Rebirth of Reason

Post to this threadMark all messages in this thread as readMark all messages in this thread as unread

Sanction: 4, No Sanction: 0
Sanction: 4, No Sanction: 0
Post 0

Wednesday, July 7, 2004 - 4:49pmSanction this postReply
I recently posted this message to Objectivism@wetheliving.com. Unfortunately though, there is something wrong with their server and it never got through. In any event, I'd like to hear what you guys have to say about it as well.

From: Tom Blackstone <randianz@msn.com>
To: objectivism@wetheliving.com
Subject: An Objectivist Society?
Sent: Wednesday, July 7, 2004 5:09 PM
      This topic is going to be very different from most of the topics that are discussed on this list. Nevertheless, it is important and needs to be discussed.
      I have been concerned for some time with the lack of success that I see in Objectivists' attempts to spread their philosophy. In particular, I have noticed that there are very few city-level Objectivist organizations in the United States. On the Objectivist Center's website, there are only about 50 "local clubs" listed, and many of these have very few members. Compare that to the Libertarian Party, which has 50 "county" organizations in Georgia and Florida alone (that's not even counting the state parties and the college clubs), and which engage in hundreds of meetings every year. It is no wonder that "libertarianism" has become a term spattered throughout popular culture while the term "Objectivism" is practically unknown.
     This is a big concern to me, because I think that what Objectivism has to say is important and should have more influence on our culture.
     I have been wondering what the cause of this stagnation in the movement is, and have come to one conclusion: the Objectivist movement is not organized the way it should be.
    In essence, the Objectivist movement has adopted what I would call the "trickle-down" theory of philosophical advocacy. Since the time of NBI, Objectivism has always been represented by "think-tanks" who attempt to change the culture by doing academic research, giving "courses" on Objectivism, and publishing "op-eds". The idea behind all of this is to get Objectivist ideas into the Universities and allow them to be absorbed by osmosis into the rest of the culture.
   I think this is a terrible way to spread philosophical ideas. If the apostle Paul had tried to spread Christianity this way, I think most Americans would be worshipping Jupiter right now.
  Instead, Paul concentrated on converting massive amounts of people to his ideas. Eventually, some of those people went on to become "prophets" and "theologians" and the "academic" side straightened itself out on it's own.
  I think this is the strategy that Objectivists should employ, and I have some idea of how it should be done.
  First of all, the best thing Objectivism has going for it is it's local clubs. Just as Paul spread Christianity by building churches throughout the Roman Empire, we can best succeed by building local clubs throughout the U.S. and the world.
  The problem that we have however, is that the clubs are not working together to promote the Objectivist movement as a whole. Instead, they are each kind of trying to make do on their own. Again, I make the analogy with the Libertarian Party. I doubt it would be nearly as successful if there was no national LP.
  Another problem that we have is that the local clubs' meetings tend to have a kind of "study group" atmosphere that is appealing to some but many people find boring (or at least that has been my experience here in Georgia).
  For awhile I thought that maybe the "Fellowship of Reason" (http://www.fellowshipofreason.com) would turn out to solve all of those problems. But after recently moving to Atlanta, I have found out that FOR has been hijacked by non-Objectivists and is now hopelessly beyond repair.

  It looks like there is no organization around today that is suitable for what I'm talking about doing.
  So at this point I'm considering the idea of forming a new Objectivist organization, tentatively called "The Objectivist Society" who's sole purpose is to convert large amounts of people to Objectivism. This will be done by forming "moral communities" that will participate in "celebrations" of Objectivist ideas as well as the traditional "study groups". It will also include purely social activities like "Pub night", "Movie Night", and holiday parties.
  I am thinking of something very similar to The Fellowship of Reason but without the wishy-washiness.
  The organization would be governed by a "national committee" elected by the members at a convention every two years. The national committee's job would be to advertise the organization on a national level and to do things like print flyers explaining Objectivist philosophy which could be distributed at the local level. It would also be in charge of printing the national newsletter, "Objectivist News" which would be mailed to all dues-paying members and would include enlightening philosophical essays and news on things that were happening in the movement.
  The dues would probabely be around $25, half of which would go to the local club nearest the member and half of which would go to the national organization.
  Eventually, a short, easy-to-read, non-fiction book is going to have to be written explaining the philosophy of Objectivism to those people who have never heard of it and informing them of how to get involved with the group.
I think if we were to do these things, within about 25 years we should have enough members to rival some of the smaller religious movements, and would be well on our way to creating a much more rational society. 
  What do you guys think? I am eager to hear your comments on my ideas - pro or con.

------------------------------------Tom Blackstone


P.S. I didn't mention Sense of Life Objectivists in this e-mail. Perhaps SOLO would be interested in implementing some of these ideas? The only problem with that is that SOLO identifies itself as a faction within the Objectivist movement rather than as an organization that represents Objectivism as a whole (i.e. "sense of Life Objectivists" instead of just "Objectivists"), so I think if that happens the name needs to be changed. In any event, I would like to hear people's comments on my ideas.

Post 1

Wednesday, July 7, 2004 - 8:17pmSanction this postReply
Hi Tom,

I've got some feedback, but first I thought I'd talk about SOLO.  If you haven't noticed on the front page, we have five local clubs set up.  SOLO NY and SOLO UK are the two oldest, and have each had a few social gatherings.  SOLO Florida is just getting started by Luther Setzer, who's done an impressive amount already when it comes to local clubs.  We intend to spread the franchise around the world.  And here at SOLOHQ we provide a number of features for clubs, including web hosting and forums.  We've just started down this road.

So I'm obviously sympathetic to your ideas.  My biggest problem is that it still lacks a lot of details.  For instance, it's obvious to see what the libertarians can do at a national level.  They get people on the ballots, give speeches, and potentially lend support to the state organizations.  They're geared towards certain goals, specifically elections.  What's the overriding goal of the clubs you talk about?  Certainly they're ultimate goal may be to spread Objectivism, but what does each "committee" do?  How do the clubs cooperate.  Are they social clubs where people can meet other Objectivists and have a good time?  Or are they study groups?  Do they try to accomplish tangible goals to promote Objectivism, or is it more of a local thing?

The other goals, like having an easy introduction to Objectivism book, don't particularly make sense for local clubs.  Although you might have people willing to participate, you really need quality, not quantity.  A fuzzy understanding of the philosophy will generate a vague and hard to understand book.  Good goal, but it doesn't particularly fit with the club idea.  And then there are lots of other worthy goals.  Why limit it to a book?  Why not a video?  Or a video game?

Those are just a few thought.  I'm interested in discussing the topic of the clubs more. 

Post 2

Thursday, July 8, 2004 - 11:50amSanction this postReply
       Thanks for your comments. Let me explain how the clubs or "affiliates" would operate first. The best way to explain it would be to tell you how the Fellowship of Reason works here in Atlanta, since I'm using that kind of as a jumping off point for the idea.
       The biggest meeting every month at FOR is the "FORum", which is held the first Sunday of every month. It consists of the following elements:

1. Welcome
2. Celebration of Freedom
3. Celebration of Visitors and Each other
4.  Celebratory Announcements
5. Celebration of Art
6. Celebration of Heroes
7. Celebration of Talent
8. Oratory (short lecture on ethics)
9. Forum (open discussion moderated by the president)
10. Closing Quotation

At the FORum I went to this past sunday, someone gave a presentation on the importance of the Declaration of Independence (it was 4th of July) as the "Celebration of Freedom", then all of the new people were asked to introduce themselves and tell the group a little about themselves and were then welcomed into the group (Celebration of Visitors). After that, the members were asked to announce any accomplishments they had achieved in the last month (Celebratory Announcements). Many of the members announced accomplishments they had made, and were applauded by the group. Next came another person who gave a talk on "The Difference Between a 'Designer' and an 'Artist'" which was a discussion on the different ways in which those two professions look at things and the ways in which those two concepts could be applied to the way a person lives his life (Celebration of Art). Then the first person came back up to the podium and gave a biographical speech of an individual who was an innovater in the composition of patriotic music (Celebration of Heroes). After that, one of the members played a piece of classical music (Celebration of Talent). Finally, Martin Cowen III, the founder of the group, gave a lecture called "The Warrior, The Priest, and the Producer" in which he argued that those three types of people are not only evident in society, but they are also three parts of a person's consiousness. He argued that most people delegate the role of "Priest" and "Warrior" to someone else in modern society, but that we should perform those tasks ourselves by studying philosophy ("Priest" role) and engaging in cultural activism ("Warrior" role). At the very end of the FORum, we had a discussion on everything that we had heard that day, and many interesting points were made.

I found the meeting very entertaining, and I can see how it could be used very effectively to spread Objectivist ideas. I have to point out though, that not everyone likes the FORums. Some people think it's too "church-like", and that is why FOR has other types of meetings as well.

The other types of meetings include a "philosophy tapes" meeting (every tuesday) in which participants listen to a taped lecture on the history of philosophy and then discuss the lecture afterwards. This is more like the ":salon style" meeting that Objectivists are used to (what I referred to as a "study group"). Then there is "potluck" (third saturday?) which involves everyone bringing food and discussing a pre-arranged topic. There is also "FOR Pub" (third wednesday?) which invloves the group just going to a bar and hanging out. And finally, there's "Movie Night" in which the group watches a movie. Oh, and there's also a fiction and non-fiction "book club".

So as you can see, there is a great variety of social and educational oppurtunities in the group.

The group started out as an Objectivist group, and there are many Objectivists in the group now. Unfortunately though, there are now many people in  the group who's views are antithetical to Objectivism, including statists and post-modernists. In fact one of the board of trustees members appears to be a post-modernist. This has made it very difficult for it to be used as a vehicle for promoting Objectivism.

 In answer to your question "What are these clubs? Are they study groups? Are they social groups?" the answer is: All of the above. I want the clubs to have many different kinds of meetings that will appeal to different people.

As for how the groups would work together, I don't envision them working with each other much. I see there being more of a relationship between the local clubs and the national organization rather than the local clubs with each other.

The role of the national organization would be to advertise on a national level, get people to join the organization, issue the newsletter which serves as a way of educating new members about the philosophy, and then send them to the local groups so they can stay involved and don't get bored.

Another question you seem to be asking is "What can SOLO do as part of this idea"? I would say that there are basically two different ways that SOLO could approach this. One way would be for SOLO to BECOME the "Objectivist Society". In other words, instead of creating a new organization we just reform SOLO. That would involve SOLO developing a national committee, printing a newsletter, and trying to get the other non-SOLO Objectivist clubs to become affiliates of SOLO. It would also involve printing a "New Affiliate Chapter Guidebook" or something that would explain to people how to start their own chapter if there's not one near them.

The only problem with this is that it would require SOLO to fundamentally change the way it markets itself. Right now SOLO markets itself to Objectivists, and tries to explain how it is different from other Objectivist groups. Even the name "Sense of Life Objectivists" implies that it is a faction WITHIN the Objectivist movement rather than representing Objectivism as a whole. Compare that to "The Objectivist Center" for example, and look at the difference in connotation. What SOLO would have to do is start marketing itself to non-objectivists. Instead of distinguishing itself from other Objectivist groups, it would distinguish itself primarily from Religion and perhaps Subjectivism as well. Instead of saying "this is what makes us different from TOC" it would say "this is what makes us different from Christianity, Paganism, and Subjectivism".

The second way SOLO could approach the issue, is by becoming a group WITHIN the Objectivist Society. In that case the local groups that are affiliated with SOLO would become affiliates of both SOLO and The Objectivist Society. Members who joined the Objectivist Society and lived near a SOLO group would be directed to that group just as if it were any other Objectivist Society affiliate, and members of SOLO affiliates would be encouraged to become dues paying members of the Objectivist Society. This would allow SOLO to keep it's emphasis on the particular aspects of Objectivism it's concerned with, without having to change the way it markets itself.

The only other question you asked was about the book, and I think you misunderstood me (or I was not clear). I wanted to use the book as a means of promoting the organization, not use the organization in some kind of collective writing of the book or something. I'm actually planning on writing the book myself. In fact, I already have the introduction and the first chapter finished.

This has turned to be a really long post. I hope I've answered some of your questions, and I look forward to hearing your response.

-------------------------Tom Blackstone

Post 3

Thursday, July 8, 2004 - 11:07pmSanction this postReply
Tom, if you're really interested in all of this, you can talk to Luther Setzer, who has taken on the position here at SOLO as Club Coordinator.

The newsletter idea is a bit unclear.  What would it involve?  How is this necessarily a part of the club idea?  Is it something that's useful even if the club idea doesn't take off?  What kind of content would it have?

You also mentioned that you would want to market towards non-Objectivists.  I don't quite understand that.  These are Objectivist clubs you're talking about, right?  Or just clubs that are of interest to Objectivists?  In your first post you mentioned that FOR was hijacked by non-Objectivists, and that made them beyond repair.  But now you sound like you're suggesting the clubs be non-Objectivist as well.  Or maybe just semi-Objectivist.  It's certainly possible to market towards non-Objectivists while keeping the club Objectivist.  There are campus clubs all over that try to get random people to go to their meetings, but the meetings are Objectivist.

As for your specific ideas on how the clubs should be run, some of the clubs may be interested in trying them.  But suggestions is all they would be.  Luther has a ton of ideas himself on this.  I wouldn't mind seeing a club informational brochure that gave new club leaders an idea of how they can get started, how to avoid certain problems, etc.  Shortly we'll be adding a separate forum for club owners.  You may want to participate.

As for SOLO, we've already got people running it.  No need for a national committee, and certainly it won't ever be open to elections.  This is a for-profit enterprise.  Also, it's worth mentioning that national is too small, as SOLO is already quite international.  I see no need to reform it.  We even have a print magazine, called The Free Radical.

Hopefully Luther will add his own thoughts to this discussion.

Post 4

Friday, July 9, 2004 - 1:59pmSanction this postReply
      Thanks alot for your comments. I don't think these ideas could be implemented by an organization that isn't democratically controlled. The reason I don't think it can be, is because that would mean that an Objectivist who disagreed with the way the organization was being run would have to quit the organization instead of staying in and trying to change it from the inside. I think the recent fiasco with Diana Hsieh is a good example of this.
     Obviously you disagree with me. In that case, you should continue to do what you've been doing and maybe you'll prove me wrong. In the meantime, I'm going to continue talking to people about this and see how many people like the idea. How people respond will determine whether I go through with the idea or not. In any event, I appreciate your feedback.

------------------------Tom Blackstone


Post 5

Friday, July 9, 2004 - 2:18pmSanction this postReply
We need an Objectivist Church! Someplace where we can gather every weekend and talk about our philosophy. The spiritual side of Objectivism is what's missing. We need to celebrate life, and do it in basic ways, much like churchs do, with pot-luck suppers, weekly gatherings, study groups, mutual assistance, etc...


Post 6

Friday, July 9, 2004 - 2:30pmSanction this postReply
Hi Tom. I understand your position. Although I could also argue that it can't be done effectively in a democratically elected organization, unless the people running it are paid. From my experience it's hard enough to get volunteer labor. How would you expect people to work hard on something when the whole thing can be overrun by non-Objectivists at any time (since Objectivists are a minority). Or anarchists. Or libertarians. Or anyone else.

I prefer the voluntary exchange model. Both the individual clubs and SOLO have something to gain from cooperation. We provide a number of services to the clubs, and we benefit from their association.

Additionally, SOLO uses a very different model than TOC. Ours relies heavily on contributions from Objectivists outside of the immediate staff. We work to provide people the opportunity and means of cooperating on projects. With the "Diana fiasco", you've got an donor trying to convince the staff that they should do things her way. If she thinks they don't support academics enough, she has to try to convince them to put their time and energy into it.

The SOLO model would say "If you want support for academics, set something up to accomplish it". We'd offer forums, some level of software support, maybe even conferences, and whatever else we can offer. But we'd expect her to take the initiative and do it, and provide her with the opportunity.

Similarly with the club idea. We're not going to start the clubs ourselves. We provide the tools for those who want clubs to do it themselves. If we create a set of guidelines, it'll be to assist others in their ventures. We just created a Club forum, due to Luther's advice, so that the clubs can discuss things with one another.

If the clubs decide they want to do joint projects together, they don't need our permission and can do it themselves. If they decide they'd like national advertisements, or their own conferences, we'll offer some support but basically let them go at it themselves.

In short, given our limited time, money, and staff, we try to support activism from others, and don't try to run everything ourselves. And both sides have to determine that it's mutual advantageous.

In other words, I don't have the concerns you have about a democratically elected body. I don't think it's necessary, and I think it'll do more damage than good. If SOLO was run that way, we would never have accomplished anything.

Post 7

Saturday, July 10, 2004 - 10:39amSanction this postReply

Firstly, I agree with the basic ideas in your original post- objectivism could benefit more from contact at ground level between objectivists. I've called myself an objectivist for 10 years now, but have only ever met one other "objectivist" in person! Ok, you may say, that is my own fault for not attending a conference of one of the objectivist organisations, or making an effort to meet people. Maybe you're right. But I suspect I am typical of a lot of objectivists. We are, after all, firstly and foremostly individualists, furthering our own lives and working towards achieving our own goals. The very nature of an individualist philosophy will always struggle to draw people together, so local activities are always going to be more relevant than isolated national gatherings- hence clubs work well, I believe.


I think your "voluntary exchange model" as described in your last post is right on the money. Democracy is definitely not a model to aspire to. I read an interesting article somewhere about the Libertarian Alliance in the UK that works well on a similar basis. Let the guys who created the idea decide how Solo should be run- they've certainly done a fantastic job to date.

Post 8

Saturday, July 10, 2004 - 9:01amSanction this postReply

Since you're in Houston, consider the Houston Church of Freethought. Check it out at http://www.hcof.org/.


There're lots of reasons that O'ism is having trouble spreading. Most folks I know think that O'ists are assholes, a criticism not entirely undeserved. O'ists are often unfriendly and standoffish.

It's hard to change personalities, but I do think O'ists can shed this stereotype by cooperating more with other groups with common goals. Jews and Christians get together for a common cause. Conservatives and Liberals often get together for a common cause, too. There're plenty of groups that share some goals with O'ism. They might have different reasoning for these goals, but the goals are the same nonetheless.

And although I know that some O'ists think that working in solidarity with these groups is akin to sleeping with the enemy, i don't think our goals are tarnished when others help us reach them. My two cents.


Post 9

Saturday, July 10, 2004 - 2:17pmSanction this postReply
     I appreciate you voicing your support for my basic ideas. I do want to make sure that people don't misunderstand me though. I was not neccessarily implying that SOLO should become democratically controlled. I really wasn't saying anything about how SOLO should be run. All I was saying was that SOMEONE needs to be promoting Objectivism to the general public on a national scale, and then using that promotion as a vehicle for increasing membership amongst the local groups. And that organization needs to be democratically controlled, so that if Objectivists don't like how the group is being run they can change it. Otherwise we just end up with a bunch of factions fighting each other. There is no reason that SOLO would have to take on this role if it doesn't wish to. It could remain as it is now, and the groups that are now affiliated with it could become affiliates of BOTH SOLO and the Objectivist Society if they wished. There is no reason that they would have to be exclusively one or the other. Joseph actually seems to support this idea when he says, "If the clubs decide they want to do joint projects together, they don't need our permission and can do it themselves. If they decide they'd like national advertisements, or their own conferences, we'll offer some support but basically let them go at it themselves." I think all of the clubs, including the ones that aren't affiliated with SOLO, could benefit from having a national organization to promote them to the general public and to help them reach their goals. I don't think that doing such a thing would require SOLO to change one bit. I am willing to put alot of my own time and effort into working on such an organization, but simply wanted to know if people thought it was a good idea. In other words, I wanted to see if there was a "market" for such an idea. I probabely should have just gone to the clubs themselves and discussed it since they are the ones most likely to benefit from it. But in any event, it was just an idea I was throwing out to see if Objectivists in general like it. It wasn't a criticism of SOLO. Really, all I wanted to know was whether anyone thought they might like to join such an organization. From now on I'll concentrate my efforts on talking to people who are working in the local clubs. Sorry if I caused any confusion.

---------------------------Tom Blackstone


Post 10

Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 3:02pmSanction this postReply
Hi, Tom,

I seem to be a late comer to this discussion.  I did a Google on your name and found this thread.

You saw the exchange in private e-mail between myself and Ellen of FOR who cc'd you.  I think you and I have similar thoughts about Objectivist Clubs.  If you would like to talk on the telephone about this, then let us exchange numbers over e-mail and agree to a time to talk.  I could use someone of your motivation and direction as a partner in synergy.

Luke Setzer

Sanction: 2, No Sanction: 0
Post 11

Saturday, August 7, 2004 - 6:39pmSanction this postReply
As just sort of an editorial comment on this topic, I think the Objectivist movement needs to have some more visible figureheads in addition to the current academic types who are not widely know outside very small circles.  Specifially, the movement needs leaders that lead by example. 

For example, why is it that we don't see any of today's great acheivers advocating Objectivism?   Imagine if Bill Gates (or any other famous self-made billionaire) was a staunch proponent of Objectivism, and spoke highly in interviews of the value of the philosophy and how it helped him achieve his level of success.  This alone would probably spark more initial interest in the subject than perhaps all of the brief cable TV appearances of current Objectivists combined.

Or what if the star of a Super Bowl winning team was an objectivist, and also spoke freely and openly about his views?

What about a Yo Yo Ma?

And what about voices in pop culture?  I cannot think of anyone in the current pop culture who espouses Objectivist views.  The closest thing that I can think of in history was perhaps Rush in the 70's, but Neil Peart has since distanced himself with Randian ideas, and the most recent self description of his worldview as that of the contradictory "Left-wing Libertarian" (he still describes Rand as an important influence).

And lastly, why has not one Objectivist in history made a run at political office?  Given how Objectivists have clearly staked out views on matters political, and that they are no strangers to debate and argument, why has not one Objectivist in history sought to inject Objectivist views into the actual political process?

The fact that the movement exists at all is because Ayn Rand herself was a gifted writer/artist, and she inspired others with her innovations.  Objectivism needs more people who do rather than teach if it ever wants to have a remote chance of becoming a truly influential viewpoint in society. 

(Edited by Pete on 8/07, 8:17pm)

(Edited by Pete on 8/07, 8:18pm)

Post 12

Sunday, August 8, 2004 - 9:56amSanction this postReply
       Pete, I agree so much with the things that you've said. I would like to see more celebrities and business leaders advocating Objectivism. Unfortunately though, many business leaders and celebrities and even average people who are influenced by Ayn Rand are unwilling to call themselves "Objectivists". Part of this is because the Ayn Rand Institute has made Objectivism look like a religious cult, and has caused many people not to want to be associated with it. But there is another reason as well. People normally don't adopt labels like "Objectivist" or "Libertarian" or "Goth" or "Raver" or anything like that unless they perceive it as making them part of a community that they will derive some value from. Unfortunately though, there's not much of an Objectivist community to speak of, so people just don't bother.
------------------------Tom Blackstone


Post to this thread

User ID Password or create a free account.