Saturday, January 09, 2016

Objectivist Roundup - January

Neil Parille rounds up some recent Objectivist news from around the interwebs: 
• There are forty-nine countries where Muslims are in the majority and Craig Biddle can’t wait to nuke ‘em all.
• You’re 50 years young Objectivism – and it’s time for a reboot.
• The Gotthelf and Salmieri Companion to Ayn Rand is out.  I have a preliminary review.
• The increasingly ARI-dominated Ayn Rand Society has a new blog, Check Your Premises (not to be confused with the anti-Diana Hsieh web site).
• This is a little older, but former Ayn Rand associates Allan Blumenthal and Joan Mitchell Blumenthal self-published some books in 2013.



26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does the split between ARI and the Atlas Society have an ethnic component?

I have the impression that Jewish Objectivists tend to cluster around ARI, while gentile ones feel more comfortable with the Atlas Society.

I realize that ARI has also attracted prominent gentiles like John Allison, but the demographics of the two groups seem different to me.

Anonymous said...

Regarding ARI's Objectivism 2.0 conference, I don't understand the following:

"We think that by building a greater sense of community among people who already live Objectivism on a daily basis"

What part of "Objectivism" can you practice "on a daily basis"? If you view Atlas Shrugged as an advertisement for the philosophy, it shows men who live without sex for years at a time, or possibly their whole lives, like Eddie Willers. The hero John Galt apparently lost his virginity with Dagny well into his 30's, for example.

By contrast the novel shows that many of the villains have girlfriends, pickups and mistresses. The bad boys get the girls and the good boys get nothing, just like we often see in the real world. (Perhaps that accounts in part for the novel's appeal to sexually rejected male nerds: They recognize their situation in the novel's portrayal of sexual realty.) In some respects Atlas reads like a novel which promotes a Christian view of the depravity of lust and the virtues of chastity, despite its pro-sex speeches.

Yet the propaganda for Objectivism portrays it as offering sexual fulfillment as one of its advantages. If Rand wanted to integrate her explicit philosophy with the story she actually tells in her novel, she didn't do a very good job of it.

Jzero said...

"By contrast the novel shows that many of the villains have girlfriends, pickups and mistresses. The bad boys get the girls and the good boys get nothing"

I always thought that Hank Rearden got the rawest deal in Atlas Shrugged. At the end, Dagny and Galt are a solid item, but ol' Hank hangdogs around still in love with Dagny. Rand had a perfect opportunity to throw him a little happiness at the end with the character of Cherryl Brooks, James Taggart's wife. Cherryl, if anyone recalls, was attracted to James because at first she thought he was responsible for the successes of the railroad. I don't remember for sure, but James may have even taken credit for some of Rearden's accomplishments. In any event, Cherryl expresses some admiration for Rearden and his type, and mistakenly assumes James is of that type.

Now, her ultimate fate was to have a meltdown when she finally realizes James' true nature, and toss herself into a river. I suppose that fits with Rand's idea of weaker-minded people being destroyed by the "truth" or some such, but there's Hank Rearden at the end without a date for the prom as it were, when it would have been too easy to have him and Cherryl meet up. She finds a man who is actually the sort of man she admires, he doesn't have to pine for Dagny for the rest of the book. That would have been a tidy little happy ending.

But no. And I can't help but think part of this is due to Dagny being a stand-in for Rand, where nobody who has ever loved Dagny can ever be allowed to move on from her, and must always be trapped in her orbit.

Jzero said...

Come to think of it, if you take that Rand=Dagny idea even further, perhaps the villains are villains because they aren't smitten with Dagny.

A bit silly, true, but it kinda fits.

Anonymous said...

@Jzero
Jeff Walker's The Ayn Rand Cult touched on the issue of the unrealistic celibacy of Rand's male lead characters. One of the best jokes Walker relayed was that the explosion of Francisco d'Anconia mines was actually his testicles detonating after too many years of pining for Dagny.

Michael Prescott said...

I really don't think Rand wants us to assume that Galt loses his virginity to Dagny. As a Romanticist she omits details that she considers unimportant. Galt's formative sexual experiences, like Roark's, are not important enough to include. Francisco and Dagny's "first time" is included because it's important to know that the characters had a teenage romance, which informs their adult relationship. Galt's dalliances, whatever they may have been, are irrelevant to Rand's novelistic purposes, so they don't merit a mention.

I think many readers just don't "get" how stylized Rand's approach was. She truly was not a Naturalist and was not interested in the kind of "realistic" character development that most modern writers employ. For better or worse she was sui generis.

Anonymous said...

>I really don't think Rand wants us to assume that Galt loses his virginity to Dagny.

Probably most of Rand's readers haven't had education in the hermeneutics of secular literature, so they wouldn't pick up on these nuances.

Galt spends literally years stalking Dagny without her knowledge. That doesn't sound like the behavior of a man who had the usual sexual experiences at an appropriate age so that he could form realistic views about women and their replaceability.

Anonymous said...

>Cherryl, if anyone recalls, was attracted to James because at first she thought he was responsible for the successes of the railroad.

And then Cherryl discovers that she had really fallen in love by proxy with Dagny, the source of the accomplishments Jim had taken credit for. Rand doesn't explore the lesbian aspect of Cherryl's discovery, though a modern novelist would have fewer inhibitions about doing so.

BTW, the novel never says that Jim and Cherryl had conjugal relations. He might have found her self-development project too much of a turnoff, given Rand's odd view of sexual psychology.

Michael Prescott said...

Anonymous wrote, "Probably most of Rand's readers haven't had education in the hermeneutics of secular literature, so they wouldn't pick up on these nuances."

Atlas was written in the 1940 and '50s and reflects that culture. The Golden Age of Hollywood was still alive (albeit waning) when the book was published. That means that Romanticism in some form was understood at a visceral level by the general public. No special education in aesthetic theory was required.

Consider Casablanca, one of the most beloved films of that era. No one has ever asked, "Was Rick celibate for four years after Ilsa left him, or did he have affairs with other women?" The question wouldn't come up because people understood (if only intuitively) that the movie was a stylized drama focusing on Rick and Ilsa's love affair, and any other romantic or sexual attachments Rick might have had were irrelevant. Casablanca is not a "modern" psychological character study, but a traditional melodrama. It's not Ingmar Bergman; it's Ingrid Bergman.

I suspect that young people today - say, people under 30 - have mostly been unexposed to classic films and novels, and have grown up immersed in a very different culture of "gritty" naturalism and overt displays of sexuality. They assume that their assumptions are the same ones that have always obtained in popular culture, when in fact the attitudes and mores of today's pop culture are historically anomalous (and arguably, quite decadent).

Gordon Burkowski said...

@Michael:

I certainly agree that Rand's approach to fiction is thoroughly Romanticist and therefore out of step with almost all "serious" contemporary fiction - though not, of course, with at least some genre fiction. After all, one of her favourite American novels was Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. That tells you a lot.

With regard to the sexuality of her heroes and heroines, I'd like to make two supplementary remarks:

1) For Ayn Rand, her first and most important audience was - herself. After all, Francisco d'Anconia is named after Frank O'Connor. And she once said that the sex scenes in The Fountainhead were based on "wishful thinking"(!) So it would stick in her craw for one of her heroes to even dream of a casual sexual encounter.

2) Remember her theory of sex as presented in Atlas Shrugged? Francisco d'Anconia's claim that he could tell someone's entire philosophy of life from the women he slept with? The claim that sexual choices always reflect one's deepest values? The consequence of this theory in fictional terms, given that John Galt is the perfect man: he couldn't possibly desire sex with anyone other than the perfect woman: Dagny Taggart. And from the moment she meets him, Dagny can't possibly desire sex with anyone other than the perfect man: John Galt.

In short, Rand's theory of sexuality combines with her Romantic approach to fiction and results in situations that a person with a minimum of common sense will regard as absurd. That's because things just don't work that way. For confirmation of this, read a biography of Ayn Rand.

B.M.W. said...

@Michael: I think anonymous is just looking to take cheap shots. I mean, really, the fact that Cheryl was fooled by Jim taking credit for Dagny's work implies that Cheryl has a lesbian attraction to Dagny? Seriously?

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

From the ARI, on Objectivism 2.0: "we propose that the single best way to draw talented, ambitious, life-loving people into the Objectivist movement is to build a stronger, healthier, more attractive Objectivist community."

So, the key to attracting more people to a hyper-individualst philosophy is community?

Am I the only one who thinks this is funny?

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@B.M.W.: I think you may be right. But then I have a hard time taking people seriously when they start dropping phrases like "the hermeneutics of secular literature." (Could be a long-lingering aftereffect of the Sokal hoax; his fake paper was subtitled "Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," and at the time I had no idea "hermeneutics" was even a word.)

Whether anonymous is serious or not, I will say that it's pretty clear that, whatever sexual experiences Galt might or might not have had prior to seeing Dagny, we are definitely to understand that once he saw her, he went 100% celibate. For eight years (if I recall the timeline correctly). As Gordon pointed out, nothing else would be consistent with Rand's theory of sex.

Anonymous said...

I didn't make up the part about Cherryl's romantic misattribution:

"I know that it was you who ran Taggart Transcontinental. It was you who built the John Galt Line. It was you who had the mind and the courage that kept all of it alive. I suppose you thought that I married Jim for his money—as what shop girl wouldn't have? But, you see, I married Jim because I . . . I thought that he was you. I thought that he was Taggart Transcontinental. Now I know that he's"—she hesitated, then went on firmly, as if not to spare herself anything—"he's some sort of vicious moocher, though I can't understand of what kind or why. When I spoke to you at my wedding, I thought that I was defending greatness and attacking its enemy . . . but it was in reverse . . . it was in such horrible, unbelievable reverse! . . . So I wanted to tell you that I know the truth . . . not so much for your sake, I have no right to presume that you'd care, but . . . but for the sake of the things I loved."

Given current views about human sexuality, we recognize that Cherryl has a "girl crush" on Dagny that some women would want to act on sexually.

Anonymous said...

People do reinterpret literature in ways other than what their authors intended. Aldous Huxley didn't want people to read Brave New World as a sexual utopia, but generations of adolescent boys saw it differently. I certainly read it that way back in high school. The novel's meaning to its readers got out of Huxley's control, in other words.

The classicist and philosopher Julia Annas also points out that interpretations of Plato's Republic have changed throughout its history. Few people in early modern times saw it as a work of political philosophy until Benjamin Jowett translated it into English in the 19th Century and wrote an accompanying essay presenting it as such. That became the accepted model for understanding the Republic down to our time.

So it shouldn't surprise anyone that the interpretations of Atlas Shrugged will take on lives of their own, beyond the control of the guardians of her orthodoxy. Atlas says and shows a few things about sex which might have made sense to Rand in the context of her times; but people who grow up with different assumptions and experiences regarding sex won't necessarily understand or agree with her views.

Gordon Burkowski said...

"Atlas says and shows a few things about sex which might have made sense to Rand in the context of her times; but people who grow up with different assumptions and experiences regarding sex won't necessarily understand or agree with her views."

If by this you imply that the view of sex presented in Atlas Shrugged "made sense" to most people in the 1950's, I can only conclude that you haven't been talking to many people who lived through the 1950's. Try watching Madmen. It might help.

Anonymous said...

Michael,

Salmieri says Rand's (partial) praise of Hickman is "troubling." He does seem to see it as a part of Rand's N-phase.

-Neil P

Anonymous said...

Another low-profile but wealthy Ayn Rand obsessive has attracted notice lately: The hedge fund quant and apparent billionaire Robert Mercer:

http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/features/2016-01-20/what-kind-of-man-spends-millions-to-elect-ted-cruz-

Apparently Mercer funded this movie:

http://www.thempi.org/films/the_most_dangerous_woman_in_america.html

And he has also given money to various cranks and conspiracy theorists in the U.S.

Makes you wonder if an Ayn Rand obsession signals what the Dunning-Kruger study found about blindness to competence, namely, that people who overestimate their own competence can't see incompetence in others. Rand obsessives who fail to see Rand's incompetence as a life coach often show enthusiasm for other fringe ideas promoted by incompetent people like the ones Mercer supports.

Gordon Burkowski said...


"Rand obsessives who fail to see Rand's incompetence as a life coach often show enthusiasm for other fringe ideas promoted by incompetent people like the ones Mercer supports."

Spot on. For further examples, click on the "Pseudoscience" link right here at ARCHN.

gregnyquist said...

Makes you wonder if an Ayn Rand obsession signals what the Dunning-Kruger study found about blindness to competence, namely, that people who overestimate their own competence can't see incompetence in others...

While there's certainly a certain degree of "incompetence" at work here, I don't think that's the main issue. Mercer, after all, probably demonstrates a fair amount of competence in computer science and competitive poker. These activities feature practical feedback that punishes incompetence. Not so with speculative views on philosophy and politics. Mercer can be as eccentric as he likes with his ideological views without facing serious penalties (beyond some social stigma, which he might relish). Since most people, not having access to levers of power, don't experience dire practical consequences for their political beliefs, there's no incentive to develop more realistic, sophisticated, less emotionally centered views on statecraft, etc. And so we find Craig Biddle advocating the nuclear annihilation of Islamic countries, a view which I doubt he would hold if actually could make it happen in reality.

B.M.W. said...

^that's an excellent point.

At the risk of getting off the blog's general topic, how would you figure Trump and Trump supporters into an idea like that? Here we have a contingent of people who have seem to have spectacularly failed "to develop more realistic, sophisticated, less emotionally centered views on statecraft", people holding the kind of political views that you typically hear around the bar after everyone has had a few too many (and I don't mean merely "politically incorrect" or whatever, although there's a strong dose of that. I mean the kind of simple-minded lack of nuance involved in approaching world problems with the mentality of a twelve year old, with no concept of how to approach the problem in a practical, realistic, implementable way, the kind of mentality that throws out half-baked or not-even-at-all-baked suggestions because it knows damn well that it's not going to have to actually face the task of actually having to solve those problem, I mean the kind mentality that can say with a straight face, "We need to talk to Bill Gates About Shutting Down the Internet.") We have this contingent of people who, as you point out, have the luxury of letting this swill whirl around in their brains because they aren't faced with the prospect making their garbage ideas "happen in reality."

But now they seem to have found their King, and they're going to use their votes to put him in a position of power where he CAN try to implement their ideas by proxy. (I doubt he'd get very far with any one of them. As actual plans, they all quickly fall apart under any kind of scrutiny. But even the remaining implications are kind of terrifying and nauseating. 1.) It would be deeply disturbing to have a President that would even PROPOSE to solve ideas in this way. 2.) If he's merely just saying these things to get elected, it's still kind of awful that THESE are the kinds of solutions and strategies that people are willing to put their votes behind.) I can only hope that he doesn't get any farther than the primaries, but even if he gets that far, then that's still really, really, really sad.

Anyway, sorry. Back to our regular Rand-related programming.

Anonymous said...

Greg:

____

And so we find Craig Biddle advocating the nuclear annihilation of Islamic countries, a view which I doubt he would hold if actually could make it happen in reality.

____

I imagine that if Biddle were president he'd have a hard time pushing the button, but he really does seem to have convinced himself that nuking Islamic countries is the solution to Jihadi terror.

I wonder if Biddle even knows that Muslim Algerians in France riot every New Years Eve just for the hell of it. What does he think they would do once the nukes start falling on Saudi Arabia? It would make the LA riots look like a picnic.

-Neil

Jzero said...

It is a remarkable lack of understanding to think that nuking - as in, the taking of mass quantities of innocent life - any Islamic nation would quell terrorism.

There's the hypocrisy of thinking that a nation that supports radical Islamists abrogates their own right to life (as well as that of their subjects) - when the USA has been meddling where it ought not to have for decades, does not Biddle's logic dictate that the USA and its citizens are already fair game for retaliation? If not, then it's the most basic form of jingoism at work, not any particular innovation in philosophical insight.

The strongest evidence against Biddle's theory of how to handle foreign relations comes from our own experiences following 9/11. Suddenly, it was clear that terrorists could hurt us, at home. Did we withdraw from the Middle East so as to avoid further attacks? Of course not - an enraged nation threw its weight behind the political hawks and not only went after the culprits but also attacked a nation not directly involved, on the flimsiest of pretexts!

Were we to actually do something so hideously immoral as throw a nuclear bomb at another nation for Biddle's reasons, we would both lose allies in droves and unite even the non-extremist members of the affected societies directly against us. Far from quelling terrorism, we would be guaranteeing it for the long term, if not forever.

gregnyquist said...

At the risk of getting off the blog's general topic, how would you figure Trump and Trump supporters into an idea like that?

Yes, obviously the "Schumpeter Effect" is at work here (i.e., people are being guided by emotionalism, slogans, and lack of sophisticated understanding precisely because there's no consequences for such cognitive irresponsibility). But that effect is at work, to at least some degree, with nearly all the candidates, and with nearly all their supporters. Is Trump, nevertheless, a more extreme, maybe even a more dangerous, exemplification of all this? Perhaps. But we should all remember that he's running for President, not dictator, and that there exists a huge permanent government which has much more power than most people realize and which a President Trump can do very little about (e.g., civil service protection and all that). In short, were he to become President (which I think is unlikely), there wouldn't be whole lot he could do, either for good or evil. But the same could be said of most of the candidates running on either side.

B.M.W. said...

Well it's funny that you should say that, because I was discussing that very aspect of it the other day. The same people who don't seem to understand what's wrong with Trump's unworkable plans, also don't understand the limits of the President's power. They just think that the President is the "boss" and so he'll just be able to do things ... somehow.

These people practically just at the lowest possible point of political engagement where even a minimum of thought or knowledge or understanding are involved. It's like there's a creaky wheel spinning upstairs going, "He say things loud. Me like loud. Me vote loud man." I have strong doubts if he'll get elected, and I have NO doubts that, if he does, he won't be able to do even half of the stupid things he's promising. But to even see the amount of traction he's gained so far is really disheartening. I can't remember another canidate in my lifetime that was such an absolute farce.

Anonymous said...

>@ Michael Prescott: That means that Romanticism in some form was understood at a visceral level by the general public.

Any evidence for this aside from feelings?

>No one has ever asked, "Was Rick celibate for four years after Ilsa left him, or did he have affairs with other women?"

Many asked it. And to provide an answer, the Epstein brothers (co-screenwriters) provided Rick with a French mistress named Yvonne (played by Madeleine LeBeau, still alive today at the age of 92) in an on-again/off-again relationship, who flirts with Nazis in order to make Rick jealous.

>The question wouldn't come up because people understood (if only intuitively) that the movie was a stylized drama focusing on Rick and Ilsa's love affair, and any other romantic or sexual attachments Rick might have had were irrelevant.

Not so. As Rick's jilted mistress who tries to provide comfort to the enemy by going drinking with them, Yvonne is very relevant to a viewer's grasp of Rick's character. The theme of Casablanca (which is focused on the character of Rick Blain) is the conflict between Eros (erotic love and commitment to self-involved pleasure) vs. Agape (redeemed love and commitment to love that involves others: love of country, love of liberty). Rick gives up Yvonne (which involved sex only) to pursue the greater love of Ilsa (which involved sex and passion for an individual woman), and finally gives up Ilsa for an even greater love of principle: liberty. That's the significance of Rick's final line walking off into the fog (symbolically, the "fog of war") with his colleague Renault: "Louis, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

>Casablanca is not a "modern" psychological character study, but a traditional melodrama.

Why the scare-quotes around "modern" but none around "traditional"? Casablanca has elements of melodrama but it's not a traditional one: Rick doesn't "get the girl" at the end, but jilts Ilsa (for a noble reason: commitment to the cause of liberty), just as Ilsa earlier had jilted Rick (for a noble reason: commitment to marriage, when she learned her husband, Victor Laszlo, was still alive). There's a bit of a "sweet revenge" motif in the film, and that might actually be part of the reason Rick gives her back to Victor, even after Ilsa had agreed to remain with Rick. The slight ambiguity regarding Rick's decision to give up Ilsa — patriotism and love of libert? or a little payback for having been abandoned by Ilsa at the train station in Paris just before Nazi occupation and as shown to viewers in a long flashback — is certainly NOT part of traditional melodrama or romanticism.