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The Non-Art of Objectivism
There has been much criticism, on this website and elsewhere over the years, of the moralizing and cultish behaviour of Objectivists who digest and regurgitate Ayn Rand’s opinions and her philosophical pronouncements. I always believed that this dogmatic adherence to Objectivist doctrine was quite a recent phenomenon, probably encouraged by Ayn Rand herself and continued by her protege Peikoff.
However, I’ve had to revise that opinion, because in The Art of Non-Fiction, I found exactly the same type of Objectivist cultish behaviour being criticized by Ayn Rand herself. She even coined a term, “Objectivist ritualists,” as a description of someone who preaches Objectivism as a dogma, now often unfairly (unfair to Ayn Rand) referred to as a “Randroid.”
Philosophy cannot give you a set of dogmas to be applied automatically. Religion does that—and unsuccessfully. The dogmatic Objectivist desperately tries to reduce principles to concrete rules that can be applied automatically, like a ritual, so as to bypass the responsibility of thinking and moral analysis. These are “Objectivist” ritualists. They want Objectivism to give them what a religion promises, namely, ten or one hundred commandments, which they can apply without having to think or judge anything.
Ayn Rand further emphasized the importance of independent judgment of all individuals, including Objectivists, not just to free oneself from the dogma of false religion or philosophy, but also Objectivist philosophy.
The purpose of philosophy is to guide a man in the course of his life. Unfortunately, many Objectivists have not fully accepted, concretized, and integrated this principle. For example, in the presence of a given event, work of art, person, etc., too many Objectivists ask themselves, “What do I have to feel?” Instead of, “What do I feel?” And if they need to judge a situation I have not discussed before, their approach is, “What should I think?” instead of, “What do I think?” This is the childhood remnant of anyone who to some extent was influenced either by the religion of the culture or, later in college, by Platonism. Both give the impression that the good, the important, the philosophical are like church on Sunday: you use them on special occasions, but they have nothing to do with your daily life. If any part of this attitude remains in you, it is important to eliminate it.
Being true to oneself, in other words, is important when writing or expressing yourself. Say what you really think and what you really feel, but avoid blindly reciting Objectivist doctrine, even when writing for an Objectivist publication. Ayn Rand highlighted this point by describing her rejection of an article for her magazine, The Objectivist, that made the error of trying to artificially smuggle in and preach Objectivist philosophy.
For example, someone submitted to The Objectivist a movie review that was chaos. I could not tell whether the author was reviewing a movie or preaching Objectivist morality. The two aspects were totally unintegrated. He would say something about the movie, and then start into a diatribe on the evil of presenting such people. (It was a gangster movie.) The diatribe was not integrated with what he was saying about the movie. The author thought that you could not review a movie of that sort without making it a platform for Objectivism. Of course, it was unconvincing in regard to the Objectivist slogans he used, and it was unconvincing as a review. He had two intentions: to say what he wanted about the movie, and to fulfill his “duty” to Objectivism. Well, that was the attitude at the height of the Middle Ages, when nothing was permitted except what led to the greater glory of the Church.
She poured scorn on this type of duty-bound preaching of Objectivism and also on the hackneyed use of Objectivist slogans.
It is not the duty of an Objectivist writer to smuggle in something to the glory of Objectivism, along the lines of waving the flag or a cross. When you write an article in which you evaluate cultural phenomena rationally, you do more for Objectivism than you could in any other form—even if you never mention reason, man, his means of survival, or any other Objectivist bromides which ritualistic “Objectivists” too often use inappropriately.
Quite impressively, Ayn Rand did not just recognize the folly of advocating Objectivism ritualistically, but also its potential to instill fear in her own followers.
If, for example, you are an advocate of individualism, and you suddenly observe that you write like a collectivist, that is all right. That has taught you something; you have material that you can correct. But to sit in fear, thinking: “I believe in Objectivism with all my soul, but what if the printed page shows me to be a monster?”—is to take a mystical approach, which indicates that you do not understand free will. There is nothing wrong in having “demons.” What is wrong is evading them and doing nothing about them.
She sanctioned the demons, but was against a contrived type of Objectivist style.
Some people think that when they write, they must practice Objectivist “company manners.” Such a person guards his subconscious, because he worries that if he let himself go he might write improperly. Nothing could be better calculated to stop you from writing. In fact, the opposite premise is necessary. When you write, you must trust your subconscious, and more: you must allow your subconscious to be the sole authority in the universe. Otherwise you cannot write. This does not mean that man is only the subconscious and that the conscious mind does not count. It is the mind that uses the subconscious. But the subconscious is a programmed computer, and if it is programmed incorrectly, there is no way for you to write if you repress your machine.
So, don’t repress your machine, but rather let your subconscious thoughts flow in your writing. There is no reason to be dogmatic; all your thoughts and conclusions should come from yourself. Objectivism needn’t be an exercise in moralizing and preaching doctrine from a soapbox, but can be a rewarding process of exploring and correcting, if need be, your assumptions.
In fact, if you have written some bad sentences, or expressed some wrong ideas, the conclusion should be not that your subconscious has demons, but you did not think though the subject carefully and that your subconscious is fallible. But you are there to correct the mistake. Again, there is nothing wrong in making mistakes. What is wrong is not correcting them.
SOLOists, there you have it. You don’t have to be perfect to be an Objectivist, but it helps. Climb every philosophical mountain and question every assumption you make, but always be true to yourself. Don’t try to fudge it.
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