Rebirth of Reason


Selling Freedom: The Choice of a New Generation?
by Joseph C. Maurone

The recent death of the Pope shows, as Lindsay Perigo has noted, that religion is far from being a minimal influence in contemporary culture. For all its flaws, many people still see organized religion as being the means to a healthy soul. Meanwhile, Objectivism continues to grow, but has a long way to go before it can claim the same influence.

Perigo believes that Objectivists "have inherited and passed on a revolutionary philosophy by which the world may save itself from precisely such irrationalities as religion; we have failed to create a culture to match it." I would like to add that in addition, we need to learn how to present such a culture.

Rand acknowledged that it would be unlikely for Objectivism to change the world overnight, and probably wouldn't see it in her lifetime. But how long will it take? Does it have to take a lifetime? Maybe not. Those who wish to further the cause of Objectivism need to think less like religious crusaders and more like capitalists. If we look at Objectivism and treat it as a product in a fierce competition against other brands of ideologies, we can learn from the field at the front line of capitalism, salesmanship. We can become proprietors of Objectivism.

What are we selling? We are not selling a philosophy, we are selling a lifestyle, the results of the philosophy. Car dealers don't sell cars, they sell travel, adventure, freedom. Similarly, we are not selling reason and selfishness, we are selling romanticism, success, and self-esteem.

Sales need not be the sleazy profession portrayed by the enemies of capitalism. I point to one of the premiere Objectivist proprietors, Chris Matthew Sciabarra. 10 years ago Ayn Rand: Russian Radical was published, and standing on the shoulders of Rand scholarship, Sciabarra shook the academic world as well as the world of Objectivism with his work. I liken Sciabarra's work to the characters of Roger Enright and Austen Heller; where they dragged Howard Roark into the world of the architectural society, Sciabarra brought Objectivism kicking into academia.

Crucial to the success of Sciabarra is his use of his dialectical theories. He not only examines the dialectical tendencies in Rand's thought, but employs those tendencies in his own work and his dealings with his audience, both friend and foe. His emphasis on dialectics enables him (almost) as much as he talks, enabling him to be the ultimate diplomat, and currently one of the best salesman of Objectivism. The sales of Russian Radical, already in multiple printings, attest to that.

How does he do it? To better understand, let us look at the dialectic of a good salesman.

What not to do: Don't berate the customer!

One need not believe that "the customer is always right" in order to successfully sell. But a good salesman won't insult the customer, either. This should go without saying. Unfortunately, the history of Objectivism shows that it needs to be said. Religions can no longer use fear and intimidation to spread the good news; neither can Objectivism

Why Innovations Fail

As a relatively new brand, Objectivism is up against fierce competition from long-established players who hold the lion's share of the soul market. Objectivism, its users claim, is a superior product to those on the market. And yet the old brands survive on the factors of brand recognition, customer loyalty, and adaptability. It fits their lifestyles. In order to successfully sell, it may be necessary to get the customer to question their lifestyle, and their satisfaction with their current brand. Failure to do so will result in the failure of the new product. Rand's fiction is full of examples of this. In The Fountainhead, Roark's architectural innovations are initially rejected in favor of older ones, and in Atlas Shrugged Reardon steel is considered unsafe and too revolutionary. Even the lightbulb is rejected by the elders in Anthem! Roark captured this best when he said that the person who invented fire was probably burned at the stake with his offering. People fear change. Stick with the devil you know, they say. It's a wonder how anything advanced!

Carl Franklin, in his book Why Innovations Fail, identifies five Points of Innovations necessary for a product to succeed.

1. Relative Advantage: Do people think it's an improvement over what already exists?

(Objectivism offers "happiness in this world," but Lindsay's comments about the grandeur of the church compared with the lack of culture displayed by Objectivism show that this is a problem. People like Linz are already working to change that with the existence of SOLO, which features not just philosophical talk, but action; witness the arts, music, culinary and humor. The camaraderie and the candor, and even the romance! It's a great antidote to the conception of Objectivism as joyless rationalism and gaping schisms; hopefully it will be the catalyst for a new Romantic Manifesto!

2. Compatibility? Is it consistent with the values, experiences, and needs of the people who might adopt it?

3. Complexity: Easy to use/understand?

4. Trial ability? Can people experiment with the innovation before deciding to adopt it?

5. Observability? How easy it is for people to see results?

The characteristics of these five points are risk considerations, the possible need for discretion, image issues, user capability, and adoption costs. I will leave it to the reader to work out for themselves how well Objectivism meets these requirements.

How Breakthroughs Happen

Of course, even if you can apply these criteria, the proprietor of Objectivism may encounter reluctance due to brand loyalty and comfort with existing brands. This is where the dialectic method is useful. The successful proprietor will have to build a bridge between what he has to offer and the best of his competitors. (Just remember, Objectivists don't compromise with evil!) We are talking adaptation and integration.

In his book, How Breakthroughs Happen, Andrew Hargadon stresses the importance of building bridges through sales in a way that mirrors the dialectical sensibilities of Sciabarra.

"Bridging distant worlds overcomes two central obstacles in the pursuit of innovation. First, bridging offers a way to avoid the competency traps that, by making even changes for the better too costly in the short run, keep existing groups, organizations, and industries locked into the old ways of doing things. Bridging activities overcome these competency traps by bringing organizations into contact with the wide variety of already well-developed technologies that exist in other worlds. Recombinations of these existing sources … can bypass much of the time, effort, uncertainty, and cost of inventing and developing wholly new technologies. Bridging activities also provide another crucial advantage that can be easily overlooked. The act of bridging distant worlds actually changes the way people see and think about the worlds they inhabit. In this way, bridging activities overcome the parochialism that hinders individuals, groups, organizations, and even industries from seeing the value of people, ideas, and objects that reside outside their traditional boundaries."

This suggests that while a good salesman knows his product well, a great salesman knows his competitors product better than the competitor! How does a great salesman achieve that?

Get your hands dirty!

Hargadon emphasizes that "[b]ridging distant worlds means learning about the people, the ideas, and the objects in each to see how they work and, sometimes, how they don't. This means working within worlds, gaining hands-on experience with the problems and solutions at hand and coming to understand what the people know, what the ideas mean, and what the objects can do. It is the difference between learning that a bicycle can be ridden and learning how to ride a bike."

This has been a problem for Objectivists. Perigo writes that Objectivists "have failed in part because we have eschewed the very idea of a culture. In celebrating the 'I' we have performed a kind of Anthem-in-reverse. We have become too afraid of the word 'we.' By dismissing anything undertaken with others as 'collectivism' (ignoring the fact that real collectivism entails coercion) we have blinded ourselves to the impact we might make if we acted as a fellowship of individualists, in voluntary, life-affirming concert. (Where we have come together, as in the ARI, we have displayed the unappetising qualities listed above.)"

In other words, get out of Galt's Gulch from time to time and see the larger world!

Hargadon asks, "Do your strengths lie in the closest relationships with…other key players in a particular market? ..[K]ey strategic advantages lie in the dense network (they) have already built within a single world. Such a position provides invaluable understanding of the existing problems and opportunities, as well as of the movements and thinking of the other players in that world. Abandoning this network in search of new markets would be foolhardy. Instead, the most promising opportunities…for innovation may lie in bridging distant worlds in search of technologies, or pieces of technologies, that would become innovative again in your market when combined with your existing capabilities."

Christianity didn't get its current status by divine will, but by salesmanship. St. Patrick was one of Christianity's best salesmen. Being Irish himself, he was familiar with Celtic traditions, and was able to speak to the Irish as one of them. He knew his customer base, and knew his product, as well as his pagan competitors. He didn't belittle the traditions, he successfully applied the practices and principles described above and sold Christianity to Ireland.

With the passing of the pope, an opportunity arises to beat St. Patrick at his own game, starting by furthering the lead of Objectivism's top salesman, Chris Sciabarra, and the cultural revolution starting with SOLO. Freedom can sell well, if we remember that it isn't freedom we're selling, but the kind of world that can be achieved with freedom. And the best way to sell is to show, don't tell. Show what kind of a culture is possible. Show that religion doesn't have a monopoly on the care of the soul. Show them the Romantic Manifesto, the sunlit universe where happiness is achieved on Earth. Don't preach it, sell it! Live it! Be it!

Shine On!
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