|I think that the sequence leading from Hong's post 59 to Robert B.'s post 60 to Jeffery Small's posts 74 and 81 would well repay printing out and studying by all who wonder why these denunciation battles continue to occur amongst Objectivists. Jeffery Small's posts I consider the best, the most penetratingly insightful, I have ever seen anywhere in anything I've ever read of Objectivist soul-searching during my many years' (about 43 years') knowledge of Objectivists.|
I'd like to highlight a couple passages from post 74 and add a comment from something I posted Wednesday, April 12, on Objectivist Living.
"However, the very essence of a novel is the act of abstraction,
and that is especially true of Rand's characters. Roark, Wynand,
Dominique, Toohey, Galt, Dagny, Francisco, Ragnar, Eddie, etc.
are supremely abstract and none of them is like any actual
human being that I have ever known. Each one has been crafted,
through their personality traits and the actions they are given,
to highlight one or more important aspects of human nature.
This is done brilliantly by Rand and is supremely effective
in driving home the point she intended to make. I stand in
awe of this artistic achievement. However, a problem may occur
if you attempt to apply the lessons from the printed page to
the actions and character of real human beings without also
making the transition from the context of the novel to the
context of real life. I contend that there is a failure to make
this transition that plagues much of the objectivist movement,
AND THE PROBLEM STARTED WITH RAND HERSELF."
Later in the post he writes:
"Somewhere along the way, many Objectivists became confused
about the difference between the need to maintain one's
intellectual integrity as opposed to the proper methods of
how to conduct oneself when dealing with other people.
The[s]e are two completely separate things. While I agree
with Rand's edict to 'judge, and be prepared to be judged',
I think this idea has been totally abused."
I wouldn't say that the "need to maintain one's intellectual integrity" and the "proper methods of [...] dealing with other people" are "completely separate things." There is an interpenetration, but of a different sort than Objectivists often believe. I fully agree about the abuse of Rand's edict to "judge, and be prepared to be judged."
I emphasized above: "and the problem started with Rand herself." It started with her in that she herself, as Jeff described, displayed a tendency to view people as "abstract concepts." Connected with this tendency was her own style of, and frequent use of, denunciation -- a style which leapt to psychological conclusions and made blanket pronouncements. In this context, I'll quote from an OL post.
Paul Mawdsley had written that:
"Honouring creative passion was one of Rand's messages.
Devaluing those with different perspectives was another."
I picked up this quote and continued:
"I think the first message is what hooks people (most of the
people who become attracted by her work), but then the second
is what begins to ruin them because they believe that the moral
denunciation is required in order to honor the creative passion.
The linking of the two starts especially with Galt's Speech.
A large percentage of the speech is denunciation, in an egregiously
'psychologizing' (as she would later define that term) way. Her
rant on 'the soul of the mystic' (which I hated from the first
time I read it) couldn't have been topped by Jonathan Edwards
at his most extreme. And then, in all of her non-fiction writing,
there are always the denunciatory passages linked with the
positive content. ITOE is the least bad in that respect, but
even there she takes swipes at the presumed dishonesty of
persons proposing different views from hers."
( I proceeded to tell a story which would be a tangent here about when I took some Rand passages to show Henry Veatch.)
As if to demonstrate the pattern, Michael Moeller, in post 83, responds to Jeff, outraged.
"Please, Mr. Small, tell me this is a fucking joke."
He then proceeds to make declarations about the state of consciousness of terrorists.
"They operate off of nothing but nihilism and the complete
destruction of all values, including human life."
"My god, Jeff, there is a UNIVERSE of difference between
terrorists and people who judge the actions of their Objectivist
adversaries as immoral (whether rightly or wrongly) and denounce
them for it. The former exists in nothing but a state of blind
rage coupled with total nihilism, and will go to any means,
ANY MEANS, to smite out of existence ANYBODY
that is an infidel.
"I don't think anybody living in the free world, who exist
primarily by the use of their minds, can even BEGIN to
comprehend the psychological nihilism that goes along with
terrorists, Christian crusaders, or communist commissars.
Such a comparison is OUTRAGEOUS."
Michael is of course presuming that he does "begin" to comprehend this psychology which he considers so totally non-comparable to the behavior of any Objectivists. But what he paints is a picture of people viewed as "abstract concepts." A state of mind is being projected into the psyches of an entire category of humans, setting that category as something apart from the psychological dynamics observable amongst Objectivists (and others we meet). That is, Michael is doing the same kind of presentation here which Rand did in her speech about mystics.
But I submit that if one thus sets terrorists -- fundamentalists more broadly -- apart and says that there can't be any comparability, one will have lost a good opportunity to learn. Hong drew a comparison between circumstances she observed in China and those she's observing now on these lists: the common factor is a sudden switch of opinion from extreme praise to extreme damnation. If the behavior is similar -- and I think it is, very similar -- isn't it reasonable to ask, are the dynamics similar? Can we learn from the dynamics in the one case about what's going on in the other? Not if we decree that there can't be a comparison.