Thursday, June 07, 2018

Objectivism: an Autopsy, Part 4

In Nathaniel Branden's essay "The Benefits and Hazards of Objectivism" we come across the following observation:

The great, glaring gap in just about all ethical systems of which I have knowledge, even when many of the particular values and virtues they advocate may be laudable, is the absence of a technology to assist people in getting there, an effective means for acquiring these values and virtues, a realistic path people can follow. That is the great missing step in most religions and philosophies. 
You can tell people that it's a virtue to be rational, productive, or just, but, if they have not already arrived at that stage of awareness and development on their own, objectivism does not tell them how to get there. It does tell you you're rotten if you fail to get there.

Rand's failure to provide a "technology" for attaining Objectivist moral values is not her only failure in this regard. She provided very little in terms of achieving any of the things she regarded as desirable, whether it was rationality, persuasion, or laissez-faire capitalism. And on few occasions where she provided at least the outlines of a technology (as in aesthetics and "philosophical-detection"), what she actually gives us is deeply flawed. Hence the ironic spectacle of Rand followers who don't know how to be rational, Objectivists who don't know how to solve moral conflicts with other Objectivists, and the lack of a strong, vibrant Objectivist artistic movement.

1. No Method for Attaining Rationality. Rand waxed eloquent on the merits of "reason" and rationality, yet never really explained how to attain it --- at least not in sufficient detail. Instead, she left us quite a bit of moralizing rhetoric about forming concepts "properly," or "focusing" your minds, or integrating your thoughts into a logical whole. Some of her theories concerning knowledge, especially those revolving around definitions and concepts, are factually erroneous. The very term "conceptual knowledge," which she enjoyed bandying about, could be regarded as a contradicto en adjecto --- a contradiction of terms. Concepts are items of description, not units of knowledge, and are therefore neutral in terms of their truth or "validity." Rand's insistence on the importance of consciously formed articulable knowledge is badly misplaced. Actual knowledge (i.e., the cognitive processes that real human beings use in world of fact) work very different from how Rand imagined --- as cognitive scientists have known for decades.

Even worse than all this is the example Rand left to the world by her own conduct. When engaged in Q&A in front of an audience, she would not shrink from vicious personal attacks against anyone, even persons sympathetic with her philosophy of Objectivism, who asked a question she was uncomfortable answering. Rand was hypersensitive to anything she perceived as an attack, which made it very difficult for her to engage in rational discussion with people who disagreed with her.

2. No method for attaining virtue. In some sense, it isn't Rand's fault that she failed to provide an adequate technology for the Objectivist ethics. As it turns out, such a technology is not really feasible. Morality cannot be solely based on a consciously formed, articulable system of thought. There is absolutely no evidence that morality does or can work that way, and a quite a bit of evidence that the larger portion of what passes for ethics is the consequence of ingrained sentiments or instinct that is refined by experience, teaching, and narrative. (James Q. Wilson's The Moral Sense and Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind provide the best introduction to the evidence supporting this view.)

3. No method of attaining political ideals. As Objectivism evolves, the political side of it gains increasing importance. Let's face it: many people are attracted to Objectivism chiefly for political reasons; and most of the hostility Objectivism inspires among its critics has its source in differences over political ideals. Yet despite the strong political orientation of Objectivism, its most prominent spokesmen, along with the movement in general, have virtually no influence over the public policy of any country in the world. As a political movement, Objectivism is a failure, and part of the reason for this is that Rand and her followers never provided any effective technology for persuasion. How could they? Since Objectivism has a seriously flawed view of human nature, it would unreasonable to expect Rand or any of her disciples to come up with an effective theory of persuasion. Quite the contrary, Rand and Peikoff seemed to believe that the course of history could be change by refuting the epistemology of Immanual Kant --- hardly an effective strategy for changing the world.

There's what people claim to believe, and then there's how people behave. In terms of behavior, Rand would often engage in triggering behavior. She would intentionally make statements that her ideological opponents regarded as palpably absurd and/or beyond the pale. While such iconoclasm might offer emotional gratification to Rand's admirers, it's disastrous as persuasion



18 comments:

Anonymous said...

It looks like Objectivism is dying. The ARI last month laid off 1/3 of its staff because it lost a major donor (no one knows which).

Neil Parille

gregnyquist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Plus said...

Neil Parille:

Organized Rand cultism was going to die any way because Rand's philosophy is implicitly hostile to family formation. That's why the aging, childless Kool-Aid drinkers in both ARI and the Atlas Society have depended on trying to replenish the cult's ranks by recruiting teenagers and college students from normal people's families, whether these youngsters want to read Rand's novels or not. America's demographic transformation into a predominantly Hispanic country just makes this strategy harder to implement because Latinos generally don't like to read.

Gordon Burkowski said...

"Rand was hypersensitive to anything she perceived as an attack, which made it very difficult for her to engage in rational discussion with people who disagreed with her."

Not an admirable trait, to be sure. But as we all know, it doesn't prevent one from becoming President of the United States.

Anonymous said...

I'm not an expert on non-profits, but the ARI seems kind of top heavy if losing one big donor means you lay of 1/3 of your staff.

According to Wikipedia,

_______________

In January 2017, ARI announced Jim Brown as its CEO, succeeding Yaron Brook as its operational executive.[23]
In March 2018, ARI announced that Tal Tsfany, co-founder of the Ayn Rand Center Israel, will take over as the president and CEO of ARI on June 29, 2018.[24]

______________

When Tsfany was named CEO, the ARI said that Brown was hired as an interim CEO, which was news to everyone.

When Brook ceased being CEO he was named as a member of the board. Brook was making almost 450K as CEO and must have taken a big cut when named to the board. (The IRS frowns on paying board members more than 100K).

So it looks like this was a long time coming, but no one knows the detail. Peikoff is retired so maybe it's one big donor pulling the strings.

Neil

Anonymous said...

"It looks like Objectivism is dying. The ARI last month laid off 1/3 of its staff because it lost a major donor (no one knows which)."

Neil that's some juicy news you got there! Help us out with a source?

BC

Anonymous said...

Yaron said on his radio show that the ARI had "significant downsizing" in May because it lost a "major donor." That it was around a third of its 50 employees is the scuttlebutt.

NP

gregnyquist said...

ARI announced that Tal Tsfany, co-founder of the Ayn Rand Center Israel, will take over as the president and CEO of ARI on June 29, 2018.

The question here is whether Tsfany will follow in Brook's footsteps or whether he has his own agenda. I always suspected that Brook wanted to downplay the more philosophical side of Objectivism (the epistemology, the metaphysics, the theory of history) and turn ARI into a libertarian advocacy institution. But he may have been hampered in achieving this goal by Leonard Peikoff, who cared more about his own legacy as the chief enforcer of Randian orthodoxy than in promoting libertarian ideas.

In some ways Brook was out of place at ARI. He did not have the personality type of the typical orthodox Objectivist. He wasn't particularly dour or thin-skinned or uptight. On the contrary, he comes off as fairly agreeable (at least for an Objectivist). At times, he's even self-effacing. He doesn't seem all that interested in the more abstruse (and often more fallacious) parts of Objectivism. I rather suspect that Ayn Rand would not have approved of him. Brook is currently attempting to become a YouTube/podcaster pundit. He's trying to cultivate relationships with members of the so-called "dark web" (i.e., Dave Rubin, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, etc.), but other than Rubin and Gad Saad, no one will talk to him, so Brook is having a hard time of it. His view numbers on YouTube aren't all that impressive.

Anonymous said...

Greg: "He [Brook] wasn't particularly dour or thin-skinned or uptight. On the contrary, he comes off as fairly agreeable (at least for an Objectivist). "

Have you ever listened to him? Everyone he disagrees with is dumb, stupid, a liar, a racist, a collectivist, etc.

NP

Mark Plus said...

I wonder if Carl Barney closed his wallet to ARI because of questions about his background in the 1970's as a high-ranking Scientologist. After L. Ron Hubbard kicked him out of the Scientologists for financial wrongdoing, Barney apparently shopped around for another cult that would take him in, and it looks like he settled into Peikoff's branch of the organized Objectivist movement.

gregnyquist said...

Have you ever listened to him? Everyone he disagrees with is dumb, stupid, a liar, a racist, a collectivist, etc.

I've mostly heard Brook in YouTube conversations he's had with Gad Saad, Dave Rubin, and "Sargon of Akkad." Perhaps because he wants to become a member of the intellectual dark web, he's on his absolute best behavior when talking to these YouTube luminaries. But I have found him considerably more agreeable, even to the point of self-effacing humor, than other orthodox Objectivists. In the discussion with Gad Saad, Brook praised Sam Harris's intelligence and Jordan Peterson's views on honesty. When he engaged in criticism, he was fairly good-natured about it. In short, in these discussions, he did not come off as particularly censorious or arrogant or tone deaf, as often happens with orthodox followers of Rand.

Harvey said...

ARI Watch is excellent on Brook. http://www.ariwatch.com/index.htm

Recently, Brook called for nuking Iran (as quoted on ARI Watch):

"After speaking of advising the president to bomb Iran’s spiritual center, leadership, and nuclear facilities and 'give them the infrastructure their philosophy deserves, which means the Dark Ages':

"'How many people on the planet earth, sitting in their chair with the nuclear code, responsible for the life or death of millions of people, knowing that the entire world would condemn them, that history might condemn them, that the American people would condemn them, how many people would actually give that advice to the president of the United States? Two, three maybe. Me, Leonard, you [Amy], I don’t know but very few people.'”

"— Yaron Brook on the Yaron and Amy Show, 28 April 2018, titled 'Why Not "Atlas Lobbied"?'"

My friends, these people are lunatics.

gregnyquist said...

Recently, Brook called for nuking Iran

As far as I know, Brook has not said anything about this when he's talked to people like Gad Saad and Dave Rubin. I doubt Saad or Rubin know about this. (It would seem that Amy Peikoff brings out the worst in Brook.) Now Rubin is trying to get Brook on the Joe Rogan podcast. But if that should ever happen, and Rogan finds out about these views, Brook will definitely be called to account.

gregnyquist said...

"How many people on the planet earth, sitting in their chair with the nuclear code, responsible for the life or death of millions of people, knowing that the entire world would condemn them, that history might condemn them, that the American people would condemn them, how many people would actually give that advice to the president of the United States? Two, three maybe. Me, Leonard, you [Amy], I don’t know but very few people.”

— Yaron Brook on the Yaron and Amy Show, 28 April 2018, titled 'Why Not "Atlas Lobbied"?'"

If Brook ever appears on Joe Rogan's podcast, somebody needs tell either Rogan or the producer of his podcast about this quote. As long as Rogan knows about it, I have confidence that he will challenge Brook about it.

Anonymous said...

Brook also said recently that he supports torture.

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There was a plan in the 1950s, Operation Vulture I believe it was called, to use nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia. My understanding is that it was Vice President Nixon who put a stop to it.

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