Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Do They Just Make This Stuff Up?

We here at the ARCHNblog have long said that Rand's arguments are so intensely confused even her devotees are unable to extract coherent positions from them. Take the case of her "intellectual heir" Leonard Peikoff. After triggering doctrinal firestorms over denying Muslims property rights, voting Democrat, and nuking Iran under the doctrine of collective responsibility, he's now come out in favour of compulsory jury duty. And what is his Objectivist argument for initiating force against free citizens, something expressly forbidden by Objectivism? Amy Peikoff summarises it simply: it is just, well, "something you agree to when you agree to live under the government."

Uh-huh. Rather like taxation.


Matt Warren said...


Echo Chamber Escapee said...

"Do they just make this stuff up?"

Why yes. I think they do.

For what it's worth, Diana Hsieh respectfully dissents from Peikoff's verdict. In a recent webcast, she argued that "compulsory juries are neither moral nor practical."

And then, in her very next webcast, she declared that subpoena power is entirely legitimate. Apparently there is a distinction between simply living in society (which does not create a claim on your time or resources) and coming into possession of information that turns out to be evidence in somebody else's lawsuit (which does create a claim).

Totally rational and consistent, right?

In any case, my ARIan friends assure me the fur is flying in various forums over the jury-duty question.

Xtra Laj said...

I don't think that the minarchist position is necessarily as anti-government as the anarchist/Rothbard position. The minarchist position just argues that government has taken on too many things that it probably shouldn't legitimately do.

However, as you pointed out, the problem is that Objectivists, the Lords of Rationality, can't even arrive at the same conclusions using their purportedly rational methods.

Anonymous said...

"If you choose to live under a government, must you agree to do at least the minimum that is required for it to perform its proper functions? If so, then I would say you are not being forced, you are merely being required to carry out what is (or is akin to) a contractual duty."

Did she think very much before she wrote that? I'm not trying to be a troll. I mean that honestly. A statement like that so obviously opens her up to contradicting Objectivist principles. You could justify taxes, conscription, forced schooling, anything with that statement.

And then there are the people in her comments who complain that Hsieh wasn't respectful enough to Peikoff. One guy actually took issue with the phrase "complete, complete opposite." The reason? "Peikoff was tentative in his commentary and therefore it’s gratuitous to be so adamant." So why can't Hsieh's use of the phrase "complete, complete opposite" also be tentative and therefore protected from criticism? Anyone? Anyone?

I can't believe these are the kind of people I counted myself with for years. It really is a cult. Sure, it's not an obvious, physically coercive cult like the ones you read about in the news now and then when they have to make a sudden trip up to the nearest comet. Objectivism is a cult of the mind. I have no doubt that its adherents subtly regulate their mental processes and adjust their personalities to conform to the group standard. They would never admit it. Never.

I still agree with at least some of Rand's ideas. I don't want to live in a world where I'm coerced, either by government or by private institutions (a kind of coercion that Objectivists like to pretend doesn't exist). But it's hardly necessary to be an Objectivist to get there.

Thank you for this site. Not only has it exposed the problems in Objectivism the philosophy and in Objectivism the movement, but it has taught me that the subject of philosophy is a far deeper and more complicated subject than is presented in Objectivism. Leaving aside the errors, contradictions, and holes, Objectivism is at best -- at best -- a beginner's guide to the study of philosophy. The only way it could be the end all, be all, final word in philosophy is if you stop thinking and become essentially a religious adherent.

Anonymous said...

This is precious: "Politeness in Intellectual Commentary"

A scathing analysis of Hsieh's "impolite" analysis of Peikoff's venerated words.

This is what these people do all day. Essaying, commenting, nitpicking, and blathering about b.s. in objectivism. Oops, I didn't capitalize the word Objectivism. Somebody better make a podcast about that.

(I'm the same anonymous from above.)

Dragonfly said...

@anonymous: those Objectivists are really crazy, if you disagree with Peikoff, you shouldn't say that too enthusiastically but very respectfully, otherwise you would imply a deep disdain for him... what a bunch of losers!

Rand's flaw is of course that she claims that everything in Objectivism can be logically derived from a few "axioms". As Nathaniel Branden later said "the hell you can!" The anarchists understand that Rand's minimal state is in fact contradictory with her stated principles and their response is to make it consistent by proposing a completely unworkable solution.

Rand is more realistic, more pragmatic in that regard, but at the price of the consistency of her system, so she has a lot of handwaving to do. Neither can her followers escape the contradiction between the pure principles and daily reality, and so emerge those conflicts between the pure orthodox and the somewhat more pragmatic factions.

Ken said...

It often seems that the guiding principle is "it's OK if I think it's OK". I think this was touched on in other blog posts; is Objectivism simply a way to justify doing whatever you want?

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Anonymous: "I can't believe these are the kind of people I counted myself with for years. It really is a cult."

I know how you feel. I finally escaped after close to 20 years of being in Objectivism. It's been not quite a year since I figured out that Objectivists (from Rand on down) are not nearly as rational or reality-oriented as they proclaim and believe themselves to be. I still find myself frequently scratching my head and wondering why I didn't figure it out a lot sooner.

So I've been learning a bit about how cults operate, and I think I'm beginning to understand. In pattern, all cults operate by finding tricks to bypass the members' rational thinking functions and get them to swallow cult doctrine. As one expert (an ex-cultist himself, from a different cult) put it in a talk I heard recently, outsiders wonder how otherwise intelligent people can be dumb enough to be taken in by cult doctrine when just a little thought would expose the falsehoods. The answer is that the cultists haven't actually thought about it. The cult slipped its dogma past the reasoning mind, which turns out to be frighteningly easy to do. So once you get out of the cult, you're not rethinking the doctrine; the truth is you are thinking about it for the first time.

Like the specific beliefs, indoctrination tactics vary quite a bit from cult to cult. As far as I can tell, Objectivism's distinctive tactic is to bypass its victims' rational thinking functions by assuring them that accepting the doctrines is proof of one's rationality. (This probably works best on the young, who generally aren't that skilled in actual thinking and so don't notice when they're not doing it.) So it seems that for 20 years I never actually thought about the claims of Objectivism ... because I believed I already had. When I finally did start thinking about them, I quickly realized that they don't stand up.

-- ECE

P.S. I'd like to add my thanks to Greg and Daniel (and the other regulars here). This site was one of the first sources of intelligent, thoughtful criticism of Objectivist doctrines I found when I started looking, and it still is the one I like best.

Xtra Laj said...

I recommend listening to Diana Hsieh's comments on the matter - they begin at around 28:13 in the podcast (Amy Peikoff provides this information).

The kind of reasoning Diana Hsieh uses to arrive at her conclusions, citing passages in Atlas Shrugged, or using Objectivist theories about how human beings should behave to justify practical policies which rely on how people actually behave, is precisely the problem with Objectivism.

Rationalism at its finest masquerading as empiricism.

Greg Horvay said...

First of all, Objectivism is a philosophy, not a political system.

The question of how Objectivism would be applied to a jury system is akin to asking how Objectivism would be applied to running a business.

There is no directly Objectivist principle that says anything about Jury duty, running a business, building a deck, etc. Objectivist believe in Reason and Reality based thinking, rational long-term self interest, and hands-off capitalism (which is far from what we have today).

It's not like Objectivist are this horde of people that always think the same and have the same conclusions about everything, like some robot Borg master computer. They individuals with their own conclusions, who agree on some essential principles I outlined above.

Of course, if they DID agree on everything, some of you'd probably start making fun of that. For those people, the truth isn't their standard, but poking fun at Objectivist is.

Daniel Barnes said...

So you're saying the non-initiation of force principle is something Objectivists don't agree on?