Thursday, February 21, 2008

NOT Eating Our Young

I became an Objectivist in early 1992 after devouring virtually all of Ayn Rand’s works in 3 months after reading The Fountainhead, which changed my life.
The prospect of a society of rational people in the world who wished to be left alone (by government) and who understand the power of efficacy and the importance of happiness here and now was the most exhilarating moment in my life.
That prospect has been both enhanced and dimmed in the last 16 years by, respectively, the great works of the Ayn Rand Institute (and my friends) and by prickly, self-righteous Objectivists who seem to haunt virtually every corner of the Objectivist public world. These latter-day Objectivists have alacrity for starting up and operating Blogs, bulletin boards and web-discussion forums and running them like high-toned archbishops bent upon denunciation and excommunication.
Their self-righteous, prickly, guilty-until-proven-innocent pronouncements are an affront to seasoned Objectivists and intimidating to new Objectivists. The archbishops do as much to harm Objectivism in many cases as bad philosophy in our culture does. They eat their young as only irrational humans can, with a smile of self-satisfaction.
They believe they are culling the herd, but what they are NOT doing is cultivating the herd. Most people come into Objectivism as beat-up souls, me included. It takes years to “get it right,” to clean up one’s psychoepistemology, to establish new objective goals, to understand fully the virtues and integrate them into a mental system that establishes a rational, pollution-free means for achieving the new goals.
And sometimes, even veteran Objectivists can make a point badly or not gather the proper evidence for making a rational point, thereby making a mistake. Heaven forbid. If this sacrilege is noticed by any archbishop in the vicinity, the defendant must prepare himself for fire and brimstone and subsequent exposure (I mean this in the babies-cast-out-into-the-wilderness kind of way). Diplomacy and context are defenestrated.
One might be tempted at this point to say, “Well, why doesn’t the defendant have the self-esteem and first-handedness to simply weather the storm and say, ‘To hell with you.’?” The fact is that some people simply haven’t made it that far yet in objectivity. They are still somewhat second-handed and still working on their scarred psyches. This is not to excuse them, but how many of these people do we lose to irrationality because they are reminded harshly of their own current irrationality and because the prospect of nice people “on the other side of irrationality” looks dim. “Is this what it means to be ‘objective’?” they ask themselves.
I know a couple of people who took Objectivism very far and then backed off after a nasty, public squabble. I don’t have respect for these people for not realizing the grand benefit of being objective in one’s life and carrying on selfishly, as they should. But, goddamn, they shouldn’t be subjected to explicit, self-righteous, knee-jerk nastiness and categorical presumptions of generalized irrationality.
Having said all of the above, I want to make clear that I know many benevolent Objectivists, and I’m sure there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, more like them in the world. I just wish they had a greater propensity for starting their own blogs and forums – showing neophytes and veterans what it truly means to be an Objectivist.
My post here (above) was sparked by yet another run-in with the archbishops. A good friend had suggested a site for me to submit one of my recent blog postings so that I could get more traffic to my blog. I sent in my posting (The Mephisto Irony) and received a short email that said my posting had been rejected and that the site did not allow non-Objectivists, “advocates of faith, anarchy, subjectivism, altruism, and the like.” You can imagine my surprise, since my post was particularly anti-Christian – and my greater surprise at being lumped in with such detestable beings.
As it turns out, the archbishops hadn’t liked a post I made two years ago (I guess they found nothing to complain about in the many postings since then, including a poetic paean to Ayn Rand herself) on “The Free Road to Capitalism,” in which I state tongue-in-cheek that I’ve been converted to anarcho-capitalism. I state clearly that I’m not for anarchy in that post (specifically for those Objectivists who were born without a sense of humor), but evidently this (and my expounding in the article on the necessity of non-coercion in the forming of objective governments) was not enough to fend off the clergy. Moreover, I didn’t find out that the clergy had a problem with me personally until I emailed back a curt response, and they remarked about the “anarchy” post two years ago. They still didn’t bother to say what they found wrong with the post. They simply said that Ayn disagreed, as if this were an argument – and as if they actually understood my post.
My point in the above two paragraphs is both the clergy’s approach to “apostasy” and its discerning of it. When the clergy believe they see irrationality, they leap to psychological conclusions (as well as the jugular). They don’t bother to redress issues rationally and to diplomatically request further information to confirm a position or to perhaps enlighten someone who has virtuously attempted to understand Objectivism and study it and perhaps mis-explained something or actually been irrational on one point. They throw the baby out with the bathwater. Then they eat the baby. This all would be bad enough, but these clergy have proven (in my experiences with them) to be largely middling in mind; they seem incapable of thinking on their own feet and are often blinded by one comment or one hot-button word.
We have a revolution on our hands in America. And we will not win this revolution if many of the prominent among us continue to eat our young. It’s time to succor Objectivists, get clarity, assume innocence until proven clearly guilty, nurture intellectual growth, attempt at all costs to determine honesty, and foster a genuine camaraderie built on dispensing justice in due, rational measure. If someone shows clearly that they are wedded to irrationality, then, hell yes, the hammer comes down. But let’s try to make very sure that we keep our eyes on the facts and on the context, and then pronounce judgment (good or bad) only when we have done our due diligence with good intentions.

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