Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How Not To Make Your Point

In a letter entitled "An Open Letter to the Objectivist Community on Behalf of Ron Paul*," a fellow named Chris Baker tries to convince Objectivists that Ron Paul** should be Our Guy.

Here's the thing, Mr. Baker: if you are trying to convince us that we're wrong, you might get a bit further in your case if you refrain from insulting Ayn Rand and Objectivists. Kind of a dumb tactic, really. Seriously. Dude.

*Not going to link it--but a Google search will provide you with the link if you would like to see it for yourself.

**I don't really want to debate Mr. Paul's pros and cons. I'm familiar with him and his voting record, and as I've mentioned before, he is a tempting candidate. However, I did not vote for him. Also, I have no idea whether Mr. Paul knows or sanctioned Mr. Baker's open letter.


Flibbert said...

Can we talk about how weird it is that he consistently writes "Doctor Paul" instead of "Dr. Paul" or just "Paul" according to convention? It's like he's referring to "Doctor Who" or that "Doctor" is his first name.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Very interesting.

Is Ron Paul against the US alliance with Israel? I guess I'll have to check that out. Just curious.

But the man does have a point about the Objectivist tendency to alienate anyone who disagrees about how to be an Objectivist. Even other Objectivists.

I read all of Ms. Rand's novels when I was in high school. I was fascinated and spent some time in Objectivist circles. But the name calling, and the in-fighting and the (for want of a better word) excommunication of people who simple attend classes with the other branch of Objectivism (I know, they can't really be Objectivists because they disagree with Peikoff, the heir to Objectivism...but I've got to call them something) sounded a good deal like a religious war to me, and odd behavior indeed for people who say that they hold reason and a person's rational decision and individualism at the center of their philosophy.

In my opinion, the inability of official Objectivism to handle objections rationally and politely, particularly when they came from questioners who were not hostile nor intent on insulting either Ayn Rand or her philosophy, seemed like an appeal to holy writ and dogma.

I have no intention of insulting Ayn Rand, her philosophy, much of which I respect, or those who speak for her. But as someone who takes reason and the importance of individual judgement seriously, I cannot allow someone else to dictate what I should think about these things but must think them through and decide them for myself. Therefore, I respect 'objectivism" the philosophy with a small 'o', but not Objectivism, the movement with a big 'O'.

Now, having said that, I also have certain concerns with Ron Paul, because in some important ways, I think he wants to impose certain Christian ideas upon the nation. However, I also note that there is not one Republican candidate (with the possible exception of John McCain) that does not want to impose some form of Christian populism or Christian conservatism on the nation.

And the conservative wing of the Republican party, IMHO, is fairly power hungry themselves, since they have announced fairly strongly through the radio talk shows, that they'd rather have Billary elected than vote for McCain.

Politics is often the art of the possible and not the art of the ideal or of ideology. Even Ronald Reagan understood that.

In any case, I can completely understand how someone would see Ron Paul as an attractive candidate. In certain respects, I see areas of agreement also. But I just cannot vote for him for a number of reasons. In any case, by the time primary day comes here in NM, the choices will long ago have been made. Our little voice will be meaningless.

Anyway, this is getting very long-winded. Again, anything I say here should not be construed as hostile. These are observations from my own experience of Objectivism in the past.

Ryan O. said...

Well, that was certainly an interesting read. Much could be said about it, but what stood out most clearly to me was Mr. Baker's apparent inability to recognize the difference between principles and applications, between concepts and concretes.
Apparently Objectivists are silent about NAFTA and the Patriot Act. But he didn't bother to find that we are rather vocal about Laissez-Faire capitalism, which requires Free Trade, and the moral right to assertive self-defense vice a state of perpetual, defensive siege upon our own soil.
Mr. Baker could never accurately represent Objectivist principles-because he has never read them.

As for some kind of Objectivist schism, I don't understand it at all. Objectivism is not a movement, it is a philosophy the principles of which were discovered and integrated by Ayn Rand. As such, it is her creation. Objectivism is limited to her writings and ideas. Applications of this philosophy should come from the principles given and should correspond to reality and should leave no contradictions. It's simple.
The Objectivist 'camps' are merely, at best, groups with differing applications of a given principle, or at worst groups who with no authority or legitimate reason disagree with Objectivism in some way, redefine it as the situation or their emotions(or whatever their source of 'knkowledge happens to be) warrant and proceed as though they alone hold the truth.
It is these other 'branches' that are dogmatic-Objectivism is merely a collection of integrated, consistent principles and as such is wholely resistant to Dogma because thought is required to apply principles to concrete situations.

Rational Jenn said...

Flibbert--it is very strange. Oddly formal.

EHL--Thanks for your comments--much appreciated.

It's a long story, but I used to feel similarly. I used to say that I loved Objectivism and Ayn Rand's ideas, but I didn't like Objectivists. Because, with a few exceptions, most of the Objectivists I seemed to meet were, um, kind of big old jerks. There are unfortunately many Objectivists who seem to forget that newbies are learning and questioning and might make mistakes--and that that is okay--expected even, in the context of an honest inquiry into the truth of things.

It got too hard to be around most of those folks. I avoided gatherings for a while mostly due to, well, not liking other Objectivists.

What I didn't know back when I first got interested in Objectivism is that those mean kind of people were often NOT living their lives according to rational principles.

So I kept pursuing it on my own, got some of the "faction" stuff straight in my own mind--it is confusing stuff. Finally, I met some good people who are using Objectivist principles in their real lives and I realized that this was what Rand was talking about. The "sense of life" is totally there--and while nobody fails to judge a wrong idea as wrong, there is more of an interest in helping the person figure out their error rather than in berating that person as an idiot. I'm speaking mostly of my local group of Objectivist friends, but also of old friends and fellow OBloggers I've "met" online. Hooray! Galt's Gulch at last! (In a manner of speaking, of course.)

It wasn't until relatively recently that I've begun to appreciate the terrible damage that Barbara Branden's book did to Ayn Rand, her philosophy, and ARI. Not wishing to get into that really here, but I will say that the damage was great. NB's books, too, although I never read them all the way, just excerpts.

I will say that Ayn Rand was very much in agreement with you--that she would certainly not have encouraged anyone to accept her ideas simply because she said them, without deciding for themselves if it was true. You're right--to do otherwise is to accept a dogma. Again, beyond the scope of this lengthy comment, but dogma is not thinking, and most certainly NOT how rational people should go about acquiring or using a philosophy for living on earth. Dogma is totally antithetical to Objectivism.

Also, I share many of your objections to Mr. Paul.

Ryan O--you make some very good points, too. Thanks. I agree that Objectivism is separate from the factions and schisms, and a person still needs to use his individual mind to read and study and appreciate Rand's ideas. For the record, the Kelley split happened while I was in college, still very new to O'ism and it was very confusing to me as a newbie. I now think that Peikoff was totally right to dissociate himself and ARI from Kelley, as his application was very wrong. But this is stuff I've had to think about for a long time--it's not easy--at least not for me. When Kelley's departure is portrayed as an excommunication of sorts (which is how I first heard it described), it really does a disservice to O'ism and O'ists on many levels.

Damn. That was a long comment! Thanks everyone!