Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rand and Empirical Responsibility 13

“[Intellectual appeasement] is an attempt to apologize for his intellectual concerns and to escape from the loneliness of a thinker by professing that his thinking is dedicated to some social-altruistic goal.” Rand, despite her cluelessness about human nature, nevertheless couldn't help tossing off wildly speculative remarks about the more obscure motivations of the human animal. Where she comes up with some of this stuff is anyone's guess. How, for example, does she know that intellectual appeasement is merely an attempt to apologize for being concerned about intellectual matters? Where would she get such a notion? Where on earth does she come up with the idea that intellectual appeasement involves an "escape from loneliness"? What evidence does she have that such is the case?

Even as a mere conjecture or hypothesis, Rand's remark is not very plausible; yet she emits it as if it were a palpable certainty. On the face of it, Rand is merely indulging in psychological speculation about matters she knows little, if anything, about. The causes of intellectual appeasement, whatever they might be, probably vary from one individual to another. Whether loneliness or self-contempt is the main cause can only be determined (if it can be determined at all) on a case by case basis. In the meantime, a more plausible explanation for intellectual appeasement is to note that most intellectuals, being accustomed to a mode of living that eschews violence, simply either don't have or have never developed any special aptitude for violence, and are therefore prone to cowardice and appeasement.

“Tribalism is … a logical consequence of modern philosophy.” This is a specific application of Rand's theory of history. The trouble with such statements is that, because they are so broad and sweeping, they can neither be corroborated or refuted by empirical evidence. They are merely highly speculative hypotheses, and the question is whether they are plausible in relation to such facts that are known.

Rand makes no attempt to bring any kind of facts in to support her statement, beyond what she gleans from her distorted view of modern philosophy. Despite Rand's tendency to blur distinctions between views that she disagrees with, it would be mistake to regard so-called "modern" philosophy as a mere homogenuous mass. Modern philosophy includes many different positions, often virulently at odds with other positions. It is implausible to suppose that so many disparate views could all lead to tribalism.

But even more to the point is to reflect on the fact that tribalism, historically, has been the default position for the human race. For hundreds of thousands of years, human beings have existed in tribes; whereas the extended order leading to freedom and civilization only began to develop very recently, in the last ten thousands years or so. Since modern philosophy did not exist during mankind's long tutelage in the hunter-gatherer stage of development, it can't be regarded as a cause of whatever form of tribalism may have been prevalent during those tedious millenia. Indeed, it is far more plausible to suppose that tribalism is a hard-wired feature of human nature, prominent in many human beings, and only weaker or non-existent within the exceptional few. After all, we find its dominance, not only throughout mankind's history, but even in the present, in much of the 3rd world and even among 1st world minorities and ethnic groups. Most of the people in these groups are utterly innocent of so-called "modern" philosophy and would probably be incapable of understanding it were it introduced to them. Whatever strains of tribalism may be found in this or that species of modern philosophy probably has its roots in human psychological tendencies. Philosophy, as Nietzsche noticed more than hundred years ago and which cognitive science and experimental psychology continues to corroborate, often degenerates into a mere rationalization of the the desires, sentiments, and interests that afflict various strains of human nature. In the face of everything we know, Rand's conviction that the causation runs the other way, so that philosophy determines human nature, is rather implausible.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yet try explaining this to an objectivist...they state there is plenty of proof to back up these statements. Where? You ask, do you have a list of books I can read which will either prove/disprove these (off-the-cuff) statements? Answer comes back there none. Well that's not fair, they usually tell you the proof is in the lead essay in The New Intellectual.

Her pop-psycology is reminisant of the quackery L. Ron Hubbard would feed to his disciples. If he could convince them that all their ills are caused by invisible space aliens then it's no suprise hers lapped this up.

Steven Johnston
UK

caroljane said...

Tribalism is incurably human. Rand collected a tribe of the Branden kingroup around her.

ARCHN is a tribe, a pretty cool one.

Neil Parille said...

Here is my favorite:

____

A mystic is a man who surrendered his mind at its first encounter with the minds of others. Somewhere in the distant reaches of his childhood, when his own understanding of reality clashed with the assertions of others, with their arbitrary orders and contradictory demands, he gave in to so craven a fear that he renounced his rational faculty. . . . From then on, afraid to think, he is left at the mercy of unidentified feelings. His feelings become his only guide, his only remnant of personal identity, he clings to them with ferocious possessiveness-and whatever thinking he does is devoted to the struggle of hiding from himself that the nature of his feelings is terror. (For the New Intellectual, pp. 160-61.)

____

Apparently the only reason one could believe that the truths of logic and mathematics are a priori (a form of mysticism to Rand) is because you had a childhood crisis.

-Neil Parille

Curious Reader said...

Actually, "Elrond" Hubbard is really the probably the closest comparison to Ayn Rand we have.

They both managed to develop cults of personalty practically out of thin air. Their methodology, and dictatorial style is also fairly similar. Granted they have different "fields" they chose to use as the basis for their "writtings" but the parrallels are so strong its almost like they were using the same instruction book.

Michael Prescott said...

"For hundreds of thousands of years, human beings have existed in tribes; whereas the extended order leading to freedom and civilization only began to develop very recently ... [M]odern philosophy ... can't be regarded as a cause of whatever form of tribalism may have been prevalent during those tedious millenia."

Hmm. Just to be contrarian, are we so sure that tribalism represents an absence of "freedom," or that the early history of mankind consisted of "tedious millennia"? It's at least possible that people in a hunter-gatherer tribe find themselves freer than, say, a suburban commuter locked into a daily rat race from home to car to cubicle. And what looks like tedium to the modern mind may have been a very pleasant lifestyle to those accustomed to it. Maybe tribalism lasted so long because people had no incentive to change!

caroljane said...

Yes, Michael, that is the anti-humanity and condescenscion that is so frustrating about Rand; that her own ancestors, her own genetic self, could not be capable of the intellectual and social joys she was, because they were born before history produced Her.
The sadness is, she was not capable of their intellectual and social joys; of ours.

caroljane said...

Is there any possibility that Jeff Walker could write "The Cult boils and bubbles: Objectivism in the 21st Century?" I for one would put down a subscription right now, if he accepts Canadian currency.

Anonymous said...

The irony is her followers lapped rubbish like this up. This sloppy writing amounts to little more than sludge without nuggets. Yet they think they are better than the rest of us and are the new intellectuals. Though when we reject her silly comments in this thread it's more looters 1 Objectivists 0. Still roll on the Atlas Shrugged movie eh?

Steven Johnston
UK

Neil Parille said...

What ever happened to Jeff Walker?

His book was pretty good, although the newbie might not know enough to separate the truth from the half-truth.

Anne Heller has said that the interviews Walker did with Rand's associates were invaluable.

-Neil

Michael Prescott said...

I liked Jeff Walker's book a lot, and it was instrumental in liberating me from the last vestiges of Objectivist dogma. I always say it's the best tool for deprogramming Objectivists. (This statement does not go over well with Rand fans.) Though the book is unfair and overheated in some respects, it's still the only book of its kind, and Walker's cutting wit makes mincemeat of Objectivism's pretensions.

Anonymous said...

Credit it where it's due too Michael, your own spoof Prometheus Burped is right up there with the best of them...when anyone asks me what is wrong with objectivism, apart from the obvious methods of finding out such as coming here(!) or to actually try and talk to one(!!!), objectivist that is. I usually direct them to the Chambers essay (we all know which one) and Prometheus Burped, the later does the same job as the former, though in a more obviously humorous way. Not to say Chambers essay isn't hilarious in places though.

I've tried to search for Walkers book at Amazon UK and it is very expensive, prices range from about £15 to £85! So, if any of you have got a copy, keep it! It's awful when you give a book away and a few years later regret and have to pay through the nose for another copy.

Steven Johnston
UK

Michael Prescott said...

Thanks, Steven. Can you believe that someone once emailed me to ask if that essay was the bio of a real person?

For those who may be interested, the "bio" in question is here:

http://michaelprescott.net/reversalism.htm

Anonymous said...

One things for sure, you could not make Lenny Peikoff up, the truth really is stranger than fiction there.

Though there are interesting developments at Solopassion, where a 'troll' by the name of Darren has turned up...much to the annoyance of Linz & co. Linz has dubbed him...wait for it, barren Darren. Now why didn't I think of that ;)

Steven Johnston
UK

caroljane said...

Re Peikoff's Ominous Parallels, you know who on SOLO has just reiterated that a Third Reich TV show reminded him how much Obama is like Hitler. He has adoring audiences, like Hitler. Therefore...????

What is wrong with that guy? I don't mean Obama.

Michael Prescott said...

Justin Bieber also has adoring audiences.

Does this mean Bieber is just like Hitler?

Yes. Yes, it does.

;-)

Xtra Laj said...

You would think that concept formation by non-essentials would be obvious. Obama is a political leader who used rhetorical abilities like ....

Bieber is just a singing teenage phenomenon.

That you all would miss this link shows the corrupting influence of Kantian epistemology. After all, Obama's vision of world domination is ridiculously similar to that of Hitler... the emphasis is on *ridiculous*.

delonix said...

Processes of science including verification of disproof dismiss Rand's ideas on those occasions when her assertions can be disproven. Social science is intractable that way. But she seems to have missed (to be as "pop" as she might) that A=A is untrue because A is becoming B; she missed evolution and other biological consequences entirely, I think. Altruism indeed in many situations confers individual fitness. One's family helps one. One's tribe helps one. Generalities here are useless.

Rey said...

Good points, Michael, re: suburban rat race. Puts me in mind of the Original Affluent Society hypothesis.

Xtra Laj said...

There have been some interesting experiments from which the conclusion has been drawn that human beings will naturally form coalitions of sorts even when divided by arbitrary factors. Food for thought.

Daniel Barnes said...

Given the above comments, here's an interview with primate cognition expert and author of The Age of Empathy, Franz de Waal. Greg will particularly enjoy the Machiavelli reference.

Daniel Barnes said...

Sorry, here's the link:
http://www.wonderlance.com/february2011_scientech_fransdewaal.html

caroljane said...

Michael, since Jeff Walker seems to be AWOL, would you consider updating the Prune saga in "Prometheus Seeks a Liver Transpant" or some such? I'd love to read it. Maybe Aristotle could even comment sagely on Amazon.

Michael Prescott said...

I haven't followed the Reversalist movement closely enough to update it, but I do hear there's a movie version of Prometheus Burped in preproduction. The filmmakers chanced upon a large quantity of unexposed Super 8 film cartridges at a local garbage dump and are quickly rushing the movie into production to take advantage of it. All they need now is a camera. Last I heard, they had tracked one down on eBay and were willing to bid up to $19.99 to acquire it. Fingers crossed!

Anonymous said...

I hope you'd consider me for the lead role in the movie...I have no acting experience...a crucial requirement!

As for Obama being a Nazi, well if his speeches start and end on time, that proves it. Didn't Mussolini makes the trains run on time.

Yet if they don't run on time, does that make him a Kantian? It's chaos darlings!

Steven Johnston
UK

caroljane said...

Steven, you are definitely a frontrunner for the lead role of Cassandra Prune. You won't need to act --guess those rumours about you on other sites are not as unfounded as I thought!

I'm getting excited about this project. C'mon Michael, don't make us just plagiarize you. I don't know how to do all that cutting and pasting anyway.

Anonymous said...

To go slightly, ever so slightly off-topic here, I wonder why objectivists are caught up the latest conspiracy theory doing the rounds in the US; namely that Obama is a muslim marxist.

Now, I know that republicans are caught up in this nonsense, that Obama is going to turn the US into a socialist republic and whilst I can understand why they might be peddling this line, they are, after all, republicans. You have to wonder why objectivists have swallowed it hook, line and sinker. I thought Rand wrote a piece entiled "Conspiracy without head", in which she was highly critical of both conspiracies and the theorists behind them.

Given that Democratic presidents have been accused of being socialists since the days of Woodrow Wilson you'd have thought, like the saner portion of the US population, objectivists would have cottoned on to the fact that Obama is about as much of a socialist as Maggie Thatcher was.

Though in fairness the media in the US is different from the UK...no paper (now) would dare accuse a Labour PM of being a marxist or turning the UK into a satelliete of the USSR, when it was around. After all the Times did with Michael Foot and paid a pretty price for this in the libel courts. Yet in the US the libel laws there allow a de-regulated media to spout any old lies. Hence the Obama is a muslim/marxist/fascist drivel you hear on Fox news.

Steven Johnston
UK

gregnyquist said...

"Now, I know that republicans are caught up in this nonsense, that Obama is going to turn the US into a socialist republic and whilst I can understand why they might be peddling this line, they are, after all, republicans"

You seem to be misinformed about what is going on over here. I don't know of any mainstream Republican who thinks that Obama is a muslim marxist. And most such republicans sedulously avoid using the S word, no matter what they might suspect privately. There are some conservatives in the media who suspect that Obama is a radical leftist who wishes to push America as far left as is politically feasible. I can't say for certain whether that is true, but, given Obama's background, I can't say it's altogether implausible. Whether that would make Obama a marxist is merely a matter of semantics. In American intellectual circles, marxist is often used as a synonym for radical leftist.

caroljane said...

Many thanks for the overwhelming (unsolicited) requests for auditions for the roles of Galt's Torturers in the forthcoming epic,
Liverless in Starnesville (new working title).
Auditions are now closed, please do not send producers any more cheques or underwear.
Auditionees, we will see you on the 15th at the Astrodome.
If we discover unusual talent it is possible that the number of Torturers may be increased.