I meant to post this back in June when I ran across it originally, but much was going on and internet connections were dodgy, so it didn’t happen. This thread on making light made me remember it. I kept meaning to post over there with thoughts, but could always foresee something popping up to make actual conversational participation ineffective and I’d just stir up a nest and drop away. (That’s happened to happen on a couple threads over there now, and I’m not really okay with that. I don’t imagine anybody else is, either)
Anywho, Objectivists. If you don’t know anything about Objectivism, Objectivisits, Ayn Rand, or communist Russia, I’m not going to catch you all the way up. There’s too much to catch you up on, and it’s not interesting enough to me to write it all out. The Making Light thread I linked to earlier will help, as will the people over at The Rand Institute, and I’m always a fan of pointing out Sluggy Freelance guest parodies of Ayn Rand. So if you have no idea what I’m talking about, off you go, I’ll still be here when you know.
Now, as for me, I’ve had a long lasting love/hate relationship with Objectivism. I’m a huge fan of what it ought to be, and rather extremely displeased with what it is. Decisions and morality based on rational premises grounded on fact and reality, that’s all me right there. The problem is that Objectivists talk to the talk, then turn around and sychophantically support whatever conclusions Rand came to back in the fifties, whether or not those were logical, or whether they were or are grounded in reality. They can’t support Libertarians because *gasp* Libertarians let Christians join the party, and only obnoxiously religious atheists are okay by them. Me, I kinda find anybody who’s obnoxiously religious…obnoxious.
I’m obviously generalizing a lot here, so take it all with a grain of salt, but Objectivists seem to actually get off on being the bad guys. They aren’t trying to develop and flesh out the mad scientist super villains, explain them, show everybody that they’ve been mislead and that really, the good guys have been working against you all along. They’re just saying, “Me mad scientist super villain, them good guys. Be super villain or be immoral sack of garbage!” Not the most logical or compelling of points of view.
Take, for example, Atlas Shrugged. (Massive flirting with Objectivism never broke my aversion to reading non-fiction. When I find a philosophy that will, I’ll sign up.) Basic premise, for anybody not familiar, is that a bunch of the major brains of society get together, decide that society doesn’t deserve them anymore, and abandon it. Sounds great to me since I agree with the basic premise there. If it’s true that they’re undervalued then society collapses and paves the way for them to fix it. If their egos are out of whack, well, then they’re living in a canyon in the middle of the dessert and nobody cares. Within the book they’re spot on, things fall apart, there are big inspiring speeches, even bigger, uninspiring, tedious ones, much hot sex between attractive, smart people, and all your very sexy heroes escape civilization for their cozy little nooks just as everything blows up. It was like reading fanfic where all the heroes were a different Mary Jane for me, and all the bad guys are 2-D cutouts of people I less-than-secretly want dead. Honest to God, wet dream in prose.
Except that even while I’m having paroxysms of religious, “Oh, so somebody else thinks so too!”isms, in the throes of massive intellectual ecstasy, Ayn Rand throws in a scene that stopped me cold right where I was. There’s a character by the name of Ragnar DaniskjsomethingscandinavianI’mtoolazytolookupold who runs around wrecking ships, looting the gold from them, then depositing the gold in accounts for all the people deemed worthy to join the new society so they don’t start off poor. It’s okay, morally and ethically, because everybody who gets hurt by this is morally corrupt and unimportant, and he’s matching the money paid in income tax for all the chosen people because that’s money stolen from them by a corrupt society and government. (You seeing bits of where I nod vigorously and go, “Oh yes! Evil IRS, spawn of SATAN!!”) I don’t so much buy that sailors deserve to die just because the guys who run the company that owns the boat they happen to get hired to work on have goatees and Marxist leanings, but we allow for hyperbole in fiction.
We don’t allow random slandering of characters on Anaea’s list of “If they weren’t fictional, I’d consider building a shrine.” We really don’t allow it when the slanderer is being hypocritical in the process. There is a long speech – I think between Francisco and Dagny but it’s been six years and my memory’s getting fuzzy – about how Robin Hood is the great evil, and must be destroyed. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Any Rand had a problem with Robin Hood. Seems she couldn’t get past the “Robs from the rich, gives to the poor,” motto to realize that a) her pirate guy, in norman England, totally wearing green tights and b) Sir Robert was fighting against the Feudal system. You know, the one where everybody not land owning for no better reason than having a land owning parent is a slave. Everybody. You can get more land, you can lose your land, but the slaves don’t stop being slaves. They’re called peasants, to make it friendlier, and the people actually called slaves really have it bad, but not being entitled to obtain the fruit of your labor, to choose where to live and work, etc. etc., is slavery. Our good Saxon outlaw was working to undermine that system, not to mention the corruption and power of the major institute of mysticism of the time, the Catholic church. (Robin Hood was deeply devout, nearly lost his head several times for sneaking into mass, and loathed much of the clergy for being nasty old frauds) Once you get past the motto, which is damning as evidence of communist feeling only outside of its natural context, he’s a better hero than blondie sailor boy.
Do not, I repeat, do not try to explain any of this to an Objectivist. I’ve tried four times, had four almost identical arguments, and decided that they argue about as well as the Catholics where I grew up, and deserved the same treatment. They don’t care about the facts of Robin Hood, they just want to argue about the politics of need and what Ayn Rand had to say. Frankly, I don’t care what anybody has to say when they don’t know what they’re talking about, unless they say so up front. Atlas Shrugged is a big book, and she spent a lot of time working on it. She could have spared an afternoon for research into English folk heroes.
That wouldn’t have solved the real problem, of course, which is that Objectivism isn’t a rational philosophy, it’s a religion based on being a stupid, selfish prat. And not an enlightened selfish prat, either. Do as Ayn Rand/her current heir says, and that is all. If you disagree, you’ve thought incorrectly, for Ayn Rand/ her current heir is like unto a god, if we believed in such things. Yeah, I’ve smelled that crock of shit in other places, and this one’s much too close to home. Objectivists make it hard for genuinely rational people operating on something aiming for enlightened self-interest (i.e., long term, I’m better off if the world is a better place, ergo I should try making the world a better place. What’s the most effective way of doing that, I wonder?) to get a word in among the feeling, needing, blindly groping about for solutions regardless of how they work, everybody else. We have enough trouble getting along with the rest of the world, we really don’t need the extra, “You’re a super villain and you want to make me one too, don’t you?” on top of it.
So how do you argue with an Objectivist? I’m glad you asked. This is where my masochistic attraction to Objectivist fiction comes in. You see, it’s all, mostly, Anaea-style Mary Jane heroes with 2-D cutout people she hates from real life as villains. It works best in small doses because after a while too much discrepancy creeps in and then it’s just really pretentious prose and badly constructed story, but that’s rarely enough to stop the draw. This is most painfully true with Terry Goodkinds Sword of Truth series. I have two more books in the series left to read, and at this point I hope the whole world blows up and takes everybody with it, because the only people I even respect anymore are the bad guys, but they’re soul-sucking communists and I can’t cheer for them to win. However, my pain is a boon to everybody else, and I’d like to share something utterly remarkable from Chainfire, book 10 in the series. Allow my to quote from page 577:
“The rule you quoted means I can’t, like Jagang’s followers, say I want the truth and then, without checking my assumptions, willingly believe a lie in its stead, even if out of fear. That’s the way I violated the ruel you quoted. I should have sorted out what looke dike contradictions and found the truth staring me in the face. That’s where I let myself down.”
“Are you saying that you now don’t believe that was Kahlan Amnell?” Zedd asked.
“Who says that corpse has to be the woman you think it is? There were no facts there to contradict my belief that it wasn’t her. I only believed there were out of fear that it was true. It wasn’t.”
Zedd took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “You’re stretching things mighty thin, Richard.”
“Am I? You wouldn’t be too pleased with my rationale if I said that there is no such thing as prophecy and held up the blank books as proof that your belief in the existence of prophecy is wrong. For you to believe that prophecy exists in the face of the fact that the supposed books of prophecy are blank is not a contradiction. It is a perplexing situation with insufficient information to as of yet explain the facts. You have no obligation to reach a conclusion or hold an opinion you don’t accept for other reasons without adequate information or before you have finished investigating.”
There you have it. The next time an Objectivist tells you that you’re wrong/immoral/anti-human/anti-life/whatever, just adjust Richard’s speech to fit the occasion. It’s in Objectivist-speak from one of the high saints of the holy church, and all you’re really saying is, “I’m going to believe/do whatever I want, and if it looks like that’s not cool, it’s just because we haven’t found all the facts yet.”
The sad thing is, I was hoping that speech meant the rest of the book was going to explore some of those interesting weak points in the philosophy, examine the meaning and importance of things that can’t be known, how to deal with it rationally, etc. etc. But no, it was about Richard being one-dimensional and showing off that his mental cock was bigger than everybody else’s. Oh, and also, Kahlan being a wimp, again, some more. Maybe that comes in the next book…Go ahead and say it, I’m an optimistic dupe.
2 thoughts on “The rational person’s guide to dealing with Objectivists: now with 40% more rambling!”
I guess I really did need to know you for two years to fully grasp why Rand’s take on Robin Hood could keep you off the entire movement.
Personally still believe that Fountainhead is better then Atlas, both from a language use standpoint (the satire and humor that she has is great) and from a character standpoint: Toohey, Wynard, and Keating are well thought out and fully realized failed/evil people while most of the heroes of AS have less development. Even Galt is more boring then Roark and it is hard to be more boring then the man with the orange hair and the square job who sits by his phone waiting to get a call. Hell that’s not even anti-social that’s just crazy.
I don’t know if I ever did lend you my copy of “We the living” (her first novel) but you should read it because it strongly suggests to me that Rand had some sort of autism or mental issue as a child. (I can relate since in hindsight I am convinced that I probably suffered from ADD when I was younger but I got over it by myself)
Curiously enough, while one of my major problems with the philosophy is the one you brought up (that everything Ayn Rand ever said is 100% correct and that we can’t challenge the holy words) my bigger concern is with the whole philosophy of “Romantic Aesthetics”.
I have no problem with “Romantic” art, but I do have a problem with how Objectivists seem to hate anything that Ayn Rand herself would not have written. I hate it when Objectivists say “Battlestar is evil because it is a naturalistic depiction of depraved humans who are failures” or “Catch-22 is a terrible novel because it is not 100% logical or chronological which is not what Ayn Rand would have done” or “I don’t like the Golden Compass, I don’t like the way it draws on that “parellel universes” rubbish. I have always hated that stupid quantum mechanics theory, so I hate to see stories draw on it, so I have no interest in seeing the movie or reading the books.” (And that last quote one I just read on a webforum!)
Rand was right about the Free Market, using Reason, and being individually minded, but she was just downright wrong by telling people that they should only like books and movies that 100% reflect her view of the world.
And as for why I have not updated my blog recently, erh, that’s because updating a LiveJournal is hard because yelling into cyber-space is just not that fulfilling. At least when I put up my Jakarta emails they function as a public archive.
I agree with you about the Romantic Aesthetics bit. I’m a huge fan of the Romantics, and it’s a major reason I like Rand’s writing so much. But it makes sense that she fell right into it because she was already confusing her views with hard fact while she was still drawling on about “reason” and “objective reality.” Objectivists who argue with quantum theory because it sounds wishy washy to them are either a) Completely ignorant of what they’re talking about b) Insane or c) a combination of the two. You cannot insist upon the infallibilBut she fell right into it because she’d already screwed up ity of an objective reality and then argue with observation-supported math. Yeah, it can be wrong (Insert my favorite reference of epicycles for an earth based universe model) but if it is then further observation and new mathematical techniques will bear that out. Knowing that there’s a cold hard reality behind it doesn’t mean knowing everything about that reality.
That, and they really need to accept that perception is inherently subjective, even if there’s an objective truth to what’s being perceived. Color-blindness is the easy point for that one.
And what do you mean that screaming into cyber-space isn’t fulfilling? You have an audience.