I now had a serviceable definition of fundamentalism--a system of beliefs that alleviates serious decision-making on the part of the believer. A fundamentalist belief system is manifestly false as a factual description of the real world; otherwise the believer would be confronted with messy trade-offs. Nevertheless, a fundamentalist belief system can be highly adaptive in the real world, depending upon the actions that it motivates. It can even outcompete a more realistic belief system that leaves the believer fretting endlessly about all those messy trade-offs.
My second insight about fundamentalism came when I coded Ayn Rand's book of essays setting forth her creed of objectivism titled The Virtue of Selfishness, along with a more obscure book titled The Art of Selfishness written by a self-help author named David Seabury. Once again, after dozens of words and phrases had been coded, written by Rand with her highbrow pretentions or Seabury in his homey style, two boxes of my table remained empty. Judging by the absence of tradeoffs, their tracts were every bit as fundamentalist as the Hutterite epistle of faith. It didn't matter that Rand was an atheist who called herself a rationalist. She used her talents to create a belief system that becomes a no-brainer for anyone who steps into it. She even stated explicitly in one of her essays that "there are no conflicts of interest among rational men."
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Commenter Orin T sends us to the following excellent post on fundamentalism by David Sloan Wilson. Wilson analyses Rand and finds her work as fundamentalist as an Hutterite epistle of faith.