Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Binswanger:"The Universe Is All About Me"

Objectivism's fondness for egoism and introspection leads naturally, if unwittingly, into solipsism and subjectivism. For an example of this tendency, here we have Harry Binswanger from his July 08 Monthly Enticement (a free email essay to draw paying customers to his subscriber-only list):
Binswanger: Since the theme here is anti-selfishness, I'll close in my own, selfish voice. Ayn Rand showed me that it *is* all about me. "When I die," she said, quoting an Ancient Greek philosopher, "the universe goes out of existence." And though that is false, "from the outside,"it is absolutely true "from the inside." When my life ends, there's nothing *for me*. The universe is all about me. So you'll forgive me if I'm not only addicted to oil, but to money, values, life, and, at root, addicted to existence.

9 comments:

meg said...

Well Rand did say "I am not dying, the world is ending."

If you don't believe in an afterlife, it's true that the world ends for you when you die. Given his/and her premises and where they are coming from, the quote makes a lot of logical sense.

When I feel suicidal, I do feel that way, that it's ok to die because I wouldn't be around to see the effects of my death (if any). But I would also have to be sure that I will for sure die by suicide, and not just end up mentally or physically disabled, because that would suck.

If you don't care about anyone else other than yourself, then when life ceases to be of worth to you (which can happen in a number of ways and circumstances), then it is a logical conclusion that it's ok to just say, fuck it, and take your leave.

Sometimes I feel that way, but I usually try to see those feelings as something that will pass, and to be overcome, rather than something to be cultivated and glorified. Because I do have people I love and care about and who I think do care about me, and I find many reasons to be hopeful and positive.

However, I think life would be very difficult for someone whose whole life is centered around them, their needs, their wants, and everything to do with them. Firstly that kind of attitude would probably make them insufferable to everyone around them (including, or maybe especially, other people who are equally self centered). Furthermore, I think that a life just based on acquisition and possession and entirely focused on self would be extremely lonely and ultimately pointless. As they say "A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package."

The other thing about people like Rand and Binswanger are that they don't seem to want to acknowledge the vicissitudes ol life. During such situations, focusing only on yourself and your situation will probably be pretty depressing. When I feel really depressed, focusing on myself and my own life just makes me even more depressed because the reason why I was depressed in the first place is because my life wasn't going the way I wanted it to.

Rand doesn't seem to want to admit that anything could be out of her control or not be about her. She even went ballistic when her friends threw her a surprise party because she had no control over it. She, and her followers, spent so much time denying anything outside themselves or their insular world, at the expense of finding constructive ways to deal with the problems that may be out of their control.

Michael Prescott said...

If you don't believe in an afterlife

Ay, there's the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause ...

(Some Danish guy said that; I forget who.)

Even given the Objectivist presumption that personal consciousness ends with death, I still find Binswanger's (and Rand's) position rather odd. Somewhere Rand remarks that it makes no difference to a man whether he dies by a bullet or in a nuclear war. The idea, of course, is that he's equally dead either way; his "universe" has ended.

But it seems to me that it makes a big difference. It's one thing to die in an isolated incident, but quite another to die knowing that all the people and things you love - your children, your country - are being incinerated in a nuclear Armageddon. That Rand was apparently oblivious to this distinction shows, I think, just how self-absorbed, narcissistic, and ultimately solipsistic she really was.

Michael H said...

It does all go back to the acceptance of the idea of 'one life and out', doesn't it?

I read Emerson's essay on Self-Reliance over the weekend, and was reminded of Rand at times; there are parallels. It's a shame she never discovered the Self that Emerson knew; she might have created something of endurance if she had. But she only discovered the self, and constructed everything on that ultimately flimsy foundation.

For those who don't understand the difference, Objectivism is the rational choice. It's the philosophy for the ego; it transforms the flimsy self into a god. The problem is, when the life ends, so does the god.

So it goes.

cabbagejuice said...

The skewed logic of the "world ceasing to exist" is repeated over and over again despite objective assessment of mortality statistics. Or, put more simply, if one person goes, shouldn't we all?

It is more probable, and possibility is also a scientific consideration, based on cool observation that we don't all go zap everytime someone dies, although there is the sense of loss as stated in the poem, "No Man is an Island".

The more one enters the crazy mirror world of AR, the more it is apparent that absolute certainty which propelled the worst ideas in history, is actually a psychopathic trait.

Normal people have doubts, that is, are cognizant that they cannot control ALL the variables. Kooks and dictators bypass that inconvenience. Absolute sureity actually blanks out thinking and commonsense.

The Ghost of Ayn Rand said...

>> Objectivism's fondness for egoism and introspection leads naturally, if unwittingly, into solipsism and subjectivism. <<

Tsk-tsk, Daniel. The question presented was epistemological. My statement was not subjectivist but rather contextual. That is what it means for something to be true "from the inside": that is contextually valid. Do you now admit your lapse into error, or will you continue on your path of evading reality?

Michael Sutcliffe said...

michael prescott: But it seems to me that it makes a big difference. It's one thing to die in an isolated incident, but quite another to die knowing that all the people and things you love - your children, your country - are being incinerated in a nuclear Armageddon.

Your point is totally in line with objectivist values. The example I use is a section of soldiers at war in a bunker. A grenade gets thrown into the middle of them. We can make an assumption that due to circumstances (i.e. the enemy's grenades are fairly powerful or something) that they're all going to die if nothing is done. The nearest soldier throws himself on the grenade, and in doing so, allows some of his buddies to survive. From an objectivist perspective he has had a win, as he was going to die anyway and now people who he values are going to survive.

michael h: I read Emerson's essay on Self-Reliance over the weekend, and was reminded of Rand at times; there are parallels. It's a shame she never discovered the Self that Emerson knew; she might have created something of endurance if she had.

Well, she died in 1982 and people like us are arguing over her philosophy, while plenty of people like me are saying it's the guiding philosophy of their lives. And people probably will do for probably hundreds, if not thousands, of years! And thereafter she will almost certainly be noted in history! I'd argue that she created 'something of endurance' as much as any mortal being is capable!

Daniel Barnes said...

The Ghost:
>Tsk-tsk, Daniel. The question presented was epistemological. My statement was not subjectivist but rather contextual.

We report, you decide.

Michael H said...

Well, she died in 1982 and people like us are arguing over her philosophy, while plenty of people like me are saying it's the guiding philosophy of their lives. And people probably will do for probably hundreds, if not thousands, of years!

I suppose that neither of us can know how Ayn Rand's ideas will be received in the future. I do think that many of those who find Rand inspiring to the point where they adopt the mantle of "Objectivist", have a tendency to envision her influence as more significant than it actually is, as well as anticipating it growing over time. I remember thinking so at one time.

In the end, though, I suspect that future generations will see Rand in a much different light. Her ideas of individuality are built on a foundation of materialism, which is beginning to crumble on various levels, despite its defender’s insistence otherwise. My best guess is that the accepted metaphysics of future generations will be founded on idealism, and that individualism will be celebrated, but it will be more along the lines of Emerson's vision.

She would approve of many aspects of that vision. The influence of the social collective will be greatly diminished, if not eliminated. The religions will collapse as it becomes clear that it has been the flawed interpretations of truth that has led to the blood-drenched battles over the centuries, but that the truth has always remained, timeless as ever, operating quietly in the background. I'd also anticipate that the future of economics will involve a form of capitalism, though it will be capitalism executed with a profound sense of humility and responsibility based on an understanding of what we are the stewards of. Altruism will be seen in a much different light, with a focus on assisting others towards their own realization of the value of self-discovery and self-reliance as a means to their own ends, rather than unlimited alms that do nothing but encourage degenerate behavior.

I think Ayn Rand will be seen as someone who came really close, but ultimately failed to look deeply enough within herself. She never discovered the genuine Self that Emerson knew to be ever-present.

That's what I'd anticipate, but all 'visions of the future' are inevitably colored by whatever lens one happens to be viewing life through. The Objectivist will see a future involving Galt's Gulch becoming manifest on earth just as surely as the dualist will see a future involving the kingdom of their particular God made manifest. The idealist will see that everything, both our visions of mankind's future as well as our experience of life at any given moment is entirely dependent upon the ideas that we accept as absolute, and will hope that more will realize the power of thought itself before mankind self-destructs.

gregnyquist said...

Binswanger: "The universe is all about me. So you'll forgive me if I'm not only addicted to oil, but to money, values, life, and, at root, addicted to existence."

This is a very decadent view and it is open to all the sort objections that a philosopher like Nietzsche would have made to it. And just as those who don't remember the past are condemned to repeat it, those who don't care about the future are condemned not to have one.

Does anyone seriously believe that Western Civilization or the United States or the British Empire would have been possible if the ruling elites of those societal and political entities thought like Binswanger? We have what we have today because people who came before us cared about the future. The Founding Fathers didn't establish America for themselves alone: they established it for themselves and their posterity. The preamble to the Constitution insisted upon securing "the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

If you believe that universe is all about you and that, when you die, the universe goes out of existence, why should you give a damn about what happens after you have shuffled off this mortal coil? Such a person, rationally speaking, shouldn't care a bit about the "long-term," because, as another decadent once put it, "In the long term we are all dead."

In short, what we have here is nihlism. The fact that it parades itself as a philosophy of life is merely unintentional irony, not to be taken seriously.