That�s how I came to Rand. And, indeed, over the past twenty to thirty years, a whole host of independent Rand scholars�people such as Douglas Rasmussen, Douglas Den Uyl, Tibor Machan, Eric Mack, and others�have been trailblazers in this regard; these folks were taking Rand seriously in academia long before any other scholars in the profession.
Jason: You�ve expressed the idea before that cultural change requires efforts both top/down (via academia) and bottom/up (via the popular culture). Did you think one or the other was more important at one time and what brought about the shift?
Chris: I think that "top down" cultural change�or change inspired by the adaptation, extension, and application of ideas that have been generated in "higher" intellectual circles (not restricted to academia)�has had a certain primacy. This is the typical model by which ideas are disseminated throughout a culture. But in recent years, quite clearly, the influence of popular culture has intensified considerably, due primarily to the expansion of electronic media: radio, cinema, television, satellite, the Internet, and so forth. It�s not that pop culture comes up with ideas independently of those in circulation among intellectuals. It�s that there is a greater possibility for marginalized ideas to find an audience due to the "democratization" of avenues for their dissemination. That�s why I think it is extremely important for the intelligent layperson to become a "cultural warrior" of sorts, building alternative, so-called "parallel" institutions. This means taking the opportunity, whenever it arises, to join the conversation, through blogging, writing, or being creative, and to influence the cultural zeitgeist.
Jason: So you�re saying one doesn�t have to be a scholar to influence the culture and spread the right ideas?
Chris: Oh Lord, of course! Absolutely!
Jason: Given the disdain of some of the writers you�ve studied for "constructivism," do you think that cultural change is even a legitimate pursuit?
Chris: I believe that it is illegitimate to think that one should "set out" to change the culture. As F. A. Hayek argued effectively, one cannot rationalistically construct a culture or a society as if from some Archimedean standpoint. Each of us is part of the culture we seek to change.
But culture just doesn�t change by decree. I think Rand was right, of course, that cultural change is, in general terms, a prerequisite for fundamental political change. But one can�t approach cultural change the way one would approach a change in political policy: by enacting or repealing a law or electing this or that politician. This is as much a problem in our country as it is abroad, where certain US policymakers are pursuing a so-called "democratic" political agenda for Iraq, for example, with little or no appreciation for the cultural prerequisites necessary for the emergence of a free society.
Now this is not to deny the fact that there is interaction between both political and cultural factors. But culture remains the more complex and foundational force in driving fundamental social change. We forget this principle at our peril.
In our own country, again, I would encourage people who want to affect the larger culture to write, create, and work in the realm of ideas, in various professions and disciplines, influencing the multiple subcultures within which they participate. The more one�s ideas gain currency, the more possibilities there are for emergent, "spontaneous" changes in the dominant cultural institutions, in pedagogy, education, ideology, language, art, literature, and so forth.
The point is: Get the ideas out there in every way possible within your own sphere of work and influence.
Jason: You mention several "derivative" issues in RR that you think Rand was in error�and which you see subsequent thinkers influenced by Rand as overcoming or correcting. One of the most well-known, of course, is homosexuality. In fact, you were the author of a monograph on that subject (Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation). So, what lure do you see Rand�s ideas having for people who are often considered marginalized (e.g., gay people or minorities)?
Chris: Well, I�ve spoken here about the issue of racism and minorities. I think her understanding of this subject is something that should be studied and truly appreciated by people of whatever race, creed, or ethnic group.
As for the issue of sexuality, I think that certain things must be acknowledged. One of these is that Rand was wrong about such subjects as homosexuality. I do not believe that this speaks to the essence of her philosophy. But she was wrong, in my view.
Ironically, in the recently published book, Ayn Rand Answers, the editor Robert Mayhew chooses to highlight the less inflammatory comments that Rand made on homosexuality during the Q&A of her lecture, "Of Living Death" (1968). In that lecture, Rand focuses more on the question of laws prohibiting homosexuality, which she was quite properly against. But in the Q&A to her 1971 lecture, "The Moratorium on Brains," Rand was far more focused on the "psychological flaws, corruptions, errors, or unfortunate premises" that she believed caused homosexuality. She condemned homosexuality as "immoral" and "disgusting." Those infamous statements are nowhere to be found in the new collection, unfortunately. Perhaps we might take the subtitle of the Ayn Rand Answers book a bit more literally, since it is presented as "the Best of her Q&A." In my view, those 1971 declarations were most definitely not Ayn Rand at her best.
Nevertheless, those declarations need to be acknowledged. My monograph lays bare the hurt and anger that many of Rand�s gay and lesbian fans felt in the wake of her comments. And those types of comments were not exclusive to Rand�s Q&A. One finds such anti-gay statements peppered here and there throughout the Objectivist canon, in published articles, audio lectures, and interviews, by both Rand and her various associates.
But here�s the important point: Even where Rand herself might be guilty of marginalizing people of a certain sexual orientation, it does not therefore follow that her philosophy is useless to those who are marginalized. As I argue in my monograph, her exalted view of love as a response to values, her celebration of individual authenticity and sense of life, her uplifting portrait of the human potential, her unequivocal stance in defense of individual rights�all of this can and should be appreciated by men and women, regardless of their sexual orientation.
And I�d extend this to the issue of women and "feminism": For example, Rand was a self-proclaimed "male chauvinist" and adamantly opposed to the "Women�s Lib" movement. But the fact of her being, and her fictional portraits of strong female protagonists (such as Dagny Taggart), inspired generations of women, many of whom became "individualist feminists" or "feminists" of a classical liberal persuasion, such as my friend, the late Joan Kennedy Taylor. Joan was a contributor to a provocative volume I co-edited with another of my dear friends, Mimi Gladstein: Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand. The anthology explores many of these issues from different perspectives.
Jason: Are there any other Randian ideas you think deserve further revision or consideration?
Chris: I�ve been very distressed by a certain "conservative" hue that has colored many contemporary Randian perspectives. My friend Larry Sechrest has often said that too many Randians have abandoned Rand�s radical legacy, becoming little more than "conservatives" who don�t go to church. One finds this in various attitudes expressed on subjects as diverse as foreign policy, sexuality, and art.
The good news is that as time goes by, "Objectivism" is becoming less and less monolithic; that is not to say that its core principles are flexible to the point of disintegration. But it is to say that people of good will can have reasonable differences of opinion on how those principles are applied to real-world contexts. I�m encouraged that there has been vigorous disagreement among those influenced by Rand on many of these important issues.
But I remain a big fan of that old Spanish proverb that Rand, Nathaniel Branden, and others used to cite: "Take what you want, and pay for it." That is, in this context: Take what you want from any given thinker, give credit where credit is due, and take personal responsibility for the rest of it. Don�t try to graft onto Ayn Rand something she was not or to redefine Objectivism in a way different from her, while still calling it "Objectivism." You can argue about the consistency of your view with Objectivism, or, more importantly, with reality, but that�s a different intellectual issue.
And all of this most definitely applies to my own work on Rand as a dialectical thinker; it�s my view.
Quite frankly, I have gotten so tired of the endless debates over who is the "True Objectivist" that I�m almost persuaded to say that there was only one "True Objectivist" in the history of the world, and we are all Randians or post-Randians now � well, at least those of us who have followed in her footsteps, in certain significant ways. (I talk about this more extensively in an article of mine, "In Praise of Hijacking.")
Jason: Getting back to Russian Radical: One of its primary theses is that Rand�s method of thinking about and dissecting a problem was "in the air" so to speak throughout her education. Are there any other cultures or societies in which you�ve seen an approach to ideas similar to the "Silver Age" of Russia?
Chris: Many of the approaches typical of the Silver Age were an extension of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European Continental philosophy. But I should emphasize that the various dialectical themes present in Silver Age Russia have been found cross-culturally and across generations; insofar as human beings think at all, one will find dialectical approaches on display, to varying degrees, simply because such approaches are a constituent element of proper thinking.
But to act as if everybody thinks dialectically is to trivialize the achievement of what it means to master the art of context-keeping. The fact that logic as the "art of noncontradictory identification" is also essential to proper thinking does not mean that we should trumpet its virtues any less. So too with dialectics.
Jason: Are you working on any other "Randian" projects?
Chris: ... I'm moving on. Indeed, I�m sincerely hoping to devote far more time to the formal exploration of dialectics. I�ve already published a few additional articles on the subject, including one recent piece for The Freeman (pdf at that link).
I think a lot more work needs to be done to demystify this ancient concept and to reclaim it as a rational tool in defense of freedom. And a helluva lot more work needs to be done to present it in a more easy-to-understand way; many of my recent efforts might be dubbed "Dialectics for Dummies," and I think it is a worthy exercise in exposition�though I�m not impugning anybody�s intelligence here when I say "Dummies." In the past, I�ve written for a very specific and specialized academic audience, and I�m making a greater effort to broaden the discussion of dialectics for nonspecialists.
Lots of work to do �
Jason: You're in the thick of the culture wars. Where do you get your inspiration to keep up the battle?
Chris: I think the prime inspiration has to be positive. I think it is important to strive toward those values that one seeks to implement socially. Rand once said: "Anyone who fights for the future lives in it today." Now, granted, the "mixed" culture within which we exist makes it extremely difficult to live a fully rational life based on fully voluntary social relations. A person who opposes coercive social relations, for example, will find themselves dealing with the contradiction of walking on tax-funded sidewalks, driving on tax-funded streets, and mailing packages in tax-funded post offices, not to mention forcibly contributing to a host of ever-expanding objectionable government programs. When the world around us seems like it is totally out of control, it becomes necessary to focus on anything and everything that gives us stimulation and pleasure.
Well, I�m never running out of things that inspire me. Whether it is a terrific song�and I�ve been posting a daily "Song of the Day" on my blog for more than a year now�or a provocative film or a great book or friends and family who share my values, I always tend to "accentuate the positive." That doesn�t mean I can�t be a fierce critic of what I view as negative; it just means that I don�t spend my days seeking monsters to destroy.
Jason: Do you see real signs of promise on the cultural front?
Chris: It�s very difficult to make generalizations in this area. For example, I could go on and on about the resurgence of religion as a real cultural and political force to be reckoned with in this country. And it doesn�t make me very optimistic at all. But every so often, a kind of commonsense, "instinctual" individualism reasserts itself, in the response to a film or even a political event. The best hope lies not in criticizing the resurgence of the "irrational," per se, but in trying to understand what fuels this resurgence, what social needs people are trying to address in embracing the irrational. This can help us to shape our response and to craft a viable alternative that meets people�s needs much more effectively and rationally.
Jason: What do you make of America's love-hate relationship with Wal-Mart?
Chris: Well, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Wal-Mart myself! And I�m not entirely sure that those Americans who respond negatively to Wal-Mart are all doing so because of the company�s Jurassic size. Surely Wal-Mart has done some amazing things from a marketing standpoint, and its entrepreneurial spirit is to be praised. But I do think some people, at least, have responded negatively because they sense that there is something amiss when a company such as Wal-Mart takes advantage of so-called "infrastructure" assistance and other forms of state and local subsidy, which have contributed to its transformation from a regional discount store outlet to a global retailer. And in light of the Kelo decision and the use of eminent domain for the benefit of private developers, including businesses like Wal-Mart, I do think some people sense a degree of unfairness at work. But it�s a big question not easily approached with the kind of sound-bite answers one finds on either the left or the right.
Jason: And what about America�s love-hate relationship with Europe?
Chris: That�s another question that is just as complicated. I do think it is incorrect to speak of America�s relationship to Europe generally, however, because there are so many distinctions to be found among the French, the German, the English, the Southern Europeans, the Northern Europeans, and the Eastern Europeans. And I don�t think it�s something easily characterized, as the Bush administration would have it, as a conflict between "Old Europe" and "New Europe."
Jason: Well, for example: European political leaders are often praised for their long string of college degrees and educational affiliations. American political leaders, on the other hand, are much more held to the standard of being "a nice guy," having scruples and principles, and being patriotic. Do you have any ideas about the causes for these differences and do you think they�re pertinent to the differences between the two places? (Assuming, of course, that you agree with the statement.)
Chris: Well, there are certainly broad differences in the ways in which politics manifests itself in both Europe and America. European political leaders tend to project a "snob quotient" insofar as they cozy up to or reflect an "elite" intellectual establishment. But I don�t think it�s all that different in America. The packaging is surely different, as you suggest: hence, the "nice guy" standard. But American politics also generates its own brand of court intellectuals who help to package candidates for public consumption and who help to shape the political agenda. Neoconservatives have had that kind of influence on the Bush administration, I�m sorry to say, but they are only one group of court intellectuals who have shaped the current political agenda. We�ve seen shifts among these groups through the years, but they are responsible intellectually for such American political products as the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society.
Jason: You're a fairly prolific writer. Do you ever find yourself getting writer�s block? How do you get over it?
Chris: I don�t think I�ve ever had any chronic "writer�s block." But I have had some acute cases. The best thing to do, for me, is to simply walk away from a subject. Take an hour or a day or several days or a week. Come back later to the material, but don�t sit there trying to "force" your mind to perform tricks.
Different people approach writer�s block differently because not every writer functions the same way; for me, the clearest way of avoiding it is organization. If you create a road map, not necessarily one that outlines every last stop along the way, you will help yourself immensely in getting over the inevitable obstacles.
I have noticed, for example, that when I lose my sense of organization, I maximize the possibilities for an acute case of "writer�s block." Without that sense of organization, a project can potentially overwhelm me. That happened early on when I thought about constructing a trilogy on "dialectics and liberty." If I thought in terms of the trilogy, it would "overtax the crow," as the Randians would say. So I immediately broke it down: The trilogy became three books, the books had parts, the parts had chapters, the chapters had sections, the sections had paragraphs, the paragraphs had sentences, and the sentences had words.
Jason: You�ve had real challenges over the years with your health. How's that been going lately?
Chris: It has been very tough going over the last few years; it�s a congenital intestinal problem that has merited many surgical procedures over the long-term, and these have created all sorts of serious cumulative complications. One of those complications, my third bout with kidney stones, sidelined me for quite a while this past fall. And I still have significant problems with that particular issue that will require additional medical attention soon enough. But I keep an eternally optimistic attitude and I am almost constantly focused on what I can do, not on what I can�t do, because of health limitations.
Some people hear the word "limitation" and get very anxious about incapacity; but going all the way back to the ancient Greeks, I think it�s important to recognize that everything that exists has limitations, everything that exists is something definite. Once you understand the context established by the actual limitations, you can truly embrace the real potential for growth.
Jason: What other interests do you have? I mean, what do you do when you're not thinking about philosophy?
Chris: Well, even a cursory look at my Notablog will show that I�m obsessed with music, film, entertainment, and the New York Yankees. I keep up with my hobby of posting a "Song of the Day" only because there isn�t a moment of any day where some form of music isn�t playing, either on my sound system or in my mind. I also own a vast video and DVD library, in addition to thousands of CDs and records�yes, records, as in vinyl records. I picked up a lot of extra money while I was in college by DJ�ing parties, spinning and mixing music for reunions, Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, birthdays, and proms. It was a blast.
Add to this a healthy dose of seasonal baseball watching, and occasional bike-riding, not to mention quality time with a partner, close friends, and a loving family, and there are just not many unoccupied moments of any given day. The only activities I genuinely miss are those surrounding my dog Blondie; she passed away in mid-January. She was the perfect embodiment of the Muttnik Principle�a constant, loyal, and joyful companion to me, playful and sweet. She sat on my lap for the writing and editing of every book, every article, and every journal I�ve ever published. I miss her very deeply.
Jason: You�re a busy guy. How do you juggle all of these competing values/interests?
Chris: Sometimes, not too well! But that�s mostly because of the health difficulties, not because I am a poor juggler! As I�ve said, I am usually a very organized person, and I try to allot my time in as organized a fashion as my health will allow. Sometimes things are not within our control, but if values are truly values, then we do the best we can to pursue them with energy and passion. And those are the things I have a surplus of!
Jason: Is there a typical New Yorker? Do you think you�re one?
Chris: Oh, I won�t even attempt a dialectical analysis of that one, giving you many different perspectives and challenging the stereotypes. Let me just say that, yes, there is a "typical New Yorker" and even a typical Brooklynite, and I�m a proud one. But�here comes a vestige of that dialectical scalpel�New York has many "typicals." I can speak from experience, coming from a "typical" family of Southern European�actually Sicilian and Greek�ancestry. I approach each day with boisterous energy, with gusto, good food, and great company. And don�t forget the accent. I even own a black leather jacket and can do a good DeNiro: "You talkin� to me?"
Jason: What do you think of how New York has recovered from the 9/11 attacks?
Chris: I think the people of this city have shown a remarkable resiliency, and it is entirely what I would have expected. The scars remain; they will be a part of the lives of this and future generations for a long time to come. But the boisterous energy of which I speak is a major factor in this city�s rejuvenation.
Jason: Have you seen the plans for the new trade towers? What do you think of them?
Chris: The plans have changed so often that I�m still not convinced they will be the ones that are the basis of new buildings. The politicization of post-9/11 lower Manhattan reconstruction could have easily been predicted, given the history here. My only wish is that an appropriate memorial will be built and that new towers will also rise, a testament to all that is possible.
Jason: Who in Rand's fiction would you be most likely to invite to your dinner table (if anyone)?
Chris: I have always found her "mixed" and "conflicted" characters very interesting; trying to understand how they "tick" is, I think, fascinating. So, people like Steven Mallory and Gail Wynand from The Fountainhead or perhaps Hank Rearden from Atlas would be, I think, very challenging dinner guests.
Jason: What is your favorite realm of art?
Chris: It�s a cross between music, film, and theater. I�ve got very broad and eclectic tastes in each realm (for example, see "My Favorite Songs" and my list of films). And I like the crossroads of music and theater (in the musical) and the crossroads of music and film (in the film score).
Jason: Have you ever considered pursuing these fields?
Chris: Well, though I studied violin as a kid, I�ve left the musicianship in my family to my brother, who is a virtuoso jazz guitarist (Carl Barry) and my sister-in-law, who is a terrific jazz singer (they have a nice website here). As I said earlier, the closest I�ve come to pursuing "music" was in my DJ�ing of parties! But that�s about it.
Jason: Well, thanks for the chat!
Chris: My pleasure!
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