Friday, March 1, 2013

The "Ayn Rand is for children" meme, cont'd

[A continuation upon an earlier theme.]

If you pay attention to the cultural discourse about Ayn Rand and her philosophy, Objectivism, you will have heard it a thousand times: Objectivism appeals to people in their teens or college years, but then they outgrow it.  Our head-of-state said as much in a recent interview.  This supposedly explains why Objectivism supposedly doesn't get much respect from academic philosophers, who are by and large grown up, responsible, and empathetic human beings.  In nearly every thread on reddit's /r/politics subreddit, the most-upvoted comment on any thread with "Ayn Rand" in the title is that by-now well-worn, brief but non-witty quote comparing Atlas Shrugged and Lord of the Rings.  Ayn Rand's writings are allegedly for the socially awkward high-school rejects, the naive, the naively idealistic, the maladjusted, those who don't understand human nature, those who are self-centered to the point of narcissism, and so on.

First off, I think it betrays a fundamental sense-of-life difference between Rand and her critics when the "intellectual adults" lecture the idealistic youth on their naivete - who demand, in essence, that justice prevail in this world, that most everyone - in principle - can see the moral truth and act upon that recognition, and the like.  The "adults" say that we soon learn "in real life" that we must be practical, that we must compromise, that we must conform, that wisdom comes from a resigned acceptance of the world the way it is, and so on. Ayn Rand's sense of life, what appeals to those idealistic youth, is her outright and absolute rejection of a dichotomy between the moral and the practical - that individual integrity is all that we have in our soul to hold onto, and that it wouldn't be considered "practical" in the mind of a Howard Roark, given his ideals, to surrender his soul.  (Practical - in terms of what?)  Ayn Rand, in other words, endorses the "benevolent universe premise" - i.e., the idea that a rational way of life on earth (to quote her hero, John Galt, near the very end of his radio address) "is real, it is possible, it is yours."  In other words, she completely repudiates cynicism.

Perhaps it says a whole lot about the current state of the world that so many people are cynical - that cynicism is considered to be a sign of maturity and wisdom! - that they did indeed abandon the ideals they held in their youth in order to embrace a life of stale practicality and safety - that, in the most vicious cases, they embraced the divine right of stagnation, to employ a phrased used by former Rand associate Nathaniel Branden, who wrote an essay by that title.  Cynicism is not so much an attitude about the world as it is a statement about oneself - and, tragically and needlessly, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in the people who accept, endorse, and practice it.

So, is that what the aforementioned Rand-diminishers actually mean to say when they couch their diminishing in the terms they do - as in, say, a defense mechanism for their own cynical sense of life?  Or, as they might purport to explain in explicit terms, it's because Ayn Rand's egoistic philosophy appeals to some a-social, anti-social, socially-naive, socially-insensitive, perhaps even sociopathic aspects of the human personality - that Rand's philosophy amounts, in essence, to a rationalization for such base and inadequate tendencies in human nature.  Now, that sort of objection doesn't exist on a sense-of-life level so much as an intellectual-interpretive one, and in that case what it demonstrates - in short - is an ignorance of her ideas and/or a failure of reading- or ideas-comprehension.

Now to the original point of my post.  I'm going to concretize in such a way as to make it empirically impossible for the "Rand is for socially-awkward teenagers" meme to gel with real-life instances.  The instances I want to discuss here are instances of people who undoubtedly understood Rand's ideas the way they are meant to be understood.  The real deals, not the random asshole who somehow or other latched onto Rand's ideas.  These individuals are the following, during the decade of the 1950s and first half of the 1960s: Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, Allen and Joan Blumenthal, Alan Greenspan, Elayne and Harry Kalberman, Leonard Peikoff,  Mary Ann Sures.  These are the individuals who comprised the "Collective," Rand's "inner circle" of students and associates.

None of these individuals were angsty teens at the time.  None of them were intellectual imbeciles.  None of them (during that period of time, anyway) behaved or lived dysfunctionally, and none of them - many of their various "fallings-out" or breaks with Rand notwithstanding - ever came to repudiate the core of Rand's Objectivist philosophy, most fundamentally her prescribed neo-Aristotelian, sense-based methods of reasoning in dealing with ideas (which have gone on to be explained at length in Peikoff's books and courses on Objectivism, and in such academic scholarly literature as Sciabarra's Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, which is the only "outside" secondary literature on Rand to date to incorporate the entirety of Peikoff's lecture course series (along with tons of other material) into its research - and guess what, it ends up being quite clearly enough a very positive assessment of Rand's ideas!).  (Only after the mid-1960s did the Brandens in particular (Nathaniel most pathologically) choose to evade the principles they had accepted and espoused; point being, it wasn't the ideas they espoused that led them to their dysfunctional lifestyles and the 1968 Break that torpedoed a flowering movement and set it back decades.)

So, how is the "Ayn Rand is for awkward angsty teens" crowd to handle these high-level-understanding concrete instances?  There's only one thing it can do, short of abandoning that stupid meme: evade.

This is pretty much what the whole mainstream of Rand-ridicule amounts to.  Pathetic, innit?

All I know is, Rand's (neo-Aristotelian) Objectivist philosophy is an example of a perfectivism, and these ridiculers and diminishers most decidedly are not.  Rand FTW.  Game, set, match.  Done deal, pal.  Checkmate again, assholes.  Ain't integration fun? / You can't refute perfectivism. :-)

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