Some Unfortunate Objectivisms

1. “I am/am not an Objectivist.”

Objectivism contains an assertion that it is the only valid philosophy for a rational person to hold. This means that, for Objectivists, the world is divided into two groups: Objectivists & irrational people. Annoyingly, this distinction prompts everyone who wants to discuss Rand’s ideas to preface their thoughts by identifying themselves one way or the other – either you’re with her or you’re against her. (Apparently.)

2. “Show me exactly where Rand’s wrong.”

Arguments can be unconvincing in many ways. Sometimes, if an author has been very diligent in creating rigorous stepwise clarity in their work, it’s possible to find a singular step in their reasoning which can be refuted directly, but it’s far more common that the conclusion simply doesn’t seem plausible – the final leap the author makes from their premises to that conclusion doesn’t intuitively follow.

“The United States has a population of 318.9 million people. They don’t need to eat meat. Meat is costly. We should ban meat in the US.” There’s no factual or structural error in that argument, it just isn’t particularly convincing.

It’s not necessary to say “THIS BIT HERE, THIS is where Rand goes awry” to justify not accepting her work wholesale, it is sufficient to say, “I don’t find her arguments convincing.” Considering the sprawling & highly interconnected nature of her writing, it’s hard to believe that anyone would think a point-by-point refutation appropriate – she presents a unified ideology, & if it’s not compelling to some people after the first couple chapters, well that’s just fine.

3. “I was hoping for someone to engage with Rand’s ideas, instead it’s just these ad hominem attacks.”

The tone & style Rand’s writing is saturated with an implicit assertion of her philosophical & intellectual superiority – egoism is central to her ideology, & it shows. It’s also a critical premise for some of her arguments, as the polemic which she uses to dismiss contrary ideas is often justified only by her say-so:

As reporters, linguistic analysts were accurate: Wittgenstein’s theory that a concept refers to a conglomeration of things vaguely tied together by a ‘family resemblance’ is a perfect description of the state of a mind out of focus.

As such, Rand’s character (& the events of her life indicative of that character) are absolutely relevant to the evaluation of many of her ideas – if I’m supposed to discount Wittgenstein’s intensely rigorous analysis of language simply because it’s “a perfect description of the state of a mind out of focus,” I can certainly demand some qualifications from the mind that claims to be focused.


It’s curious that these same assertions appear, more or less verbatim, in so many discussions of Objectivism. I also notice that they’re all, in some fashion, setting a particular tone for the discussion:

1. You’re either with or against Rand.
2. If you’re against her, you have to prove she’s wrong.
3. Her ideas are to be questioned, not her qualifications or character.

But:

1. People generally don’t believe in Rand’s absolutism.
2. It’s totally valid to simply find her arguments unconvincing.
3. Her qualifications & character are an essential part of her ideas.

If I were a little more paranoid, I’d call this a deliberate rhetorical tactic, but I think it’s really just part of the Objectivist culture to engage on these terms. I think those individuals would be be much more pleasant to talk to if we didn’t have to.

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