CONTROVERSY LEVEL: 10 of 10 for you “Randroids” out there, and perhaps less controversial for others.
This writeup is going to be a lot of “ism” chatter; so if you’re not keen on philosophy, it may be best to ignore. But, if you want to know, I’ll assume no knowledge of philosophy … so the subject should be relatively readable.
In short, “isms” can justify political actions. In the United States, the Libertarian party has taken Ayn Rand’s philosophy and writings to justify policy (although I’ve been told true objectivists are NOT 100% behind the party). So, because the philosophy is being touted as the intellectual justification for a movement, it’s best to understand the philosophy behind the policy positions.
So, get ready to enter the land of ideas …
What are isms and philosophies!?
I did a writeup on isms here. If you don’t want to read all that; I’ll still provide background info:
Isms are used explain how systems work. In our case, earth, and all the people in it, is a system (or you can pick a country to make it less-grand). Philosophy is very broad and seeks to explain how any given system works according to its: physical principles (physics, biology, math), or behavioral principles (how people operate in the system).
So, political systems are theories about how people work best, and the best principles to emphasize in society. Additionally, ethics is the study of how to live a “good” life (according to group consensus); and arguments are constructed to explore both observable and non-observable phenomena. Philosophers construct systems to help guide how people should/could work, live, and interact with one another.
So “isms” are theories about how things should, or could, be.
Examples: Capitalism finds capital to be the best human motivator; Communism sees community as a motivator; Socialism finds social interactions to be a human motivator; and Egoism finds self-interest to be the best motivator, and so on …
Overall, people can consider these systems, accept them, reject them, or incorporate them within some other system (well, components of them anyway); but “isms” are usually pretty good explanations, so critical thinking is necessary to reject some systems.
What is Objectivism?
I’ve heard lots about this particular “ism.”
What authority do I have to write about this? None. I read about 3/4 of Atlas Shrugged (too long, and I read for information, not leisure), I’ve discussed stuff with a variety of objectivists and libertarians, and I’ve read some articles from the Objective Standard. … Other than that, I have no providence to write about it (although I have studied a decent amount of philosophy and theory in my day). So I’ll write about it anyway.
Side note: I’ve encountered a few Ayn Rand aficionados who seemed hesitant to explain the philosophy. I was even told once that it was “too-complex” to understand, and I needed to read Rand’s novels to get it.
BS. If you can’t explain the fundamental principles of a philosophy, then either that person doesn’t understand the system, or it isn’t a philosophical system at all.
Bottom line, here is what Objectivism emphasizes:
“Objective” and absolute reality: So, this view rejects theological views 100%. So, god(s) are forbidden in this system. It also rejects notions of cooperative or collective charity. Right off the bat, this philosophy isn’t for you hippies out there.
There is no supernatural deity; so stop looking. There is no mystical power dictating the universe; so stop looking. Stop the welfare systems, because all you’re doing is enabling. People need to understand that they are the craftspeople of their own destiny. Also, reality is reality; so DEAL WITH IT! All you can do is evaluate concrete evidence and operate on logic to answer questions.
In this view, reality is indifferent to what people want. No matter how hard you want something to be, it will only be if you make it happen through work, strategy, and, most importantly, reason.
The “objective” reality is constant, and people can’t change it (you can only change your own subjective reality through work), and environmental reality exists independent of what anybody wants it to be. I believe the famous “equation” here is A=A (so A≠B). So, a cross is a shape; it isn’t anything greater because it’s only a shape. People try to attach outside meaning, but it means nothing.
So, in objectivism, reality = reality. Cold, realistic, and in your face.
The idea is that once you come to terms with this, you can move on with your life, and live logically. Objectivists are all for liberty (do what you want), and do not want to restrict actions AT ALL! Why? Because reality is reality, and the best thing to do is work with it. If people want to make money or art, or want to make families, you need to logically plan it out, follow that reasoning, and WORK to get it. Whatever you want, you can get it through rational means.
Reason: If there isn’t observable data, then it isn’t so. The world is flat? Sorry, you can’t say that until you have evidence. You’re telling me that god(s) exist(s)? Sorry, there is no reasoning OR evidence, so gods don’t exist.
… You really need to understand the field of Logic to make Rand’s philosophical world work.
So, you want to be smart? Well, logic dictates that a few things have to happen. You need to learn to read, you need to make sense of the sentences and paragraphs, you need to understand how ideas are made, you need to identify false sentences, and you need to learn how to defend against illogical ideas or statements. In short, you need to WORK on being smart if you want to be smart. To get something, you need to commit yourself to it. It’s reminiscent of Newton’s Third Law. Also, plenty of people think they’re working, but, in reality, they are just convincing themselves they are working instead of actually doing the work. Think of a student in a class who says they get it all, when really that student just says stuff, and doesn’t really do any work; but convinces themselves they are doing work. Same principle here.
In the objective philosophy, reason is very important for dispelling false notions of progressivism, modernity, religion, and any “false” conceptions of cooperation; because the world is a dog-eat-dog world, and that’s the way it is … and people need to GET LOGICAL to survive, because cooperation is against our self interests.
Self-interested egoism: Objectivists understand that people want to do what they want, and everyone has an ego. SO, embrace it rather than mask it.
Because people want what they want, you need to let them do what they want. If they are limited to do what they want (by unnecessary laws or restrictions), then that’s a suppression of living.
If people are free to do exactly as they please, then they are entitled to reap the reward of their work. There are no rules justifying that people have to “give back” to others, and no responsibility of people to do anything other than follow what they want to do. ** I’ve read that there are police to capture criminals in the objectivist’s world, but defining crime would be pretty difficult.
So, in the objectivist world, nobody believes in religion, all people operate by pure logic to achieve whatever they want, and there are no impositions for anybody to “give back” to anybody else. Because of this, everybody gets what they want, and is therefore happy. If this is so, then everyone should live relatively harmoniously (because they worked for what they want and they have it).
Laissez-faire capitalism: So, apparently objectivists expand the definition of capitalism to explain how morals come out of the capitalist system, which is a stretch. Laissez-faire is a fancy French term meaning something will, “take its own course.”
I’ve heard objectivists claim that capitalism is a moral system in addition an economic one. I would warn against this lumping; Communism claimed the economic and political realms as well; and look where that got. Instead, I would suggest that objectivists either choose economic explanations or political; but not both.
Anyway, the claim is that capitalism includes moral components of limited government, individual liberty, and property (I’m assuming life is in there too). These principles are actually principles of classical liberalism, but I’ll go ahead and run with it. After all, classical liberalist and capitalist ideas are frequently lumped together because of the overlapping principles of liberty and property … although I’m not of the opinion that strict Capitalism ensures life; after all, businesses can work people quite literally to death.
Regardless of how you package it, objectivists are for absolute free markets, no restrictions, and absolute individual liberty so long as you don’t violate somebody else’s liberty. More insights on business/government relations here if you’re interested.
Art: Objectivists also comment on art. Because art is nothing more than a manifestation of reality for this ism; art is not an expression of immeasurable “feelings,” nor is it an abstract, foreign and unknown “idea.” Rather, it is a representation of reality; though admittedly, it is a manifestation of a reality deep in our thoughts.
Because of this, objectivists prefer art where humans glorify human actions, and scenes where people are the masters of their reality: the romantic art period is cited most commonly. Objectivists don’t like depictions of gods, but they do like depictions of the human form, and works that empower people to embrace rational thought.
… So, it’s natural that Objectivists are drawn to American principles of life, liberty, property (as well as separation of state and religion); because these are rational principles. However, objectivists would say that the American system doesn’t embody absolute principles of laissez-faire capitalism and absolute liberty.
Was this a fair and concise interpretation objectivists?
Not sure. You tell me. Of course I don’t know all the esoteric readings, the proper jargon, and nor do I understand the entire system … but this is the fundamentals, and it’s really all I need to know.
If I were interested, I would dive deeper, but I have a few thoughts on it as is …
I gotta say, I’m not sold.
First, for the philosophy to work, a lot of prerequisites must be met.
Everybody in the system needs to understand logic, and must have a scientific-only understanding of the world. So, you pretty much have to rid the world of any notion of religion, which probably won’t happen. If it were to happen, it wouldn’t be for quite some time. Why? There has to be absolute proof that god doesn’t exist. Even if that were discovered, it would take one massive PR campaign to shake people’s faith.
Further, the objectivist system is one where all people must have a threshold of intelligence to understand logic (not to mention the predisposition to WANT to learn logic). Just a thought: what about people without the mental capacity to understand, or those who are deterred easily by learning in general? Upon closer inspection, it seems to be an elite-centric philosophy.
Also, I’ll say it over again until conclusive evidence surfaces; since god cannot be proven to exist or not exist (so far), religion is in fact NOT illogical. So, that million dollar question is still up in the air. But, for the most part, the philosophy only makes sense in a post-religious world.
Another prerequisite is that people have to turn off any alleged “illogical” dispositions of “give-back” mentalities; or maybe that these impulses will go away after objectivism is fully in place. In any case, I’ll be fair here and say that in the objectivist system, I’m thinking that giving back is an option; just not a requirement.
All in all, the whole system has pretty hefty prerequisites … similar to the prerequisites that would theoretically make Communism work.
Second. Objectivist ideas seem, to me anyway, to be nothing more than a philosophy of the scientific method, and I’m not really sure that it contributes any new or substantial ideas. The scientific method already provides an outline for rationally discovering the world’s behavioral and physical principles and laws. Also, the philosophy lumps together capitalism as well as classical liberalism. Analytically, I would say that Ayn Rand really just created a frankenstein-philosophy that claims (maybe demands) that people should have a unified threshold of intelligence and understanding of reality. So, I would say that the philosophy claims to explain more than it really can. Also, I don’t have a problem with the philosophy’s logic, but would say that it just doesn’t contribute a whole lot when compared to other philosophical systems.
Third, I find that other thinkers target individualism more-effectively than Rand did. More specifically: Friedrich Nietzsche I feel was more-convincing with his ideas of “God is dead,” the Dionysian spirit, and herd mentalities.
** Read the italics below for his critique of Christianity if you’re interested.
I would suggest that followers of any ism follow Nietzsche’s advice insofar that you need to “philosophize with a hammer;” meaning that people need to be prepared to reject philosophical systems after consideration, experience, and judgement.
Rather than assuming a uniform empirical (measurable) reality, Nietzsche embraced the illogical component of human nature. His philosophy targeted individualism (emphasizing individual-ness in the world), and he explicitly assumed that all people had a “creative spirit” that was suppressed by a variety of societal and theological systems.
So, in Nietzsche’s philosophy, rather than following uniform “rules,” the idea was that individuals, at their core, really just want to create or destroy stuff; and that people NEED to exercise that impulse productively. If they don’t, not only will mental illness result, but these impulses will manifest themselves in other forms that are negative for the entire society (think of crime).
People can create art, music, businesses, a political system, or even literature; conversely, you can destroy conceptions of what art, music, business, politics, or literature actually is. BUT, to really make a difference (and create or destroy something productively), you must suffer the process to get there. BUT, modern societies suppress this creative spirit in favor of subordination. So, Nietzsche’s individual is very idea-centric, where Rand’s individual is very much rooted in the “real” world. Freedom is interpreted in two ways; Nietzsche’s is the freedom to create or destroy ideas, and Rand’s is simply the freedom to do what you want.
In Nietzsche’s system, logic isn’t even valid. Because people come to conclusions based on non-perfect information, and because there is no agreed-upon “reality,” there is absolutely no way to be right about anything; only best guesses.
I suppose a critique of Objectivism could be that reason (logic) itself is nothing more than a religion (or it will become a religion). Where Rand would say that the individual is free to do whatever they want in her system, Nietzsche (and I suppose myself) would say that reason and logic would inevitably become the new ruling enterprise (a totalitarian rule of logic, if you will). And this would probably prevent, or at least limit, alternative expressions.
So I’m not sure how objectivists can be free of religion when they seem to quasi-“worship” rationality and an “objective” reality. But, different isms cater do different world views.
**A bit more on Nietzsche and religion (because he’s very controversial):
First, Nietzsche all about anti-group-dictated rules, because he thought it limited what the individual can achieve by creating a moral standard. So, most controversially, this included religion.
However, contrary to popular belief, he found Jesus to be what he called “the only true Christian.” Why? Because Jesus actually embraced what Nietzsche found appealing. How? By rebelling against conventional wisdom and laws. In effect, Jesus was a rebel who was advocating the alteration of the status quo, and he encouraged diversification of thought as well as tradition. So you could say that Jesus “destroyed” what previously existed. … Nietzsche just didn’t buy into the Son of God thing.
So what’s his beef with Christianity? Well, it’s not against Jesus himself. Rather, it’s that leaders hijacked Jesus’ actions, dogmatized them, and they have since used the dogmatic “traditions” to justify and impose moral codes on people. So, he’s saying that people ARE using the concept of a god to dictate how people should act, and it’s causing all sorts of problems. Also, he found science to be a religion as well. Whether it be god or logic, something is dictating moral conduct for Nietzsche.
He blamed Christianity for suppressing what he called the “Dionysian” part of individuals. Dionysus was the greek god of wine (but also the god of eros, which is the part of people that desires excess, embraces individualism, and celebrates life and living itself through song, dance, and partying). So, if religion restricts the Dionysian spirit, then it restricts life itself. There was one religion Nietzsche didn’t mind all that much: Buddhism. Because Buddhists seek to understand life through death, and don’t believe in a supreme being, he found virtue in that.
So, at the end of the day, Nietzsche embraced Jesus and his actions, but he condemned what other people made of his actions. Controversial? Very. I would say that, regardless of what you think about the dude, he had a profound impact on the direction of philosophy; and perhaps even inspired Rand herself to write what she did.
Overall, I would say that the Objectivist philosophy is a bit problematic (but, in reality, all isms are). Now, I’m sure that the Objectivists out there would react by expanding some philosophical principles, highlighting some examples, and expanding the system that I’ve outlined here. However, judging by the key assumptions of the system, I would say it’s too restrictive, not profoundly useful, and, in many ways, a limited philosophy. Also, remember; a lot of people have stake in altering the way people think.
All you Rand subscribers out there, have at it. All in all, keep in mind that any ism is only as good its assumptions. If you can buy into the assumptions, then it’s probably a good system for you. However, I would warn people that committing to any single systemic view will most likely limit your ability to learn, or even hear, alternative systems.
To quote the great fictional philosopher Ferris Bueller:
“‘A person should not believe in an ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, “I don’t believe in ‘Beatles,’ I just believe in me.” Good point there. After all, he was the Walrus.”’