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Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 4:49pmSanction this postReply
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Having just emerged from a discussion on Noodlefood, Diana Hsieh's blog, which included an exchange with a mysterous L.S., who I suspect was Leonard Peikoff, I find myself left with an over-riding impression that refuses to go away - one that prompts me to ask, ever more seriously, "is Objectivism a cult?" The answer is: not as a philosophy, to be sure, because "a cult" refers to form rather than to content. It refers to the way in which an idea is held rather than to the idea itself. So perhaps the more precise and relevant question is: Do (many) followers of Objectivism exhibit cult-like behavior? And to that, the answer is an unqualified "Yes"! It is an answer that continues to reinforce itself on so many occasions that it can no longer be doubted or denied.

Take the Ayn Rand Institute, for example. Bearing in mind that the goal of a philosopher is the pursuit of truth, the willingness to follow the argument wherever it leads, ask yourself whether you believe that the main advocates of Objectivism within that organization are psychologically open to admitting any shortcomings or errors in Rand's philosophy, or whether they are far more inclined to rationalize or deny them for the sake of advancing her ideas?

I have often thought that the incentives for an advocacy organization like ARI to give an objective assessment of Rand's philosophy are virtually non-existent. The principals within that organization are like attorneys with Rand as their client. In order to be in a position to evaluate the philosophy objectively and dispassionately, they would have to act, not as an advocate, but as a judge, jury or disinterested arbiter. Now, it can be argued that everyone has his biases - that no one is purely disinterested. Perhaps, but the greater are the stakes you have in defending and promoting a particular philosophy, the less inclined you will be to view that philosophy objectively - the less willing you will be to acknowledge its errors or shortcomings, should they be pointed out to you.

I remember attending a lecture by ARI spokesperson, Harry Binswanger, concerning Ayn Rand's prospective biography, which has now come to fruition under the authorship of Jeff Britting. I asked whether or not such a biography should include any of Rand's flaws, were they to exist. To which Binswanger replied that Rand didn't have any flaws, unless you want to count the fact that she spoke with an accent, and even if she did, we should refrain from mentioning them, lest we give her enemies grist for the mill. I don't think it's presumptuous to infer that he and many others in that organization would treat her philosophy the same way.

For example, observe James Vallient's dismissal of Rand's denunciation of homosexuality as an "off-the-cuff" remark and therefore as not part of her philosophy, or of ARI's dismissal of Rand's article against the idea of a female president as also not part of her philosophy. It seems that if a position Rand held is too blatantly unacceptable to be defended, it must be excluded from her philosophy, just as if she had any personal flaws, they must be expunged from her character and personality.

It should be obvious why a serious philosopher cannot operate in that kind of intellectual environment. He must, if he is to be true to his profession, feel free to disagree with any philosophy without fear of betraying his "client" or of alienating his colleagues. He must act not as an advocate, but as a judge or jury. And this, of course, is true of any student of philosophy including students of Objectivism. Unfortunately, this is not how supporters of Rand typically approach her philosophy. They approach it as if it were the holy grail, as if any who deny its "self-evident" truths are intellectually dishonest and persona non grata.

Even if Objectivism were correct in every respect (and I don't think it is), its acolytes would be advocating a true philosophy by default. They could not claim truly to understand and appreciate it.

What about TOC? Diana has criticized David Kelley for failing properly to advance Objectivism. In certain respects, she may be correct. But the one impression that I don't get (and I can speak only from hearsay, since I have not attended TOC events) is that Kelley is simply an Objectivist mouthpiece. He strikes me as more of a genuine philosopher, who is not afraid to disagree with Rand's views, if it should come to that.

The way Objectivism is being treated at present among many whose sympathies lie with the Ayn Rand Institute is more like a religious dogma than a rational philosophy, even if it is a rational philosophy and even if, in the final analysis, every one of its philosophical precepts is true.

Not that this kind of dogmatism is limited to the supporters of ARI. I have found the same kind of doctrinaire idealism among the libertarian anarchists, some of whom are ideologues of immense proportion and are even more insufferable than the Randroids they are so fond of deprecating. Anarchist, heal thyself!

Philosophy is a serious business and a good philosopher should be a disinterested advocate of the truth, who feels no pressure by his colleagues to conform to a preconceived view of reality. He should be free to change his mind and not be ridden out of town on a rail or denounced as some kind of intellectual heretic.

I recently attended a meeting of the Mt. Pelerin Society in Iceland - an organization of people sympathetic to free-market politics. But many different free-market perspectives were represented there, and everyone felt comfortable presenting his or her views, however much they might disagree with the views of other participants. Wouldn't it be nice if the members of ARI and those of TOC could have a joint conference on Objectivism in a similarly benevolent atmosphere?! This is not out of the question. The Ayn Rand Society, which is a division of the American Philosophical Association, includes philosophers from both camps who meet periodically to exchange papers on some aspect of Objectivism, although from what I hear, the atmosphere is a bit strained. I also heard that Dr. Peikoff no longer attends.

Bill







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Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 6:00pmSanction this postReply
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Bill asks:

Wouldn't it be nice if the members of ARI and those of TOC could have a joint conference on Objectivism in a similarly benevolent atmosphere?!
SOLO is one forum where this can (and sometimes does) take place.  Although nobody here 'officially' speaks for ARI and TOC, the diverging viewpoints often meet head to head in debate here.  Just look at the threads about the Valliant book! 




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Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 6:07pmSanction this postReply
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Great point, Pete!

Ed




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Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 7:12pmSanction this postReply
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William,

I do not think that everything that Rand ever said can be included in what we call her "philosophy." Rand held philosophy to be a distinct field of study, and that, properly, it must be an integrated set of ideas and principles. Where an expression of Rand's is not both: 1. philosophical in nature, and 2. not integrated by her into the wider context of her ideas, I'm not sure that Rand herself would have included it as being part of her philosophy. In addition, there is the entire realm of what Rand called "optional" issues (still objective, of course.) Peikoff explains this distinction at some length in his lecture series "Understanding Objectivism" from 1983, if memory serves.

This is not something that I made up or that any serious student of Rand's ideas can ignore.

As I acknowledge, Rand's use of the term "immoral" suggests something philosophical to her view on homosexuality. (The whole of Rand's statement is something with which I personally disagree.) It's just that without Rand connecting this assertion to the rest of her ideas for us, I cannot see how "it fits," if you will. And, as Rand insists, to be philosophy, especially her's, it must "fit." I've read accounts and heard accounts of people trying, but these are not to be found in any of Rand's published writings. (All these attempts so far also strike me as being very unsatisfying.)

It is also important to make distinctions about what is and is not essential or important about Rand -- or her ideas. Critics of my book have accused me of focusing on trivia. But my most important sources are the Brandens' biographies themselves. It is the Brandens who have focused on a good luck charm, the passion in margin notes Rand made in books, etc., etc. In this sense, I agree with Binswanger: the focus on the non-essential is wrong. It must even be classified as distortion.

However, Rand was a human being, and she did have flaws. Peikoff himself has commented that Rand's anger was sometimes unjust. And there can be no doubt that an objective biography will need to address such things. Britting's book, despite its many virtues, cannot be said to be the in-depth biography that the subject deserves. It was hardly the place where any such considerations would be "essential," in my view. That's not the same thing as evading -- or denying -- those issues, either.

As for ARI, I cannot speak for them, as I am not affiliated with them. However, the Ayn Rand Archive was nothing but open and cooperative with me. Leonard Peikoff and Rand's estate were extremely generous and open with me, as well. I have heard the complaints of others, but I have experienced nothing like it myself. Absent personal knowledge, I cannot speak to that issue.

From personal knowledge, however, I can confirm that many have treated Rand and her ideas without the critical thought and care necessary to qualify as being "objective." Certainty often attracts those who seem to need its aura overmuch, I think.

At least irrationality and conformism are inconsistent with Rand's ideas -- ideas that can be classified as being part of her "philosophy."


(Edited by James S. Valliant
on 9/27, 11:02pm)




Post 4

Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 8:28pmSanction this postReply
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Unless you are young, William, I would have to say it will not take place in your lifespan - it is some thing which will have to come about after the first generation has passed, and indeed not in the second generation until the first has passed... it is a case of being too close to the principles and the principle events...  there are exceptions to this, but - sadly - they can most likely be counted on the fingers of one hand, at least among those who have been involved in this philosophy for a number of years...



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Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 9:42pmSanction this postReply
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William,

You say a cult is more about form than content. Yet the content of a cult is intrinsic to its form. The content, the religious dogma, the philosophical creed enslaves and cripples, rather than frees, enlightens, ennobles and empowers. And its in the context of a culture, typically controlled by an authority which rewards submission and punishes dissent. Perhaps a cult can be thought of as a "philosophical addiction", with social reinforcing aspects?

Have ARI's pecuniary interests corrupted its objectivity? Does ARI suffer from social-reinforcement, group-think? Do they intend to deify Rand?

A notion I've been entertaining is Objectivism, if it has a cult-amenable "hook", would be its treacherous claim to truth and practicality, in a pragmatic world where deception and fraud victimizes those who are too principled (not pragmatic enough).

Peikoff advocates lying to a thief or kidnapper, because they have inverted the context of trading values for values.

If philosophy is so sacred, should it not be defended, by any means, including lies? The ends do not justify the means, because values are contextually relative. But if the context is an ideological war, isn't it just another form of exchange of negative values?

Perhaps the truth is so sacred, it must be guarded by lies? LOL!

Scott




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Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 10:08pmSanction this postReply
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To play the definition game for a bit...

cult: In religion and sociology, a cult is a group of people devoted to beliefs and goals which are not held by the majority of society, often religious in nature. Its marginal status may come about either due to its novel belief system or due to idiosyncratic practices that cause the surrounding culture to regard it as far outside the mainstream.

If this crowd is so eager to do away with the negative connotation of 'selfish' perhaps you'll extend the same courtesy to some other words? We don't necessarily have to include religiosity in a discussion about cults, so maybe we could avoid yet another deification of Rand hoopla as well?

So, in the strictest sense, whether or not Objectivism is a cult depends more on the environment than the Objectivists.

If you're asking if some Objectivists are wacko, sure. Wackos have no intellectual boundaries. They are free; free to roam the plains of life completely unburdened by the facts. They appear to have either damaged or are born without adequate means of auditory input, compensated by a specialization in repetitive vocalizations. No means of eliminating them directly are known, however they tend to implode if ignored.

/late night post

Sarah



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Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 11:04pmSanction this postReply
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Sarah,

To REALLY (ie. pedantically) play the definition game, then Lifton's 8 Cult Criteria (from http://www.csj.org/studyindex/studymindctr/study_mindctr_lifton.htm) ought to be utilized as a reference standard in differentiating cults from non-cults ...

=============
1. Milieu Control.  This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.

2. Mystical Manipulation.  There is manipulation of experiences that appear spontaneous but in fact were planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to demonstrate divine authority or spiritual advancement or some special gift or talent that will then allow the leader to reinterpret events, scripture, and experiences as he or she wishes. 

3. Demand for Purity.  The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection.  The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here. 

4. Confession.  Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group.  There is no confidentiality; members' "sins," "attitudes," and "faults" are discussed and exploited by the leaders. 

5. Sacred Science.  The group's doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute.  Truth is not to be found outside the group.  The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism. 

6. Loading the Language.  The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand.  This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter members' thought processes to conform to the group's way of thinking. 

7. Doctrine over person.  Member's personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group. 

8. Dispensing of existence.  The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not.  This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group's ideology.  If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the  members.  Thus, the outside world loses all credibility.  In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also.
=============

Comments (on how each these 8 things fit/don't fit with Objectivism; even ARI-style O-ism!) are welcomed.

Ed



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Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 12:53amSanction this postReply
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Bill,

What ever made you think LS could be Leonard Peikoff? In interactions with me, LS simply did not display the systemic and systematic habits of thought that Leonard Peikoff is instantly recognizable by. And anyway, LS is female - she says so.




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Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 12:55amSanction this postReply
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Ed:
>Comments (on how each these 8 things fit/don't fit with Objectivism; even ARI-style O-ism!) are welcomed.

In general, no to 1, 2, and 4. At its worst, I would say probably 3 & 5 to varying degrees, 6 most definitely, 7 possibly, 8 possibly (see "sheeple", "moochers", "second-handers" etc).

- Daniel



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Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 5:14amSanction this postReply
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Ed and Sarah, for simplicity, I prefer the BITE formula that cult exit counselor Steven Alan Hassan developed:

http://www.freedomofmind.com/resourcecenter/articles/BITE.htm

The BITE acronym abbreviates:
  1. Behavior Control
  2. Information Control
  3. Thought Control
  4. Emotional Control
Rather than belabor them here, I invite readers to browse the linked site.  I can conceive any overbearing authority figure, including one who calls himself an "Objectivist," attempting to employ BITE to keep his "sheep" in line.  Fortunately, Objectivism has some built-in mechanisms to prevent such an aberration from spreading very far.




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Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 5:46amSanction this postReply
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Ed, Luke,

I only have time for a quick post. The problem I have with both of those criteria lists is that they build a definition around the negative connotation. Bad juju.

Sarah



Post 12

Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 6:00amSanction this postReply
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Well, Sarah, I think this thread focuses on the negative connotations of "cult" in contrast with more congenial uses such as a "cult" following of the "cult" films The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, Krull, Battle Beyond the Stars, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, etc.  These latter uses mark the unusual but not the controlling connotations of the term "cult."  Our concern here is with mind control rather than simply passionate pursuit of life-affirming values.



Post 13

Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 6:15amSanction this postReply
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Strangely enough, I am sometimes hesitant in recommending Atlas Shrugged to some people. If they actually read it, I usually end up with an enemy or a disciple looking to pick my Objectivist brain for all I know about Ayn Rand. Sometimes, I just don't have the time to deal with that. Start 'em off on something lighter like Anthem. 

I do think that the strong language and charisma that Rand so blessed us with can produce quite a feew zombies. It's funny how a philosophy that promotes reason, liberty, Capitalism, and individualism can kick out sheep who refuse to think for themselves on anything that Ayn Rand has previously commented. On the flip side, many people have used Objectivism in the same way that I can infer that Rand would want. Just as John Gault was not changing the great mind of the world, neither does Rand. She only gives a sanction.  




Post 14

Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 7:18amSanction this postReply
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Luke,

But the criteria you and Ed listed are explicitly for thought manipulation and simply associate that with cultism, which is unjustified. All major religions started as cults simply because they weren't widely practiced. I understand the purpose of the thread, but to ask if Objectivism is a cult is just sloppy. William's post discussed Objectivists, not Objectivism. If we are asking if some Objectivists practice thought manipulation, then we can use the lists you and The Tiger provide.

Sarah



Post 15

Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 7:47amSanction this postReply
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For those  interested in going to the source, click on

www.dianahsieh.com/blog

click on "all comments'

scroll to "Andy on Religion and Capitalism"

click on "all post comments"

There you will find the entire thread.

You can judge for yourselves.




Post 16

Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 8:14amSanction this postReply
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Ed,

If I accept all the criticisms I've heard of ARI, I'd say all but 4, confession.

I don't like that definition of cult. Most of us probably recognize a cult as an enslaved sub-culture with characteristic ideology.

The ideology is irrational and self-reinforcing, like the classic man throwing scraps of newspaper off the roof to deter Indian attack, and the townspeople who pay him. There is a belief which can't be proved or disproved but accepted on faith, and an emotional reinforcement of fear and paranoia of a boogy-man or hell, and reward of heaven after death.

With a controlling authority to interpret, reward and punish the behavior of believers for social dominance, rather than an objective principle.

Rather than ask if Objectivism is a cult, I would ask if ARI has been corrupted, and is rewarding and punishing people with attention based on their party line, according to ulterior motives and conflicted interests.

I suspect it wouldn't be hard to run a cult of Objectivism, provided the followers "sinned" by deffering their own reason to the excuses given by a leader.

Scott



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Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 8:38amSanction this postReply
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Tom said:
For those  interested in going to the source, click on

www.dianahsieh.com/blog

I just got back from there.  Does anyone know a good deprogrammer?




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Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 9:13amSanction this postReply
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rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRRRRooooooooooooooar!

[deep, growly breathing]

[deep, bellowing voice] Who summoned the Tiger (by calling a certain SOLOist THAT name)?!!! ... ROAR!!!

[deep, sinisterly-soft voice] Mmm! ... Sssaaarrraaahhh!

[sniffing for what this beef is all about]

Aaaaaahhhhh. Sarah. Let me see if I can break this down ... Tiger-style:

==================
==================
==================
==================

Er ... sorry! ... just checking to see if I still had my specific mojo -- and I do!!! Okay, comin' at ya' ...


==================
cult: In religion and sociology, a cult is a group of people devoted to beliefs and goals which are not held by the majority of society ...

So, in the strictest sense, whether or not Objectivism is a cult depends more on the environment than the Objectivists.
==================

Let's get this straight (with distilled focus on goals only, as they are undeniably tied to beliefs):

It's, in a sense, axiomatic that everyone's goal-devoted (we'd die without goals). So, when we're searching for conceptual criteria to differentiate culthood from the other, ubiquitous-in-society goal-devotions -- we take a Gallup poll (a popularity contest), and put all groups with marginal goal-devotions into the cult basket?

I disagree with this method, Sarah. It's highly vulnerable to reductio ad absurdum. I will leave examples of absurdity out -- as an exercise for the reader. Suffice it to say that all historical innovators/innovations bucked the system, often heretically. Every new things starts off as being unpopular. By your method, each time 2 or more folks adopt a new thing -- they have successfully formed a cult. I don't buy it.


==================
If you're asking if some Objectivists are wacko, sure.
==================

Sarah, I disagree. You are what you repeatedly do, not what you repeatedly claim about yourself. Wacko folks calling themselves Objectivists -- does not Objectivists make. Think of the criminal who repeatedly "calls himself" innocent. The high court of reason will determine who is an Objectivist, or not -- not the contradictory ramblings of self-duped "wacko"s.


==================
The problem I have with both of those criteria lists is that they build a definition around the negative connotation.
==================

So ... you'd prefer to have a "value-free" examination of cults? Or ... perhaps you would prefer to include a positive connotation (e.g. Scientology is a value!) ... to balance out the negative? I disagree again.


==================
But the criteria you and Ed listed are explicitly for thought manipulation and simply associate that with cultism, which is unjustified. All major religions started as cults simply because they weren't widely practiced.
==================

Sarah, all real advancements will be "rationally compelling." In this sense, advanced thoughts are a kind of "thought manipulation" -- a manipulation to that which is better than its alternatives. Think of Semmelweis' idea to wash hands before surgery/delivery. He was fired from that Hungarian? hospital for heretically believing in tiny, unseen "germs." But society caught up with this trailblazing maverick, and now it is heretical to go back to the old ways of the old days.

Also, with the advent of a fully objective philosophy (ie. Objectivism), all major religions -- because they unjustly dethrone the mind, to defer authority to the supernatural and ineffable -- are heretical (they meet the cult criteria). In this sense, Objectivism is like hand-washing -- it gets rid of the bugs that hamper human flourishing.

The distinction of cult/non-cult is important. There are values to be gained by differentiating reason from its alternatives. This is because humans are a certain type of creature. Do you agree with this case -- as I have stated it? Did I miss a major point in your line of reasoning?

Let me know,
Tiger
[heavy, labored breathing ... changing back to Ed ...]

=========Nooooooo!!!=========
========================
========ROAR! =======

[thrashing despondently]

=========no!======
==============
======roar==

= = = = = = = =
=..=....=........=


=








(Edited by Ed Thompson
on 9/28, 9:15am)




Post 19

Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 9:34amSanction this postReply
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Ed- er, Tiger,

Alright, I'll give you the point about wacko "Objectivists."

I'm not after a "value-free" examination of cults, just an objective one, in which connotations should not be. Go here and scroll down a little to positive, neutral, and negative meanings of "cult." I'm trying to use the neutral meanings here because they include context.

Sarah



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