Thursday, November 19, 2009

Objectivish: Just Callin' It As I See It...

Objectivish: my subjective thoughts on the objective (and Objectivist) world.

Why "Objectivish" and not outright "Objectivist?" Short answer: this is basically me presenting MY opinions and thoughts on the current state of the world, thoughts grounded and informed by Objectivism. These are my thoughts and opinion, not Ayn Rand's. I take responsibility for the thoughts and opinions expressed as my own. In other words, "just callin' it as I see it."

Long-winded answer:

Because I don't claim to speak for Objectivism or Ayn Rand. So why use the name? I do consider myself "Objectivist," and proudly so! And while I don't consider myself a "disciple" or "worshipper," I don't feel the need to hide the influence out of fear of the negative opinions of those who hate all that Objectivism stands for. I am grateful for the works of Ayn Rand and couldn't ignore her if I tried. "Objectivish" states my premises right up front. If Christians and Muslims and Marxists and other assorted ideologues can do so, so can I. If you have an problem with Ayn Rand or Objectivism, that's you're problem. If you have a problem ADMITTING you admire Ayn Rand or Objectivism, that too, is you're problem, not mine.) But this is not an "Objectivist"™ blog; this is basically me presenting MY opinions and thoughts, not those of Ayn Rand, even if they are formed from an Objectivist grounding. Similarly, I take responsibility for the thoughts and opinions expressed as my own. In other words, "just callin' it as I see it."

Specifically, I'm starting this blog as an outlet for things I've said and things I'd like to say on topics from an Objectivist point of view, or topics related to Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. While there are a myriad of other forums to do so, I've found the online world of discussion to be one of diminishing returns. Personally, while I value Objectivism greatly, I do have my criticisms, right or wrong, refuse to stifle my questions and concerns. Conversely, while I don't believe in censorship, there are just some criticisms out there that are simply ill-formed, malicious, or flat-out WRONG, and I don't want to share the same online space. (Racist class-warmongering participants come to mind...). The in-between, of course, is vast and varied...there are people and topics I would consider that others would chastise me for, such as my appreciation of rock music, or a willingness to consider anarchist arguments, or for being gay. And then there are the many flame wars, schisms, and cockfights, and the Objectivist variety are no exception, generating more heat than light. But I think there is also something about the nature of online forums itself that contributes to this, and that's no good for Objectivists or Objectivism; not only is there the concern of being a "good Objectivist", there's the concern of being a good member of the various sub-factions. The oxymoron of "Soloists" comes to mind, but it's certainly not the only one...and let's not forget the "Loyalty Oath" of the Binswanger list.) Even those accused of dogmatism (Noodlefooders) are criticized for not towing the line closely enough (The Forum), and even the most "liberal" are accused of squashing debate and heavy-handed control (Ojectivist Living). Enemies becoming friends, friends becoming enemies...There's a lot of demand for dedication of truth, and a lot of confusion over the truth, of demand for loyalty to truth and in spite of the truth...and trying to remain an individual at the same time?

It's all too much.

It's a scene straight out of Monty Python's Life of Brian, (a scene constantly invoked in the O'ist world, ironically): "You must think for yourselves!" "Yes, we must think for ourselves!" "You're all individuals!" "Yes! We're all individuals!" "You're all different!" Yes, we ARE all different!"

"I'm not..."

Seriously, if this is the price of being "right," I'd rather take the risk of being wrong.

On all this, I am in agreement with Leonard Peikoff, who discussed this in his sixth podcast. In answer to a question about his opinion on "Objectivist clubs and advocacy groups" and their role in "spreading the right ideas," he responded that: might get some information or some leads from it. But on the whole, I think the potential harm intellectual you get from such groups is greater than the values you put out unless you're very selective and careful in what topics you decide to take part in and how you take your part.

Yaron Brook offered his perspective as well, commenting on those potential hazards of participants who are taken as "experts" when that may not be the case. I'd agree, from experience, with these observations, and include such problems as anonymity and outright lying. This leads to the pitfall of signing on to a forum dedicated to Objectivism with the expectation of speaking with like-minded people, only to find yourself arguing with people who may only have a casual interest, or even an outright antithetical or hostile approach. You find yourself having not only to verify what is said, but the premises behind what is said. On a forum with a multitude of posters, you can find yourself arguing with others holding multiple and conflicted premises...all at once! Then there are people who are simply wrong, or misguided, or confused. The flipside to this has the equally potentially hazardous effect of discouraging ANY dissent or debate (whether outright or through implication; I am not thinking per se of moderation or forum rules, but the "read between the lines" type of controls). These are problems for any type of forum (hell, I've seen flame wars on Youtube videos dedicated to genteel ballads!), but it's particularly troubling for sites who aim to present themselves as forums for objective, rational discussion and debate. Even more disturbing to see "social metaphysics" on forums dedicated to individualism.

Am I "innocent"? To quote Z.Z. Top, "I've been good, I've been bad..." Some of this I chalk up to honest error, other things out of anger, and yet other things out of self-defense. I hope I've corrected my wrongs for the the former two, and I don't apologize for the latter...but it's all made me "check my premises".

Similarly, I've seen the same behavior from others online, some good, some bad, and some downright ugly. Without excusing individual responsibility, I've wondered if there wasn't something else contributing to this, something inherent in the format. Indeed, the idea "social networking" seems almost antithetical to the ideas of Objectivism; not because socializing or networking is bad in itself, but that the current dominant philosophies favor what Objectivism calls "second-handedness." I see most online activities to be digital versions of those depicted in Rand's The Fountainhead. When one sees the multiple polls on sites like Facebook, I think of the scene where Peter Keating is conducting opinion polls, "to find out what he thinks." When I think of the reality shows that carry over into the web that pander for ratings, I hear Gail Wynand: "I give the public what it wants-including your column, Mr. Toohey!" Gail Wynand was based on real-life yellow-journalist William Randolph Hearst, whose influence lives on via the twitterings of Myspace, Facebook, and the like. Only today, the paper is digital, and one man does not control the press. So, if Howard Roark didn't build in order to have clients, but had clients in order to build, a writer today can do the same with relative ease, bypassing the "compromises" of social sites (including "Objectivist" sites), and build from an individual blog. A blog enables one to speak their mind, right or wrong, on their own turf. Conversely, the content, right or wrong, is the responsibility of said blogger. For the reader, they can take the content as they will, right or wrong, and conversely, are responsible, right or wrong, for how they take that content. The trader principle in action.

Does this mean that one should only write from the privacy of an individual blog, never to venture out into that world wide web? I don't think one needs to build a wall of "Floydian" proportions per se; man is, after all, a social creature. And I don't hold to a "party line" of orthodoxy that limits debate or discussion to "sanctioned" topics. I don't believe in ad hominem attacks, or malicious behavior generally; I'm a live-and-let-live kind of guy. At the same time..."judge...and prepare to be judged." I don't hold Ayn Rand up to be infallible or as a goddess; same for her critics. (You can hide a Branden behind a pope-bubble all you want, but they're still visible.) I do believe one should be selective, not "opened-minded," but "active-minded." As far as joining online "groups," I think Rand's advice on political action has some weight here as well:

Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to “do something.” By “ideological” (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals...The only groups one may properly join today are ad hoc committees, i.e., groups organized to achieve a single, specific, clearly defined goal, on which men of differing views can agree. In such cases, no one may attempt to ascribe his views to the entire membership, or to use the group to serve some hidden ideological purpose (and this has to be watched very, very vigilantly).

Sounds like a pretty sane personal policy to me. It's possible to find, or create. But for now, I'm finding the personal blog a more personal solution.

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