Friday, March 10, 2017

Orthodox Objectivism: an Autopsy, Part 1

While it may be an exaggeration to say that orthodox Objectivism, since ARI continues to exists and apologists for that organization still exist. But as an intellectual force, it is dead --- and probably not revivable. Some might argue it's been dead, or close to death, for several decades. But there was always a hope, however dim and unlikely, that the corpse might be resusitated. Indeed, in 2008, orthodox Objectivism showed a brief flicker of life. Sales of Atlas Shrugged surged, and Rand once again became a favorite target of the left. But in the end, nothing came of it. In 2010, Leonard Peikoff conspired with ARI executive director Yaron Brook to force John McCaskey, a lucrative donor, to resign from the ARI board of directors for the sin of challenging then Peikoff protege, David Harriman. In retrospect, that unsavory episode appears to have been orthodox Objectivism's last gasp. While ARI will undoubtedly persist for many decades to come, perhaps even longer, in terms of intellectual significance, it's impact on the culture will be so close to zero that it might as well be zero.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Haidt versus Rand

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt is a leading researcher and writer on what could be described as the scientific view of human nature --- a view, in other words, based on research and experimentation rather than armchair speculation and/or wishful thinking. If Haidt's views on human psychology, motivation, reason and morality are largely right, than Rand's views must be largely wrong. As it turns out, Rand's epistemological, moral, and political views all rest, at least in part, on her views on human nature; so that if she's wrong about human nature, she must also be wrong, at least in part, on human knowledge, ethics, and political theory.

Recently Sam Harris made a curious wager. He offered to pay $10,000 to anyone who could disprove his arguments about morality. Haidt decided to make a counter-wager. He bet $10,000 that Harris would not change his mind. And then he went on to explain why he made the bet. What Haidt wrote provides an excellent brief on what is wrong with the view of reason and morality which both Harris and Rand share.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Ayn Rand as Word-Thinker and Persuader

Scott Adams, the creator of "Dilbert," has recently gained a bit of notoriety for claiming that there is a method behind all the Donald Trump madness. Trump, Adams insists, will probably win the Presidential election "in a landslide" because The Donald is a "master persuader." As bewildering and counter-intuitive as this assertion may seem at first blush, Adam's claims are, at least in part, based on a scientific understanding of human nature. That doesn't mean, of course, that Adams is right about Trump. He may be guilty of reading into Trump what isn't there. But Adams' view of human nature, nonetheless, remains largely sound. And for this reason, it might be illustrative to view Ayn Rand through the lens of Adam's own views on human nature and persuasion.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Rand's Novels 4: Atlas Shrugged

Rand's Atlas Shrugged is easily her most polarizing novel. It's hard to be neutral about it. You either love it or you deplore it. When I first read the work some thirty years ago, I wanted to like it, but it just would not go down. Whereas it only took me two or three days to read We the Living and The Fountainhead, Atlas required more than a month to finish, and even then, it was a tedious slog. I found the story preposterous, the characters flat and uninspiring, and the work's message shrill and one-sided. In Atlas, Rand seems to go out of her way to avoid subtle, nuance, and verisimilitude. She simply wants to preach, in parable form, her newly minted Objectivist philosophy. She does not shrink from hammering the same point over and over. Throughout the book there is the same hectoring tone, unrelenting and bristling with contempt, which she uses to try to beat the reader into submission. Even when I found myself largely in agreement with some point she kept making over and over, the shrillness of her tone and the insistent dogmatism of the presentation were off-putting and patronizing.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Objectivist Roundup

Barely a pulse:

Austrian economist Richard Ebeling describes his meeting with Ayn Rand

Leonard Peikoff in his old age still finds it necessary to remind the world that he is the leading expert on Objectivism.  Is another Objectischism brewing?

- Neil Parille



Monday, May 09, 2016

Objectivist Roundup

Neil Parille notes the latest ripples in the Objectivist doldrums:

One-time supporter of the Ayn Rand Institute (then later of David Kelley’s Atlas Society) businessman Ed Snider has passed away.

Someone just “published” an 11 page biography of Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand Myths” says it’s a myth that Ayn Rand disapproved of homosexuality (because Leonard Peikoff allegedly doesn’t) and that Alan Greenspan didn’t admire Rand.

Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute, has just published “Equal is Unfair.”  A lecture by Brook on the topic is here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rand's Novels 3: The Fountainhead

Rand's second major novel, although a deeply flawed book, nevertheless is a work of genius and contains some of her most powerful writing. Although I would contend that We the Living is a better all-round novel (more realistic, containing less flaws), The Fountainhead is more ambitious and reaches greater heights (as well as much greater lows). Regardless of the flaws of The Fountainhead, I would not hesitate to rank it above the over-written and preposterous Atlas Shrugged. While both novels suffer from more than a fair share of unrealistic characters, situations, and eccentric, often counter-intuitive, if not perverse, analysis of the human condition, The Fountainhead at least makes an attempt to engage the reader's sympathies. Rand had not yet formulated her Objectivist philosophy when she wrote the novel, and she does not attempt to place everything within the strict confines of an ideological straight jacket. In The Fountainhead, she gives free rein to her imagination. And while this doesn't always work out for the best, at least it provides a source of entertainment. In this post, I will give a quick glance to the good, the bad, and the ugly of Rand's second major novel.