Socialism–a fad of the last few centuries–has had its day; it has been almost universally rejected for decades. Leftists are no longer the passionate collectivists of the 30s, but usually avowed anti-ideologists, who bewail the futility of all systems. Religion, by contrast–the destroyer of man since time immemorial–is not fading; on the contrary, it is now the only philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government.
Six years later, Peikoff entirely changed his tune:
As I have explained in The DIM Hypothesis, Obama is in essence a destroyer for the sake of destruction, a nihilist, the first such to become President. The object to be destroyed is America....
Many evils are in store for us if Obama wins a second term, ranging from crippling taxation and Obamacare to the war on energy and the imminence of economic collapse....
I intend to vote for whatever Republicans in my district are running for the House and the Senate. Republican control of at least one of these bodies, however weakened they have become, is still some restraint on Obama if he wins.
How did the Democrats go so quickly from being "avowed anti-ideologists" to supporters of "a destroyer for the sake of destruction"? How have the Republicans been transformed from a "philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government" to the only force capable of exercising "some restraint" on Obama and the Left?
Obviously, Peikoff's grasp on politics is tenuous at best. He is attempting to apply the Objectivist "philosophy of history" (which happens to be his specialty) to contemporary politics. His familiarity with ITOE is not helping one bit; indeed, if it has any influence at all, it is surely a negative one. The Objectivist belief that "proper" concept formation leads to better cognition provides cover for Peikoff's rationalistic, empirically vacuous political speculations. (Peikoff's strange belief that, prior to Obama, Republicans were "helping to push the U.S. toward disaster, i.e., theocracy, not in 50 years, but, frighteningly, much sooner" demonstrates not only extremely poor judgment, but sheer ignorance of American social history. America was substantially more religious 50, 100, and 150 years ago than it is today. Although the predominantly religious character of much of American society would lead to Prohibition and the Mann Act, there never existed any serious threat of theocracy in America.)
If ITOE failed to improve Leanord Peikoff's thinking abilities, what are the chances that ITOE would help anyone else? None at all. Indeed, there is no evidence that familiarity with Objectivism improves cognitive functioning or makes people wiser or has any other salubrious effects on the intellect. What Objectivist, other than Rand, has ever done anything of any particular note in the world? What Objectivist has invented something important? Or made an important scientific breakthrough? Or written any work of philosophy or social thought that went beyond regurgitating Rand's ideas? If ITOE really constituted the breakthrough in human thought that it presumes to be, wouldn't we see practical fruits of this in the Objectivist community?
Like any complex skill, thinking is learned by doing. No one learns how to think from reading books on epistemology, because in order to understand that book, you would first have to be able to think. While an epistemological treatise might influence how well a person thinks, that influence would likely be very small. Most thinking, in any case, involves unconscious cogitations, that are unsupervised by the conscious mind. Reading books on epistemology is unlikely to affect how the cognitive unconscious works.
To the extent that ITOE has any influence on a person's actual thought, that influence is largely negative. To conclude this series on Rand's epistemological speculations, let us examine what sort of effects, both good or bad, might arise from perusing ITOE.
Good effects. Although ITOE, as a work of epistemology, is pretty much a disaster, there is one potential positive effect that could arise from it. I have in mind the high cognitive ideals which animates ITOE. Rand is clearly very passionately in favor of rationality, objectivity, and keeping our thoughts in touch with reality. In the practical sphere of life, and in the sciences, these are cognitive ideals worth striving for. Unfortunately, Rand has no clue how to attain such ideals.
Negative effects. There are four primary negative effects that could potentially arise from familiarity with ITOE: (1) disparagement of tacit knowledge; (2) encouragement of rationalism; (3) encouragement of quibbling over the meaning of words; (4) encouragement of semantic narcissism. Let's quickly examine each in turn.
(1) Rand's emphasis on "focus" and conscious intention, combined with her foundationalism, leads to what is, for all intents and purposes, a disparagement of tacit knowledge. Rand believed it was vitally important for people to justify their knowledge. She despised those who "just knew," but could not explain, verbally, why they knew. Everyone, she insisted, had to have a reason for knowing. Otherwise, their knowledge was "arbitrary," founded on little more than "whims" or "mysticism." While justifying knowledge may be a fine ideal to strive for, it's just not always possible. In at least some domains, it constitutes a false ideal of knowledge. Contrary to Rand's assertion, reason is not the only "valid" means of knowing. If it were, the human race would have disappeared long ago. Human beings are sometimes forced to make quick decisions in domains of experience that feature immense complexity and/or insufficient access to relevant knowledge. Conscious deliberate reasoning simply cannot work in those situations. It's too slow, too clumsy, too self-conscious. Intuition may not be 100% reliable; but when quick decisions are needed or great complexity must be confronted, a semi-reliable form of knowledge is better than no knowledge at all.
(2) As I explained in my previous post, Rand's conviction that vagueness in language is caused, not by overly abstract terms, but by improper concept formation and imprecise definitions, provides cover for rationalism. Objectivists like to base arguments on vague generalizations. ITOE assures them there is nothing wrong with this.
(3) Rand's conviction that the concept is the primary unit of knowledge and that definitions can be true or false leads to futile arguments about the meanings of words. Of course, if you are trying to argue for things that aren't true, nothing is better suited to the purpose than semantic quibbles. The inveterate rationalizer would rather argue over words than facts.
(4) The Objectivist doctrine of meaning, by which a concept means all the characteristics of the "units" (i.e., referents) it describes, leads to what I call semantic narcissism. Under this view, words have a meaning independent of what is intended by the person who makes use of them. This may be the most pernicious doctrine in Rand's epistemology; for it provides cover for one of Rand's very worst intellectual vices, namely, her tendency to import her own meanings into the words of authors and speakers she disagreed with. The point of listening to a speech or reading a book is to understand what the speaker or author is attempting to communicate. You don't attain this end by arbitrarily importing meanings into other people's discourse.
To sum up: Rand's epistemology, to the extent that is has any influence at all, has a predominantly negative one. Instead of encouraging greater self-criticism and providing effective strategies for battling the innate tendency toward rationalism and confirmation bias, it merely provides cover for Objectivism's intellectual vices.