Friday, March 18, 2011

Ayn Rand, Intellectuals, and Egg-on-Face

The intellectuals are supposed to be the best and most esteemed repositories of society's wisdom, and so when so many of them are so ignorantly (and therefore basely) opposed to an intellectual figure such as Ayn Rand, they have failed in their task of being the guardians and integrators of human knowledge. (Only those with a clue about Ayn Rand will recognize this last turn of phrase. The ignorant haters won't have a clue, because that's what's in the nature of ignorant haters, A being A and all.) Now, imagine a treatise hitting the American intellectual scene that completely blasts away at the misrepresentations, distortions, and smears of Rand and her ideas that have circulated in the intellectual scene for decades. How do the veteran and entrenched intellectuals react?

First off, the notion that academia as it is today doesn't corrupt the study of philosophy in various insidious ways would be ignorant in its own right, but the results speak for themselves. While Rand essentially delivered a rational eudaemonistic ethics over half a century ago, and provided the American People with a philosophical guide to living, the Intellectual Class has stumbled and staggered to and fro (but with ample logical hairsplitting and footnotes) trying to get at the answers Rand already had reached. The Intellectual Class, in the meantime, became enamored with John Rawls's Theory of Justice because . . . psychologically speaking, it's because it speaks to them so persuasively.

We already saw, in the early 20th century, how socialism spoke so persuasively to the aspirations of the Intellectuals, even though the leading economist of the time, Ludwig von Mises, exploded their myths and aspirations - at least he exploded them logically. He didn't explode them existentially; they plunged ahead in their support for socialism, and the result was widespread death and destruction the more socialistic the ideas that were implemented. This is a dark history that the Left is in denial about. Their dreamy ideas were a fucking disaster in the real world, and it's hard to come to terms with that.

Now, in connection with this observed phenomenon - a friendliness toward socialism and antipathy toward capitalism in the Intellectual Class, most obvious in the Humanities - Robert Nozick provided a thoughtful diagnosis. Combined with an utter fucking ignorance of Rand's ideas among some of these intellectuals, and in some cases an ignorance combined with the most malicious hostility toward Rand or anything capitalistic, the idea that the prevailing academic model produces philosophy, per se, and not a biased cognitive environment, is quite ignorant in itself. As a philosopher, I fucking hate ignorance.

Given the overwhelmingly compelling case for capitalism presented in the works of Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Robert Nozick, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, David Friedman, James Buchanan, George Reisman, John Hospers, Richard Epstein, Randy Barnett, Eric Mack, Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl, Loren Lomasky, David Schmidtz, and Chris Matthew Sciabarra, not to mention the overwhelming, real-world, not-merely-theoretical, demonstrated superiority of capitalism in practice, the opposition to capitalism in the Intellectual Class is nothing short of pathological - quite frighteningly so, in fact. It's hard to expect the Intellectual Class to take Rand seriously when it hardly takes anything pro-capitalism seriously, which in turn makes it exceedingly difficult to take the Intellectual Class seriously.

So here's how certain "types" of intellectual figures are bound to respond to such a bombshell treatise correcting the prevailing misconceptions which they should have been correcting long ago:

(1) The first type, the most intellectually curious and honest type, acknowledges that there was a big un-philosophical fuck-up that happened here, and that corrective measures needed to be adopted post haste.

(2) The second type, a somewhat mixed type, is the one whose context is so foreign to Rand's, that the response is likely to be one of caution and skepticism about new information that challenges one's prevailing opinions. This type would not be so keen on the "post haste" corrective measures, as they would call for the need for time - perhaps a prolongued period of time - to debate the ideas in the fashion that academics debate ideas, which has traditionally carried with it certain insidious tendencies - like those that led to the great degree of academic neglect of Ayn Rand's thought. This second type would be instructive to observe from the perspective of how deeply automatized and integrated a context can be, and how a new and unfamiliar context (but a deeply-integrated context in its own right) intrudes upon their understanding of the world.

(3) The third type would be the social-metaphysical second-hander or social-climber who waits and sees what the prestigious figures in the field say, and react to that. This type is part of the problem to begin with.

(4) The fourth type would be a defensive one - the kind of defensiveness you typically find when someone's long-held conceptions of things are put to severe challenge. Defensiveness can manifest itself in some pretty ugly ways depending on the case. This mentality is not very philosophical, but it can be subtly encouraged when enough like-thinking people (in this case, fellow members of one's trusted community, which is biased against capitalism) behave in like-thinking ways. A mixture of this type and type #3, and with perhaps another character trait added in, leads to the academy's lackluster response to one of their own - Nozick - destroying a great number of their bad non-capitalist views.

(5) The fifth type is the flat-out evader. This is the mentality that has been poisoned, and there are some such poisoned mentalities in the Intellectual Class already. These are the people whose evasions lead most directly to damaging real-world results, and who blatantly defy their job description. Some such so-called intellectuals hold tenured positions in the academy so they can't be fired as they should be. This type will just have to die off and be replaced by someone honest.

Now, if you have a range of people, many of whom fall into these "types," you're going to have clashing contexts between Randian or Perfectivist ideas and theirs, and it's this clashing of contexts that makes for any delay between the introduction of an idea and its acceptance. Rand found out this context-gap the hard way, upon publication of Atlas Shrugged: the context of many of those in her audience had been so fucked-up that effective communication between Rand and such unfortunate souls was next to nonexistent. (That's just how dysfunctional the intellectual climate in America was ca. 1957.) You had some idiotic reviewers of For the New Intellectual declaring quite emphatically that Rand's ideas were "near perfect in their immorality." (Not that these idiotic comments were from people who were able to think philosophically, the way a serious philosopher like, say, John Hospers did.) What's ironic is just how imbecilic the fashionable "liberal" reaction to Rand was. When I think "imbecile," I usually think Sarah Palin and her ilk, but how else do you describe the behavior of fashionable liberal intellectuals who don't have a clue?

Rand was incredulous at first at how the reaction to her work could be so fucking imbecilic (and clueless). She just wasn't prepared for the degree to which irrationality had been ingrained in the culture. Well, I think I'm gonna be more well prepared upon the release of my opus than Rand was on the release of hers. The capacity for people to be proudly imbecilic and clueless seemingly knows no bounds, and the myriad ways in which the anti-Rand crowd seemingly goes out of its way to misunderstand, misrepresent, distort and smear her, are all too predictable by now. But as I said in a previous posting, the target audience for my forthcoming book is, first and foremost, the young intellectuals who have the least invested in a faulty (non-perfective) worldview. The behavioral response across demographics will be quite the interesting subject of study.

How does one avoid the embarrassment of being proven manifestly and insanely wrong about a thinker such as Ayn Rand? My best advice is not to get oneself into that sort of pride-threatening pickle to begin with. It helps not to cultivate mental habits leading to anti-capitalist idiocy, as happens to quite an embarrassing degree in the Academy. No wonder the American people despise their Intellectual Class. And I think they'll be none to pleased to find out just how destructive to their interests the Intellectual Class has been. They won't put up with it; they just won't. I think the Comprachicos' days are numbered. Just how numbered they are, remains to be seen; there is free will, after all.

[ADDENDUM: For some idea of how far behind Rand the cultural and intellectual mainstream of 1957 was, keep in mind that this was before Anscombe's "Modern Moral Philosophy" article, before the rise of Virtue Ethics as a mainstream alternative to utilitarianism and deontology - a rise that has taken longer to happen due to the amount of attention and study diverted toward Rawls's theories - and before a number of authors - e.g., Henry Veatch, Jonathan Barnes, or, popularly, Mortimer Adler - began writing books on Aristotle for more public consumption, and less than two decades after The Basic Works of Aristotle were published in America. Philosophy was experiencing what Rand referred to as a "post-Kantian disintegration," in which Aristotle was being drowned out by lesser and more destructive thinkers, where Positivism and Existentialism were dominant. Only a clueless non-philosopher oblivious to the wisdom of Aristotle would conclude that Rand's ideas "are nearly perfect in their immorality," despite her well-known advertising of her admiration for Aristotle. The fact of the matter is, Rand was just well ahead of anyone else of her time, and figured out the things that it has been taking decades for the Mainstream to figure out. I see egg-on-face syndrome as quite inevitable here.]

No comments:

Post a Comment