Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Short Theory of Objecti-Schisms

This should really be a longer post, but apropos of the latest Objecti-schism, I want to touch briefly on the recurring topic of exactly why Objectivism is particularly prone to such upheavals - especially over what seem to outsiders as minor issues. There are a number of competing, and often complex theories as to why this is the case, involving the history of the movement, Ayn Rand's particular personality, the machinations of evildoers etc.

However, I'm going to suggest that that there is a simple, logical mechanism that accounts for this, and that logic extends from a basic proposition at the heart of the movement. I will roughly summarise this proposition as follows:

Everything is reducible to philosophy.

That is to say, all human feelings, thoughts, emotions, theories, hopes, preferences, ambitions, and character qualities are, in theory, all consistent with and ultimately reducible to a specific set of philosophic propositions. These propositions in turn can either be correct (ie: Objectivist) or incorrect (anything else).

Once you have accepted the Objectivist propositions, this supposed philosophic consistency offers the possibility of having what is called a "fully integrated" personality, where all one's character traits, from opinions to emotions to subconscious thoughts, are not only perfectly consistent with each other, but also consistent with a true fundamental philosophical basis. This happy ideal would see a perfect harmony from the fundamental to the trivial, both within ourselves, and ultimately between all our fellows, and perhaps is why Rand thought that there could be no conflict between rational men.

However, what is less discussed is what happens when you run the logic the other way: that is if you have disagreements about theories, hopes, preferences, emotions, character qualities etc between Objectivists. Because if we accept that there is no human activity - n matter how trivial - that does not have a fundamental philosophic basis, therefore there is, in principle, no disagreement so trivial that it cannot be explained by a fundamental philosophic disagreement. And as philosophy is the vitally important, all encompassing part of human existence, it is likewise possible - and perhaps even necessary - to escalate trivial disagreements into vitally important, all-encompassing ones!

Of course, one way out of this bind is to simply reject the idea that everything can be reduced to philosophy. But this would be a major rejection of a central Randian doctrine.

13 comments:

Neil Parille said...

Curiously one area where many ARI-type Objectivists feel free to disagree with Rand concerns homosexuality, which she considered "immoral." But if Peikoff makes his ruminations on political strategy a test for understanding Objectivism, how can somone disagree with Rand on a much simpler moral issue?

Anonymous said...

I think there is a difference between the "movement" and the philosophy as such. For better or worse many of the "movement" Objectivists adopted Rand's personality and i think that is why its taken longer that many expected to gain more fans.

You can't convert people by condemming them, something the "movement Objectivists" are starting to learm.

I think when the old generation is gone (the ones that new Rand personally) things will change. The all or nothing martydom of some of these people will be replaced by new blood so to speak and hopefully they will spend less time condemming and being pessimistic and more time teaching and being patient.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon says:
>I think when the old generation is gone (the ones that new Rand personally) things will change.

Yes, this is one of the common competing theories I mention above. And it may well be correct. But I speculate that certain underlying mechanics in Objectivism drive it repeatedly in this direction. This might also explain to some extent Rand's similar tendencies. That is, tt might not be so much psychological tendencies as merely logical ones.

Neil Parille said...

I doubt that once the people who knew Rand are gone that things will be all that different. It looks to me that the up and coming ARIans are pretty much the same. Diana Hsieh strikes me as a good example. While I don't question the sincerity of her change, her embrace of the ARI position has been rather dramatic. (And her adulation for Peikoff is only slightly less than Peikoff's adulation of Rand.)

Anonymous said...

Daniel: “Everything is reducible to philosophy.”

I think you’ve cracked it, Daniel. And your theory is supported by another consideration – as an egoist, what would Rand consider to be the primary function of her philosophy? Surely to promote her own life as the primary beneficiary of her actions.

And I think that those of us who know something of Rand’s mind would agree that whatever she found congenial to her own interests must not only be good for her, but for everyone else as well, since she considered herself a – perhaps the -- supremely rational person. For if it’s true that egoism promotes a harmony of interests among rational men, as a supremely rational person Rand’s own interests must be in harmony with those of other rational men.

Therefore, those who find themselves out of harmony with Rand must, by that fact, be acting in an irrational manner. I believe that Objectivists have absorbed this thinking not only because it flows logically from Rand’s premises but also because it supports a universal human tendency to favour our own interests. And of course each egoist places himself at the centre of his concerns.

Brendan

Daniel Barnes said...

Brendan:
>I believe that Objectivists have absorbed this thinking not only because it flows logically from Rand’s premises but also because it supports a universal human tendency to favour our own interests.

So it translates into rationalised subjectivity. I've noticed this confusion in other areas, come to think of it. Do you remember how various Objectivists tried to argue for "objective introspection", without realising it was basically an oxymoron?

Anonymous said...

Daniel: "Do you remember how various Objectivists tried to argue for "objective introspection", without realising it was basically an oxymoron?'

I don't remember that one, but I can recall other oxymorons -- absolutely precise or some such -- so I know what you mean.

I hope you don't mind, but I've semi-plagiarised your words to post on Solo Poison. May as well give them a rark-up while they're down.

I see Linz is venting a steady series of burps and slimes and the like. Once it was interesting and fun, now it's more of the same.

Brendan

Dragonfly said...

Like Neil I don't think there will change much when the people who knew Rand personally are gone. In fact that generation seems to be in general more critical of Rand, with only a few exceptions like Peikoff, whereas you'll find most fanatical dogmatists among the younger generation of Objectivists (just look at the Solo forum for examples).

It's of course possible that it is a normal age effect: if you're young and unexperienced, you're much more susceptible to the siren song of a philosophy that promises to give you a systematic, comprehensive view of the world, which can explain everything, and which gives you the key to understand everything, deduced from a few rational principles.

When those young people grow older, many if not most of them come to realize that things in the real world are not quite as simple as Objectivist dogma seems to imply. Those of them who still see some valid points in Objectivism, will in general no longer accept blindly every utterance of Rand or Peikoff, but there will probably always be a hard core of incurable people among them as well, and they will represent the official face of Objectivism.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Daniel wrote:

"Everything is reducible to philosophy."

I think there's a still further step, a kind of lynch pin of the whole pattern you're describing, Daniel. The further step is the claim that the philosophy a person holds results from the extent and consistency of a person's choosing to think, or not. Hence a person of superlative moral character, a person who persistently and consistently thinks, will come to form the most correct philosophy (Rand's). Thus a continuing philosophic disagreement is taken to indicate a characterological flaw on the part of one or the other (or it could be of both) the disputants.

Daniel Barnes said...

Ellen:
>I think there's a still further step, a kind of lynch pin of the whole pattern you're describing, Daniel...Thus a continuing philosophic disagreement is taken to indicate a characterological flaw on the part of one or the other (or it could be of both) the disputants.

Yes, and the whole point of civilised argument is to avoid such reductions! Not to pretend Objectivism is alone in this, of course. But its particular logical structure, and fundamentalist bent I think particularly
encourages the widening of differences that might be otherwise overcome or at least tolerated.

Neil Parille said...

I recall that Peikoff, when confronted with Barbara Branden's biography, said something like "just think what kind of person could have written Atlas Shrugged."

A recent example is Edward Kline:

"I recall receiving the statements from both Ayn Rand and the Brandens about why it was all over, and of the two statements - even though the concrete particulars of Nathaniel Branden's offenses especially were unfathomable to me and would remain so for years - I gave Rand the benefit of the doubt and granted her statement sole veracity, simply on the basis of her literary and philosophical achievements"

PARC is another example. If you don't find Rand blowing her top particularly edifying, you don't appreciate that it's the righteous rage of a moral prophet.

Neil Parille said...

Incidentally, when I go to google and enter "Ayn Rand", I get a "sponsored link" on the right side of the screen --

___________

Do You Admire Ayn Rand?
Get the Education That Trains You
To Think Rationally and Live Well
www.founderscollege.com

___________

More proof, if any were needed.

ken stauffer said...

Look, an Objectivist based computer game, that preceeded bio-shock:

Schism