|Tom, you asked me this:
Question: When you say that "nobody's perfect" are you saying that everyone breaches morality (using Objectivism's standard as you understand it) or are you saying that everyone commits errors of knowledge?I'll not only answer your immediate question; I'll cut to the chase, anticipating subsequent questions that will be raised by others.
To your immediate question, I'll stick my neck out, appear to march completely off the Objectivist reservation and give a totally honest, but Philosophically Incorrect answer:
By what I wrote, I meant that I've never yet met anyone who is immune to "errors of knowledge" or "errors of morality." In other words, I've never met any morally perfect person.
That conclusion is based on 55 years of living, 38 of them in close proximity to Objectivists. I've met most of the leading names in The Movement, up close. And the closer I've gotten to know even those people, the more I've seen instances of both kinds of errors, including irrationality. Sometimes, blatant irrationality.
By "irrationality" I include all forms and degrees of evasion, including context-dropping, subject-switching and the ever-popular practice known as "rationalizing." Rationalizing entails the stubborn unwillingness to face unpleasant facts, and then coming up with brain-cracking (often philosophical) "explanations" and "arguments" to support one's evasions. It can include exaggerating the significance of preferred facts, minimizing or ignoring the significance of others, but always concocting plausible sounding "reasons" in order to save face.
Now, does Bidinotto include himself in this ungenerous assessment of his fellow men? Has he ever acted against his best judgment, or rationalized, or been unjust?
Are you kidding?
Sure I have.
I take no twisted form of pride in admitting that. The only thing I can say on behalf of my doing so is this: By acknowledging such acts, I free myself from continued self-deception about them, and thereby empower myself to change course and improve.
That, however, is something that a moral perfectionist can't bring himself to do. Desperately committed to maintaining his phony, inflated self-assessment at all costs, he blinds himself to the errors of his ways, and thus guarantees that he will continue them...usually compounding them with even further rationalizing.
Rand once wrote, "Evil philosophies are systems of rationalization." What she didn't grasp, apparently, was that any philosophy, her own emphatically included, can be twisted to serve as a system of rationalization. In my experience, many Objectivists (from all camps within the movement) have acquired impressive facility in this practice. That's especially true of some of the most intelligent: fooling themselves takes a lot more work. So their rationalizations soar to awesome rhetorical heights, buttressed by plenty of arcane philosophical language and familiar Objectivist code words. Some get so good at it that they can convince themselves of things that ordinary non-intellectuals, exercising nothing but common sense, know to be utterly stupid and morally appalling.
Unfortunately, many Objectivists have a strong motive to rationalize. That's because Objectivism, as presented by the seminal and leading figures in the movement, saddles them with an enormous psychological pressure: the pressure of moral perfectionism.
Their message, absorbed by many Objectivists, is that any failure of consistency, to any degree, on any issue, in any circumstance, no matter how trivial, is tantamount to the complete betrayal of their soul and their self-esteem...and forever. The assumption is that there are no degrees of irrationality or evasion; that to kid oneself on some minor issue is equivalent to tossing Jews into gas ovens. That assumption gives many Objectivists an all-consuming emotional interest in lying to themselves whenever they fall short of Perfection. Words like "irredeemable" and "unforgiveable" are bandied about a lot in movement literature. Rather than simply admit that they blew it, they torture the Objectivist philosophy into a complex abstract rationale to exonerate their behavior.
Tom, I've been involved with Objectivism and Objectivists since 1967, and the rarest sentence I've ever heard Objectivists utter is any variation of: "You know, I was wrong, it was inexcusable, and I'm sorry." To do that, you see, would be to concede moral imperfection; and that is equated with being totally Immoral, Irrational, Vile, Evil, Irredeemable, Subhuman and all the other familiar Objectivist terms of endearment.
But this view of Objectivism is absolutely wrong.
The fundamental mistake lies in a distorted attitude toward philosophy and toward ethics in general. It hinges on what a philosophy is for.
Rather than use moral principles like road maps or compasses to living -- as practical guides to direct our actions toward the achievement of values -- many Objectivists focus predominantly on the "achievement" of virtue -- of a inner psychological state of moral purity . Their goal is not to achieve something in the world, but inside their skulls: to be something...to be morally perfect. The "ultimate value" of philosophy and ethics -- living a happy life -- evaporates; all that remains is the Moral Standard, looming over their lives 24/7 like some stern, frowning nun, hawk-eyed for any moral infrantions, ready to pounce and rap their knuckles with a ruler called Moral Condemnation.
It is all so perfectly...Catholic.
Tom, I have also found it entirely useless to point out that this obsessive virtue-focus, rather than an outward value-focus, constitutes a misuse of the Objectivist ethics. Rand wrote all about it in "Causality Vs. Duty," but they still don't get it. That's because these intimidated and duty-bound souls, many of whom inherited their deontological approach to morality from religious fundamentalists, are simply not open to reason about this issue. They maintain an enormous emotional investment in viewing the Objectivist morality that way. For many, in fact, that "virtue-focus" was their motive for getting involved with Objectivism in the first place. It spoke to them in religious-sounding terms, like absolutes, unbreached integrity, consistency, certainty, etc. And for them, it had the reassuring appeal of dogma. It beckons with the Siren promise of a certainty and security they felt they lack.
So they find in Objectivism not a practical roadmap to living well on earth, but the static vision of secular Puritanism -- a "scientific"-sounding replacement for the Thou Shalt Nots of their childhoods. If they can only not sin, they can feel the self-respect that they crave. For that's what Objectivism is to them: a route to feeling self-righteous, to feeling good about themselves. And that's something they can "achieve," not through risky action and sweat and trial and error out there in the world, but purely intellectually, from the cozy safety of their armchairs. All they have to do is "be" rational -- that is, think the Correct Premises.
And be very vocal about those premises, too. For that's how they prove their moral status. They talk incessantly about morality. They also talk about it comparatively. Like the Puritans who had to root out witches to burn in order to feel morally superior, platonic Objectivists must root out and repudiate "moral compromisers"...for the same reason. Their never-ending quest for inner reassurance gives them cause to discover Irrationalists everywhere. With each new denunciation, they temporarily feel better: they have reaffirmed their unique concern for morality. Thus morality becomes not a tool for better living, but a bludgeon with which to batter Irrationalists.
Confirmation of all this? Just watch what follows from this post of mine, as they line up to pounce on me with rationalistic glee.
Ah, finally! There it is! The game is up! Bidinotto at last acknowledges what I always knew: that he rejects the absolutism of reason! He acknowledges his own immorality! He has joined the Cult of Moral Grayness! He has exposed himself as a Raving Subjectivist, a Kantian, a Moral Relativist, a Mystic of Muscle (...or is that "Mystic of Mind"?), an Attila, a Witch Doctor, a...a...a...
That is all complete bullshit, mind you. I said nothing of the sort. In acknowledging that I haven't embodied or encountered moral perfection, I didn't endorse relativism, or rationalize my own failings, or minimize the harmful consequences of irrationality or say that a rational life is theoretically impossible. But for those obsessed with Virtue as an end in itself, and with reassuring themselves of their own perfection via moral witchhunts, what I've just written will be like chum for sharks.
In their responses, they will provide all the footnotes you'll need to confirm what I've said. I don't plan to answer them, feeding their neurotic needs, and don't recommend you do, either.
(Edited by Robert Bidinotto on 4/16, 5:50am)