Challenge: Explain Objectivism While Standing on One Foot

 

As the story goes, the great Rabbi Hillel, whose life spanned the birth of Christ, was asked by a Gentile to explain the Torah while he stood on one foot. In other words, “give me the condensed version.”

Hillel’s response has since been identified as the Golden Rule:

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and study.”

Ever since a pro-life activist friend of mine described the problem of trying to converse with “objectivists” on her campus missions, I’ve been trying to figure out what “Objectivism” is. I won’t pretend to have done a lot of study on the subject, because, frankly, it sounds like some sort of materialist Gnosticism to me, but recently my curiosity was piqued again by Robert Tracinski’s article on The Federalist: Confessions of a Reluctant Culture Warrior.

Let’s be honest. It’s kind of thrilling when one of your occasional allies seems to concede some of your most cherished arguments. So I’m reading Tracinski’s article with Sally’s (as in When Harry Met Sally) diner enthusiasm:

“…my concern that the left was using the issue to secure the imprimatur of the state for homosexual relationships so they could then use anti-discrimination laws as a bludgeon against religious holdouts.”

Yes!

“Once you gain social and political power, you hold on to it by making your preferred views mandatory, a catechism everyone must affirm, while suppressing all heretical views. In this case, to gain social acceptance of homosexuality, you make the affirmation of gay marriages mandatory while officially suppressing any dissenting religious views.”

Yes! Yes!

The left’s operational concept of freedom is that you are allowed to do and say what you like—so long as you stay within a certain proscribed window of socially acceptable deviation. The purpose of the gay marriage campaign is simply to change the parameters of that window, extending it to include the gay, the queer, the transgendered—and to exclude anyone who thinks that homosexuality is a sin or who wants to preserve the traditional concept of marriage.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

And then, after saying some equally interesting and counter-narrative things about ShirtStorm, GamerGate, MetalGate, gendered toys, and the UVA rape haox (by golly, I think he’s onto a trend!), he spoils the whole mood by offering up Randian Objectivism as the answer.

Ugh. Just give up your God and religion, and we shall overcome the totalitarian Left. Ri-ight.

In the brief reading I have done on the subject, the most succinct (and humorous) explanation of Objectivism is:

There is no God; man is made in His image. /Go read Atlas Shrugged.

Sorry, I can’t remember who gets the attribution, however that last bit is my addition. Obviously it’s someone who’s not a fan.

I’m opening the floor to all comers, though. Anyone have a Twitter-length explanation for Objectivism? And maybe your explanation would benefit by contrasting it with other, better known philosophies — worldviews?

 

 

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  1. user_358258 Member
    user_358258
    @RandyWebster

    I’ve always thought of objectivism as full-bore libertarianism.  Maybe I’ve just been wrong.

    • #1
  2. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Randy Webster:I’ve always thought of objectivism as full-bore libertarianism. Maybe I’ve just been wrong.

    Well, that would explain why I don’t understand it. No one can tell us what it is!

    • #2
  3. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Ayn Rand was once literally asked to do this. I’m writing this is a hotel room near Time Square, soI’m not going to try to get the formatting right, but I’m going to just copy and paste:
    http://aynrandlexicon.com/ayn-rand-ideas/introducing-objectivism.htmlhttp://aynrandlexicon.com/ayn-rand-ideas/introducing-objectivism.html

    At a sales conference at Random House, preceding the publication of Atlas Shrugged, one of the book salesmen asked me whether I could present the essence of my philosophy while standing on one foot. I did as follows:

    Metaphysics: Objective Reality
    Epistemology: Reason
    Ethics: Self-interest
    Politics: Capitalism
    If you want this translated into simple language, it would read: 1. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” or “Wishing won’t make it so.” 2. “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.” 3. “Man is an end in himself.” 4. “Give me liberty or give me death.”

    If you held these concepts with total consistency, as the base of your convictions, you would have a full philosophical system to guide the course of your life. But to hold them with total consistency—to understand, to define, to prove and to apply them—requires volumes of thought. Which is why philosophy cannot be discussed while standing on one foot—nor while standing on two feet on both sides of every fence. This last is the predominant philosophical position today, particularly in the field of politics.

    My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:

    Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.

    Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.

    Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.

    The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

    • #3
  4. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    So, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Ayn Rand is so awesome she answered your challenge 60 years before you made it.

    • #4
  5. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    @Randy: “Full bore libertarianism” as you put it, would probably be anarcho-capitalisim, which isn’t Objectivism. Rand never self indentified as a libertarian (she disdained the libertarian movement, calling them “hippies of the right”). She also considered anarcho-capitalism to be irrational, but that probably means she never read any of it. Rand herself was a minarchist who favored a “night-watchman” state.

    • #5
  6. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    I’ll also add that while many (most, depending on how you count it) Objectivists are libertarians (with a small-L), its not the other way around. There are plenty of libertarians who aren’t Objectivists. Mama Toad is a good example. She’s as libertarian as I am, but most certainly not an Objectivist.

    • #6
  7. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Fred Cole:So, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Ayn Rand is so awesome she answered your challenge 60 years before you made it.

    Hillel was more succinct.

    I realize you’re unable to format, but, if you get the chance, would you indicate where Rand stops talking and you start?

    • #7
  8. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    So, what happens when the ethic of self-interest runs into the question of means versus ends, for example?

    How does Objectivism inform the choices of a parent who suddenly finds exorbitant costs to his self-interest in his child? Say, particularly, his handicapped child?

    I think you would agree that Objectivism has its basis in materialism, yes?

    There’s a whole lot here that my sleep aid won’t allow me engage with much longer. Hope you’ll be around to answer more questions tomorrow, Fred.

    • #8
  9. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Fred Cole:I’ll also add that while many (most, depending on how you count it) Objectivists are libertarians (with a small-L), its not the other way around.There are plenty of libertarians who aren’t Objectivists.

    That would include me as well.

    • #9
  10. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Western Chauvinist:There’s a whole lot here that my sleep aid won’t allow me engage with much longer.

    Druggie ;-)

    • #10
  11. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Western Chauvinist:There’s a whole lot here that my sleep aid won’t allow me engage with much longer.

    Druggie ;-)

    Gotta have something to dim out that full moon! Or, I guess I could stay up and talk about Objectivism all night with Freddddsssszzzzzzzz….

    • #11
  12. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    Here you go, as derived from my study of “Objectivism” when in college.

    Watered down Thomism gleaned from secondary sources, and without the deep subtlety of thought found in Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle, coupled with a misreading of Kant.

    As I recall, I got an “A,” but was deeply embarrassed at having chosen so meager a philosophical system as Objectivism as set out in An Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

    • #12
  13. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    You don’t owe nobody nuttin’ and neither do they.

    • #13
  14. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    In that first reply, everything below the link is a quote from Rand. And she literally lifted one foot when she said it.

    • #14
  15. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    It’s a full amd clean explanation of her philisophy in less than 400 words. If you want more brevity than that, I think you’re asking too much.

    • #15
  16. src Inactive
    src
    @src

    Within the political sphere, how about “liberty is the best protection from tyranny”?

    • #16
  17. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Western Chauvinist: I think you would agree that Objectivism has its basis in materialism, yes?

    Okay, so let’s define materialism:

    Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.

    Here’s how Rand put it:

    Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.

    So yeah, matter is the fundamental substance in nature, not, like magic or something.

    • #17
  18. Isaiah's Job Member
    Isaiah's Job
    @IsaiahsJob

    Here goes: Develop your Sense of Life. Don’t interfere with me developing mine.

    ….or at least that’s the positive core of what I’ve taken away from reading Rand.

    • #18
  19. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    I think Percival is pretty close.

    I was a pretty hardcore Objectivist in high school, I even gave an objectivist screed as a valedictory address.

    As I grow older, even as I remain a single household, I realize that Objectivism does not comport with the reality that humans are social animals. The true economic unit is not the individual but the family.  Within the family, reason, self-interest, and capitalism, and even sometimes reality do not apply. It takes an odd person to remain an objectivist after they have children.

    • #19
  20. Davematheny3000@yahoo.com Member
    Davematheny3000@yahoo.com
    @PainterJean

    I’ve read most of Rand’s works, mostly in my long-ago atheist days. I considered myself an Objectivist at the time, or an enthusiastic fan at the very least. She was an atheist, and to say she was contemptuous of believers would be putting it mildly (she once told Wm. F. Buckley that he was “too intelligent to believe in God”).

    If you want to see some real Randroids, go to an Objectivist forum. There you will find people dissecting every aspect of their lives in the most dogmatic, fanatic manner — they have their sacred books, their personal likes in music and literature often ape Ayn Rand’s, and deviation from the philosophy is quickly condemned.

    In short, though Ayn Rand had excellent insights on the destructive tendencies of welfare states and collectivism in general, she was extremely narrow-minded and harsh. And, frankly, one can’t logically hold objective values outside of a deity — she never bridged the “ought”- “is” gap.

    • #20
  21. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Z in MT: It takes an odd person to remain an objectivist after they have children.

    That’s what I’ve been thinking.

    • #21
  22. Davematheny3000@yahoo.com Member
    Davematheny3000@yahoo.com
    @PainterJean

    Here is a sample of what I mentioned earlier — this is from the Objectivism online forum:

    Whenever I go to a wedding and a rehearsal dinner where everyone prays and the preacher makes some evil speech about self sacrifice, that no one is perfect, and how self interest doesn’t matter I quietly don’t participate but their immoralities make me very uncomfortable and I begin to feel unsure of myself even though I’m perfectly aware of the truth (that perfection can be achieved, that real love is selfish etc.). When people pray I ignore what they say and don’t put my head down because I don’t think it’s right to pretend that thanking the lord for everything you have done from your own intelligence is the right way to think. All of the people who subconsciously know what I know and continue to lie feed a chain of more serious immoralities that account for the pitiful state of society which we all have to live in. First of all, I love both of my siblings for their independance and intelligence and that’s why I care so much, they have been great role models to me and have taught me a lot. Their weddings were special and they paid a lot of money for them and it bothers me very much that they have to submit themselves to tradition and petty emotionalism from their in-laws. Here it is, my accomplished, independent sister’s special day, and she has to pay for the preacher to make a speech about evil values which are not what made her find love or became a successful lawyer.

    I’m sure many members here have had to deal with these kinds of situations, so I want to know, what is the best way to react? How can you honestly defend your values without enabling their in-laws to hassle them and make their life worse?

    Need I say more?

    • #22
  23. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Fred Cole:

    Western Chauvinist: I think you would agree that Objectivism has its basis in materialism, yes?

    Okay, so let’s define materialism:

    Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.

    Here’s how Rand put it:

    So yeah, matter is the fundamental substance in nature, not, like magic or something.

    Right. I didn’t mean to suggest the pejorative “materialist” version.

    So objectivists believe in absolute truth? [Is “believe” the right word? Maybe “assert?”] And that truth is knowable through reason? And is made explicit in matter/nature?

    Is this (roughly) the claim Tracinski makes to “science?”

    • #23
  24. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Painter Jean:Here is a sample of what I mentioned earlier — this is from the Objectivism online forum:

    Whenever I go to a wedding and a rehearsal dinner where everyone prays and the preacher makes some evil speech about self sacrifice, that no one is perfect, and how self interest doesn’t matter I quietly don’t participate but their immoralities make me very uncomfortable and I begin to feel unsure of myself even though I’m perfectly aware of the truth (that perfection can be achieved, that real love is selfish etc.). When people pray I ignore what they say and don’t put my head down because I don’t think it’s right to pretend that thanking the lord for everything you have done from your own intelligence is the right way to think. All of the people who subconsciously know what I know and continue to lie feed a chain of more serious immoralities that account for the pitiful state of society which we all have to live in. First of all, I love both of my siblings for their independance and intelligence and that’s why I care so much, they have been great role models to me and have taught me a lot. Their weddings were special and they paid a lot of money for them and it bothers me very much that they have to submit themselves to tradition and petty emotionalism from their in-laws. Here it is, my accomplished, independent sister’s special day, and she has to pay for the preacher to make a speech about evil values which are not what made her find love or became a successful lawyer.

    I’m sure many members here have had to deal with these kinds of situations, so I want to know, what is the best way to react? How can you honestly defend your values without enabling their in-laws to hassle them and make their life worse?

    Need I say more?

    I’m reading The Screwtape Letters for my book club. Don’t confuse me. ;-)

    • #24
  25. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Western Chauvinist: So objectivists believe in absolute truth?

    Absolute truth about what?

    • #25
  26. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Fred Cole:

    Western Chauvinist: So objectivists believe in absolute truth?

    Absolute truth about what?

    About anything. Um, non-aggression is a moral good?

    I’m not familiar enough with the language. Give me something to work with.

    • #26
  27. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I pretty much bagged the whole Objectivism scene when I decided that there was no rational basis for concluding that John Dillinger was not an Objectivist.

    “Self-interest” can not be the underlay of a meaningful system of ethics.

    • #27
  28. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Percival:I pretty much bagged the whole Objectivism scene when I decided that there was no rational basis for concluding that John Dillinger was not an Objectivist.

    “Self-interest” can not be the underlay of a meaningful system of ethics.

    Right. That’s what I’m having trouble with.

    From Spitzer’s Ten Universal Principles, subsection Ethics:

    • The Principle of Non-Maleficence (seems to comport pretty well with the non-aggression principle)
    • The Principle of Consistent Ends and Means (I don’t see how the objectivist ethic of self-interest reasons toward anything but the ends justify the means (my self-interested ends, any means necessary. In this it seems indistinguishable from Alinsky’s rules)
    • The Principle of Full Human Potential (don’t think we’ve touched on this yet).
    • #28
  29. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Western Chauvinist: Right. That’s what I’m having trouble with.

    Like there’s a lot more to it.  Objectivism includes the NAP.  But explaining how you get there is something that can’t be done at twitter length.

    • #29
  30. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I figured you’d bring up the NAP, so here goes, Fred…

    Could Bernie Madoff be an Objectivist?

    • #30