It's so great to have a mainstream advocate -- rather than an insider advocate like Yaron Brook, etc -- of Objectivism. Cool. However, there are a few things to mention regarding John's attack and Jennifer's defense of Rand/Objectivism. Jennifer said this:
So ... her father's property was seized in the Russian Revolution and that really set the goal for her life, which was to create a philosophical and moral system that would insure that never happened again.Here, Jennifer is making 2 assumptions. One is about Rand's ultimate motivation (i.e., "the goal of her life"). How incredibly presumptuous! She is, literally, talking as if she understands not just Rand's general sense of life -- but her particular and individualized sense of life. She is encapsulating the spirit of Rand into a defined and confined box.
Rand warned against this kind of thing. A sense of life can be elusive and difficult to put into words, even if it's your own sense of life! It takes great introspection to arrive at it. But, here, Jennifer is disregarding this warning and not just defining her own sense of life -- but the sense of life of another!
For instance, Rand may have "created" Objectivism for reasons more basic than her own personal experiences with communism -- even though a focus on her own personal experience is the "easiest" way to explain Rand's work to many people and have most of those people "get it." Something more basic than Rand's personal experience with communism would be a love of truth, for example.
Jennifer's focus on the uniqueness of Rand's personal experience with communism -- as an explanation of Rand's soul and of all her work -- prevents investigators from discovering any more basic reasons why Rand may have worked hard on Objectivism (e.g., the love of truth). In a way, it keeps the investigation on a superficial level with a sound-byte or catch-phrase mentality.
For instance, in response to Jennifer's explanation of Rand, the Liberal Left may just say:
"Well, for Rand, Objectivism is good and proper -- because of her personal experiences. It was just her soul's answer to her personal experiences. Other people, like those in America, don't need Objectivism as an answer -- because communism is now old and passe` (because we don't have gulags anymore). Objectivism would be an "over-reaction" to life in America today."
The second thing wrong with Jennifer's words are that she only used the word "create" -- as if Objectivism is just something that came from Rand's mind (a personal art-work), rather than something which comes from the general application of logic to experience. This point ties in with the first:
If Objectivism is simply a single intellectual's personal reaction to a particular personal experience within a particular social system, then it's not necessarily right or good for other people in other ages or in other societies.
To her credit, Jennifer tries to respond to these kinds of objections later on in the interview. It's difficult to do that, however, after planting the seeds of subjectivism as much she did with this early statement.
John Stewart said these things:
It's interesting that it's been co-opted by populism because it [Objectivism] seems to be a very elitist ... it almost sets up a 'hyper-society' above people who can't attain that kind of greatness.
But that value of 'freedom' ... you know it's ... not as easy ... she was a ... intellectual ... and considered herself as much and ... that is so scorned now by the more popular [Right] wing that uses her as their intellectual foundation. It seems odd.
An incredibly impressive person ... sheer force of will to derive this entire framework ... but in some ways her body of work is a refutation of the society that she wants, because I don't think everyone, no matter what, could attain and accomplish what she did.In quote (1), John fails to integrate (or understand) Rand's "pyramid of ability" wherein regular, average, or mediocre folks benefit so much from truly unleashing the creative and productive geniuses in a society. Perhaps he's not any kind of a Rand scholar, though he plays one on TV. At any rate, Jennifer's answer to these objections -- that Rand deliberately created ideals and that you can be your own personal, independent hero -- is awesome. Instead of showing John how Rand, herself, had dealt with these objections (e.g. "pyramid of ability") -- Jennifer used plain language and thinking and answered him quite well.
In quote (2), John tries to taint Rand with a "guilt-by-association" appeal in order to poison the well (a logical fallacy). In effect, John is saying that conservatives are anti-intellectual, and they happen to like Rand, so there must be something wrong with Rand's philosophy -- so there must be something wrong with the value of 'freedom.' This is just sophistry and illusion, however. The merit of Rand's philosophy or of the value of freedom is independent from the psycho-epistemology of some of it's popular and conservative champions.
In this objection, John fails to understand what it is about modern 'intellectualism' that conservatives (and Rand!) don't or didn't like. If asked why Rand didn't like Dewey, Skinner, or Rawls, John would probably just blank-out. He would not be able to provide the reasons why Rand didn't like these intellectuals. Instead, he would be dumb-founded and may even run through this train of thought:
Dewey, Skinner, and Rawls were intellectuals.The problem with this thinking is how concrete-bound and collectivist it is. It is very un-sophisticated and there is a good possibility that it is what runs through John Stewart's mind -- as it explains why he's dumb-founded about any dislike of any intellectual (and his thinking is reduced to merely pointing his finger at conservatives and saying: "They don't like intellectuals!").
Rand was an intellectual, too.
Rand should like Dewey, Skinner, and Rawls (because they are intellectuals, like her).
Conservatives, however, should not like any of these people (because conservatives don't like intellectuals).
In quote (3), John makes 2 mistakes. First, he thinks that Rand "made" Objectivism out of an existentialist "will-to-power." By looking at it this way, he sees her work as the simple result of a Primacy of Consciousness. She wanted a certain framework. She created a certain framework. Whether her framework corresponds to reality is not even an interest (because it's all about what she "wanted"). The second mistake is explained by egalitarian thinking and a politics of envy.
John thinks that, in order for Rand's framework to work -- it must work equally for everyone. Again, a refutation of this already exists within Rand's writings regarding the "pyramid of ability." As this objection hinges on the false assumption that everything human has to be equal (in order to be right or good), it is uprooted.
It is good to understand what's wrong with the thinking of popular Rand-critics like John Stewart -- because they are listened to by, and can at least temporarily influence, many people. In defending a philosophy, successfully debating your most-popular critics is a great place to start.
Because she did well to promote Objectivism, I would give Jennifer a B+ grade.. The kicker is that, in order for someone to get an A grade, they would have probably had to attack John Stewart's egalitarian assumptions and make him look like somewhat of a fool (and then the interview probably wouldn't have reached the air-waves). The best attempts to champion a rival point of view must include an explanation of what is wrong with the critics of that view. It is part of the process of intellectual debate.
Perhaps a B+ is the best grade that one could achieve in a situation such as this. Rand did better in the Donahue interviews (which isn't surprising). She not only showed what is right with Objectivism, but she was also able to show what is wrong with its known critics or with the known criticism of it. Jennifer was much more tame in this regard. However, considering the context, one might say she earned an A grade (promoting Objectivism without creating casualties in the process).
(Edited by Ed Thompson on 10/17, 9:57am)