Friday, March 20, 2009

Why I'm an Objectivist

Well, I guess that Ayn Rand's books are experiencing a surge of interest due to the economic crisis. But amidst all the pundits weighing in on one side or the other, I'd simply like to talk about why I'm an Objectivist.

A lot of people point out that Greenspan was an Objectivist (he even wrote several of the essays in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal). But the policies and decisions he pursued in his career make him anything but. How can the chief of the Fed, who sits in unilateral judgment over the arbitrary outlay of interest rates and the monetary supply, possibly be supportive of the government deregulation of the financial system? No, Greenspan isn't an Objectivist.

A lot of people get hung up on that deal with the Brandens, or with the Peikoff-Kelley split. The former is a sideshow bearing no relevance to Ayn Rand's philosophical ideas. It is akin to discrediting the Declaration of Independence because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Somebody can make mistakes in character judgment, or bad choices and still have good ideas. That's why there is a logical fallacy devoted to just such an error, ad hominem (meaning against the man). The latter focuses on a very relevant issue, the proper moral response to dissent. I'm honestly not sure which side is correct in their assessments, as I've recently stated, I'm not sure myself how to properly discern between evasion and deception and whether or not there should morally be a different response for the two, or if they deserve to be lumped together. This jury of one is still out on that subject, and until I reach a verdict, I will be hesitant to condemn either side unilaterally. After all, error is a very real occurrence. To deny the capacity for error is to assert that we are all granted a priori knowledge of the universe, an assertion closer to the philosophy of Plato than that of Rand. And I don't believe in patently accepting orthodoxy from any source if I don't fully understand the principles involved.

Some people assert that Rand has a utilitarian value, that she provides the moral justification for capitalism. Well, she does. But that isn't a reason to believe in Objectivism. The only viable reason to believe in Objectivism is this: is it true?

To ask this question of most philosophies is to encounter a Cartesian loop of circular reasoning. Most philosophies demand that you accept either a God, or social force, or some vague and inexplicable internal sense as the final arbiter of morality. Only Rand came forth to say that what is moral is based solidly in the tangible reality and tangible demands of our physical existence. The reason philosophers scoff at Objectivism is because it is fully comprehensible. The reason why it isn't taken seriously is because it does not rest on a leap of faith, a "feeling" that something is right or wrong. It rests on reason. Philosophers have spent generations arguing about whether they can know that reality exists, how they can know anything if they can't assume anything about existence, endless wormholes of uncertainty and referenceless abstractions based on clouds of air where they simply try to rationalize their own assumptions about morality by any means necessary. There is a very real reason why we tend to think of something as "deep" which is completely incomprehensible or bizarre. It is because what many of our philosophers have presented to us as deep and fundamental truths of existence have in fact been nothing more than incomprehensible or bizarre all along.

Rand was the first one in modern history to come out and say "The Emperor has no clothes...and this is why." She stated that some assumptions are necessary, that they are in fact assumed by anyone who would attempt to disprove them: Existence exists, Consciousness is conscious, A thing is itself (A is A). Her philosophical system anticipated significant developments in cognitive science (such as the embodiment of cognitive experience and the necessity for a hierarchy of concept formation for information processing) and linguistics (such as examining the concealment of agency realized by transitivity and passivization as a technique for encoding hidden ideology). Objectivism has ramifications for economics, political science, morality, law, and education. All of these fields are traditionally presented to us as decontextualized, incomprehensible forces of nature to which we must simply react, but can never hope to comprehend or to influence.

Objectivism makes explicit the underlying mechanisms of all of these processes and shows how we are the center of all of these systems, that we are not just passive receivers of some arbitrary destiny; that we have the power and indeed, the responsibility, to act upon those systems to make them better for our own sakes. And that by working to make these systems more productive objectively, that by striving to attain our own individual rational self-interest, by seeking to attain the best that life has to offer over the entire span of one's life, that the net result is an immeasurable benefit for everyone. But that the justification is not in the benefit to all but in the benefit to one's self. That we are born into this life as ourselves, that we experience only the life that we have as ourselves, and that the pursuit of happiness is not a pragmatic end, but a moral pursuit in and of itself.

Objectivism offers HAPPINESS, whereas the other varied philosophies and ideologies of our age only demand SACRIFICE. Sacrifice to what? For whose benefit? Will my children be the happier for me having sacrificed their economic well-being today? Will I truly have any greater guarantee of security by demanding that they pay for my retirement, when in fact the economic necessities of the system will mean that social security will most likely not even exist by that time? Will they be the better educated by demanding that they be constrained to the lowest common denominator of educational quality made possible by averaging the resources of the community as opposed to what I could provide for them unfettered by the economic burdens imposed by the government? No. No. No.

Opponents of Objectivism need to make an explicit stand, one that they cannot ultimately justify and thus why they always resort to ad hominem attacks or dodge the issue. Objectivism ultimately stands for the rational pursuit of your happiness over the span of your life. It holds that as a moral virtue, the highest moral goal. To say that Objectivism is evil, is to say that the pursuit of happiness is evil. To say that Objectivism is wrong, is to say that it is wrong to be happy, it is wrong to want the best for your children, it is wrong to receive greater pay for greater work, that any attempts to advance your position in life is evil and the most we can hope for in our imperfect lives is to beg for the mercy of those who hold incontrovertible power over us, whether they be thrust into that position by design or the vagaries of the political process.

I refute this view of life. I cannot accept that I was born to be the tool of others, that I was born to be used, manipulated, milked of whatever capacity I have and then to be cast aside with the fruits of my productivity to be dispensed according to the whims of a lunatic mob. I believe in the principles that America was founded upon. I believe in this nation of principles, the only nation ever founded by philosophers. What Ayn Rand represents is not a radical divergence from American values, she represents the soul of American virtue unabashedly claiming its rightful distinction as the only moral system which does not treat humanity as sacrifical animals to be slaughtered for the sake of anyone's whims, whether they be the dreams of one man, or the dreams of us all. This virtue can only be fully realized if we accept the objective basis of morality, the objective determinants of justice and just law.

And the final reason that I am an objectivist is not just because the logical arguments makes sense to me, but that I can see the principles that Objectivism makes clear in operation in every aspect of life around me. When I see the way people react to politics, or economics, or education. When I see the things that are easy to teach or are easy to learn. The more I discover about the processes of the human mind, and society. Everything that I learn from science and my experience with other human beings in society. Everything makes sense when viewed from an Objectivist perspective. Where before, there was only a chaos of competing voices all crying for power, all crying for pity, all teetering on an uncertain foundation rocking on the waves of public opinion, I have now come to see the levers which operate those systems, and to understand the motivations driving the forces in our society. When I see the accuracy with which the themes in Ayn Rand's works play out in the news around me and even in my own personal life, I cannot refute the predictive power of her model. No other philosophy I have studied has come anywhere near as close in terms of precise clarity and comprehensive explanatory power.

And that is why I am an Objectivist. If I were to find a proof, whether it be logical or practical which invalidated the propositions of Objectivism, I would surrender the title of Objectivist and set about constructing a revised philosophy incorporating that proof. But I haven't yet. Despite all the ranting on the internet. Despite all the spite and condemnations of Rand's work. Despite all the insults and some outright lies. Not a single detractor has been able to provide a significant counter-argument. So I ask openly: if you (anybody out there at all) have an objection, bring it forth. Let's talk about this here and now. If you can show me the error of my ways, then do so. But I only ask one thing in return. That if your arguments prove to be the weaker, will you be as willing to change your views? If you are, then you're probably closer to being an Objectivist than you may think.

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