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SOLO -- Where We Are and Where We're Going
I see SOLO as a home for Objectivist activists. We accept that there are hostile elements in the culture that need to be fought and remedied, and we seek to replace the current culture with a more life-affirming one. Although our goal is shared, our means are as varied as the individuals involved. For some, political activism and support of liberty based political parties is their focus. For others, reaching new audiences through new kinds of Objectivist products is preferred. Still others write articles showing how Objectivism can affect one's life in a positive way.
SOLO is an organization that brings these different styles and means together for mutual advantage. We come together to celebrate our accomplishments, learn from each other, and provide the tools necessary to go on. Sometimes this comes in the form of spiritual fuel we may lack in our daily lives. Sometimes it's the moral support of those people who understand and applaud our efforts. Sometimes it's the material or intellectual support we need to finish a project. Whatever the need, SOLO seeks to provide a place where activists can support one another in seeking common values.
But aren't there already two Objectivist organizations? Well yes, there is The Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) and The Objectivist Center (TOC). But I believe both have flaws that limit their usefulness. I'll address these up front, to provide a fuller context in which to view SOLO's goals and accomplishments.
Ayn Rand Institute
Most of you are familiar with ARI. Their flaws are both philosophical and methodological. Philosophically, they hold that Objectivism is a closed system of thought. Everything that can be said has been said by Ayn Rand. If practiced, this view can only lead to philosophical stagnation. Instead of trying to grapple with new problems, or understand old problems in a new light, this view shuts down any thinking outside of the box. The result is rehash after rehash of the same old stuff.
What is SOLO's view of this? We see Objectivism as a philosophy, which is an integrated system of principles that provide man with the tools to effectively deal with reality. We do not see Objectivism as any random statement Ayn Rand might have said or thought. The result is that we accept that new principles may be discovered, old ones may be more refined (as all knowledge may be), and that intellectual progress is possible. And we act accordingly.
I also mentioned methodological flaws. ARI has a long record of excommunicating people for disagreements. That these excommunications are unjustified and irrational is only part of the problem. The other part is that it makes clear that anyone speaking his own mind may lose his position and all ties (personal and financial) with ARI. In addition, ARI demands that every other member also sever ties with the victim, or they also will be asked to leave. That this would create a stifling culture is obvious.
And of course, outsiders are quite aware of these petty power games. The argument that Objectivism is a cult is not at all helped by this kind of action.
I could go on, but this should be sufficient to show the flaws that severely limit the effectiveness of ARI. They'll never attract the best minds or anyone interested in making any genuine contribution to the philosophy. Their loyalty oaths and barbaric treatment of other Objectivists will always hurt their credibility and their attractiveness.
The Objectivist Center
The other Objectivist organization, as most of you know, is The Objectivist Center. Philosophically, SOLO has no major quarrels with TOC. In fact, many of us think David Kelley is an enormously intelligent man who has provided significant value to the philosophy of Objectivism. There may be minor differences of opinion on some philosophical ideas, but I know of nothing significant enough to differentiate the two organizations in that area.
The real differences between SOLO and TOC are of style and method. In the first, we believe the TOC has fallen for the false reason/passion dichotomy. What that means is that people believe that you must either be rational, or you can be passionate, but you have to choose. Those people expressing their emotions in a powerful way are deemed to be biased and non-objective. Those presenting their opinions with cold logic are deemed to be highly rational, but uncaring. TOC tends to promote the rational side of that false dichotomy-- calm, civil, and very rational.
SOLO recognizes this as a false dichotomy. One can be passionate and reasonable at the same time. In fact, we say one should be. If you know something is important, you should feel strongly about it. And you should not hide your feelings to make you seem impartial. You're not impartial. You do care. And that in no way makes objectivity impossible.
We believe TOC still suffers the baggage of being the Institute for Objectivist Studies, its previous name. It was aimed at expanding the theory of Objectivism, and wasn't primarily an agent of cultural change. It still uses the dry, logical style of a think tank. Although this style is effective at communicating logical arguments and explanations, it does little to inspire or impress. In this sense, TOC is more adapted to provide philosophical works than leading an Objectivist movement.
SOLO recognizes the need for strong rhetoric and passion. To make cultural change, you need to show an inspiring, life-affirming alternative. To show that ideas matter, you need to get behind them emotionally and not just logically. To show that Objectivism is good in practice, you need to show its consequences, and live up to its potential. To bring about a change to the world, you need to get people's attention, and in a way that gets them excited and interested.
Another leftover from the Institute for Objectivist Studies is the focus on academics. Every year before their annual Summer Seminar, they have an Advanced Seminar where they discuss a number of topics. The target audience is academics and those interested in a field of academics. We believe this is just one symptom of a tendency towards academic study as opposed to activism.
This isn't to imply that work in academia can't be activism as well. One of our members, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, has done significant scholarly work regarding Objectivism and Ayn Rand. But this is just one of many directions that are taken by SOLOists.
One more problem with TOC is that they are a very closed organization. This could be because of their lack of focus on activism, or their goal of being a respectable organization. Whatever the motivation, it's difficult for outsiders to get involved with them. This severely limits their ability to be leaders in the Objectivist movement. Instead of seeking out help wherever they can find it, they tend to keep to themselves.
SOLO is a very different kind of organization. We've intentionally tried to create an environment where people can easily get involved. Our website, SOLOHQ.com, runs daily articles on a number of topics, and we encourage people to submit some of their own writing. Anyone showing the slightest interest in doing more is personally encouraged to do so. We've got a growing staff of volunteers who put in time and energy to make SOLO a successful organization.
I hope this gives you an idea of the differences between ARI and TOC vs. SOLO. I'm now going to talk a little about our vision of SOLO and Objectivism, and what we're trying to accomplish.
As mentioned before, SOLO seeks to promote activism. In this sense, SOLO seeks to be the focal point for activism in the Objectivist community. We seek to provide the means for activism, and to attract talented individuals who want to contribute. We want to refocus Objectivists away from talking, and towards action. Or more specifically, towards purposeful action.
We want to create an environment that encourages goal-directed action. We want people to determine what it is they're trying to accomplish, and rationally determine what is an effective way of getting there. By bringing purpose to the foreground, we hope to keep people focused on why they're involved with Objectivism in the first place. Is it pointless philosophical debating? Or are you here to learn or convince others? Do you seek to vent frustration? Or do you want to shape the world in the image of your ideals?
By attracting activists to the organization, we find it's easier to accomplish tasks and to encourage others to take on the role of activist. By working together on projects we not only reduce the amount of work needed, but we share talents that some may be lacking. It also provides the encouragement to see things through to the end.
Another way we can help activists is by bring attention to their efforts. Not only can this give them the much needed spiritual fuel they need to get the job done, but it can also be accompanied by more substantial forms of help. For instance, SOLOHQ can be a place to advertise or sell new products. Or partners in ventures may be solicited. The possibilities are only limited by one's resourcefulness.
A Better Culture
So if we're activists, what exactly are we seeking? Well in short, a better world. We seek to replace the current culture with a more enlightened one. We seek a culture that thrives on achievement and success, instead of envy. We want a culture where a man relies on his own independent judgment, and doesn't accept another man's ideas over his own. A culture of value-seekers, where each one's own happiness is his or her primary goal.
Creating a better culture is a lot of work. It requires showing others an alternative and convincing them of its superiority. It means bringing abstract ideas into clarity so everyone can grasp them. It means inspiring others to live their lives to the fullest.
To this end, we try to promote Objectivism in a number of ways. The philosophy can be explained systematically for those already familiar with it. It can be displayed in a simple way for beginners. We can show the effects of the philosophy, and how it affects our lives. We can show how to apply and live by the philosophy, and show why it is such an enormous benefit. Products can be aimed at particular market segments to satisfy specific needs. The possibilities and forms are endless.
But it also means hacking away and the ethics of altruism. It requires bringing reason to the foreground, and throwing off the shackles of faith. Before an enlightenment can happen, we have to fight those ideas that are contrary to it. To this end, SOLO aims to expose the consequences of bad ideas. It aims to convince and persuade others of the damage bad ideas can have. We want to put irrationality on the run.
To give one example of how we're approaching this problem, we have a section on our website that we call the War Room. In it, we our gathering the tools necessary to spread our ideas. These come in the form of an understanding of the ideas we're fighting, arguments, styles and methods, and strategies for communicating ideas more effectively.
Walking the Walk
To promote a better culture and to show Objectivism for all it's worth, we can't just talk about it. If we want to convince others of the practicality and importance of Objectivism, we have to practice it. Fortunately, we're in luck. Objectivism is unique among philosophies in that it can and should be practiced. It's not a chore to live by a rational philosophy, it's an immeasurable benefit.
Living a great life has the added effect of showing the positive consequences of Objectivism to others. One of the most powerful arguments for Objectivism is the results it helps provide. Objectivists say there is no theory/practice dichotomy. Well, we at SOLO try to prove it. We try to live the good life, and make the most out of living.
To this end, SOLO promotes an atmosphere of laughter and fun. Life isn't a chore, it's an adventure. And we want to have fun living it. We want happiness and excitement. We want romance and passion. We want good food and good drink. We want the glory of achievement and a hard day's work. We want to be captivated by beautiful art. We want companions who aim for the same heights as we do. And yes, we want loads of money.
Objectivism is a tool that helps us pursue all of this and more. We work to apply the philosophy to our lives, and we share our ideas with others. We try to put the focus of Objectivism on what it can do for us. Others treat philosophy as if it were an endless series of pointless mind games. We try to show that philosophy is important to every part of our lives. If we can't show why any particular idea is useful, we're not interested in pursuing it.
There's another way in which we try to practice what we preach. Since SOLO is trying to change the culture, we also have to actually create our own. And the first step along this path is creating a better Objectivist culture. And that's a big first step. There's a lot of baggage that often comes with accepting Objectivism.
One example is the feeling that we're alone in a hostile world, and everyone is an enemy. This just isn't true. Most people are good, and we can gain enormous value from befriending them. Yes, they may not be Objectivists, but there's much more to relationships then one's explicit philosophy. There's shared interests, shared goals, laughter, and so much more. SOLO seeks to move away from this view of Us vs. Them. This has a practical effect of seeing others as potential friends or allies. If we seek to change the culture and the minds of other people, we're going to have to interact with them.
Another example of baggage in the Objectivist culture is the quickness to denounce others as evil or irrational. Even among Objectivists there are constant denunciations. There seems to be a view that moral judgment is one of the most virtuous acts one can perform. SOLO rejects this. Achievement and successful living should be our highest aim. Moral judgment is necessary, and we have no fears of doing it, but it is not the end purpose of morality. Life is more than just passing judgment. It's about getting up and accomplishing something. Anyone can sit back and judge others, but it is the men of action that we respect and admire.
SOLO aims at a better kind of Objectivist culture, one which we all witness at times. One where other Objectivists are seen as comrades and friends. Where we can tell jokes without someone screaming "context dropper!" Where we can feel at ease instead of walking on eggshells. We want to make this the norm. We want to recognize how much we agree, instead of focusing on the few things we disagree on. We want a culture that allows us to enjoy ourselves, and get the spiritual refill that we sometimes need.
What is SOLO Doing?
I want to turn now to some specific things SOLO has done and is doing.
Capturing the Spirit
Objectivism Web Directory
Importance of Philosophy
Light of Reason
Various SOLO products (Calendars)
Various Objectivist projects
New content: Objectivism and Homosexuality, Pandora's Box, Meaning of Life, Romance and Rationalism
Discover Freoland – Barry Kayton
Foundation for the Advancement of Art – Michael Newberry
Teaching Economics in One Lesson –Andrew Bates
(Editor's Note: Please feel free to ask about any of the above projects!)
SOLO - Sense of Life Objectivists.
* "The total passion for the total height."
* Rational passion & passionate reason.
* Say what you mean, & mean what you say.
* "This above all, to thine own self be true."
Welcome to the web site for SOLO - Sense of Life Objectivists. SOLO has been set up, to invoke George Walsh's famous remark when he helped David Kelley launch the Institute for Objectivist Studies, for those who consider themselves "homeless Objectivists" still. SOLO seeks to galvanise ALL Objectivists who recognise that Objectivism is a way of living & who repudiate any reason/passion dichotomy. We seek to be a magnet & a home for those who are exuberantly rational & rationally exuberant, who aspire to the "total passion for the total height," intellectually & emotionally, simultaneously & harmoniously. We aspire to a culture of sincerity & integrity, where mind-games, deceit & posturing - & having to read between the lines - in one's dealings with others are a thing of the past, where Shakespeare's "This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. ... " is second nature.
We see ourselves most emphatically as being at war with the current culture: the culture of anti-heroes, nihilism, destruction & dishonesty (hence a significant, though by no means exclusive, focus on esthetics here). Yet we acknowledge that Objectivism's critics can be honest, & should be granted more than a perfunctory discussion or two before being dismissed out of hand. We acknowledge that Ayn Rand made mistakes; that she did not address some philosophical questions needing to be addressed; that she was wrong about some matters of considerable existential moment, such as homosexuality. But we salute her as an epoch-changing giant - a second Aristotle - whose mistakes were of NO moment when compared to her unprecedented insights - just as HIS mistakes were of no moment. We want to help her philosophy, Objectivism, become the living, breathing, growing, vibrant, reality-orientated, life-affirming phenomenon that it really is. We want to plant another flower in the garden - fiercely, radiantly, rationally colourful - that will ultimately tower over all others.
We seek nothing less than to change the world.
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