#OCON2017 Meet Ben Bayer

Ben Bayer, philosopher and fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, will be speaking at Objectivist Summer Conference 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Bayer, who just joined ARI’s staff, will give a talk titled “Being Objective about the News.” “Ever since the 2016 election there’s been controversy about the influence of ‘fake news’ on people’s political opinions,” said Bayer. The talk stems from general advice Bayer has shared in a series of articles about how to sniff out reliable and unreliable information and sources online. The debate about fake news is “a great opportunity to take a moment to think about what it means to really value the truth as opposed to being ruled by prejudice in one’s thinking,” he says. For Bayer, the talk is a chance to apply his “academic interest in epistemology to a really important practical matter.”

He’s also looking forward to meeting students at the conference. More than a hundred students have already registered and many are involved in ARI’s academic programs, such as the Objectivist Academic Center, where Bayer will likely teach. “Since I’m new at ARI, I’m especially looking forward to getting to meet the students I’m likely to be working with in online courses in the coming year. Being able to put a name with a face is especially important when your interaction is mainly virtual.”

We caught up with Ben Bayer to ask him about career, life and philosophy.

What’s your background?

I recently began a career at ARI after teaching philosophy for over a decade in colleges and universities. Until now my focus has mainly been academic, theoretical philosophy. I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned to projects at ARI that I think will have greater cultural impact.

How did you come to ARI?

I’ve been involved with ARI in one way or another since around 1996. I read The Fountainhead for the first time around 1994 because of the essay contest. I never ended up submitting, but it didn’t matter because by the time the deadline rolled around, I was hooked in spite of myself. I was involved in campus clubs, the Objectivist Graduate Center courses and had an internship at ARI’s Irvine office while working on my Ph.D. Since then, I’ve done a few presentations at OCON and other ARI conferences. So, it was a pretty natural transition to come to work here full time.

How do you cure creative block?

What creative blocks? Just kidding. Exercise almost always helps.

Best OCON moment?

My very first Objectivist conference was the Second Renaissance conference in Irvine, California, in 1997. Surely the most memorable event was Leonard Peikoff’s “The Survival Value of Great (Though Philosophically False) Art.” Not only did I get to see Peikoff in person for the first time, but it was also intellectually liberating, giving me more motivation to explore fiction outside of my comfort zone. (I still need to read more of his recommendations from that course.)

What makes a great talk?

Original philosophical insight applied to an issue of personal relevance to the audience.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

In roughly this order: President of the United States, a U.S. foreign service officer, philosophy professor. I like how I kept getting more and more ambitious.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

One piece was from Harry Binswanger, when he was tutoring me in grad school. He said I should approach my classes from the perspective that I couldn’t be in a position to know if Objectivism was true. He also advised that I study the views of other philosophers assuming there was some legitimate problem they were trying to solve. Through the rest of grad school, Gregory Salmieri was instrumental in helping me identify what so many of these legitimate problems were.

What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Make friends more with people who disagree with you. Read more fiction. Go somewhere better than Cost Cutters.

What three things are you currently loving?

  • The Maureen Coughlin crime fiction series by Bill Loehfelm. It’s about a new member of the New Orleans Police Department who’s fighting to make a place for herself and for justice in a city and department with a history of corruption. Loehfelm paints a picture of contemporary New Orleans that cuts through the stereotypes. His portrayal of the development of the main character is psychologically rich.
  • Sitting on a sidewalk table at Cafe Envie in the French Quarter.
  • I read a ton of newspaper and magazine articles. I’ve figured out a system to do this quickly and in my spare time, using a combination of RSS feeds, the Instapaper bookmarking service, and an amazing app for the iPhone called Voice Dream Reader. This system helps me keep up with the news, with the latest developments in philosophy, and random items of interest that could lead my thinking in new directions.

Objectivist Summer Conference 2017 will take place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 10–15. You can find out more and register here. If you can’t make the conference in person, check out our livestream option.