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Reaching New Readers
I'd like to see are more attempts by young Objectivist writers to reach new kinds of readers.
Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand achieves a systematic presentation of the philosophy in less than 500 pages, while The Logical Structure of Objectivism by David Kelley and William Thomas presents the philosophy semi-academically in less than 300 pages (including diagrammed arguments). Neither of these books is immediately accessible to an uninitiated reader -- though both of them are valuable resources for a serious Objectivist.
Yet if you list the core ideas that constitute 80 percent of the philosophy you will find that you can manage to condense Ayn Rand's system of thought into roughly 100 distinct concepts. So it's entirely conceivable that the philosophy could be presented -- in an admittedly watered-down fashion -- in the space of 100 paperback pages.
Before you reject the idea out-of-hand, hear me out.
If you pop into your local bookstore and scan the shelves of the philosophy section, you will probably find titles such as: Teach Yourself: 101 Key Ideas Existentialism (±110 pages); and Teach Yourself: 101 Key Ideas Philosophy (±110 pages).
Now if a fuzzy philosophy such as existentialism can be reduced to 101 key ideas and, indeed, the very subject of philosophy can be condensed into 101 key ideas, then surely the same level of condensation can be achieved for the philosophy of Objectivism?
What would be the purpose of writing such a book? The purpose of condensing Objectivism is to make it accessible to a wider readership.
But condensation is not my only suggestion. These Teach Yourself titles use the theme of "101 Key Ideas" as a lens by which they project an entire subject. But this is not the only theme or organising principle possible. Others include the Dummies series of books, the Idiot's Guide to... books and the Dorling Kindersley KISS books (Keep It Simple Series). These books are user-friendly. A reader does not need a tertiary educational qualification to pick up one of these books and get the gist of what the author is saying. Neither does the reader need any prior exposure at all to the subject.
So, with these two notions in mind (that the content of Objectivism is reducible to say 101 concepts and that a theme can be used to give this content a user-friendly form), let me suggest a series of titles that may go some way to reaching new readers.
A Pocket Guide to Objectivism 96 pages
This would be a down-to-earth description of the philosophy in a mini booklet (something like the Penguin 60s series which are about the size of an open hand). This book would be so inexpensive that you could easily buy packs of ten and hand a new copy to people who want to know what your world view is all about and who aren't interested in reading Ayn Rand's fiction or non-fiction. It would also be a handy little weapon to leave where you'll know it will be found -- and found annoying -- by the Marxists in your midst. The Pocket Guide would be structured in user-friendly terms. That means it would not follow the typical pattern of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics and aesthetics, but a structure determined by the questions typical of an outsider wanting to find out about a foreign world view:
Notice that these questions are prompted by world views other than Objectivism. In some cases the questions themselves are problematic, but they are the kinds of questions that non-Objectivists do ask and there is a real possibility that if they are, at least, engaged that different readers may begin to see the value of Objectivism as it casts light on the deficiencies of their own world views.
101 Objectivist Ideas 112 pages
Okay, here it is... Objectivism in 101 concepts. This book would take the form of a quality softcover and would be structured alphabetically and cross-referenced. Where the Pocket Guide would describe the philosophy holistically -- that is, how Objectivism impacts on your thoughts, emotions and actions -- 101 Objectivist Ideas would describe the meaning and importance of different Objectivist concepts. Eight point type in this format would permit roughly 360 words per concept, which is sufficient to define the concept, point out its referents or the less abstract concepts on which it is based, and indicate why this is critical not so much to the integrity of philosophy -- which is neither here nor there for a reader -- but why it is a valuable intellectual tool for the reader himself or herself.
This book should leave the reader with the intellectual gist of the Objectivist world view as well as the impression of a sunny Galt's Gulch.
Objectivist Voices Series 96 pages
Here I envisage a series of anthologies collecting down-to-earth articles written on particular themes. Each book would consist of eight to ten articles of roughly eight to ten pages (or 3000 words) written by different authors. Here are some potential themes:
All of these titles, written by non-academic Objectivists describing their own experience of living Objectivism, would offer values to existing Objectivists. Yet, at the same time, non-Objectivist readers searching for ideas on any of these topics would find the books stimulating because they would present a fresh perspective on a subject of interest.
Between Holy Men and Whores 200 pages
This title, borrowed from a line by Nietzsche, would present Objectivism as a world view that charts a rational path between the superstitions of priests and pastors and the sewers of post modernist profanity.
When Dostoevsky claimed that, "If God is dead, nothing is forbidden," he gave expression to a popular, subconscious belief in a false choice between faith and anarchy. This kind of false choice is not limited to the religious domain. What is the common response of those whose faith in government education is challenged? "Without government there would be no education and children would grow up ignorant!" What about the response of those whose faith in government health care is challenged? "Without government there would be no health care for the poor!"
Between Holy Men and Whores would identify these common false choices in down-to-earth terms. This book would marshal evidence of the failure of "Holy Men" (both religious and political) and of the false "Whore" alternative, and it would present Objectivism as the "third way".
Whenever I hear those words ("third way") I get mildly irritated or even angry. There is no third way between capitalism and socialism as the likes of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton would have us believe. Yet that is the power of positioning an ideology and branding it with a couple of simple words. Since many people have a fuzzy notion of what constitutes capitalism and socialism, politicians can get away with the anti-concept of a "third way".
Contrast this with the real "third way" represented by Objectivism, which opposes both fundamentalism and relativism. Between Holy Men and Whores is the kind of title that would perhaps capture attention and get more people talking about the philosophy.
The Tao of John Galt or The Tao of Objectivism
The word "tao" -- pronounced "dow" and meaning "the way" -- is likely to attract Buddhists, and this book would be written with that audience in mind. It would show the obvious differences between Objectivism and Buddhism -- and the substantial similarities. Of course, Buddhists are not the only readers likely to be attracted by the word "tao". New agers may also find the title intriguing and, while not all would be persuaded, perhaps some would see the light of reality and reason. For a view of Objectivism written by a practising Buddhist, take a look at this article:
More to the point, this book would present Objectivism not as an alphabetical series of concepts, nor as a series of answers to typical outsider questions, but as a way of life. This means it would present the philosophy in terms of dispositions and habits or typical actions and responses. It is seldom easy to describe Objectivism in this way because the philosophy is not monolithic and prescriptive, but individualistic. Objectivists interpret the philosophy individually as they apply it to the unique circumstances of their own lives and values. Yet by means of Ayn Rand's fiction and a writer's fictionalised case studies, many of the abstract tenets of the philosophy can be described in human terms. And that is what The Tao of John Galt would aim to achieve.
Objectivism: Life's Missing Manual 200 pages
This book would present Objectivism as the missing manual for life, a survival guide for living rationally in a world populated by less than rational people.
Again, this is not a book that would approach the philosophy hierarchically or by means of discrete concepts. Instead this theme would lend itself to the creation of a structure typical of survival guides. In other words, the style would be light-hearted and it would use the survival guide template to structure the content of Objectivism in a user-friendly way. In order to do justice to the integrity of Objectivism, the book would be thoroughly cross-referenced so that readers could rebuild the logical structure of Objectivism in their own minds.
Objectivism: The Philosophy of Atlas Shrugged 350 pages
This is a book that would be written for Atlas fans who are daunted by Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand and The Logical Structure of Objectivism. The book could be structured in several different ways or a combination of them.
The entire book could be structured around the characters. Each character could be used as a launching board for the description of some of the content of Objectivism. Naturally, some of the characters lend themselves to illustrating perhaps as much as 80 percent of the philosophy. The trick would be to choose which characters would best illustrate certain concepts.
Alternatively, the entire book could be structured around the plot of Atlas Shrugged or, obviously, around Galt's speech.
Another alternative would be to create a hierarchical structure of Objectivist content beginning with the least fundamental concepts (politics) and deconstructing towards the most fundamental (metaphysics). The idea would be to create this sort of progression:
"Ayn Rand claimed such and such. This is illustrated in Atlas Shrugged when Dagny meets Rearden in such and such an event. But why is this important? Because... ... ... And why did Ayn Rand make this claim? Because it rests on the following premise..."
In other words, this book would take a reader through the logical steps beginning with advanced conclusions and working backwards towards the basics and, every step of the way, illustrating the meaning of the ideas by means of examples from Atlas Shrugged.
Of course, the opposite -- beginning with metaphysics and working towards politics -- is no less valid. But I suspect that neither structure is ideal and that readers would probably prefer some sort of thematic, down to earth, user-friendly structure... such as following the chapters of the book and identifying the philosophical principles embedded in the text at each stage.
The advantage of this title is that it would attract Ayn Rand fans. The disadvantage is that it relies heavily on Ayn Rand's characters, which reliance poses the danger of confusing the psychology of the characters with the content of the philosophy. Sometimes they're in harmony. Sometimes they're not.
Objectivism for Dummies or The Idiot's Guide to Objectivism 350 pages
These titles would follow the conventions and style of other titles in these series: humorous writing that maintains a balance between being informative and being insane. The text is also supported by humorous cartoons, illustrations and diagrams.
What would it take to write one of these titles? David Brown, one of the masterminds behind The Daily Objectivist is more than capable as a potential writer and Richard McGrail, The Free Radical cartoonist, would be able to apply his comic sheep to the task of supplying cartoons.
The same question could be asked of any of the titles I have suggested: What would it take to write one of these titles? Often, the single most difficult impediment is simply the lack of will to see it done.
The World of Objectivism 200 pages
This would be a physically heavy book but intellectually light. Imagine a sumptuous visual feast with the quality of a National Geographic coffee table book. That's what I have in mind for this title. It would present Objectivism in terms of pictures -- photographs of the world as seen through a benevolent-universe lens. This is a book that would glorify romantic art, medical breakthroughs, space exploration, great architecture, the seriousness of a child at play, the excitement of a child's discovery, the magnificence of the human form, the grandeur of life. Each photograph would illustrate one or more aspects of the content of Objectivism.
Visual presentations of Objectivism are rare. To my knowledge, Michael Paxton's Academy Award nominated documentary, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life is the only example of a thoroughly visual medium being used to present aspects of Objectivism. And, since this documentary is devoted to Ayn Rand's life rather than to the content of her philosophy, it is fairly limited.
There are, of course, a few glossy brochures that have emanated from The Objectivist Center and The Ayn Rand Institute, but in all of the examples of which I am aware, the visuals are employed to illustrate some point described in the brochure. Visual communication of the philosophy is not their primary purpose.
What I would like to see -- and would love to commission if I had the budget -- is a thorough presentation of the philosophy through images.
This, I am certain, would attract a whole new breed of person into the Objectivist movement. Instead of the thousands of left-brain-dominant Objectivists that currently hold the majority, you would see right-brain-dominant people coming to appreciate the value of the philosophy. Right-brainers struggle to appreciate the philosophy since it is almost universally presented in the form of text, which is preferred by left-brain-dominant readers.
The titles above are just a few of the hundreds of books in Plato's cave waiting patiently to see the light of day. My purpose in writing this article is to offer you an alternative way of thinking about the philosophy. Let's step outside of the box in which Objectivism has remained since the 1950s and recognise that the content of Objectivist philosophy can be presented in an infinite variety of forms. The sooner young writers seize the opportunities to express the philosophy in new forms, the sooner we will reach new kinds of readers and thus accelerate the popularity of this philosophy for living on earth.
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