Ayn Rand/Objectivism Sightings
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From Objectivism to Neo-Tech and Back
From Objectivism ...
My first full exposure to Ayn Rand and Objectivism came in September 1988 when a college classmate loaned me his copy of The Virtue of Selfishness. After devouring it and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, that semester, I graduated and began my full time job in January 1989. This afforded me time after work to dig into Atlas Shrugged.
Even with those readings under my belt, I still struggled to grasp not only the overall structure of Objectivism, but how to apply it effectively. I understood the very general ideas -- reject supernaturalism in favor of reality, mysticism in favor of reason, altruism in favor of egoism, socialism in favor of capitalism -- but only on a vague and intuitive level. I had sent the postcard inside one of the books to the Ayn Rand Institute and began receiving mailings from them. But their pricey audio products exceeded the budget of a new employee struggling to save money for a down payment on a house.
So between the years 1989 and 1991, I found no affordable, orderly, systematic way to decipher Objectivism. Isolated from others who better understood the philosophy, I did the best I could with what I had. Fortunately, I did encounter the financial writings of Charles Givens and much of his material implicitly held rational self-interest as the central ethical principle. As a result, I managed to avoid many costly financial mistakes and bought my house in 1990. Also during this time, I met my future wife Leslie in 1990 and married her in 1991.
Although Leonard Peikoff did publish Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand in 1991, I did not learn of it until over a year later. In the meanwhile, I had also started a subscription to Success magazine. Their mailing list brought to my mailbox solicitations from other vendors, often in the form of cellophane wrapped packages of advertising index cards.
One such package included a very blustery advertisement for a product called "Neo-Tech." With fine print on both sides of the card, the text listed incredible "advantages" available to anyone exposed to the Neo-Tech "secrets." The single photograph on the card featured a very nondescript man with the caption describing him as a Clark Kent -- a quiet Superman. It pledged to show readers how to become so competitive that they could leave their challengers "in the dust."
Advertisers know that creating curiosity among prospects remains one of the best ways to turn that prospect into a customer. Since this card arrived years before the Internet boom, I had no real way of researching the company or its message. Of course, my curiosity really did get the better of me, and the offer did include a money back guarantee. So I responded to the postcard and ordered their flagship product, The Neo-Tech Discovery, just to learn more about the source of all this gusty fuss.
... to Neo-Tech ...
The book arrived in a matter of weeks. When I opened the package, I found a thick paperback book with a black cover and white text. The cover actually bore the title The Neo-Tech Discovery and included subtitle text about "Prosperity, Happiness, and Romantic Love." As I browsed through the manuscript, I found it divided into five sections. I will describe those sections here and also include links to their complete online versions that the company eventually decided to post when the Internet age came into its own.
Neo-Tech I: The Prediscovery
The originator of Neo-Tech, Wallace Ward, used the pen name Frank R. Wallace when he wrote his various Neo-Tech documents as well as his earlier work, Poker: A Guaranteed Income for Life by Using the Advance Concepts of Poker. In that early work, Wallace observed that a skilled poker player can win large sums of money consistently over time without cheating. How? He can locate easily manipulated people and persuade them to join him in a friendly game of cards over and over again using commonly accepted "big lies." These "marks" become his "market" for easy pickings over time. In a sense, he defrauds them without engaging in what people generally call fraud.
Wallace expanded the scope of this "invisible cheating" to create a new concept he called neocheating -- a newly discovered form of cheating that actually has ancient roots. This first Neo-Tech document laid the foundation for his later work. He published The Neo-Tech Reference Encyclopedia before later revising it into a document called Neo-Tech II for inclusion in the document this article discusses. In these later writings, he employed the concept of neocheating to examine the machinations of political and religious leaders throughout history and, more broadly, to every aspect of human life from finance to romance.
Neo-Tech II: The Discovery
This section constituted the main part of the book. The entire book had wide margins to allow readers the luxury to make ample notes and anyone new to this material would likely want to do so. Here, Wallace articulated "The 114 Advantages" of applying Neo-Tech, a word he contracted from the new identification techniques of "fully integrated honesty based on facts of reality." For Wallace, the employment of Neo-Tech creates advantages in culling from life all forms of neocheating, that form of cheating he likes to call "the philosophical zero" or "black hole" of destructiveness.
In cards, a given game amounts to a zero sum, with some winners and some losers and no net value produced. Likewise, in many real life situations, money changes hands with no net value produced and, often, with net value destroyed. In religion, for instance, parishioners pay priests to bless them even though the actual content of religion amounts to a zero -- an all-consuming nothingness. Much the same happens in quack medicine, politics, and a host of other facets of human existence. Wallace articulates this nothingness drain in each of the 114 advantages and shows how Neo-Tech defends the user from that drainage.
As I read through the book, I could see a strong element of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. So nothing in the pages shocked me. But I could see how someone embroiled in religion or other rubbish would feel complete shock upon reading it.
Neo-Tech III: Controlling Mystics
Why do human beings who ought to know better continue to believe nonsense well into the age of reason? This question vexed Wallace for quite some time before he learned of Dr. Julian Jaynes and his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. In that book, Jaynes argued that the earliest of Homo sapiens did not experience the world in the same conscious, self-aware state as do modern humans.
For Jaynes, the writings of early man reflected an automated mode of awareness similar to that of animals. In his theory, man functioned through auditory hallucinations generated from the creative right brain hemisphere transmitted as verbal commands to the analytical left brain hemisphere. These "voices of the gods" told man how to act. Because of the two chambers of the brain involved in this form of awareness, Jaynes called his theory that of the "bicameral" or two chamber mind. As society grew more complex, man had to evolve his own consciousness -- "invent himself" -- to integrate the hemispheric activity into a single concept of "I" so he could handle the new complexities using volitional reasoning. But because man missed the voices of the gods, he began turning to external authorities who claimed still to hear those voices -- or to feel their commands -- or otherwise to have special access to privileged information -- for guidance.
Jaynes died before he could write and publish a promised sequel. His theory thus never gained wide acceptance in the cognitive science community. But Wallace and his associates latched onto the bicameral mind theory and wove it throughout their subsequent writings.
In this particular section, Wallace used the bicameral mind idea to explain myriad phenomena from compulsive poker playing losses to astrological gobbledygook.
Neo-Tech IV: Business Success and Predicting Stock Prices
Ayn Rand warned of "the sanction of the victim" and talked of misguided business leaders who finance their own destroyers. Wallace continued this theme in this section of The Neo-Tech Discovery. When he worked as a chemist for DuPont, he noted with dismay the eroding business philosophy of his employer over 20 years and its consequent drop in stock price. This section paraphrased his proposal to DuPont management for rectifying this degradation. Persons familiar with Ayn Rand will not feel surprise at the correlation between the rise of altruism within DuPont's leadership and its declining stock value. Wallace used charts, graphs and ideological analyses to make his case for purging all such rubbish completely from the industrial philosophy of DuPont.
Neo-Tech V: Achieving Commercial Biological Immortality
Consonant with Objectivism, Wallace held life as the standard of value. He thus saw the achievement of ageless biological immortality as a worthwhile mission. To that end, he deliberately plowed some of the profits of his company, Neo-Tech Publishing, into a side business called the Research Institute for Biological Immortality. In fact, he ultimately sought to collapse mysticism worldwide so that the majority of people would not only cease the futile pursuit of an afterlife, but would begin to love this life enough to want to extend it indefinitely. This section explained his grand vision for eternal, worldly life.
Finally, after all these many pages of information advanced with gusto, Wallace discussed the roots of Neo-Tech and confirmed my suspicions:
Prior to Neo-Tech, the broadest integration of a philosophical system was Ayn Rand's powerfully valid system of Objectivism, commercially advanced by Nathaniel Branden, and currently carried forward by Leonard Peikoff through his important philosophical and promotional contributions.
Aha! So he did appeal to Objectivism! I felt vindicated.
To his credit, Wallace outlined the five branches of philosophy and contrasted Objectivism with Neo-Tech concisely. I had never previously read about Ayn Rand's "standing on one foot" summary of Objectivism so I found this particular table in the book quite helpful:
Nevertheless, I had to ask: Now what? Has he really told me anything I did not know already from reading Ayn Rand? I did enjoy the content and style of his writing, however.
The Neo-Tech Publishing (NTP) Company, which Wallace founded, employed his son, Wallace Ward, Jr. who used the pen name Mark Hamilton. It also employed a number of other family members as well as hired employees. I eventually purchased a few more books from the company such as:
Neo-Tech Cosmic Business Control by Mark Hamilton
A Future of Wealth Belongs to You! by Mark Hamilton
Zonpower by Frank R. Wallace
By this time, an e-mail discussion list for Neo-Tech had started called "Neo-Talk." Its owner and moderator, Nicholas Rich, while not an NTP employee, nevertheless had great enthusiasm for the products, especially Neo-Tech Cosmic Business Control. That book outlined a mode of thinking called Neothink that consciously strove to drive all forms of mysticism and bicameral tendencies from the reasoning mind. It outlined the "white collar hoax" of ossified business structures and overpaid managers that neocheat customers and employees. They do this through the use of appeals to management "authorities" who in fact do not earn the kinds of money the business structure pays them. Hamilton's entire book offers an alternative of self-employment that includes ways to train new hires and then set them up as independent contractors totally responsible for their own bottom lines. For Rich, who worked as an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) negotiator, this system delivered a financial boon.
As an Objectivist, I had no beef so far with any of this material. I considered it great that a scientist actually made a career change to pursue values consonant with life on earth and shared them with many thousands of others through effective free market tactics. However, I eventually encountered material that would cause me at last to wash my hands of the entire effort.
In the works I read prior to Zonpower, Wallace and Hamilton would occasionally make sweeping proclamations about a "Civilization of the Universe" which the human race would join once it "exorcised" the last of its mystical tendencies. For them, no advanced race of intelligent beings could possibly survive without Neo-Tech past the "nuclear decision threshold," i.e. the use of nuclear weapons for complete self-destruction. I breezed past these statements as meaningless puffs of hot air in an otherwise readable set of books.
That all changed with the release of Zonpower. In that book, Wallace pulled the stops and began to rant and babble as a divinely inspired schizophrenic. He raged onward and upward about the ideal sentient being, the Zon, and how all advanced extraterrestrials must necessarily fit that mold and how humans can achieve it with honesty and effort. From utterly specious claims about "Neo-Tech Physics" and their "Super-Inflation Gravity Units (SIGUs)" to long winded and repetitive yapping about everyone riding into the "Civilization of the Universe," Wallace truly went off the proverbial "deep end."
Unfortunately, this book became the first to make its way into cyberspace when NTP decided to exploit the new Internet in 1996 by publishing its books online. Concurrently, several self-proclaimed "warrior" customers of Neo-Tech began cross-posting voluminously to the unmoderated Usenet newsgroup for Objectivism in addition to their own unmoderated newsgroup for Neo-Tech and the unmoderated private e-mail list. Rather than advancing the most credible aspects of Neo-Tech, they expounded the most ludicrous ones about Zons, SIGUs, and so forth. I regret to say that I participated in some of this posting though I stuck with the fundamentals rather than the absurdities. The traffic and flame wars became so bad on the original Objectivism newsgroup that the regulars finally moved to a moderated humanities newsgroup for Objectivism.
Meanwhile, on the e-mail list, I could see cracks widening more and more. The need for rigor and systematization became obvious. Flame wars erupted and the list owner allowed them to run their course in the name of "free market problem resolution." People who knew nothing about the basic rules of right reason would rant about when to expect the Civilization of the Universe to arrive while others would attempt to recruit list members into the latest multi-level marketing scheme. The static to signal ratio became unbearable.
... and Back
At some point during all this, my wife gave me Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (OPAR) by Leonard Peikoff as a birthday gift. I read it twice, carefully making summary notes the second time and eventually posting those notes to my personal Web site. When I brought this to the attention of the other Neo-Tech e-mail list members, several of them chastised me for appealing to a "holy book" that an "external authority" had written. They then promptly returned to their time wasting habits of arguing, in effect, about how many Zons can dance on the head of a pin.
I had had enough. The limits for the "benefit of the doubt" had run their course and snapped. So I finally posted summaries and warnings about the content and applications of Neo-Tech and then washed my hands of the entire affair. I resolved never to entertain arbitrary assertions again, a notion I never really understood until I read OPAR.
I recall reading at some point in the NTP literature that Frank R. Wallace had problems with schizophrenic hallucinations as a young man. He would hallucinate himself as levitating even though his reasoning mind told him otherwise. That he used his own force of will to tell himself the difference between reality and hallucination spoke well of his capacity for reason. I could relate to this several years later while watching the film A Beautiful Mind about the schizophrenic struggles of the brilliant mathematician John Nash. Nevertheless, Wallace seemed not to make this distinction when writing about the cosmic capacity of Neo-Tech.
From an unsolicited source, I recently learned that despite his sincere desire to live forever, Wallace met an ignoble end. While on his daily jog, a young woman driver struck Wallace and inflicted injuries that left him dead. His company still lives, however, and for better or for worse, NTP continues to market its odd mix of Objectivism and extraterrestrial speculations. No wonder many people have compared Scientology to Neo-Tech and, by unwarranted extension, to Objectivism. Thankfully, grounded advocates of Objectivism now market "the real deal" and can leave NTP "in the dust."
To all those in the past whose time and energy I wasted with Neo-Tech, I apologize. To those new to Neo-Tech, consider this article a fair warning. To those currently involved in Neo-Tech, I invite you back to your home world -- Earth -- using a philosophy created for living on it -- Objectivism.
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