Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Ayn Rand U?

This probably qualifies as old news by now, but apparently some Objectivists are trying to open for-profit (what else?) liberal-arts colleges in Maine and North Carolina. The first is, so far, on track to open in the fall of 2007.

Discussions - 30 Comments

I can’t imagine a more hellish place to attend college. All those thin-lipped, Puritanical drones bouncing off one another, talking about looters and hero-god-capitalist-Atlases. Humorless, drab, anti-human...ugh. Rand-zombies are ok in small numbers (to cancel out the Marx-zombies), but a whole campus full of them?

Wouldn’t a for profit university have to pay corporate income tax? I think the corporate rate quickly jumps to 35%. Having to pay taxes would seem to put this college at a competitive disadvantage with almost every other college.

And they’ll give nothing but objective tests...

Peter’s lame pun got me to thinking: what exactly would an Objectivist education look like, and consist in? I would be interested in hearing how it would consider and combine the heterogenous disciplines and the various elements of modern society and of Western civilization? In other words, how would its characteristic "worldview" (if "it" has one) would approach, consider, and appropriate the teeming variety and heterogenity of life, society, and Western civilization? An honest query on my part.

If such a university had athletic teams, I wonder what their mascot would be. My vote is for the Robber Barons. And metallic gold and silver should be the team colors. Maybe with Hundred Dollar Bill Green as a trim color.

And "Happy Days are here again!" as the fight song right?

This proposed experiment sounds faintly like the charter school experiment now competing against public education. Ayn Randian sentiment, "One plays the best golf against the best golfers".

Can you imagine the "study groups" at such a place? Greek organizations? Man, someone sure could write a satire on this idea :)

I am incompetent when it comes to linking... just go to www.cordair.com for Objectivist/Romantic Realist art...and ask yourself...is this not superior to what passes as art elsewhere in the culture? (certainly better than graffiti :)

Also ask yourself as you admire the art if this is the expression of thin lipped puritanical drones, the humorless, or the anti-human...

Certainly it is not the expression of angst put foward by the ghetto thug in his street graffiti...does this make it anti-human?

Sorry Dain, the Simpsons beat you to it... at the objectivist school Bart is required to write A is A...B is B... C is C... (you get the point.)

They did? Darn.

I would argue that the best political cartoonists today are objectivists. Check out www.coxandforkum.com

Pretty good cartoons, John, but I like these just as well.

I have a hard time understanding why the conservative brand sold by the Ashbrook Center is opposed to Rand. The Center practically tried to ruin the career of a professor who sought to introduce the book to students.

Instead of silly comments, could someone here actually articulate why the philosophy is so opposed to for what the Center stands? (what does it stand for anyway? when I was a student there, it was life, liberty, and property. but, as I wrote above, even then Rand was viewed as a threat.)

So, I guess this is a long way of asking: what don’t you all like about it?

I’ve only read Atlass Shrugged and We the Living, and although I think Rand ultimately fails in her argument in the details, the ideas in a bigger picture don’t seem all that offensive.

soon to be the best colleges in the nation

Isn’t We the Living a great read? maybe Dain would like it because it has a bad (realistic) ending for the hero.

Below are the "Essentials of Objectivism" as found on the official website of the Ayn Rand Institute(http://www.aynrand.org/)

Look for my critique after each "essential"

THE ESSENTIALS OF OBJECTIVISM

Metaphysics
“Reality, the external world, exists independent of man’s consciousness, independent of any observer’s knowledge, beliefs, feelings, desires or fears. This means that A is A, that facts are facts, that things are what they are — and that the task of man’s consciousness is to perceive reality, not to create or invent it.” Thus Objectivism rejects any belief in the supernatural — and any claim that individuals or groups create their own reality.

>>>Dain says: Agreed, there is a really real world external to individuals. Nonetheless, there is also the social realm, and in it what people believe holds consequences for themselves and other societies (e.g., the Nazis). The assumption that the social world is somehow less real for humans than the physical world is dangerous and ignorant. Moreover, the notion that nothing exists that we cannot perceive is simply a statement of faith. Other dimensions could well exist – our senses are limited by biological evolution…we may well be missing something. These Objectivist folks need desperately to read some logical positivism or even some A.E. Van Vogt (of null-A fame) – just to loosen up their thinking.

Epistemology
“Man’s reason is fully competent to know the facts of reality. Reason, the conceptual faculty, is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses. Reason is man’s only means of acquiring knowledge.” Thus Objectivism rejects mysticism (any acceptance of faith or feeling as a means of knowledge), and it rejects skepticism (the claim that certainty or knowledge is impossible).

>>>Dain says: Who says? The idea that our Cromagnon brain is completely up to understanding the universe is another faith statement. This one is rooted in the Judeo-Christian (mostly Protestant) tradition that believes that our Single World created by a Single Reasonable God can be understood by his Children. ‘Taint necessarily so. Again, we see best in yellow light, we exist in a narrow band of PSI, our hearing is limited, and our brainpower is rather trifling (in my opinion). I too would reject mysticism (I am an empiricist at heart), but you MUST be agnostic about skepticism. We perceive what we can, and reason as best we can, and it may still not be enough. That’s realistic.

Human Nature
Man is a rational being. Reason, as man’s only means of knowledge, is his basic means of survival. But the exercise of reason depends on each individual’s choice. “Man is a being of volitional consciousness.” “That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call ‘free will’ is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom. This is the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and character.” Thus Objectivism rejects any form of determinism, the belief that man is a victim of forces beyond his control (such as God, fate, upbringing, genes, or economic conditions).

>>>Dain says: Laughably stupid. Man is at best a part-timer when it comes to “reason.” He is deeply influenced by habit and custom, his rationality is strongly bounded by his environment, and his animal drives imbue everything he does. As I’ve said in a previous forum, man can be characterized as socially-oriented, hierarchical, clique-prone, and deeply sexual. True, he is also inquisitive and brainy at times, but this is not his typical modus operandi. Seriously, would we have the WWF or Reality TV if man were responsibly “reasonable?” Face it – Rand described man as she wanted him to be, not as he is.

As far as the rejection of determinism, this is also flat wrong. Genes and environment are crucial determinants of who we become. Tons of social science on this. Randians supposedly respect science and empiricism (i.e., REASON), but if so why don’t they ever seem to read any science?


Ethics
“Reason is man’s only proper judge of values and his only proper guide to action. The proper standard of ethics is: man’s survival qua man — i.e., that which is required by man’s nature for his survival as a rational being (not his momentary physical survival as a mindless brute). Rationality is man’s basic virtue, and his three fundamental values are: reason, purpose, self-esteem. Man — every man — is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.” Thus Objectivism rejects any form of altruism — the claim that morality consists in living for others or for society.

>>>Dain says: These words chase one another. Rationality (whatever that is) isn’t a virtue per se but an ability. Likewise, reason, purpose, self-esteem – these aren’t values, but rather states of mind. And as far as man’s being an “end in himself,” nonsense. Man cannot exist without community…we are really poor animals (we aren’t fast, our teeth aren’t sharp, we don’t have a protective coat of fur, and our cleverness doesn’t always make up for these deficits) – we must live in groups to survive. Those groups have rules, and occasionally those groups call for sacrifices, which people generally make for the sake of themselves, their children, their friends, and their beliefs. THAT is the ethical standard of humanity – community living that balances the needs of individuals with the needs of collectives. There is always tension, and no perfect balance. Sorry.

It is only in our modern age, when the market links us “invisibly” to thousand and millions of other people (i.e., those who make our automobiles, our food, and so on), that it becomes so easy to slip into this radical- individualist foolishness. We FEEL independent, but in fact we aren’t.

Politics
“The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that no man has the right to seek values from others by means of physical force — i.e., no man or group has the right to initiate the use of physical force against others. Men have the right to use force only in self-defense and only against those who initiate its use. Men must deal with one another as traders, giving value for value, by free, mutual consent to mutual benefit. The only social system that bars physical force from human relationships is laissez-faire capitalism. Capitalism is a system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which the only function of the government is to protect individual rights, i.e., to protect men from those who initiate the use of physical force.” Thus Objectivism rejects any form of collectivism, such as fascism or socialism. It also rejects the current “mixed economy” notion that the government should regulate the economy and redistribute wealth.

>>>Dain says: This sounds good, but it is impractical. We are communal animals, and that requires collective goods (i.e., road, parks, civil law courts, land-use rules, etc.). Collective goods require governance (for mobilization and coordination) and penalties for “free-riding” (i.e., the act of enjoying benefits without contributing to their production). Moreover, individual rights and property rights depend on the strength of collectives. These are well-known principles in the social science literature – without governance and “incentives” you get zilch – and the community suffers for lack of collective goods. And if governance fails for lack of public goods, eventually private goods become vulnerable. Bottom line: We occasionally have to ‘nudge’ our neighbors into contributing value to the community. In a good society, such “contributions” should be modest, as infrequent as possible, and evenly borne by members of the community.

As for altruism…why damn something that barely exists? Rather, damn pseudo-altruism, whereby guilt is used to extract “contributions” unevenly from the community.

As for capitalism…it’s an economic system that meshes fairly well with human nature. Nonetheless, while Smith was right about the invisible hand providing the greatest good to the greatest number, let’s not romanticize laissez-faire capitalism. It’s had its own share of coercion (e.g., Rockerfeller and Standard Oil), and it’s no cure-all (e.g., Cheez-Whiz and TV commercials for condoms and female hygiene products!) Ugh.


Esthetics
“Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.” The purpose of art is to concretize the artist’s fundamental view of existence. Ayn Rand described her own approach to art as “Romantic Realism”: “I am a Romantic in the sense that I present men as they ought to be. I am Realistic in the sense that I place them here and now and on this earth.” The goal of Ayn Rand’s novels is not didactic but artistic: the projection of an ideal man: “My purpose, first cause and prime mover is the portrayal of Howard Roark or John Galt or Hank Rearden or Francisco d’Anconia as an end in himself — not as a means to any further end.”


>>>Dain says: What kind of oxymoron is this? According to the first “essential” above, only a single external reality exists (A=A), and people can’t create their own realities. But now we find out that the whole point of art is to “concretize the artist’s fundamental view of existence.” To what purpose? Here Rand admits that she is describing man as he ought to be, not as he is. Why does this need doing? Is she trying to guide people to a different SOCIAL reality? If self-expression is only for self-actualization, why the need to communicate the “art” to others?

This epitomizes the self-contradictory nature of Objectivism. If A=A, if people are already reasoning creatures, and if social realities don’t matter, then why do we need Objectivism? Why do we need a “consistent” philosophy? Why do we need art that lionizes the independent self-actualizer? Simple – because Objectivists are describing what they hope for, not what is. They would like to bring Objectivism to fruition. Ultimately, Objectivists DEEPLY believe in the existence of social reality, they DEEPLY believe it can be manipulated via symbols, logic, and communication, and they DEEPLY believe that convincing people that their social reality is best will improve the world. These are the essential convictions of cults, proselytizing religions, and social movements.

‘Nuff said.

How’s that?

I believe that an objectivist would argue that social realities matter...it is just a matter of how you react to them. Choices matter. Ideas matter. In the end of the day will you be the victim or the victor? Will you bemoan your horrible status...or act to improve it? Will you keep going or fold up and quit? Do you have the courage to persue your convictions, or will you take the easy way out and point fingers? Objectivism is in essence a cult of radical responsibility. Responsibility to whom? To yourself for yourself. Does this mean that given reality you won’t fail by any fault not of your own? No. Sometimes even the best decisions end poorly, and sometimes the worst decisions are rewarded...but the sense of life of an objectivists prevents him from learning the wrong leasons...As a poker player I will push all in preflop with pocket Aces and take a beat by deuce seven all day long down to my last dollar...because I have confidence that luck is not the determinant...but rather long run based rational decisions... in poker as in life if you want better results, make the most rational decision you are capable of making. That is the meaning of Selfishness, careing enough about ones wellbeing to reject and overcome all obstacles in the way of making the types of decisions that will pay off for you in the long run. Yeah sometimes you will fail...but is this a condemnation of rationality or an excuse to retreat from thinking? Not if you are trully selfish.

Sometimes you will fail so much that you won’t believe that rationality even pertains anymore...but if you countinue making rational decisions you will be better off in the long run...my point is that all of Dain’s objections at some point involve taking the existance of failure as an objection to the possibility of human reason...but you have to act in order to live...and it behoves you to act rationally if you care about the results (that is if you are selfish)

As Ayn Rand says "Reason as man’s only means of knowledge is his basic means of survival." While Ayn Rand does say that A is A and while she does believe that experience is something we learn from...unlike Dain, Rand believes that Reason consists in the capacity not simply to learn from experience, but also to order and organize this experience, and occationally to resist experience as we integrate our experiences into our general view of existance. Rationality is thus action coherent with our general view of existance...thus even if I take my pocket Aces all in preflop and get busted by Deuce seven offsuit ten times in a row...I know that it is still rational to take my pocket aces all in preflop against Deuce seven offsuit the eleventh time. Experience alone be dammed..it must be integrated into a rational framework...a philosophy of life for life...and this is why philosophy is important...without a rational philosophy experience will be imperfectly integrated....

The Center practically tried to ruin the career of a professor who sought to introduce the book to students.

Can you substantiate this charge? I know of only one faculty member who used the book in his class, and he resigned to take a position at Clemson University. I’d hardly call that a ruined career.

Yea, it all sounds so pat, John, but the real world just doesn’t operate like that. Rand underestimates creativity as a social act. After all, Leonardo was truly a heroic individualist, and yet most of his contraptions didn’t work because he was ahead of his time -- no one had yet invented the internal combustion engine. Moreover, invention cycles tend to sprout up simultaneously in several places at once, just like mushroom heads from mycelium...the communal base of knowledge reaches a point, allowing another cycle of inventions.

Why does it matter? Because ignoring the social nature of creation allows Rand to blast the non-heroes as "looters." Objectivism isn’t bad epistemology (for being developed prior to a lot of neuroscience), but it easily devolves into mean-spirited elitism.

Also, you miss my point about "certainty." Rand’s point isn’t that you can "try" to understand reality...she’s saying A = A, and that we can control our own destinies because we accurately perceive reality. Well, reality is complicated, and ask the economists if people ever have perfect information about their environments (aka ’reality’). Indeed, I would say that reality isn’t ever totally knowable, and that we are never SOLELY responsible for our fate. To assume otherwise, as Rand does, is a matter of FAITH...not very objective, I’m afraid.

Useful primer on objectivism, Dain. Your hostility to it brings the basic issues to life. Thanks.

Well, Carl, I hope that’s a sincere sentiment. Lest my words lead people to believe that I’m a metaphysician or a totalitarian, I’m empiricist and an appreciator of social order (and what it requires). The real problem with Objectivism is that, as a philosophy, it doesn’t really lend itself to pro-social behaviors. What use do we have for the poor, the sick, or the young in this philosophy? All get in the way of "self-actualization." When you consider what is really required to maintain social order and sociality itself, a good bit of non-rational sentimentalism, honest-to-God altruism, and teamwork are necessary. The only thing that makes Randianism even plausible is modern economic production (and the myth of our ’independence’ from others). I think that social life would quickly break down under an Objectivist "rule" (as if that were possible).

Most people who like Objectivism long for philosophical consistency and "recipe" living. In that sense it functions very much like religion, and the only reason it is consistent is because it has so little purchase on real living.

Philosophical consistency is important Dain...and I woud grant that you are consistent. As far as the charge of "recipe" living goes perhaps some who think themselves adherents are guilty of this. But in truth there is no room in objectivism or any phiosophy for adherence to an irrational supposition. The work of a philosopher...be it Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, Descartes, the Vienna school, logical positivism or Ayn Rand is a framework for understanding existence, it is not evidence in itself. To understand your life you must make use of these frameworks by asking how these philosophical concepts are rooted in experience. i.e. what facts give rise to the concept of the soul? or what facts give rise to the concept of luck?

You don’t need "perfect knowledge" to act. I completely embrace the view that men act all the time on the basis of imperfect knowledge. I used a poker analogy for a reason. You can’t judge reason based off of a psychic standard. If I were psychic that is if I knew with certainty(apriori) the cards that my opponent held and I knew what was comming on the flop the turn and the river...then I would also know that in some situtations that Deuce seven offsuit will beat pocket aces and I would know the time and placing of these occurences. I would never lose. I would win every poker tournament I played. To hold the possibility of reason to the psychic standard is irrational, it is impossible and it is certainly not in accordance with reality. To even take seriously the idea of "perfect knowledge" is to become a fierce ennemy of reason. In fact when Ayn Rand says that "Reality, the external world, exists independent of man’s consciousness, independent of any observer’s knowledge, beliefs, feelings, desires or fears" she is saying exactly this...reality is not dependent upon the observer’s knowledge!

I also don’t deny that technology requires many simultaneous developments...or that many minds colaborate to develop almost everything new that is made today...but they woudn’t succeed if they didn’t opperate off what they could know instead of bemoaning what they didn’t.

I would also deny that Ayn Rand thinks that modern economic developments point to "independence" from others. Far from it...a thousand, perhaps even tens of thousands of self-interested individuals are on every level of production creating the end goods being consumed on a daily basis by everyone. What Ayn Rand denies is that Dain works for the sake of of John Lewis or that John Lewis works for the sake of John Mosier...each of the millions of people in the united states works to fulfill his own selfish interests, for himself or herself and whatever familly they might have, in the end thought because goods are exchanged for goods each ends up working for the mutual bennefit of each. As Ayn Rand says: "Men must deal with each other as traders, giving value for value, by free, mutual consent to mutual bennefit."

We have to be realistic. Millions of people working in a complex network creates internal conflicts and both benign and malignant externalities. We all work for others...in all but the simplest economies, the individual must serve others in order to eat. The problem is, this "system" is self-regulating only in the broadest sense. So long as you don’t mind the "natural" way of boom and bust, population explosion and dieback, then OK. Since most people won’t tolerate that (and they shouldn’t), we have government, and the only real tool of government is coercion.

Let me submit the following: If people were capable of dealing with each other exclusively as traders, giving value for value, by free, mutual consent to mutual bennefit" , we would never have developed hiearchy, government, and ajudication. The ultimate problem with Rand is that she, like Marx before her, refused to see people for what they really are. Her "philosophy" is strictly pie-in-the-sky stuff, and serious people will hunt for a more serious "recipe" for conducting their lives.

I speak as a former student in the department and someone who does NOT subscribe to Randian philosophy in any way shape or form. Frankly, I have no ideological axe to grind against any member of the department (former or current). However, when D. Kubiak claims that the center nearly ruined the career of a former member of the department, he may be overstating the case, but not by much. (Besides - the fact that this individual does not have a "ruined career" speaks to his intellectual talent and academic standing, not necessarily to attempts that were or were not made to thwart his success.) I was a student during the time of the disturbance D. Kubiak alludes to. While I can’t speak to any conduct that went on behind closed doors (I’m sure there are multiple sides to every story), I can say that I was disappointed in the public conduct (yes class counts as public) of some members of the Center. I also know that some students (including myself) have felt intimidated about voicing "unorthodox" views too loudly (ironically, it’s the conservative dissidents who feel this way, not necessarily the more liberal). It was felt that challenging the ideological views of the Center’s leadership would put one at a severe disadvantage in seeking a future career in politics or academia. Lest you dismiss my comments out of hand as "bitter grapes" I feel I should add that I, rather immodestly, but quite accurately, consider myself one of the most outstanding and successful grads of the university and program. And I would class the others to whom I refer in the same league.

I’d like to give a brief answer to just a few points Dain made about Objectivism. In my opinion he does not interpret the position of Objectivism correctly, as my points below aim to illustrate.

Dain: “Agreed, there is a really real world external to individuals. Nonetheless, there is also the social realm, and in it what people believe holds consequences for themselves and other societies (e.g., the Nazis). The assumption that the social world is somehow less real for humans than the physical world is dangerous and ignorant.”

Kai: I’m afraid you have misunderstood. First of all. The metaphysical relationship between reality and consciousness that Objectivism upholds is that metaphysically vis a vis reality, consciousness is passive (though it is epistemologically active). Reality is King, or simply put: “wishing it doesn’t make it so”. Reality does not flow from the mind (divine or human). It really doesn’t mean anything else. This identification of the relationship between consciousness and reality does of course not deny the reality of the social realm (why should it!?).But it does deny the curious notion that the mind can create reality (a core symptom in schizofrenia). Objectivism says consciousness cannot create reality but it can conform (with the correct use of it’s consciousness) to reality. It does not for instance deny that what ideas a society (group of individual minds) holds (e.g. Nazism to use your example) has real consequences. Of course it does!

Dain: “Moreover, the notion that nothing exists that we cannot perceive is simply a statement of faith.”

Kai: Yes, and Objectivism does not hold that curious notion, but the “empiricist” Berkeley did (remember his thought experiment asking the question of whether a tree falling in a forrest really did fall if no one experienced it? He saved his strange primacy of mind and consciousness over matter position by positing on faith that indeed the three did fall because God’s _consciousness_ would experience and see the three fall - thus “objective reality” was saved from total modern ontological subjectivism). Dain, this is curious. You misrepresent Objectivism’s position as a strange form of empiricism akin to Berkeley, then shoot down this straw man. But Berkeley does seem to have your position, that that only exists which is perceived, if not by man than by God. So you seem to be arguing against not Objectivism but your own position.

Dain: “Other dimensions could well exist – our senses are limited by biological evolution…we may well be missing something.”

Kai: But of course other dimensions may well exist! Objectivism is in agreement here. But how do you know that something exists, Dain, that is the question...

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