Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

12 November 2004

Objectivism and Me

What does Objectivism mean to me? What is my approach to it? What do I think about the movement and where it is going? How do we view Objectivism on the historical scale? What would it take to have it become the dominant philosophy of life in our society? I will answer these questions in this note.

Objectivism is the philosophy whose initial formulation was made by the American immigrant genius, Ayn Rand. She established the essential ideas of her philosophy while writing her great novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, which praised human achievement and the value of the human mind. She showed why man should live for himself and that he could do so to the benefit of all rational men. She developed a metaphysics based on reality, substantially developed an epistemology (theory of knowledge) based on reason, largely developed an ethics based on self-interest, developed an explanation of why Capitalism was the proper expression of politics for rational men since it alone allowed men to trade values freely, and substantially developed a theory of art. Her work was monumental and stands among the greatest accomplishments in all of man’s history. Though I know of no primary thesis of Ayn Rand which is incorrect, the philosophy is not yet fully developed. There has been much for other philosophers and thinkers to do since she died and there remains much to do.

The application of Objectivism to our ever-changing and evolving circumstances is anything but trivial. Those few errors that I know Ayn Rand to have made were in this realm. She was not always wise on her judgments of individuals and she made errors in assessing the consequences of certain choices on political and economic issues. Usually, however, she was brilliant in her commentary on these complex issues. Her commentaries were almost always insightful and wonderful examples of how to apply the principles of Objectivism to making the complex choices we have to make as mortal humans with incredibly complex interactions with others.

In order to further the development of Objectivism as the reality-directed understanding of human life with reason as our only means of knowing reality and of furthering the value of human life, we must establish those conditions which allow and encourage the use of the mind. Every human mind is attached to a body in an inseparable manner. If we are to be actors who can purposely further our lives, then we must be free to express our rational thinking and to motivate it by controlling and managing our bodies. Political restrictions on the use of the mind and of our bodies do not serve us as individuals. They also do not serve us as aggregates of individuals, since every value to be achieved means nothing if it is not of value to an individual human being.

Human society offers us many values, if we are free to trade ideas, our labor, friendship and love, and all the other values of rational men. The civilized society is that society which allows this and banishes the initiated use of force from the realm of human relationships. It also establishes the principle that the consequences of individual errors of judgment will be visited primarily upon the one who errs and the benefits of reality-consistent judgment can be realized by the wise individual without someone taking them away by force. The fact that a civilized society does not deliver the consequences of some one person’s error or that of some group (however large) upon everyone any more than can be avoided, is extremely important in allowing individuals to think and act independently with the appreciation of everyone else. They stand to gain from the exploration of knowledge and the example of attempts to put that knowledge into execution to gain values. The thinker and the actor is freed of the fear of being forced to conform and of having his earned values expropriated by others. Individual by individual, this society is freed to innovate and evaluate new ideas and methodologies they would never have otherwise seen.

Politically, Ayn Rand called this civilized society Capitalism. In such a society, men can afford to be tolerant of one other. Since every other person is likely to create useful values and make these available to you in many cases in acts of trade, it is natural to view others in a benevolent manner. In a society in which some men may use force to coerce you to think as they do or at least only speak or write accepted ideas, may take the hours or the totality of your life, and may take your income and property, other men are a threat and benevolence must shrivel.

Our present society is a mixture of Capitalism and socialism. The socialist aspects take on a variety of forms, including Bismarckian, communist, and fascist forms. Our government is supposed to protect our rights to our freedom of conscience at least so far as to "make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." First, it does not always protect all of these rights, as widely evidenced on college campuses and in the limitations upon speech just prior to Presidential elections. Second, these important expressions of freedom of conscience do not go nearly as far as they should go. The remaining freedoms are covered by Amendment IX, but the government generally chooses to ignore this amendment. Furthermore, it is extremely common for government to take our income and our property. It is also common for it to require us to donate our time to its purposes without compensation. This both limits our freedom of conscience by removing the benefits to us for using our minds and by preventing us from realizing our life values through our actions.
In the terms of our Declaration of Independence, we do not fully enjoy Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Historically, Objectivism has a strong relationship with Greek philosophy through Aristotle and with the Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke. While Aristotle made huge advances in understanding, for a long time his works were lost in Europe and never penetrated most of the world. The Dark and Medieval Ages took over in Europe. The Enlightenment relit the flame of knowledge and had its ultimate political expression in the limited constitutional government of the United States of America. Then the popularity of socialism (both communist and fascist versions) and the present post-modernist period partially robbed us of our belief in reality, the efficacy of reason, and the value of ourselves and of our abilities. Ayn Rand tried to further and re-energize the Enlightenment as she developed Objectivism in the face of a terrible intellectual front opposed to her. There is no historical guarantee that even the most rational and life-affirming philosophy will be accepted by the following generations who great thinkers have offered it to as a wonderful gift. Objectivism may disappear. Or, it may be re-discovered, as was Aristotle, with great effect in a few hundred years.

If the Objectivist philosophy is to become widely accepted, those who ascribe to it must be good examples in applying its principles to their own lives. We cannot be successful proponents of rational behavior if we do not value the attempts others make to be rational. Since everyone makes errors and everyone needs to perform the experiment of putting ideas to the test to see if they are consistent with a complex reality, we must practice toleration. Without it, we raise the stakes of creating any new idea or understanding so high that many will simply be afraid to make their great ideas known to us. Still fewer will be willing to put an idea to the test of reality either by applying the idea to pursue values or by inviting the evaluation of others. A movement without toleration is doomed to stultification. It will also be no fun and will soon be labeled a cult. Since such a group is given to "excommunications" it will also soon be without any of its more vigorous and persistent thinkers. To be successful in winning the hearts and minds of large numbers of people in a society, Objectivists need to act as Dr. David Kelley does and not as Dr. Leonard Peikoff does. The Objectivist Center represents the intellectual future of Objectivism, while the Ayn Rand Institute is an archival museum at best.

No broad-based inroad into controlling the political action of our country will be possible until the teachers in our schools understand and believe in Objectivism. This will be necessary at both the universities and the secondary schools. Clearly, this will be a long time in coming. It will never happen as long as the socialist Baby Boomers control the tenure system of the universities. It will never happen as long as the teacher’s labor unions control the government-run secondary school systems. It may never happen as long as government runs the schools. The political changes required to overcome these barriers to a wide-spread acceptance of the rational philosophy of Objectivism, are likely to take many more decades. Many individuals will have to read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and understand them on their own or with the help of much enlarged centers of learning such as The Objectivist Center. The internet offers many opportunities to make our ideas better known and we have an obligation, if we want to live in a better society, to make an effort to make them available to others. This is an important way to make an end run around the blocking performed by the public schools and universities. We must use it for all we are worth. Nonetheless, many children will never understand the principles of Objectivism well if we do not ultimately get them taught in the schools.

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