COVID, Learning, and Liberty

COVID, Learning, and Liberty

Bend the curve. Social distancing. A few months ago, these might have referenced grading trends or high school dances, but now, they seem destined to enter 2020’s lexicon as something we’d like to forget.

What’s it like to do distance learning at Providence? Two personal first impressions:

1) Providence teachers and students pivoted to online learning over a weekend, and though it wasn’t seamless, it was amazing. We are still doing excellent work! Just speaking for myself (other teachers are far more creative and competent than me), I’ve given lectures, had one-on-one tutorial sessions, class discussions, conducted a mock trial, and zoomed quizzes and tests. And, of course, students get grades. 

2)  But. There’s always a “but,” right? Online learning teaches you why a traditional face-to-face education is so valuable and “lockdown learning” (that’s my term) is so confining and incomplete. I miss lunchtime and study hall and before school and after school conversations with students. I miss the ease of traditional education. I typically had nearly 2000 minutes of face to face interactions with students each week, which is why I never longed to talk to anyone right after school—I was too tuckered out. Now, I’m lucky to get a few hundred virtual face to face minutes with students per week and I’m talking to myself too much at home.

The good news is, this will pass. No longer will I hear a freshman say, “Raise your virtual hand!” I won’t miss the occasional garbled audio feeds, the “just got out of bed” appearances from some students, the barking dogs and binging computers, and my own steep learning curves with distance learning.

Life will get much better. I have always reminded students how good we all have it. We are 35 times, give or take a few “times,” wealthier than our ancestors. Our problems are often (though certainly not always) trivial. The Black Death killed a third of Europe’s population in the 14th century. Chinese peasants mugged each other over the results of their retrieval of  buckets of “night soil” from the common latrines. Life is strained now, but our ancestors faced worse issues. We will defeat this virus, and when we do, inexorably, life will not only return to normal, it will be so much more sweet! The pent up demand will find goods, businesses will rehire workers, we’ll be able to sit down at restaurants, and the koinonia will return in full measure to our church gatherings.

Some things may change. In the past, crises tended to birth a statist leviathan; I hope that doesn’t happen. The handshake had a good, 1000 year run; that may be over. Some ways of doing business will evolve. We might want to stomp, virtually of course, on our Zoom software. And some good will perhaps emerge–a re-emergence of federalism would be refreshing, as states do their own experiments in reacting to the virus.

But let’s also embrace the “not change” portions of our lives when the corona virus is dethroned. Let’s enjoy lively give and take, good communal meals, hugs and shoulder rubs. Let’s continue caring for the vulnerable, and look forward to the day when students and teachers can both return to our classrooms, white boards, shared dining tables, sports, plays, games, lounging on the artificial turf—the things that make life sweet.

See you all, hopefully soon—in the classrooms, not at all virtually, but in flesh and blood, and sooner than we expect or fear. 

Words and Numbers Hosts Visit Providence

By Chloe Olsen, Class of 2021

Coercion’s grasp is capable of stripping American society of liberties, and our deliverance relies on cooperation.

On Tuesday, February 21, Drs. James Harrigan and Antony Davies presented a talk to Providence students targeting these concepts. Dr. Harrigan is the managing director of the Center for Philosophy of Freedom and the University of Arizona, and Dr. Davies is a professor of economics at Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh. In their popular podcast, “Words and Numbers,” the two delve into philosophy and economics. They are currently traveling the country and have now visited Providence three times in the past four years to impart their wisdom to high school students entering into a world where an awareness of subjects like these is crucial. Providence is a school that places an immense gravity on students’ knowledge of ideas, including economic and political ideas. They talked about the governmental hold on citizens’ lives, the extent to which coercion should be accepted and considered beneficial, and the fruits of cooperation. As authors of Cooperation and Coercion, a book that unpacks the tendency in human relations to either comply or constrain, they posed the pros and cons of both trends during their talk.

Harrigan began the discussion on the topic of coercion. Explaining the problematic nature of societal constrictions, he addressed the myriad of limitations on day-to-day activities such as those on our use of water and where we can cross the street. Another form of coercion from the government appears in the price of harmful products. He gave the example of the dramatic increase in the cost of cigarettes. During the 1980s, a pack of cigarettes could be purchased for roughly one dollar, while today a pack costs nearly seven dollars. In an attempt to prevent unhealthy habits, our government has nudged citizens into living a life they believe is best for us.

Students were encouraged to question these regulations. Should such constraints exist to prevent self-inflicted harm, or should regulations be in place solely to prevent one person from harming another? Nations exercising too much coercion become consumed by a sea of regulations on everyday life which compromise the liberty that keeps our country afloat. With examples such as China’s social credit system and its former limits on the amount of children per family, Harrigan warned of the damaging effects of a coercive government.

Post-presentation, students in the Libertas Scholars program meet Dr. Harrigan and Dr. Davies.

Rather than forceful leadership, perhaps our prosperity depends on cooperation. Davies led students in an interactive experiment that emulated real-world commerce. Students divided into groups of four who traded within the group, aiming to multiply their products and create the largest amount of goods possible. One side had a comparative advantage and was significantly more efficient at production than its competition. However, despite one group’s lack of skill and one’s clear industrial domination, both gained from the cooperation; in fact, those who were the poorest improved more. Through this experimental economics, Davies demonstrated that trade works to not only make us all better off, but also to decrease economic inequality. With an engaging, palpable take on production and consumption, his example helped students understand the often unrecognized fairness of cooperative exchange. Similar to this exercise, there exists a reciprocity in cooperation that debunks the popular notion that all sellers are thieves. Trade produces profit for the disadvantaged in the deal and lessens economic inequality.

In groups of four, Providence students and teachers participate in an interactive economics experiment led by Dr. Davies.
Students work together to solve production and efficiency problems through trading.
Drs. Harrigan and Davies conclude the discussion with a Q and A, where students had the opportunity to ask questions about the talk and about economics and politics in general.

The matter of whether force or compliance is best for our nation is certainly relevant. Amidst the current political climate and upcoming election, an understanding of economics is especially vital. With a unique optimism, Harrigan shared that he expects our generation to have an awareness of the importance of liberty and value of trade that many millenials do not always recognize.

Our school promotes the economic and political education of students, as this insight is necessary for navigating the world of politics and life as an American citizen. Providence High School students   attained a worthwhile understanding of coercion and cooperation from Tuesday’s discussion and greatly appreciated the two talks. Students were particularly drawn to the comprehensibility of the presentation. Senior Chloe Norton shared, “They make economics a more tangible subject. I think that a lot of the times I am intimidated by the concepts, but both Antony Davies and James Harrigan make it simple without losing its vast complexity.” Others were motivated to further their understanding in this area. Junior Nolan Lundgaard said, “I thought it was so great to hear from these economists today, and everything they had to say about the benefits of working together and the drawbacks (and the good) that result from coercion. It just underlines the importance of cooperation in society and that things will be better off once humans begin working with others. The whole presentation was super inspiring.” Junior Josh Frankenfield added, “Personally, I really enjoyed the presentations… It was quite intriguing to see the contrasting ways on solving problems (coercion vs. cooperation) and which option yields better results. Discussions and topics like those that were presented are the reason why I am fascinated by economics.”

James Harrigan and Antony Davies spurred on a venture for learning political and economic truth and a cultivation of knowledge through considering that coercion may be poisoning liberties, but cooperation is fruitful to all.

Socialism, Christians, and Ayn Rand’s Anthem

By Chloe Olson

    An apple is not an orange.  Even if I desire that apple to be an orange and call my desire true, it is not.  You might disagree and tell me that apple can be whatever I wish it to be.  These questions concern philosophy: when one dwells on existence,  and forms ideas and beliefs around it.  The unique thing about humankind is that we are capable of thinking for ourselves.  Our minds have the capacity to understand, then apply, to question, and to make and choose beliefs.  Humans love wisdom and strive to know.  We create our own philosophies because of our quest for knowledge, for philosophy does mean the love of wisdom.  The human brain is so complex that it allows us to dig deeper than understanding how.  We can seek to understand why.  Discovering one’s philosophy is integral part of being.  One cannot navigate through life purposefully or make a meaningful impact on the world without knowing their mind, what goodness is, and what is true.  Knowing our philosophy aids in discerning between truth and falsehood in all we see, and causes us to debate with ideas we hear.  For example, on the branch of philosophy that is metaphysics, one can decide that an apple is an apple and not an orange.  Anthem, by Ayn Rand, holds a clear message of her philosophy that is objectivism, and reading this pushes one to debate and compare their philosophy with Rand’s.  Anthem illustrates a world where no one says “I”.  Rand describes a place in which there is no freedom to choose one’s path in life, where to live, how to live, or who to be.  Everyone has a name that refers to group identity; individualism is outlawed.  Equality 7-2521 was another piece of this society’s plain white puzzle, but unlike all others, he did what was forbidden.  He learned by himself.  He discovered, he grew, and began to doubt the collectivist ideology that was ingrained in the minds of everyone around him.  He escaped this world and taught himself to have a new mindset about self.  Most importantly, he learned what was stolen from every human.  Equality discovered ego and traded equality for ego.  This story line not only screams Rand’s beliefs about truth, morals, and politics, but it causes one to question her philosophy of what is true, what is moral, and what the role of the government should be.  Anthem is filled with messages from Ayn Rand that I agree and disagree with: truth exists independent of man’s consciousness, truth is known through sensory experience and reason, self-interest is morally right and altruism is morally wrong, and socialism must be rejected. 
Ayn Rand’s thoughts on reality are that truth exists independent of man’s consciousness.  Her idea of reality is that reality is what is real and nothing else.  Imagine two men looking at a dog.  One man sees the dog as what it truly is: a dog.  The other man says that the dog is a cow.  Rand’s philosophy would suggest that both men cannot be correct, but only the man who claims the creature is a dog would be correct.  Rand’s idea is that truth is truth: A is A, and A cannot be B.  Man’s consciousness may cause one to believe that A is B, but Rand suggests that man’s consciousness cannot decide what truth is.  Men may see the truth but cannot manipulate it or choose it.  In Anthem,  Equality and all other people are not taught reality.  As Equality 7-2521 described the way of life in his society, he spoke about education and said,

         â€œWe think that there are mysteries in the sky and under the water and in the plants which grow.  But the Council of Scholars has said that there are no mysteries, and the Council of Scholars knows all things.  And we learned that the earth is flat and that the sun revolves around it, which causes day and night” (5).
What Equality is describing is the teaching of falsehood; we know the earth is round and revolves around the sun.  Rand includes this to convey her message: not everything said is true, and even if the world said A was B, A is still A.  The Council of Scholars tells others that they know everything, and they do not.  They explain the earth to function in a way that it does not.  They have freedom to speak and believe this, but that does not make it qualify as truth.  Ayn Rand said, “Reality, the external world, exists independent of man’s consciousness, independent of any observer’s knowledge, beliefs, feelings, desires, or fears.  This means that A is A, that facts are facts, that things are what they are—and that the task of man’s consciousness is to perceive reality, not to create or invent it.”  Though his society may make falsehood part of his curriculum, it is Equality’s job to understand the true facts through a discerning mind.  Equality described the Unmentionable Times which were before his society was reformed.  He described how the world used to function and how it was considered evil.  He said, “But those times were evil.  And those times passed away, when men saw the Great Truth which is this: that all men are one and that there is no will save the will of all men together” (3).

Humans in this time are taught that the past and individuality are evil.  This is wrong in Rand’s eyes as the desire of B does not make A false.  Just because people hate the idea of an individual does not mean the concept of an individual is bad.  The Council claims this is the Great Truth, but it is not truth.  It is not grasped through experience and logic, but it is thought about through teaching and stories.  A thought of man cannot always be considered fact because truth is truth, and if man’s thoughts contradict what is true they are not facts.  Will does exist regardless of whether or not people want it to exist.  There is no editing the truth.  I agree with Rand on all but her thought of truth only in the physical.  My philosophy is that there is an absolute and uncompromising truth, pertaining to the physical and spiritual, which is authenticated by sensory experience, logic, and revelation.  Like Rand, I believe that there is one truth and one reality in the world around us.  Contrary to her ideas, I believe there is absolute spiritual truth.  I agree with Rand’s philosophy that A is A, and the world in Anthem is saying that A is B physically and spiritually.  What, however, deems truth to be the truth and the teachings of the Council to be false?  The answer lies in our ability to distinguish between A and B.
Once one knows that truth is unwavering and definite, they must learn to distinguish between what exists and what does not.  Epistemology is a question of how.  If the truth is objective as Rand states, what is the difference between real and fake?  Her philosophy states that we know reality to be reality through reason.  She also rejects mysticism and faith, and does not believe they contribute to our knowledge.  Ayn Rand stated, “Man’s reason is fully competent to know the facts of reality.  Reason, the conceptual faculty, is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.  Reason is man’s only means of acquiring knowledge.”  When Equality discovered his friendship he said,

        “International 4-8818 and we are friends.  This is an evil thing to say, for it is a             transgression, the great Transgression of Preference, to love any among men better than the others, since we must love all men and all men are our friends.  So International 4-8818 and we have never spoken of it. But we know.  We know when we look into each other’s eyes.  And when we look thus without words, we both know other things also, strange things for which there are no words, and these things frighted us” (9).

Equality and International never established their fondness of each other.  They never conversed about their friendship.  They simply did their jobs in the presence of one another.  They knew they were friends without saying that fact but simply by looking each other in the eyes.  This is similar to our knowing truth because we use logic through senses.  We may not be able to see wind, but we know it exists because of the effect it leaves on earth.  We can reason to discover truth using what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. 

Once Equality flees, he reflects on his new understanding: “The forest rose among cliffs, and whenever we walked out upon a barren stretch of rock we saw great peaks before us in the west, and to the north of us, and to the south, as far as our eyes could see.  The peaks were red and brown, with the green streaks of forests as veins upon them, with blue mists as veils over their heads.  We had never heard of these mountains, nor seen them marked on any map.  The Uncharted Forest has protected them from the Cities and from the men of the Cities… And there before us, on a broad summit, with the mountains rising behind it, stood  a house such as we had never seen….We turned to the Golden One and we asked: ‘Are you afraid?’ But they shook their head” (48).

What was once nonexistent to Equality and the Golden One became reality when they learned to discern truth.  They then used their physical senses to see the real world as it truly was: with mountains and cliffs they never thought existed.  Not only did they never know that this truth was the truth, but they were taught that the forest and what was beyond was dangerous.  Equality’s first thought when they saw a house was to ask the Golden One if she was scared, as they were told to be scared of knowledge.  This is a lie that the two distinguished from the truth as they were not scared.  They had no fear because they discovered it was not dangerous through seeing the house as it was.  They used their sensory experience and reason to know there is nothing to fear about a house and some trees just as we use this to decipher between what is real and what is not.  I agree with Rand in that I think that the senses and reasons are key parts of knowing what exists, but I believe there are more factors.  My philosophy on distinguishing reality from the false is this:  the truth is not subjective, but our “truth” is.  Our “truth” is not the truth, but it is a lack of sensory experience, logic, revelation, and submission to God.  Rand is clearly not a believer in any faith, so she would debate me on revelation as a means of knowing.  Ayn Rand brings up a truth that people called fake when describing those who broke laws and did what was dangerous and evil in the Council’s eyes.  Equality said,

        “We do not wish to look upon the Uncharted Forest.  We do not wish to think of it.  But ever do our eyes return to that black patch upon the sky… It is whispered once or twice in a hundred years, one among the men of the city escape alone and run to the Uncharted Forest, without call or reason.  These men do not return.  They perish from hunger and from the claws of the wild beasts which          roam the forest.  But our Councils say that this is only a legend” (20-21).

Again, a desire of the Council to place opinion over fact and create truth is displayed.  Rand is using this passage to  show once more that what one may say is truth is not always truth.  When referring to the men who ran away, she may be saying that their urge to run came from knowing the physical truth about the world that was hidden for them, but how did they know it was truth without reason?  Without sensory experience and reason, truth can only be known through revelation.  Perhaps unintentionally, Rand may have included an argument that is contradictory to her beliefs.  Regardless of this, there was a discovery of the truth through discerning lies.  We can distinguish between real and fake as truth is objective, and this means we can also distinguish between right and wrong.

Good is Good, but what is Good?  There must be an absolute morally right and morally wrong.  Rand thinks this morally right is self-interest, and the morally wrong is altruism.  She thinks sacrificing oneself for the sake of other is evil and rejects putting others first.  Rand says that reason can be the only judge of values, and what a man needs for survival is reason, purpose, and self-esteem.  She believes that selflessness is evil and that “man is an end in himself.”  Rand conveys this mindset when Equality discovered the Unspeakable word, and he said,

        “And my happiness needs no greater aim to vindicate it.  My happiness is not the means to any end.  It is the end.  It is its own goal.  It is its own purpose. Neither am I the means to end others may wish to accomplish.  I am not a tool for their use.  I am not a servant if their needs.  I am not a bandage for their wounds.  I am not a sacrifice on their altars” (52).

Rand is arguing that one cannot let others use them as a stepping stone on the path to reaching their goal.  It is completely wrong to dedicate any part of oneself in helping another man reach his need in her mind, because if man doesn’t think for himself, he will remain in ignorance.  Rand believes that happiness should not be offered either and no one should give up their happiness to serve another as that would be immoral.  She then described the importance of solitude.  As Equality was walking with the Golden One in the Uncharted Forest after his escape, he said,

        “‘There is no danger in solitude.  We have no need of our brothers.  Let us forget their good and our evil, let us forget all things save that we are together and that there is joy as a bond between us.  Give us your hand.  Look ahead.  It is our own world, Golden One, a strange, unknown world, but our own.’… If that which  we have found is the corruption of solitude, then what can men wish for save     corruption?  If this is the great evil of being alone, then what is good and what is evil?” (44-45).

Equality is saying that life is much better now that he is alone.  He doubts that isolation is truly evil, and he begins to rewrite what good is and what evil is.  Rand is using this to express the importance of individuality.  To stress this, when Equality finds a house from the Unmentionable times and learns to say “I”, Rand writes,

        “For the word “We” must never be spoken, save by one’s choice and as a second thought.  This word must never be placed first within man’s soul, else it becomes a monster, the root of all the evils on earth, the root of man’s torture by men, and of an unspeakable lie.  The word “We” is as lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it, and that which is             white and black are lost equally in the grey of it.  It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the week steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages” (52-53).

Not only does Rand think self-interest is a virtue, but she thinks that group identity can be the greatest evil.  In her mind, anything collaborative results in stolen wisdom, strength, and goodness.  The only right in life is in oneself.  Rand further demonstrates her love of self when Equality changes after learning the Unspeakable Word and says,

        “And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride.  This god, this one word: ‘I’”  (53).

Equality now calls himself “god” instead of calling the group “god.” Now the brothers are not most important to him, and the council is not most important to him.  The only being that should rule his life is him.  He has learned the basic human instinct of selfishness and a rejection of all altruism.  As Rand believes in living for only one’s self, to me, morally right can only be dying to self.  My philosophy is that what is morally good can only be one thing: God.  God invented good and is all that is good on earth.  What is a better way to judge one’s morals than compare oneself to the person God wishes them to be?  Rand is clearly not a follower of God and would debate this theory, but I believe that we do not live for ourselves.  I agree with her that self-interest is constructive and healthful.  However, an interest in only one’s self in very destructive.  Ayn Rand’s rejection of altruism is not only morally wrong, but acts of pure selfishness lead to no reward but one’s demise.  Rand believes that an idea not formed by oneself will not lead to progression or growth.  It is true that a society without individualism will not produce new ideas or succeed, but the importance of individualism should not mean the absence of community or learning from others.  Building as a part of community is essential to growth individually, and if it is argued that altruism is evil, we must properly define the word.  Altruism is not giving up everything about oneself.  It does not mean hating yourself, doing nothing to promote your well being, or giving no care to your own knowledge.  It simply means not placing your own comfort and happiness over serving others and serving your purpose.  I also disagree with Rand on the importance of happiness.  She stresses the value of being happy and how it should be sacrificed for no one.  Acting for another in a way to ensure happiness can be evil to Rand; it is immoral if you yield your happiness.  Where Rand seems to place a high value in happiness, I place value in how I carry out my purpose. Life certainly cannot always be joyful.  Should we call every difficult and sad time evil or immoral?  That would lead to a quite depressing life.  Instead morality should be judged by how well we serve our purpose doing what God made us to do, and how close we become to the people God intended us to be.  Happiness is different from joy, and joy is what is truly important.  Happiness is temporary and can be lost when serving others, but joy is a result of serving others.  Joy in Christ doesn’t leave us, but it is in us.  It empowers us to do God’s work and allows us not to feel drained from it.  I disagree with Rand that serving others is immoral because I believe that Individuality and altruism can both exist in the same heart.  Individuality plays an important role in morals, but it also is a factor in politics.

    A government that allows one to be an individual is important and something both Rand and I agree on.  Ayn Rand is clearly a firm believer in self-interest.  She despises collective thought or identity as she believes it cannot benefit or grow one person in becoming an individual.  She supports capitalism and is very much against socialism.  Socialism is a theory in which there is shared responsibility, collectivism, and no private property.  This type of system leaves little freedom for its people.  Ayn Rand is opposed to the lack of freedom in this ideology, and she is a strong advocate for freedom.  She says, as Equality is discovering his individuality in the Uncharted Forest and house,

        “But what is freedom?  Freedom from what?  There is nothing to take a man’s freedom away from him, save other men.  To be free, a man must be free of his brothers.  That is freedom.  That and nothing else” (57).

Rand is a strong believer in a capitalism with almost complete freedom.  She believes that freedom is being an individual, thinking alone, and choosing alone.  She also believes that socialism is the ultimate cause of loss of freedom due to sharing all you have.  She elaborates when she depicts Equality dwelling on his newfound freedom and the problems of the past government.  He said,

         â€œWhat is my joy if all hands, even the unclean, can reach into it?  What is my wisdom, if even the fools can dictate to me?  What is my freedom, if all creatures, even the botched and the impotent, are my masters?  What is my life,  if I am but to bow, to agree and to obey?  But I am done with this creed if corruption.  I am done with the monster of “We,” the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame” (53).

Equality learned that his time in this collectivist society caused him harm.  There is no goodness if the produce of the garden he cultivated is stolen.  His wisdom is not his own if others can claim or control it, and neither is his life, his freedom, and his joy.  Rand is saying that collective identity and thought leads only to corruption.  There are flaws of socialism additional to the lack of freedom.  When the Council was outraged by his discovery of electricity, they said,

        “How dared you think that your mind held greater wisdom than the minds of your brothers?  And if the Councils had decreed that you should be a Street Sweeper, how dared you think that you could be of greater use to men than in sweeping the streets?’ ‘How dared you, gutter cleaner,’ spoke Fraternity 9-3452, ‘to hold yourself as one alone and with the thoughts of the one and not the               many?’ ‘You shall be burned at the stake,’ said Democracy 4-6998” (37).

Socialism markets itself as a system of equality and fairness.  It displays itself as a way for no man to be higher in class than another, yet it is deceptive. The Council reprimands Equality for thinking on his own, and they decide they want to discard him.  Ironically, Democracy states that they want to take away Equality’s freedom. They value the good of the many but care not about the individual.  This is similar to socialism as the government says they want you to be equal to those around you and might give you a false sense of care.  In actuality, they care not about the well being of one person.  They only care about the country as a whole.  As Rand is  explaining the flaws of socialism, she listed losses that this type of system causes, and she explains flaws like how socialism causes depression in economics and loss of success in society.  When Equality discovered a new world, one free from the oppression of group identity, he spoke of the harm of collectivism and said,

        “The worship of the word “We.”  When men accepted that worship, the structure of centuries collapsed about them, the structure whose every beam had come from the thought of some one man, each in his day down the ages, from the depth of some one spirit, such spirit as existed but for its own sake.  Those men who survived those eager to obey, eager to live for one another, since they had          nothing else to vindicate them—those men could neither carry on, nor preserve what they had received.  Thus did all thought, all science, all wisdom perish  on earth.  Thus did men—men with nothing to offer save their great number— lost the steel towers, the flying ships, the power wires, all the things they had not created and could never keep” (58).

Equality is saying that those who think in groups, and not as individuals, fail to succeed.  In fact, this tears apart society.  It caused all advancement due to individual thought, which is most advancement, to cease.  It destroyed the structure on which the world was made: with the freedom to think for yourself.  This reflects socialism in our world as socialist countries fail to advance.  Socialism doesn’t work because there is no self.  There is no private property or ownership.  All is shared, including thought.  When thought is shared there is no challenge or growth.  I agree with Rand’s political stance on the importance of liberty.  Freedom is integral to a progressing society.  A country cannot flourish without it.  I agree with her that freedom is letting man be man on his own.  My stance is this: man should have freedom to be an individual with the exception of harming others, and one may not have the freedom to take another person’s freedom.  I agree that socialism always fails and produces no fruit.

Rand has a thought-provoking philosophy and one that I both agree and disagree with.   As she is not a Christian, it is interesting to challenge her ideas against God’s word and to see how her philosophy contradicts it.   Rand believes that no God exists or is truth, but John 14:6 says “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  God says that there is a spiritual truth: Him.  Rand would disagree as her philosophy on metaphysics is contrary to this.  When it comes to distinguishing between truth and falsehood, Rand says that only reason and sensory experience contribute to this.  God says that revelation is a key part in knowing the truth.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”   When it comes to morality, Ayn Rand believes that self-interest is moral, but God says love is not self-seeking.  1 Corinthians 10:4 says, “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” God commands us to put other people above ourselves: an idea which Rand despises.  Finally, Rand’s view of freedom is that it is necessary.  God says that freedom is a right of ours. Galatians 5:13-14 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” God explains that freedom is good when used according to His word and will and as long we we do not harm others or dishonor Him.  We know how God would view Rand’s philosophy, and we have seen how her philosophy is displayed in Anthem.   There is an absolute truth, it is discovered through senses, logic, and revelation, that self-interest and individuality are important; but altruism is morally good, and that freedom is essential to thriving society.

How Foursquare Reveals the Beauty of Spontaneous Order

By Jake Yonally
At my high school, four square has always been our lunchtime recreational game of choice. Every day, dozens of students gather on the blacktop to participate in a game with no clear winner, no referees, no official teams, and no written rules or regulations whatsoever. It is—or at least it would appear to be—a recipe for absolute chaos.
Notwithstanding these chaotic circumstances, the games tend to flow smoothly; people treat each other with respect, teams are formed, spoken as well as unspoken rules evolve, and everyone involved has a good time. Many observant bystanders are left perplexed by the fact that fun is able to be had in an orderly manner by a bunch of teenagers even in the absence of paternal institutions and coercive authorities. It’s a perfect example of the spontaneous order that emerges under conditions of peaceful, voluntary exchange and rational self-interest.

Any thinking person should be able to predict what Hobbes would call the “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” outcome of this romantic (in the literary sense) lunchtime endeavor. Competing high school personalities and self-interests should be the death of unsupervised lunchtime games. And yet, they are not.

Voluntary Rule-Following 

Pick-up four square is a perfect example of the spontaneous order that emerges under conditions of peaceful, voluntary exchange and rational self-interest. The four square court is a simple yet eloquent image of the equality of opportunity we should strive for in a free society. Everybody operates under the unspoken idea that the best way to have fun is to abide by the current rules. If someone happens to not agree with the rules, they are free to either leave the game and spend their lunch doing something else or start a new game of four square with different rules. If this new rule does not lead to a net increase in the overall level of fun, nobody will play, and the new rule will fail to be adopted by the majority.
For example, there used to be a huge problem with balls being hit too high and landing on the roof, thus delaying the game and wasting people’s lunch. Slowly, a rule evolved where if someone hit the ball on the roof, the hitter would be out and would have to get back in line regardless of where in the square the ball was hit. It would also be the hitter’s duty to go retrieve the ball. This evolutionary process is obviously not unique to pick-up four square. It happens every single day in every single field, often without verbal discussion. Trey Goff correctly observes that
The emergence and universal respect for this rule set is reminiscent of the bottom-up development of private law through common law systems that has occurred for millennia in the Anglophone world.
Each participant has a very strong incentive to cooperate with the agreed upon set of rules. This is because a refusal to comply will always result in a loss of respect and having one’s reputation permanently marred. If someone is well-known for refusing to abide by these unspoken rules or is generally a bad sport who does not play fairly, people will team up against them to get them out as quickly as possible. For example, the barely touched low ball hit is usually accepted as legal, however, respect is always lost, and the perpetrator is always targeted for the rest of the day. Thus, the offender will never set foot on the court as a direct result of his poor sportsmanship.
In this manner, the informal institutions of pick-up four square encourage fair play in ways that no formal institution can. People whose actions subtract from the overall level of fun are excluded and punished without the use of coercive force or physical violence. While there lays a gun beneath all government regulation, private, peaceful, and voluntary cooperation eliminates any need for physical violence in the emergent regime of pick-up four square.
Four square rules are complex yet completely self-enforcing—another demonstration of spontaneous order without a central planner.
Close calls are usually decided through the honor system; however, sometimes there are disagreements. After the call is made, it is either accepted by both players involved—in which case the game simply continues on—or it is fought against by one of the players. If there is serious controversy as to whether a ball was in or out, other players waiting in line will begin to weigh in on the discussion and share their generally unbiased opinions. This process of adjudication eventually settles the dispute between both players involved in the close call almost 100 percent of the time. The rules of four square are complex yet completely self-enforcing and without forceful compulsion—another humble demonstration of spontaneous order in the absence of a central planner.

Systems and Spontaneity 

The emergent coordination of interests that is seen in the game of four square is only a glimpse of what markets are truly capable of achieving. Four square is a game for around four to 12 players, however, Adam Smithsays this type of near perfect coordination and spontaneous division of labor is “only limited by the extent of the market.”
In his 1988 masterpiece, The Fatal Conceit, F.A. Hayek famously reminds us that
The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they know about what they imagine they can design.
The most shocking part about the wonders of spontaneous order is that certain presumptuous individuals still continue to believe that they alone possess the knowledge necessary to coordinate people’s interests and values in a more successful manner—through central planning—than the age-old price system does through the invisible hand. Adam Smith often spoke of
the man of system [who] seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board.
These presumptuous individuals are “men of system.” They treat human preference and decision-making as a science that can be calculated, mastered, predicted, and controlled. This is the “fatal conceit” about which Hayek is warning us. When allowed to work, the invisible hand does a far better job than any government, central planner, or social engineer could at delivering goods and services to the people and places that need them most. Political freedom makes economic freedom possible, while economic freedom makes political freedom meaningful.
The wonders of spontaneous order are constantly transpiring all around us, present in every single human interaction. Oftentimes all it takes to recognize this beautiful anarchy is a short trip back to high school.

Celebrate Providence Event a Spectacular Success

Celebrate Providence! A Seaside Soiree took place March 15 at the Rosewood Miramar Beach. It was a special evening that brought together the Providence School community to celebrate Christian education, honor God and his faithfulness to the school, and raise necessary support for the students and mission. 

From start to finish, the evening was spectacular. Memorable moments included the beautiful reception on the Great Lawn where guests perused silent auction items and enjoyed delicious food and drink while listening to Goodtime Tim and the Faculty Band.

The exquisite Chandelier Ballroom welcomed guests as Dr. Matthew Roy, performing arts director, and the Providence singers opened the evening with a rousing Swahili version of The Doxology. Dr. Brett Wilson, board member, guided the dinner program as our emcee and guests were inspired by Cameron Bleecker, Class of 2020, and his testimony. A new Providence film made its debut and Rob Crawford, current parent, helped us further the mission with his expert auctioneering. 

We are proud to share that more than $200,000 was raised for the students and mission of Providence!

Celebrate Providence! would not have been possible without the support of our our sponsors and the hard work and dedication of many volunteers, led by event co-chairs Colette Nottage Crafton and Melissa Kuykendall.  See the Celebrate Providence web page for a list of volunteers and sponsors.

There are still some opportunities to participate in the success of the event through Providence Socials. Beginning Monday, April 1, there will be a binder in the front office on each campus with sign-up opportunities for the remaining Social spaces. Please consider signing up and supporting the school through your participation in one or more of these fun events.

What Do Americans Know about the American System?

What Do Americans Know about the American System?

By Emma Gobbell, Class of 2020

    A survey conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation this year discovered that a mere 36% of Americans were able to pass the U.S. citizenship test, based on questions given to immigrants who apply for American citizenship. This test consists of ten questions about the basic history and government structure of the United States, and a passing score is answering six or more correctly. This same survey revealed that 37% of Americans believed that Benjamin Franklin invented the light bulb. For people under the age of 45, only 19% of them passed the test. The best-scoring group on this test were adults age 75 and older, which seems strange, because one would assume that our education system has far surpassed the teachings from 50 or so years ago. Apparently it hasn’t, nor have 75 year olds forgotten their civics lessons. The test asks “civics” type questions about the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, but also asks some questions about American history and geography.

  In a separate survey, it was discovered that 37% of Americans could not name even one right guaranteed by the First Amendment and only 26% could name all three branches of government.
    So how would Providence seniors do on the same test?
   Mr. Rottman gave his seniors in American Government class a 20-question version of the citizenship test, which is twice as long as the version given to immigrants. All 18 of the Providence seniors passed the test. One hundred percent! (Although some struggled with “What is the second longest river in the U.S.?”)

    In fact, at least one of the questions that one student answered incorrectly had a faulty answer. Libertas Scholar Jenna Peterson noted that the answer “printing money” is not technically a correct answer to a question asking for an example of a power granted to Congress in the Constitution, because Congress is only given the power to “coin money.” Whether coining money implies the ability to print money, or implies the constitutionality of the Federal Reserve, which might then imply the legality of its quantitative easing…well, the test doesn’t go that deep.

    As the Providence American Government class transitions to learning about economics, Providence seniors are going to delve a bit deeper into subjects like these for the remainder of the year, so that they will understand not only the American political system, but our economic system as well. I, for one, am looking forward to that dive.

Libertas Scholars Work and Play the Summer Away

It meant getting up in the wee hours on a July morning when most students were sleeping in, and taking a bumpy van ride to LAX for a long flight to hot and muggy St. Louis, but for five Providence Libertas Scholars, a three-day seminar on Leadership and Economics sponsored by the Foundation for Economic Education was a big mid-summer vacation hit. Sophomores Christine Venzor, Olivia Bates, Belen Cruz, and Joshua Frankenfield and senior Pedro Cruz joined 70 students from around the country at Lindenwood University to hear talks, do trading experiments, prepare presentations on solving social problems, embark on a scavenger hunt, play in a trading game, and make connections with students from all over the country—all with the goal of learning about both economics and leadership.

Mr. Rottman chaperoned and spoke three times, along with Professor Antony Davies (who has spoken twice at Providence and employs simulations to explain how well markets work) and entrepreneur TK Coleman, who inspired students with compelling stories and analysis on how to use persuasion and passion to improve society. “Being a leader,” he noted, “forever ruins your world with responsibility.”

Olivia shooting the breeze with friends.
Josh increases his happiness with some fellow traders.

What were the students’ reactions? Christine “enjoyed meeting new people,” and learning how to change the world by doing what you are interested in—“not asking what the world needs, but what makes you come alive because that is what the world needs—people who have come alive.”

Pedro noted that he discovered how government’s efforts to protect people sometimes accomplish the opposite of what their intentions were.

At the City Museum, Josh works on his shooting abilities,
…while Olivia, Christine, and Belen hide out.

Earlier in June, five different Providence students (juniors Emma Gobbell, Chloe Norton, Frankie Harman, Bella Madrigal, and Hanna Garza) flew to Vanderbilt University in Nashville to a different FEE seminar on “Economics in the Real World.”

Frankie noted connections between how economics reveals truth, and truth is essential to the real world, which reminded her of class discussions on Speaker for the Dead. She noted the importance and benefit of applying basic economic principles to your everyday life, such as “the benefit behind looking at the opportunity costs behind everyday decisions or the unseen consequences of a seemingly good decision in the moment.” In bringing up the idea of sunk costs, Chloe said that the seminar was an amazing experience that taught her to apply economic principles to everyday life.

Providence Libertas scholars attend a variety of seminars not only during the summer, but during the school year as well, as part of the Libertas Scholar Program requirements. This summer, half of our 20 Libertas Scholars went to FEE seminars.

He Was a President Who Understood Principle

He Was a President Who Understood Principle

Coolidge was the rare sort of politician who stuck by his principles of fiscal responsibility and governmental restraint.
Jake Yonally

by  Jake Yonally

In his veto of a congressional salary increase, our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge, told Congress that, “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” This statement truly characterizes Coolidge for who he was as a man.

Not only was he deeply concerned with tax reduction and the federal budget, he was also highly dedicated to the serving of both his neighbor and nation. Coolidge had a special understanding of public service and never swayed from his foundational beliefs. These qualities made him the beloved man that he was. Calvin Coolidge —although soft-spoken— showed immense amounts of courage in serving his nation and staying true to his fundamental convictions.
Economic Responsibility
His principled fiscal stewardship caused many poor Americans to succeed in achieving a better life. 

An important way in which Calvin Coolidge showed this courage was in his approach to public service. Prior to his term as Commander-in-Chief, the government had grown unchecked for years under the Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson administrations. Wealth redistribution, government regulation, and the strength of unions were on the rise in America during this era of progressivism. Soon after stepping into the Oval Office, Coolidge promptly went on a budget- and tax-cutting spree to abolish what he referred to as “Despotic Exactions.”

Although scoffed at by many, this decrease in taxation and government spending saved the average American over $200 per year (about $1,500 today). Coolidge wanted to help the poor, and he saw that this was the only way to enact true, long-term change toward raising the American standard of living. He and his Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, referred to this policy as “Scientific Taxation.” Coolidge once said, “Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.” This informed approach was his creative service to the least of these. 
It took an immense amount of courage on Coolidge’s part to abandon previous methods and take a new approach to public service. This new approach was both utilitarian and grounded in a strong respect for people’s basic human rights. Though unorthodox, his principled fiscal stewardship caused many poor Americans to succeed in achieving a better life. With the national debt being cut almost in half, the 17.5 percent increase in the nation’s wealth, and illiteracy being cut in half as well, his presidential term was a success by any standard.
Strong Principles
Inaction can benefit a nation more than action, as demonstrated by his numerous vetoed bills. 

Although seemingly reserved, Coolidge was a man of strong principles. He called his fellow citizens to return to the proven principles of the American political tradition and encouraged them to examine their own beliefs in light of these principles. He believed strongly in the limits of social engineering, the nature of wealth, individual responsibility, and society’s dependence on moral and religious values. His ability to stand by these fundamental convictions in the face of adversity is rare among men.

In her book entitled Coolidge, Amity Shlaes refers to President Coolidge as our “Great Refrainer.” She suggests that inaction can benefit a nation more than action, as demonstrated by his numerous vetoed bills. “This was the boy with his finger in the dike, stopping a great progressive tide,” she accurately states. Throughout his life, Calvin Coolidge rejected what Bastiat called “legal plunder” and worked toward the creation not only of wealth but of beauty.
Calvin Coolidge’s messages regarding public service and his fundamental convictions have held true for almost a century. These firm principles were the groundwork for his ability to enact change for the better in America through public service. The way he thought determined the way he lived; his form followed his function. Calvin Coolidge lived by the principles that defined him. His belief system never aged. Even in the culturally diverse, globalized world we live in where people are desperate for new answers, ideas, and solutions, the simple social and moral code by which he lived remains as relevant as ever.

Happiness and Liberty in San Diego

Happiness and Liberty in San Diego

On a sunny Saturday in mid November, eight Libertas Scholars traveled to the University of San Diego to hear professors of philosophy, political economy, economics, and business talk about happiness. Sophomores Emma Gobbell and Chloe Herdrich, juniors Jake Yonally, Josh Guinto, Evan Kilpper, Pedro Cruz, and Maggie Coffin, and senior Evan Boger, joined over 100 college students (the Providence students were the only high school students attending) to explore connections between markets, philosophy (particularly Aristotle) and eudaimonism…or, happiness.

Dr. Derek Yonai explained how business education focuses too much on techniques and tools and too little on the soul of business, which is one of the reasons why public perceptions of business people are so negative. (According to TV shows, you are 21 times more likely to be killed by a businessman than the mob). Dr. Yonai showed how having high levels of economic freedom correlates to greater levels of well-being, as people use their creativity and talents to improve the lives of others. 

Students explored the connections between Happiness, Freedom, and Virtue from an Aristotelian and Kantian perspective from Westmont grad Dr. Mark LeBar, who teaches philosophy at Florida State University. Virtue, LeBar explained, doesn’t just happen; it’s a matter of character, formed by good moral education and good habits, and expands when each of us has equal, voluntary obligations to each other—in other words, when we are free.

Dr. Dan Haybron, from Saint Louis University, talked about nudges, soft paternalism, and what he called a proper “Lifestyle Infrastructure” that, even unconsciously, helps us be less anxious and happier. He encouraged policies that suit, rather than undermine, citizens’ values rather than ones that manage specific behaviors, such as taxes on soda.

Students particularly enjoyed the keynote address from Professor Diedre McCloskey, whose talk, “Liberty Makes Us Very Rich, and Pretty Good” was captivating. McCloskey’s 1300 page trilogy on bourgeois virtues (she’s written 30 books) was just finished, and she walked students through her major themes: that the world’s “Great Enrichment” came largely from treating people equally, which led to what Adam Smith called “The Liberal Plan” of social equality, economic liberty, and the rule of law. She reminded us that “policy” and “police” share the same root. Professor McCloskey also chatted to the students about a host of subjects during the concluding social hour, and cheered on the fact that they were going to a private school and reading challenging works as part of their curriculum.

The conference was hosted by the Institute for Humane Studies, and the organizers were thrilled that Providence students were there and plan to connect with us in the future.

The Rat Pack and Equality of Opportunity in America

This piece was composed by junior Libertas Scholar Jake Yonally.

The Rat Pack and Equality of Opportunity in America:

          It was a warm summer evening in 1965 and the stage was set at the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis, Missouri. The lights dimmed and the crowd waited in anticipation.  Suddenly, five men coolly took the stage: a Jew, an Englishman, an African-American with one eye, and two Italian-Americans. As the crowd erupted, the men were smiling at each other —  mesmerizing the audience with a style and glamour that overwhelmed. Everyone knew they were in for an electric evening of laughter, song, and overall charming artistry that was unknown just a handful of years earlier. The men were Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop: The Rat Pack.
          Sinatra, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and leader of The Rat Pack, was born to two Italian immigrants in a small town in New Jersey. His family was extremely poor and from a very young age he found himself singing at local bars and begging for meals and cigarettes. 
          Dean Martin, nicknamed “the King of Cool,” was said to be one of the best overall entertainers of the mid-20th century. He was born in a small town in Ohio to Italian parents; his father was a poor barber. Young Martin dropped out of high school to help provide an income for his family by bootlegging liquor, working in a steel mill, working as a blackjack dealer, and prizefighting. 
          Sammy Davis Jr. grew up in Harlem, street performing at age 7, which kick started his musical career.
          Peter Lawford grew up in a very wealthy household as the only child of Lieutenant General Sir Sydney Turing who had strong connections to the English aristocracy. Young Lawford was rejected by the British military after suffering an arm injury while on vacation in the south of France.
          Joey Bishop was born in The Bronx to two Polish-Jewish immigrants. He grew up doing stand-up comedy with his older brother on the streets of South Philadelphia. After being discovered, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1950 which launched his career as an entertainer.
          Though these men clearly came from a wide array of upbringings, they were somehow able to reach the pinnacle of world entertainment in a very short time. Their rapid rise to fame showed that it was a time when there was opportunity for all to realize their dreams.  America was relatively free during the rise of The Rat Pack, and although the implementation of Keynesian principles was just beginning to occur, it was too early in the process to restrain market forces. The government was not yet as interested in top-down central planning — an economic system rooted in what F.A. Hayek would describe as “a pretense to knowledge.” Flawed government programs concerning low-income areas were still in their experimental phases and were much less prevalent than they are today.
         The government was also absorbed by the war against communism in Vietnam, and by the mid-60’s, a mass movement promoting free thought and questioning of authority was on the rise in America. People had the ability to exchange goods, services, and ideas in an open market, and artists enjoyed the freedom to innovate and work toward the creation of wealth while pursuing their passions.
         Sammy Davis Jr. explained their success very simply by saying, “The success of the Rat Pack was due to the camaraderie, the five guys who work together and kid each other and love each other.”  His words captured the essence of the moment: Only in a free society are people able to climb life’s ladder of success so quickly, simply by doing what they love. They may not have recognized the timeless, universal truths behind their journey, but their accomplishments clearly demonstrate the anarchic beauty of markets.
         The Rat Pack truly lived the American Dream. They showed that markets treat all equally, no matter their race, income, or nationality, all while working toward the creation not only of wealth, but of beauty. As stated by Leonard E. Read, “The free market ignores the poor just as it does not recognize the wealthy.” All that is needed is sheer hard work, enjoyment of what one does, and the freedom to charge a wage for one’s service in the open marketplace. The Rat Pack’s freedom, grit, perseverance, and ability to entertain, coupled with hands-off government policy, allowed these men to reap the full benefits that came to mark their success on a level no one had expected from the new age in which they were living.
          In the early 1960s, Americans caught a glimpse of the possibilities of a free society. The Rat Pack enjoyed the new level of social and ideological freedom of the day, and also held a similar level of economic freedom to the 1950s. This wider boom of creativity in the early 1960s is another perfect example of how the dreams and plans of individuals and their personal initiative create wealth far more effectively than top-down central planning.
          While presenting his plan to eradicate poverty and racial injustice through bigger government, President Lyndon B. Johnson said that as a result, “We will have an opportunity to move not only toward a rich society, or a powerful society, but a great society.” Though this rhetoric sounds promising, these social programs did quite the opposite of what the president predicted. The government programs that were just being introduced at the time have grown unchecked since the mid 1960’s. This growth has rapidly diminished the equality of opportunity that made The Rat Pack great. Occasionally, extraordinary individuals manage to break free of this government tyranny and change the world through innovation. As described by Ayn Rand, they are “the men who take first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.”
          The Rat Pack, on that magical summer evening in 1965, embodied the immense freedom and possibility available in the America of the time.
          Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop all lived freely; they entertained for their own pleasure and gain, and also brought immense joy to those around them: and, maybe not so surprisingly, they still do.