Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:
UPDATE!: See that, that up there, see what Josh did!
Back in November, That Morthos Stare enlivened us all with a collection of snippets, unfinished musings on assorted topics, one of which was this bit on Objectivists.
"I'm not fond of Libertarians in general, although I do respect some (read: few) of their intuitions. The Randians, however, get no sympathy from me whatsoever. I'm not sure that they mean to act as religious zealots (indeed, I would imagine that they would be horrified by the suggestion) but Objectivists, with their character worship of Ayn Rand, one of the last century's dullest writers, would most resemble a Roman Catholic's devotion to the Pope... except that Catholic's, by and large, ignore the Popes for the out-moded fuddy-duddies that they tend to be.
Still, blind devotion to an author doesn't necessarily make you a bad person. I don't dislike goths due to their insistence that Anne Rice is worth reading. I pity them, just as I pity anyone who decides to read a Poppy Z. Brite novel (the short stories are another matter entirely). No, it's the insistence that Rand's philosophy has real world relevance. Well, that and the claim that Rand's aphoristic style is philosophy.
Let me put this into perspective. Philosophy is a dialectical discipline in which we trade and develop ideas. One of our chief virtues is the ability to be wrong and admit to that fact. Objectivism, however, is a dogmatic belief system best analogised with a Jack Chick tract. I don't whether Objectivists think that it is immoral to show dissent from the official view or whether their intellectual poverty is so great that they have to toe the party line, but such strict adherence to a distinctly impoverished ideology isn't philosophy. I suspect that what appeal Objectivism has is psychological; if you think being a prick is a good thing then Objectivism gives you nice variety of shallow reasons to do so."
Hewligan concurred, goading Morthos to more fully explain why Objectivists are bad people. A task I volunteered myself for in my December Commentfest after he inadvertently answered his own question. And so, here we are.
Before we get started, for those who want to know what Objectivists belive in, go here. This post would also be good to gain some New Zealand context.
Although it should be obvious, not all libertarians are Objectivists, and not all Objectivists are pricks. I have met many fine normal Objectivists, this post only targets those who fit the bill.
First off, are some Objectivists pricks because Ayn Rand was a prick. Well no, because she wasn't. Not that she was perfect, she had flaws like anyone, some wrong ideas, a few character flaws, but she still falls within the range of normalcy and wasn't a bad person, or a prick. Ayn Rand's life and personality won't enlighten us in our quest.
But what of her writing? Here we are on firmer ground. I think the origin of many Objectivist's prickishness lies in her fiction. When you watch a normal TV program or read a normal novel, the main characters go through "an arc", I think it is called. They start off with personality / beliefs "a", go through various experiences, and end up with personality / beliefs "b" And it is through watching them go through that change that we find reading novels enjoyable. Ayn Rand's novels don't have this. Her protaganists seem to be like T 34 tanks. They start off as they finish, and everyone else just pings off them or goes under their tracks.
Ayn did this for a reason, she wrote that the goal of her fiction is to project her vision of an ideal man: not man as he is, but man as he might and ought to be. The problem is that Objectivists use Ayn’s characters as a template for how they should be. This, unfortunately leads to this by Kane Bunce. which is absolutely tragic because it is not (please surely not) the view that Ayn had or wanted her followers to have, but given the flaws in her fiction is what you can get.
Objectivism isn't about having a low opinion of and indifference to your fellow man, but of having a high opinion of and will to engage them to use their full potential, but unfortunately since Ayn's characters are so one-dimensional and un-engaging, Kane Bunce’s view is often the end result. Andrew Bates also deserves a kick up the arse for concurring. And that is the first reason why Objectivists are bad people. Since the characters in Ayn's novels are indifferent and one-dimensional, then people who use those novels as guides will end up in danger of being the same.
Morthos has claimed that Objecivism is a mock philosophy. Does this make Objectivists bad people? I don't think so. It isn't so much that Objectivism is not as developed in the "formal academic philosophy", but how Objectivists have dealt with that fact. Another aspects are that Objectivism is a meta-narrative.
I say "isn't so much" because it is still a factor. One of Objectivism's difficulties is that there isn't/wasn't a good, academic quality, setting out of it's beliefs. This has led to a) academic philosophy pretty much ignoring it, and then, b) an air of anti-intellectualism among Objectivists due to academics ignoring or deriding their philosophy. More specifically there is an unfortunate distrust of Philosophy departments and contemporary philosophers, viewing them all as a Caligulan orgy of subjectivism and relativism.
This should improve over time. There is no reason why Objectivism can’t be tidied up and presented academically, and this is slowly beginning to happen. People like, unfortunate Tibor Machan , Chris Sciabarra, and Tara Smith are presenting Objectivist ideas in a format that people like Morthos could engage with.
Secondly, and briefly, being a meta-narrative, makes Objectivism prone to the usual schisms and denunciations that other meta-narrative’s like Marxism and Christianity suffer. This is normally fine, since it only affects how believers deal with each other. Problems arise because meta-narratives tend to have their own vocabulary and terminology, meaning that when others try and engage them they need to get to grips with how terms are being used (as Morthos found himself doing here, and here) and are also in danger of having their beliefs misconstrued and often end up just talking past each other (see the exchange between Robert Nola and Lindsay Perigo one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, oh, dear, god)
And, in case anyone was thinking it, Objectivists are not pricks because Objectivism is a cult or because Ayn Rand was cultish. It isn’t and she wasn’t, despite the ferocious arguments amongst her followers. Read this for more.
Lastly, and most importantly, the reason why many Objectivists (and in the New Zealand context “Libertarianz” since the two are linked here more than anywhere else) come across as being pricks or bad people is simply how they present their ideas. Curiously, and perhaps fatally for people who profess their admiration for a free-market system, mnay Objectivists feel they are at war. This is wrong for many reasons.
Firstly, almost no-one is actually fighting against you. At the recent Libz conference, attendees were told by one speaker:
“We must Attack! Attack! Attack! With your dying breath! Attack!
This aint no game people! This is war!”
God only knows why, or against whom. The vast majority of the voting population are not in metaphorical opposing trenches doing all they can to combat reason and laissez faire economics.
Most people are in a marketplace for ideas and political philosophies. They have a set of requirements - they want law and order, to have a comfortable standard of living, well educated kids, and for grandma to get a hip replacement of she needs it – and shop around for whoever will offer that to them. Almost everyone, even parties opposed to markets, grasp the importance of marketing their ideas so they are the most persuasive they can be.
This is often a matter of language, and no I don’t mean lying or Orwell, but using the language of the marketplace rather than that of the battlefield, and of avoiding needless use of terminology that has negative connotations.
Look at Peter Cresswell’s admiration for Barry Goldwater’s statement that "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice". The sentiment is admirable, but why call yourself an extremist? What do your customers, the people who you want to sell your ideas to, think of when you use the word extremist? They think of lunatics, hijackings, bombings, and violence. So why use that word? Why not “principled”? This isn’t being deceptive, or Orwellian, it’s just a better word.
What really makes the “battlefield” view of many Objectivists, and libertarianz, so devastating is that it is polarising. With war, there is no middle ground. You are either with us or you are against us, and if you are with us, you are with us the whole time, 100%, there are no weekend soldiers. And so not only do you come across as a lunatic / extremist to your potential customers, you find yourself in constant battle with your own side to keep them on a war footing.
Large parties, like National and Labour, are successful because they are a broad church. You are valued no matter how large or small your contribution or skills. If you are out there every weekend doing a sausage sizzle to raise funds for the electorate, fine. If all you do is send in $5 with your membership form in June, fine. If you think you’re at war, then anyone who doesn’t go to war with the same fervour as you is guilty of cowardice, or if they leave because of your behaviour, then they are guilty of treason. The punishment for that in real war is death. However for a small political party / movement the punishment is a small divided membership, and severely disabled organisation. I should point out again that there are many good normal Objectivists and Libertarianz to whom this does not apply.
Which brings us to Hewligan’s observation. The context he was using was the invasion of Iraq, but the principle is the same.
“If you can't convince people of the rightness of the invasion, the question is: "Why can't you convince them?"
or rather “If you can’t convince people of the rightness of your position, the question is: “Why can’t you convince them?”
If you are at war, the answer is often “Because you haven’t attacked with enough strength and fervour”, and the solution is to attack harder in your black and white world view, coming across as a prick, and selling your philosophical wares to few.
If you are in a marketplace, the answer is “Because I have not been persuasive enough” and you work harder to offer what your customer wants, and are happy even if he only buys part of your philosophy because he is welcome to come back any time for more, or even a look around, since you have been so pleasant. And your staff retention is better than on the battlefield where you keep killing them.