"For skeptics, the idea that reason can lead to a cult is absurd. The characteristics of a cult are 180 degrees out of phase with reason. But as I will demonstrate, not only can it happen, it has happened, and to a group that would have to be considered the unlikeliest cult in history. It is a lesson in what happens when the truth becomes more important than the search for truth..."
—Michael Shermer, "The Unlikeliest Cult in History"
I think Michael Shermer is over-explaining Objectivism. I'll get around to amplifying on that.
Ayn Rand's novels glorify technology, capitalism, individual defiance of the System, limited government, private property, selfishness. Her ultimate fictional hero, John Galt, was <SPOILER>a scientist who invented a new form of cheap renewable energy; but then refuses to give it to the world since the profits will only be stolen to prop up corrupt governments.</SPOILER>
And then—somehow—it all turned into a moral and philosophical "closed system" with Ayn Rand at the center. The term "closed system" is not my own accusation; it's the term the Ayn Rand Institute uses to describe Objectivism. Objectivism is defined by the works of Ayn Rand. Now that Rand is dead, Objectivism is closed. If you disagree with Rand's works in any respect, you cannot be an Objectivist.
Max Gluckman once said: "A science is any discipline in which the fool of this generation can go beyond the point reached by the genius of the last generation." Science moves forward by slaying its heroes, as Newton fell to Einstein. Every young physicist dreams of being the new champion that future physicists will dream of dethroning.
Ayn Rand's philosophical idol was Aristotle. Now maybe Aristotle was a hot young math talent 2350 years ago, but math has made noticeable progress since his day. Bayesian probability theory is the quantitative logic of which Aristotle's qualitative logic is a special case; but there's no sign that Ayn Rand knew about Bayesian probability theory when she wrote her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. Rand wrote about "rationality", yet failed to familiarize herself with the modern research in heuristics and biases. How can anyone claim to be a master rationalist, yet know nothing of such elementary subjects?
"Wait a minute," objects the reader, "that's not quite fair! Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957! Practically nobody knew about Bayes back then." Bah. Next you'll tell me that Ayn Rand died in 1982, and had no chance to read Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, which was published that same year.
Science isn't fair. That's sorta the point. An aspiring rationalist in 2007 starts with a huge advantage over an aspiring rationalist in 1957. It's how we know that progress has occurred.
To me the thought of voluntarily embracing a system explicitly tied to the beliefs of one human being, who's dead, falls somewhere between the silly and the suicidal. A computer isn't five years old before it's obsolete.
The vibrance that Rand admired in science, in commerce, in every railroad that replaced a horse-and-buggy route, in every skyscraper built with new architecture—it all comes from the principle of surpassing the ancient masters. How can there be science, if the most knowledgeable scientist there will ever be, has already lived? Who would raise the New York skyline that Rand admired so, if the tallest building that would ever exist, had already been built?
And yet Ayn Rand acknowledged no superior, in the past, or in the future yet to come. Rand, who began in admiring reason and individuality, ended by ostracizing anyone who dared contradict her. Shermer: "[Barbara] Branden recalled an evening when a friend of Rand's remarked that he enjoyed the music of Richard Strauss. 'When he left at the end of the evening, Ayn said, in a reaction becoming increasingly typical, 'Now I understand why he and I can never be real soulmates. The distance in our sense of life is too great.' Often she did not wait until a friend had left to make such remarks."
Ayn Rand changed over time, one suspects.
Rand grew up in Russia, and witnessed the Bolshevik revolution firsthand. She was granted a visa to visit American relatives at the age of 21, and she never returned. It's easy to hate authoritarianism when you're the victim. It's easy to champion the freedom of the individual, when you are yourself the oppressed.
It takes a much stronger constitution to fear authority when you have the power. When people are looking to you for answers, it's harder to say "What the hell do I know about music? I'm a writer, not a composer," or "It's hard to see how liking a piece of music can be untrue."
When you're the one crushing those who dare offend you, the exercise of power somehow seems much more justifiable than when you're the one being crushed. All sorts of excellent justifications somehow leap to mind.
Michael Shermer goes into detail on how he thinks that Rand's philosophy ended up descending into cultishness. In particular, Shermer says (it seems) that Objectivism failed because Rand thought that certainty was possible, while science is never certain. I can't back Shermer on that one. The atomic theory of chemistry is pretty damned certain. But chemists haven't become a cult.
Actually, I think Shermer's falling prey to correspondence bias by supposing that there's any particular correlation between Rand's philosophy and the way her followers formed a cult. Every cause wants to be a cult.
Ayn Rand fled the Soviet Union, wrote a book about individualism that a lot of people liked, got plenty of compliments, and formed a coterie of admirers. Her admirers found nicer and nicer things to say about her (happy death spiral), and she enjoyed it too much to tell them to shut up. She found herself with the power to crush those of whom she disapproved, and she didn't resist the temptation of power.
Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden carried on a secret extramarital affair. (With permission from both their spouses, which counts for a lot in my view. If you want to turn that into a "problem", you have to specify that the spouses were unhappy—and then it's still not a matter for outsiders.) When Branden was revealed to have "cheated" on Rand with yet another woman, Rand flew into a fury and excommunicated him. Many Objectivists broke away when news of the affair became public.
Who stayed with Rand, rather than following Branden, or leaving Objectivism altogether? Her strongest supporters. Who departed? The previous voices of moderation. (Evaporative cooling of group beliefs.) Ever after, Rand's grip over her remaining coterie was absolute, and no questioning was allowed.
The only extraordinary thing about the whole business, is how ordinary it was.
You might think that a belief system which praised "reason" and "rationality" and "individualism" would have gained some kind of special immunity, somehow...?
Well, it didn't.
It worked around as well as putting a sign saying "Cold" on a refrigerator that wasn't plugged in.
The active effort required to resist the slide into entropy wasn't there, and decay inevitably followed.
And if you call that the "unlikeliest cult in history", you're just calling reality nasty names.
Let that be a lesson to all of us: Praising "rationality" counts for nothing. Even saying "You must justify your beliefs through Reason, not by agreeing with the Great Leader" just runs a little automatic program that takes whatever the Great Leader says and generates a justification that your fellow followers will view as Reason-able.
So where is the true art of rationality to be found? Studying up on the math of probability theory and decision theory. Absorbing the cognitive sciences like evolutionary psychology, or heuristics and biases. Reading history books...
"Study science, not just me!" is probably the most important piece of advice Ayn Rand should've given her followers and didn't. There's no one human being who ever lived, whose shoulders were broad enough to bear all the weight of a true science with many contributors.
It's noteworthy, I think, that Ayn Rand's fictional heroes were architects and engineers; John Galt, her ultimate, was a physicist; and yet Ayn Rand herself wasn't a great scientist. As far as I know, she wasn't particularly good at math. She could not aspire to rival her own heroes. Maybe that's why she began to lose track of Tsuyoku Naritai.
Now me, y'know, I admire Francis Bacon's audacity, but I retain my ability to bashfully confess, "If I could go back in time, and somehow make Francis Bacon understand the problem I'm currently working on, his eyeballs would pop out of their sockets like champagne corks and explode."
I admire Newton's accomplishments. But my attitude toward a woman's right to vote, bars me from accepting Newton as a moral paragon. Just as my knowledge of Bayesian probability bars me from viewing Newton as the ultimate unbeatable source of mathematical knowledge. And my knowledge of Special Relativity, paltry and little-used though it may be, bars me from viewing Newton as the ultimate authority on physics.
Newton couldn't realistically have discovered any of the ideas I'm lording over him—but progress isn't fair! That's the point!
Science has heroes, but no gods. The great Names are not our superiors, or even our rivals, they are passed milestones on our road; and the most important milestone is the hero yet to come.
To be one more milestone in humanity's road is the best that can be said of anyone; but this seemed too lowly to please Ayn Rand. And that is how she became a mere Ultimate Prophet.
Eliezer: "As far as I know, [Rand] wasn't particularly good at math."
A relevant passage from Barbara Branden's biography of Rand:
"The subject [Rand] most enjoyed during her high school years, the one subject of which she never tired, was mathematics. 'My mathematics teacher was delighted with me. When I graduated, he said, "It will be a crime if you don't go into mathematics." I said only, "That's not enough of a career." I felt that it was too abstract, it had nothing to do with real life. I loved it, but I didn't intend to be an engineer or to go into any applied profession, and to study mathematics as such seemed too ivory tower, too purposeless---and I would say so today.' Mathematics, she thought, was a method. Like logic, it was an invaluable tool, but it was a means to an end, not an end in itself. She wanted an activity that, while drawing on her theoretical capacity, would unite theory and its practical application. That desire was an essential element in the continuing appeal that fiction held for her: fiction made possible the integration of wide abstract principles and their direct expression in and application to man's life." (Barbara Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand, page 35 of my edition)
I would note that high school math isn't really "math". At least I don't think of it that way. Maybe that's because I'm a "rare case": really good at math (though not super good like some people here) - 36 on math ACT, AIME qualifier - and then not at all exceptionally good at college math. It could have been psychological factors: maybe if I studied linear algebra now I'd understand it just fine (in fact, I suspect I would). That's just the justification for my observation is all.
From the impression I get from my acquaintances who grew up in the USSR, high school math over there was considerably more advanced than what passes as 'math' in most of North America's school system, and included linear algebra and calculus. I don't know if this is still the case.
And that's why people should follow Saint Max instead.
No fixed ideas! No fixed ideas! No fixed ideas!
i really enjoyed this essay. Thank-you!!
But, how can a set of ideas be a closed system? It's ridiculous. If someone were to tell me that Objectivism is closed, I would say, Ha! I just reopened it. Ha! Try and stop me from calling myself an Objectivist if I feel like it! Oh, they can trademark it, I supposed, but if they do, I could rename my system as Reasonablism and explain it as an improved form of what-Ayn-Rand-was-talking-about.
A community of people can close itself off, but ideas are helpless to resist whatever buccaneering minds may prey upon them. This harkens to Buckminster Fuller's cry that "true wealth only increases", because true wealth is knowledge and knowledge is infinitely replicable and shareable.
But what if the source of much of your material in this essay on Ayn Rand's life is itself inaccurate and untrue? Another author--James Valliant--who wrote on Ayn Rand's life studied her private journals (that were unavailable to Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Brandon). According to him, the air of cultishness was initiated and encouraged by Nathaniel Brandon, who monitored all of Rand's guests, visitors, and letters, to ensure that they were not antagonistic to Rand. Apparently, all this was done without Rand's knowledge until much later she found out, including Branden's continued deception of her.
And of course, Eleizer has already quoted the scripture of the prophet Brian, who sayeth:
"Look. You've got it all wrong. You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves. You're all individuals! You're all different! You've all got to work it out for yourselves! Don't let anyone tell you what to do!" (Life of Brian, scene 19)
She's not the Messiah. She's a very naughty girl.
'...Marx wrote a letter to the French workers' leader [...], accusing them of "revolutionary phrase-mongering" and of denying the value of reformist struggles; "if that is Marxism" — paraphrasing what Marx wrote — "then I am not a Marxist".'
From Wiki. It must take a lot of balls to say 'you have strayed from my original Idea, I want none of this', and risk marginalisation. Much easier to just be the idol.
Regarding Shermer on science being uncertain: I listen to a lot of skeptics, and I think he's merely saying that science cannot be literally 100% absolute in its certainty. Sure, a theory can explain all the existing evidence (known cases) and make accurate predictions its scope about unexamined cases. But empirical test of it can only ever approach 100% certainty and can never really achieve it.
Thats just my take on it.
But what if the source of much of your material in this essay on Ayn Rand's life is itself inaccurate and untrue? Another author--James Valliant--who wrote on Ayn Rand's life studied her private journals (that were unavailable to Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Brandon). According to him, the air of cultishness was initiated and encouraged by Nathaniel Brandon, who monitored all of Rand's guests, visitors, and letters, to ensure that they were not antagonistic to Rand.
A single anecdote should throw enough light on Rand's character to disprove this hypothesis. The libertarian economist Murray Rothbard was for a time part of Rand's circle of friends. But when Rand learned that Rothbard's wife was a Christian, she gave Rothbard six months to convert her to atheism, or else divorce her. Rothbard of course did neither, and was, accordingly, excommunicated soon thereafter.
There is a world of difference between "pretty damned" and "completely".
The problem is not being willing to assign confidence values so close to one that our brains can no longer tell the difference. The problem is doing so improperly.
I love the repeated metaphor of milestones, roads, and journeys. Ah, progress! The bliss that comes from the belief that the destination is known and inevitable!
That is one great blog post.
On a lighter note, this sordid affair did give us the excellent term "randroid".
Interesting stuff about Rand, but about Aristotle, just to keep the history honest, although he was perfectly capable of making important contributions to the math of the day (plane geometry; not the logic that he, with characteristic immodesty, informs us he actually invented!)--think of his response to Zeno's paradox--Aristotle didn't view math (again, qua geometry) as being fundamental to the deepest understanding of the universe. That view was well known to him through Plato and the Pythagoreans, but Aristotle explicitly rejected it in favor of a scien... (read more)
Great post. You nailed my main issues with objectivism. I think the material is still worth reading. Rand considered herself a philosopher and seemed to feel there was a lot to be gained from telling her people to read more philosophy and broaden their horizons, but when it came to scientific works she never expresses much awareness of the "state of the art" of her time. In fact, her epistemology makes assumptions about the operation of the brain (in behavioralism and learning) that I'm not sure could be made correctly with the state of neuroscience and related disciplines at the time.
I think a better way of looking at established science is that it is completely certain, barring further information, and being willing/able to consider further, possibly contradictory information.
I don't really think confidence values are useful in the absence of knowledge of how complete your current knowledge of a domain actually is.
I do wonder if Rand was a sort of an evangelist in a sense for a more reasoned-out philosophy than what existed and maybe she thought something like, "Okay, this is good enough for now--now I'm going to go out and spread the word of this particular philosophy." Certainty does have a certain rhetorical use, and if it persuades people away form a less reasonable approach, maybe it's worthwhile. If we all sat around waiting for perfect knowledge before we started talking about our ideas, we'd never speak.
Not to say I necessarily endorse Rand's app... (read more)
Where is the spoiler warning for those of us in the midst of this epic novel. I'd say more but I stopped reading at John Galt is...
People focus on the messenger more than on the message. Jesus preached individual freedom for which he was executed by the Authorities of the time. Now, dare I say, the majority of people who praise Jesus willingly empower the authority of their time to limit individual freedom, while at the same time preaching it.
We can argue that science proves that nothing is certain, but red and white blood cells keep you alive, and that's unlikely to change. We can't live at our current state of output if we didn't take this for granted. Thus, certainties exist at var... (read more)
I read Atlas this summer. It was hard going, but rewarding in the end. It made every other work of fiction I have read since seem easy. Ayn Rand's ideas are wonderfully different. They refreshed my thinking. However, I carried a 'cult warning' consciously in my head while reading and remembered it every time I had the urge to give up everything I owned and head to Colorado. In short, concerns about the cult of Ayn Rand put me off taking her as seriously as I might have otherwise done. (I'm not saying I would have gone to the gulch had I not had this proviso.)
I fear the word "cult" obscures many difficult issues. I'm no fan of Rand-fandom, but I think it is important to identify as clearly as possible just what signs people within such a group could use to see they have a problem. For example, "ostracizing anyone who dared contradict her" would seemingly apply to a great many, perhaps the majority, of ordinary human organizations.
Ah, but A is still A, no matter what any of you may say... :-).
James Bach, the gates of ijtihad are forever closed with the death of her Randness!
"If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."
Robin : "For example, "ostracizing anyone who dared contradict her" would seemingly apply to a great many, perhaps the majority, of ordinary human organizations." : Yes, but there is a difference between ostracizing = damning to the nethermost pits of hell with no hope of salvation and ostracizing = delaying your next pay increase by a couple of months. i.e., the cult-dom-ness is contingent on the existential nature of the ostracization.
I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you Eliezer.
Sure, let's say we accept that Ayn Rand turned out to be a mega-bitch mad control freak in later life?
Does that mean that 'A is A' is somehow wrong?
Can anyone say 'ad hominem fallacy'?
As an acquaintance of mine put it, "No, I'm sorry, Objectivism is not a theorem of the predicate calculus."
Ayn Rand was wrong in many regards - and her epistemology came after the definition for her philosophy, and should certainly be discounted as rationalization and little more - but any half-rational Objectivist will recognize that the philosophy should be regarded objectively, and her quite subjective views of personal values should be taken with a grain of salt.
Incidentally, if you're interested in her as a character, you may want to read We The Living (Which she herself described as a philosophical autobiography) - there are several hints scattered throughout it that she always had a love affair with power, that it was not merely something that she developed later in her life.
Nice essay but I think you'd benefit from studying the history of science a bit more. Thomas Kuhn's view of paradigms overturning one another is not supported; since Kepler and Galileo it has been almost wholly cumulative. You get can get Kepler's and Galileo's laws from Newton's and you can get Kepler's and Galileo's and Newton's from Einstein's; the surprises have largely been interpretive. Most of the limitations of Galileo's and Newton's and Einstein's laws were known within the framework of those systems. The sense in which the contemporaries of, say, Newton thought that the Newtonian system was "certain" was as a philosophical extension of his science: they thought the necessary extensions needed to address the problems would be broadly "Newtonian" in nature. Theirs was a failure of speculation and not science.
The "revolutions" have only been from systems of folk belief (sometimes sophisticated derivatives like Aristotelian thought) to modern science. Aristotle was not a mathematician of any sort or an experimentalist of any sort; that is, he was not in any way a scientist. His system was subject to sophisticated extension by the Alexandri... (read more)
Studying up on the math of probability theory and decision theory.
Eliezer or anyone else, which books on these subjects are good for beginners?
I think people have a built-in instinct towards self-preservation. What sometimes happens though, is people love something so much, such as a novel, that it becomes an inseparable part of who they are. And that's when cultish behavior starts, because an attack on that idea becomes an attack on them personally. To find fault with that idea is to find fault with them.
Now one thing (not the only thing) that made Objectivism different from other philosophies was that the founder presented it, not as a dry collection of premises and conclusions in an academic j... (read more)
If you want to object to Objectivism (hah) you should do so by discussing the ideas themselves, perhaps by citing passages that highlight basic ideas of the theory. Details of Rand's personal life are irrelevant. Hug the query.
There is an interesting kernel of an idea here: how can one establish a self-renewing philosophy? How can an intellectual leader construct a set of principles which specifically allow for their own revision? Of course, this is very similar to the question of how one can construct a Friendly AI, and the question of how one can construct a Friendly government.
Some have said this essay is a poor, ad hominem criticism of Objectivism. This isn't a criticism of Objectivism per se at all and isn't meant to be - it is intended to answer the question "how did a belief that ostensibly venerates reason and independent thought give rise to cult-like behaviour?" Thus discussion of the merits of Objectivism itself don't address the question, while an account of Rand's life sheds a lot of light.
Studying Rand's life is unlikely to be particularly useful. Studying the historical development of Objectivism as a group phenomenon is probably the most fruitful strategy.
I have noticed that people's beliefs about the nature of positive traits, either in general or specifically, has a great deal of influence on their behavior. When virtues are something that you are, rather than the result of how you act, people often stop bothering to act in the difficult and expensive ways necessary to maintain that virtue.
When virtues are internalized, and made part... (read more)
You might try Probability Theory: The Logic of Science by ET Jaynes, and Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference by Judea Pearl.
The case against those who see Objectivism as a closed system has been mounted within the ranks of Objectivists. Indeed, the very terms “open” and “closed” systems were coined in a published exchange I had with Leonard Peikoff in 1990, and the battle has been raging for years between the orthodox and the independent wings of the Objectivist movement. Fortunately, there are now many of us in the latter wing. Readers following this thread may be interested in my account of the issues, The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand: Truth and Toleration in the Objectivist Movement (http://www.atlassociety.org/David%20Kelley%20-%20Truth%20and%20Toleration.pdf). Chapter 5 in particular points out the many ways in which the “closed-system” model contradicts the Objectivist epistemology (pp. 73-85 in the PDF file).
David Kelley, founder & senior fellow, The Atlas Society
The atomic theory of chemistry is pretty damned certain.
Is it fair to point out that they have split the atom? I won't even bother mentioning QM.
Maybe you were the first to use the terms "open and closed systems" within Objectivist discourse and publications, but to claim that you "coined" them is utter nonsense. They have been in widespread usage within systems theory and related fields for well over a half century in works by such people as von Bertalanffy and Vernadsky, some of this actually going back as far as the 1920s, if not earlier. Please...
Just an aside, Rothbard and his coterie made fun of the Rand's cultishness (cf 'Mozart was a Red'), then promptly developed his own (big 'a') Austrian cult after splitting with Cato. Which goes to show recognizing the warning signs in others is no protection.
The atomic theory of chemistry is pretty damned certain.
I know I already made a comment about this, but I'm just so baffled by this statement that I am hoping for some clarification. I mean, I'm pretty sure that this entry was not written before 1897, so it is fair to hold you to know that they discovered the electron. I mean you can't really believe atomic theory of chemistry, let alone think it is pretty damned certain. The theory has held in the 19th century before they discovered electrons, protons, quantum mechanics, E=mc2, quarks, and all that.
Or ... (read more)
Do the words "atomic theory" have a single unambiguous meaning in the context you reply to? Or do you know somehow (telepathy?) the precise referent the writer refers to by the words?
Come on, Mellway. Search for a charitable interpretation of the writer's words. Do not stop your search till you have found an interpretation of the words that makes the sentence non-foolish and non-false.
From hanging out at Mises it seems like Walter Block, Stephan Kinsella and Roderick Long are perfectly okay with criticizing Rothbard. I haven't read much from Hoppe so I don't know how he stacks up, but he definitely smacks of right-deviationism. I've heard Agorists claim that they're the only true Rothbardians though.
I suppose you could say that the important truth of atomic chemistry has not been substantively refuted: that there really are objects such as carbon "atoms," nitrogen "atoms," etc. the individual and relational qualities of which determine the natures of the substances they constitute.
In other words, there is no real alternate hypothesis to the above explanation of substances' tendency to combine in small whole-number ratios, only refinements of that hypothesis, or things thought to be physically prior.
I put a lot of weight on Lavoisier's definition of these atoms. As I recall, he wrote something to the effect that whether or not these particles he was talking about are true atoms (in the original greek sense), they were indivisible to Lavoisier. Subsequently, the term "atom" has simply meant those kinds of bodies. If you assume that "atom" must always and only mean particles which are absolutely indivisible, then of course you will disagree, but I do not think the term was used exclusively that way, even among the 18th century chemists who worked out the theory's basics.
Is it just me or do others too notice that the quality of comments and dialog here is much higher than on most blogs?
Up the thread a piece, Vejay referred to a book called The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, by James Valliant.
Another author--James Valliant--who wrote on Ayn Rand's life studied her private journals (that were unavailable to Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Brandon [sic]). According to him, the air of cultishness was initiated and encouraged by Nathaniel Brandon, who monitored all of Rand's guests, visitors, and letters, to ensure that they were not antagonistic to Rand. Apparently, all this was done without Rand's knowledge until much later she found out, including Branden's continued deception of her.
In point of fact, Mr. Valliant's book is an unscholarly mess.
(1) Although his prime objective is to discredit The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden, Mr. Valliant frequently misquotes her book or imposes preposterous interpretations on what she said in it. See, for instance, Neil Parille's meticulous dissection at< http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4405&st=60>.
(2) Mr. Valliant insults his readers' intelligence by telling them that passages that he has just quoted from Ayn Rand's journals do not mean what anyone with a modicum of sens... (read more)
Is it just me or do others too notice that the quality of comments and dialog here is much higher than on most blogs?
It turns out that all the people who think otherwise have already left... :) But I agree with you! All hail Cultmaster Eliezer!
Passing thought. In another world, Lewis Little is the Lysenko of the Objectivist Party.
Not quite all.
With regard to mathematics, it was only with the intellectual help of Ayn Rand's epistemology that I independently discovered hypercomplex numbers. See the linked press release for more information.
The formal invalidation of the idea that certainty is impossible is that such a statement is a self-contradiction.
I recommend that you read Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology more than once. Struggle to understand each major idea in there, and then try to invalidate them, especially the axioms. Be honest in your arguments, and fight each idea to the bitter end. Eventually, you will start to realize, just as I did, that Rand was a lot smarter than I gave her credit for and knew what she was talking about, and that I wasn't as good and sophisticated as... (read more)
I thought this was all very standard stuff; as I was taught going on half a century ago, the atomic theory of matter simply says you cannot indefinitely divide a sample of something like nitrogen in half. That is, there is a smallest discrete unit of nitrogen that retains all it's chemical properties as opposed to the notion that nitrogen is like an infinitely divisble continuous fluid.
How is it being taught these days?
Having read The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged and Peikoff's OPAR, I've had enough time and material to reflect on Objectivism.
While Rand's contribution to rationalism was mostly admirable, Eliezer's analysis seems very fair. What's interesting, too, is that some of its contents overlaps with the article "The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand", written by Nathaniel Branden 25 years ago, which can be found in his website.
I recommend the reading.
As Branden (reasonably) states, some of Rand's major flaws were:
An entertainingly snarky essay about Ayn Rand.
It's hip with a lot of people to be snarky about Rand, but I've never seen anyone who does it also demonstrate they have the slightest clue what she had to say. I have my own disagreements with Rand, but I've appreciated her more and more as time as gone on. She's more LessWrong than most.
That was a really low quality and demeaning article. The author seems to enjoy taking cheap shots. For example zie also makes fun of people who cosplay Harry Potter. The majority of the article was basically name calling. Though the article did at least make a real argument about objectivist philosophy and taxation a (though it didn't engage with Rand's counter arguments).
I am not an objectivist but I found this article terrible and question why someone would enjoy it.
I found the article funny. That being said, I strongly suspect that most of this perceived funniness stemmed from the fact that it was mocking Objectivism, which I happen to disagree with, and that I would have found it much less funny had its wit been directed toward something I actually do agree with.
For instance, I used to lurk around RationalWiki rather often, and I confess I did appreciate the humor in their articles. Then I saw their article on LessWrong and EY, and the funniness quite dissipated. However, upon closer inspection, it wasn't because there was a shift in the humor itself; quite the opposite, in fact! RW was mocking a cause they perceived as crazy in exactly the same way that they mocked other causes, such as creationism. However, this humor, when directed at LW/EY, suddenly started feeling much less benign and much more like a personal attack. And it was then that I realized exactly how members of other causes might feel upon reading mocking articles about their movement, and why something that had previously seemed like harmless fun to me might not be so harmless.
This is not to say Objectivists, creationists, or the like are correct. It is to say, however, that... (read more)
It seems possible that some with far-out ideas turn to rationalism as a natural part of their defense of them - since if your beliefs are rational, then that makes them OK.
In such cases, the far-out ideas would come first, and the interest in rational thinking would follow along afterwards.
The interest in rational thought should normally be fairly theraputic. However, much depends on how deep it goes. Objectivism may not score too highly there.
Ha! It is a horrible crime that I read this, and see in it a criticism of any faith who believes that the Bible is the end-all, be-all of God's word to this or any earth?
Why do Objectivists so frequently believe that anthropogenic global warming is not real? (It appears to be the consensus opinion on the Objectivism forum.) This belief doesn't seem to have anything to do with Objectivism, and Ayn Rand certainly never mentioned global warming.
It probably gets pattern matched to 'state-ist hysteria being used to crush industry.'
Maths isn't very relevant to Rand's philosophy. What's more relevant about her Aristoteleanism is her attitude to modern science; she was fairly ignorant. and fairly sceptical, of evolution, QM, and relativity.
That's hardly the start of it. She opposed relativity and QM, and fence-sat on Evolution.
I don't think "1957" is mcuh of an excuse either, particularly about evolution. For another thing, she never wavered till her death in the 80s. It makes no sense to focus on Bayes, unle... (read more)
I dare say many a guru or cult leader has similar "permission". It often isn't taken to ecuse their actions, because people recognise that such permission can be browbeaten ot of people by someone who seems to them to be an authority figure.
Atleast Atlas Shrugged is written in a way that suggests cultishness. All good people are good at everything, good looking and always right. Enemies are stupid, wrong and ugly. There are no bad sides in good ideas or good sides in bad ideas.
Except when they aren't, like when Lillean Rearden is beautiful with exceptional social intelligence or when Robert Stadler is the smartest, most accomplished, man of science in the story.
I agree with this essay, but find a more cogent critique of objectivism is here: http://www.atlassociety.org/sites/default/files/The_Contested_Legacy_of_Ayn_Rand.pdf --I also notice Kelley himself linked to it below.
For anyone who enjoys this thread, I also highly recommend the work of a fellow libertarian, here: http://ariwatch.com/ARIvsRonPaul.htm
It's also interesting that before she decided against it, Ayn Rand described her own politics as "libertarian," http://ariwatch.com/AynRandsPoliticalLabel.htm
One of the first things I read on this sit... (read more)
Technically, the fact that her ultimate fictional hero was John Galt is a spoiler too.