Objectivism Gone Bad? (Part 2)

A recent google search made me remember a promise. And since I’m a late redeemer, I thought I’d give it a go.

First, a primer. Objectivism was stated by a Russian exile to America, Ayn Rand, in the early half of the last century, and unlike other such treatises, Rand appealed to the public through her books, one of them Fountainhead, which was excellently received in its time and another Atlas Shrugged, which didn’t receive quite the adulation she expected but is nevertheless today considered the cornerstone of her philosophy. It is different from more popular and established schools of thought in that it equates egotism with moral excellence; indeed one of the corner-stones of the philosophy, often quoted, is that “Selfishness is a virtue”. Ayn Rand further expounds that the basis of every man’s actions is his “moral code”, and the only way establish a just moral code (which she then elaborates in a 20+ page speech by a character in Atlas Shrugged) is to be firmly rooted in reality.

You cannot have your cake and eat it too, she says. “A is A” – the Aritstotelean observation is from where she starts her thesis, and she arrives at her conclusions – which are numerous, widely debated and often contentious, but which certainly are radical.

One of the major criticisms of the philosophy is that it is too ideal – utopian; it doesn’t touch a chord with many people because it doesn’t describe the world around them. To use a more mundane but perhaps apt comparison, Objectivism is the Superman of philosophies; it has grace, poise and laser shooting eyes, but arrogance often pales to something more real: your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman definitely scores more points. (Completely off topic, but the new Spidey trailer is amazing <g>). Most of the characters in Rand’s novels are superhuman, they don’t seem to face life the way normal people do, they aren’t shaken by calamity, they weather every storm and reach the port safely, much like many a romance novel.

I remember defending the edicts of objectivism on numerous occasions because I used to consider myself an objectivist. Used to, because although I certainly admire most of the basic tenets, I’ve found some facts that do not fit my life.

One: Selfishness is a virtue, most definitely. But I’m also somebody who strongly believes in love. Not to mention that I’ve grown up in a school that has as its motto, “Men for others”. Selfishness in the traditional definition (as in Me, Me and Me) cannot encompass something that is very relevant and important to humanity: compassion. I would propose a new definition, but I’ll leave that to future articles on the subject.

Two: Humility. There is no such thing as a humble objectivist. Arrogance and pride (even deserved pride) are certainly good qualities, but an equally good quality is humility. Something which allows human beings to share the rewards, acknowledge the good graces of others, and something which makes every one of us more likable.

Three: The reluctance to dialogue. Objectivists tend to divide the world into two spheres: the believers and the non-believers, and after such a separation has been achieved, they believe that any dialogue with the outcasts is useless. They believe that if people can’t realize the basic tenets of the law before them (the ‘laws’ are certainly simple when examined at a glance), they will never come to terms with them, and any futher conversation with such people is anathema. This I reject because of plain common sense – any philosophy if it has to succeed has to evolve.

Let’s stop it at three. There are some more, but they are smaller issues best discussed later. Objectivism isn’t a fundamentally flawed philosophy, it isn’t even that egotist if you examine it in a certain manner, but it certainly has some flaws. The very fact that Objectivists haven’t come up in a big way anywhere certainly points to that. How to refine this philosophy to make it succeed is frankly, way beyond me. But I’ll encourage you to think on it.

5 responses

  1. rodney203 Avatar

    It is sad that Objectivism is so judged 1) based on the actions and personalities of most of its followers, and 2) by outsiders who don’t, or can’t, understand it.

  2. I’ve had many problems with Objectivists which is sad considering that a man I admire and writes great fantasy “is” an objectivist himself. (Terry Goodkind)

    I think the biggest flaw in Objectivism is its complete apathy. As it is based on everyone helping themselves and charity only being an option if it benefits a personal cause. As has been said here there is a complete disregard for compassion and doing the right thing just because it is right. Objectivists rant how even if you do something altruistic you are still acting in YOUR best interests. Thus their view of the human being is that we are all ego manical self centered sycophants.

    They see the disabled as burdens of society much how Hitler saw the jews during WW 2. Many objectivist will say if you cannot work by conventional means and the goverment is supporting you in any way be it because of a physical handicap or mental illness you should do all of society a favor and end your life. They never stop to think “What if I become disabled? Would I not want some kind of help if I couldn’t work? Would I really want to kill myself?” Like wise if someone is physically over powered and raped or killed it is the victims fault because that person was not “gifted enough” to overcome adversity.

    Most good philosphers know how to appeal to the masses seeming like they have walked in the shoes of the citizens they try to rally.

    Objectivists on the other hand seem to try to elevate themselves above society and chastize those that are socialists or have different views. In this they seem no better then the churches and faiths they criticize for being hypocritical and contracennding.

    Maybe I’ve just gotten a bad taste in my mouth from a first impression. If an Objectivist feels differently or sees the philosphy differently from what has been shown to me thus far please voice your opinion and how the philosphy should be seen.

  3. Very well stated concerning an objectivist’s inability to communicate. This is the primary failing of objectivist PEOPLE. If you wish a system to succeed, you’d best be able to spread it. Arrogance and inability to carry civil dialogue are shots in the foot for the objectivist. The philosophy is however fundamentally flawed. Probabalistic physics, heisenburg uncertainty and the two slit experiment reveal that while A=A in our perception, A may be B. This simplistic approach also depends on objects not changing through time and our arbitrary subjectively influnenced attempts at identifying things. This philosophy also holds life itself as an ultimate value, but this must mean life must be an ends unto itself. This is not the case. Life is a means. A means cannot be an ends. Objectivists must provide argumentation to the contrary, which they have not. I find their belief that humans are fully equipped to perceive all of existence to be blind as well. On what logic to they base this. On what evidence? Finally, the idea that reasonable minds would have no conflicts of interest is just flat out foolish. A simple prisoner’s dilemma square provides argumentation to the contrary. For conflicts of interest not to exist on a society wide basis, some people must find it in their best interests to be wholey altruistic which Rand claims is evil. A philosophy advocating good through necessity of evil simply won’t fly with me.

  4. I do not know what exactly you mean by that… but I was refuting I believe the basic tenets of Objectivism (or the stuff as I grok it), not its implementation.

  5. James Taylor Avatar
    James Taylor

    “Ojectivism has NOT gone bad.” What makes it appear so is that people seeking to create their own “little empires” have twisted it into forms suitable for them. All those objectivist individuals that are the “SILENT MAJORITY” are to blame more than anyone else. These WOULD-BE “New Intellectuals” are just that——pages who will not stand up and claim that “THE EMPEROR IS NAKED”.

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