The Ayn Rand Institute has recently introduced a new set of YouTube videos, many of them hosted by Dave Rubin, called "Objectivism on Happiness." The videos give an insight in how a new generation of "orthodox" Objectivists are framing (or rather re-framing) Rand's ideas. In what I've heard from Yaron Brook, Greg Salmieri, Onkar Ghate, and Tara Smith, there seems to exist a drive to portray Rand's philosophy in such a way that it does not come into conflict with the sciences of human nature. Ayn Rand believed that human beings were, at birth, "blank slates," and that it was through exposure to philosophical premises that they developed personalities and character. The strategy that this new breed of Objectivists appear to have concocted to separate themselves from this embarrassing doctrine is to make it clear that, while they have no intention of explicitly denying the possibility of heritable traits of character, they nevertheless continue to insist that, through the use of "reason" and "free will," they can achieve Rand's vision of the self-created man.
While this may be a clever debating tactic, questions can be raised as to its faithfulness to Randian dogma. Harry Binswanger, a member of the old guard, was dusted off and trotted out for the video entitled "Grounding Morality in Facts." At one point in the video, Binswanger announced that he believed that human beings "hard-wired" themselves. Sitting opposite to him, Greg Salmieri, while not daring to question so obvious a point of orthodoxy, nonetheless seemed eager to somehow qualify and sanitize this challenge to scientific knowledge. Luckily for this new guard of orthodox Objectivists like Salmieri, old fogies in the Binswanger mold are exercising less and less influence over time. Soon they will have all retired or moved on to more subterranean perspectives, at which time they will no longer be around to remind people of Rand's embarrassing lack of judgment when it came to the question of heritable traits of character. Yaron Brook and his denizens will then be free to pretend that Rand never advocated views on human nature that clash with all the most recent scientific developments in evolution, genetics, experimental psychology, and cognitive science. But in ignoring and possibly even removing some of the worst (i.e., empirically falsified) elements of Objectivism, what will these new breed of Objectivists have accomplished? Very little, I suspect. For I would contend that it is precisely the bad elements of Rand, the controversial and outlandish stuff, that provides most of the interest. Take that stuff out and what do you have left? A sort of libertarian Sam Harris, minus Harris's scientific credentials and incisive wit. While de-emphasizing the worst parts of Objectivism may allow Rand's ideology to seem a little less implausible, it does little to solve main issue with the creed—which is to say the fact that, as an apologia for libertarianism, Objectivism is hopelessly dated. There are better rationalizations for most of the things Objectivism now stands for. There is a delicious irony at the bottom of all this. More than twenty-five years ago, there was a schism in Objectivism between the orthodox crowd over at ARI and David Kelley and the so-called Atlas Society. The riff between these two factions allegedly arose over the question as to whether Objectivism was a closed or an open system. But that's pretty much a moot point these days. Yaron Brook can insist with all the fervor at his command that Objectivism is a closed system: those are just words, and he doesn't really mean it. If Brook desires to have conversations with IDW luminaries such as Jordan Peterson, Eric Weinstein, Douglass Murray, and Gad Saad, he can't be seen as an advocate of the blank slate view. For in the biological sciences, the blank slate has no more credibility than the flat earth delusion enjoys in the realms of geography and astronomy. And so while giving lip service to the closed system paradigm of Objectivism, Brook and the denizens of ARI must adapt, in practice, the open system approach of David Kelley.