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Post 180

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 12:44pmSanction this postReply
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Glenn,

Your interpretation of my post is fine by me.  It's obviously wrong, but I guess that people cannot tell the difference between

a) disagreement that entertains another side's perspectives and motivations and tries to address them empathetically and
b) disagreement that asserts that another side is incontrovertibly wrong and substitutes different motives and perspectives for what the other side claims that its motives and perspectives are!

I think that it would be far more becoming of you to agree that there is a difference and say that you think that disagreements of type (b) are what Objectivism is behind and that doesn't make Objectivism cultish, though I disagree.

Cultists tend to think that most/all disagreements must be of type (b), even when the issue being debated is trivial, or the kind of proof that the cultists provide is highly abstract and cannot be reduced to a bottom line that is beyond rational doubt.  Of course, some disagreements are of type (b).  The question is how many should genuinely be type (b) disagreements?

This is what leads to the accusations of cultish attitudes - if I tell you that homosexuality is irrational and that this is the only rational position to take on the morality of homosexuality, without being able to provide evidence to support this conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt, and I consider it irrational to even consider an alternative, that is cultish. 

If, in the absence of a clear and present causal relationship between homosexuality and some highly negative consequence that is immoral, I sit down and consider different approaches to the morality of homosexuality and weigh their benefits and costs, I'm not being cultish, no matter what my final position on homosexuality is!  I may dislike homosexuality or even embrace it, but my position is informed by an empathetic understanding of why others are driven to hold positions sometimes antithetical to mine.

Daniel tried to explain the difference to you, but I doubt he will have much success.

Since you mock my defense of determinism, a few words are in order.  Determinism is the scientific paradigm that has given rise to many of the greatest successes in neuroscience and the analysis of mental behaviors.  You might consider your question to me the only relevant one - however, many people do not, and I think that all things considered, determinism is more appealing to me than indeterminism and I'm officially a compatibilist.  I do not go out of my way to call indeterminists people who act randomly or people who know not why they choose, or people who cannot give reasons for their behavior.  I can understand why a person would be driven to indeterminist free will by the paradox of determinism.  I do not understand why a person wouldn't take some time to understand the importance of determinism to scientific analysis of human beings before mocking a determinist.  In the pantheon of scientists, determinists outnumber free willers.

I guess that using my last paragraph, I can redefine what makes a person a cultist - a cultist is unable to see a paradox as anything but a contradiction.  So far, Glenn, you perfectly fit the bill.

Laj.

(Edited by Abolaji Ogunshola on 10/04, 2:05pm)




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Post 181

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 2:00pmSanction this postReply
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Andrew,
Laj, one of the reasons you get the treatment you do here is because you're on our turf. A lot of us come here for refuge from the intellectual hostility we encounter in our day-to-day lives. In my philosophy classes determinists, relativists, pragmatists, and skeptics are a dime-a-dozen, and I have to deal with them on their terms. I listen to and think about their ideas, and I've always found them wanting and tried to offer compelling, rational explanations for why that is so. But, with most issues, I find it extremely exhausting and boring to carry that same approach over to SOLO.
Yes, and that is fine.  You do not have to suffer idiots gladly.  And I know this is an Objectivist forum.  I don't expect to agree with most people on this forum.  The main reason I come here (and there are others) is that I 've read lots of Rand and this is the kind of place where that kind of reading is useful ;).

So I often say to myself, "Why waste time with the reasoned, didactic approach? May as well have a little fun with them," and that's the point where I start mocking dissenters. One nice thing about SOLO that this is where I can make fun of people like you and Barnes, and most of the people around me will actually understand why I'm making fun and join in the fray! This is the polar opposite of the situation I face every day on a college campus.
The feeling is mutual - the fun in mocking goes both ways.

What we call "mixed premises," Laj, are out-and-out contradictions in people's thinking. And because "where we are" is not a world where contradictions can exist, these errors represent a threat to one's rational faculty and ability to deal with the world. (And of course, some errors present much more serious threats than others.) There is simply no value, no utility, in holding two contradictory ideas at the same time and in the same respect.

As I said in an earlier post, a nice way of understanding cultish behavior is to notice that even paradoxes become contradictions with true believers.  Are the ideas really contradictory or only apparently so?  Are there only two possibilities or are there multitudes and ranges of classifications?  And is there only one true perspective, or are a variety of perspectives compatible with the same facts?  The dogmatist likes to pretend that there is no room for debate when answering these questions.

For the longest time, I thought that idea of parallel lines intersecting made no sense.  The existence of non-Euclidean geometries was just as foreign to me as it was to Kant.  However, as I understood the issues better, I saw that the contradiction wasn't real - it was only apparent.  But again, what do we do with all the people who were so convinced that Euclidean geometry was the last word on geometry?

The real cult we've seen rear its ugly on this thread is that one that Ayn Rand aptly dubbed "The Cult of Moral Greyness." It's the idea -- pervasive and dogmatically insisted-upon in our culture -- that the only wrong idea is the one that is held with certainty and without reservation; and in ethics, that the only false argument is the one that describes a particular idea, individual, or act as either totally-good or totally-evil. I have a friend who insists on this approach, so I put the question to him this way, "If someone were to rape your girlfriend, would that act be totally evil, or would there be some small tinge of good in it? And when you and she make love, is it ever totally good?" Even with the controversy put in such stark, personal terms, he insisted that it's never black-and-white, just a muddled mixture of different shades of grey. Now that's an example of cultism.


This is nonsense.

1.  "Certainty" in itself is not wrong.  The problem with certainty is twofold - what if you are wrong about what you are certain of, and what kind of question are you certain of the answer to?  For the first, I have no desire to explicate further.  For the second,  this is what I mean: if you have eliminated the plausibility/correctness of other answers in a way similar to how Galileo eliminated the possibility that acceleration under the influence of the earth's gravitational field was a function of weight, and you have that kind of evidence to present, great.  If you are simply arguing that you know that addiction is a choice made freely (whatever that means) and that you haven't collected evidence to back up such a controversial position and made the predictions to support your theory, claiming that you are certain and people with views equally compatible with the facts you have presented are wrong is dogmatic.

2.  "Totally good"?  "Totally evil"?  Please, let me know what the word "totally" adds.  Your friend might be confused, but the evil of rape hinges upon many things, including the pain it causes the woman who was raped and other things.  However, let's say that as a consequence of the rape, your friend's girlfriend became a rape crisis counselor and helped rape victims cope successfully with their problems by developing new counseling techniques.  Is it too much to say that an unexpected benefit from the tragedy that befell his girlfriend were new solutions for rape crisis victims?  That doesn't make rape good, but that might make a specific instance of rape have benefits for certain people.

By the way, Spinoza defended a version of the cultism argument you present in his Ethics.  He believed that morality (good and bad) all dissolved away when the full context of an act was understood.  Now, you might call Spinoza wrong, but the last thing you can call him is irrational or relativist.

Here's another: "I have never said that Objectivism is a cult, and even if Objectivism was a cult, that doesn't imply that Objectivism is all of a sudden depraved just for that reason." I've had family members who joined cults ... they destroy one's mental and psychological tools for living, and render one into a pliable, undifferentiable automaton, like an ant in a colony. If you'll permit a reference to Star Trek: TNG, it was literally like watching someone get assimilated by the Borg. It's hard to imagine anything more depraved.

Except, perhaps, the mind that ought to see and understand and condemn cults for the depraved soul traps that they are, but doesn't, because of a strange, immutable (dare I say "dogmatic?") insistence on never describing anything in terms of black and white.
This, once again, is nonsense. 

 I am open to the claim that Objectivism has aspects that do not support cultish behavior.  And I was trying to imply that even if some sect or aspect of Objectivism was a cult or was cultish, that wasn't necessarily bad.  I explained that certain aspects of the military's process for training recruits use methods similar to those cults use, as do fraternities and sororities in campus.  What you mean by a cult may not be what I mean by a cult, but if on the basis of some linguistic trick, you are trying to imply that if I saw an instance of what "rendered" your family members into "automatons", I would not identify it as evil in some way, you are free to do so, but do so while knowing that I find that kind of trickery dishonest.

Laj.





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Post 182

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 2:13pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Laj,

You wrote that "it's not just about believing that you could be mistaken about things - it's also about considering the ways in which another person's view of the same issue might be similar to or different from yours, and how and why. Moreover, some differences may or may not matter in different contexts."

Actually, that's a good point, but I don't think the failure to see where the other person might be coming from marks one as a cultist. This is a problem that is common to practically everyone who feels strongly about a particular point of view, yours and mine included.

You write, "Error can be conceived of in a variety of ways, but if one takes the Popperian conception, which is not so different from that espoused by certain schools of Critical Realism and Absolute Idealism, error is only significant to the degree that it detracts from a solution. One doesn't need the absolute truth (if such a thing exists) to agree with the claim that some ideas are better than others when applied as solutions to certain problems."

Here I think you misunderstand what Objectivism means by "the absolute truth." (Could this be a failure to see where your Objectivist opponents might be coming from? ;-)) If one idea is a better solution than another, wouldn't you say that its ~true~ (absolutely true) that one idea is a better solution than another? The modifer "absolute" in this context is redundant, as it serves only to distinguish this view of truth from a relativistic one ("true for you" but not "true for me"). If something is true, it is true ~for anyone~, because an idea's truth refers simply to its correspondence with reality, irrespective of whoever happens to believe it or disbelieve it.

You continue, "From this perspective, error and infallibility do not become as important as solutions that work! And when looking for solutions that work, there might be a variety of similar and dissimilar perspectives that are deserving of consideration. Focusing on infallibility often blinds one to that possibility."

I don't think there's any contradiction here. Either a particular solution works or it doesn't; if it works, then the idea that it works is true - absolutely, 100% true.

You ask, "What's the difference between someone who is 99% certain and who is a 100% certain?"

Oh I see what you're getting at. You're saying that it doesn't make any practical difference whether someone is only 99% certain that something works and therefore cannot claim to ~know~ that it works and someone who is 100% certain and therefore ~can~ claim to know it, for in both cases, they will recommend the same action. Okay, fair enough. If I understand you then, you're saying that this concern with absolute certainty is overblown, because it doesn't make any practical difference in cases like the above. So, in a murder trial, for example, if I'm 99% certain that the defendant is guilty, I'll vote to convict him just the same as if I'm 100% certain, because in both cases, I'm convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.

You continue, "What's the difference between a physicist who believes that God created the world and one that doesn't?"

Right; I see your point: Ignorance or falsehood in one area does not necessarily affect one's judgment in an altogether different area. I don't think that Objectivism would disagree with this, although if your epistemology is irrational in one area, it could conceivably have an impact on other areas as well.

You write, "What's the difference between a man who believes that certain forms of sex are depraved and other forms aren't? In some contexts, such differences do not matter. But cultists who need conformity will make these differences matter in many contexts."

Perhaps, but where does the philosophy of Objectivism imply this kind of behavior?

I wrote, "What is characteristic of a dogmatist or true believer is not that he claims to be certain, but ~how~ he claims to be certain. If he adopts an idea thoughtlessly and carelessly and clings to it doggedly in the face of evidence to the contrary - if he doesn't consider it important to validate his beliefs - if he believes something only because it feels good or because his significant others agree with it - then he is a dogmatist irrespective of the fact that his ideas may be true. What characterizes a cultish mentality is not so much what he believes as why he believes it. If he accepts an idea on faith or on the basis of some similarly non-rational motive, then he is a true believer. In short, what is characteristic of a true believer is that he lacks both intellectual independence and a respect for evidential support and rational justification."

You reply, "Again, the key is not just 'contradictory evidence' but 'alternate perspectives' and the salience, coherence and truthfulness of these perspectives. Sometimes, the believer who searches for the one true way blinds himself to the fact that there are often many ways with different benefits and costs."

Granted, there are often many ways with different benefits and costs, but here you are talking about something different than philosophical truth, aren't you? You see, if you say categorically that "there are often many ways with different benefits and costs," you're claiming that this is absolutely true, and that anyone who denies it is deviating from "the truth." You're invoking a form of absolute truth in putting forth your position. In any case, Objectivists wouldn't deny that there are often many different ways to do something, all with different benefits and costs.

I wrote, "Indeed, one of the reasons people are attracted to cults is that they lack a sense of certainty and confidence in their own judgment, and are therefore prone to let others do their thinking for them. Objectivism, properly understood, serves as a protection against this kind of intellectual and moral hazard."

You reply, "Again, only if one is seduced by the kind of truth that excludes other possibilities. Of course, truth is a contextual thing, but my point is that the"my way or the highway mentality" that Objectivists foster in the land of ideas is inherently cultish."

I don't think that truth is contextual. I'm not even sure what that means. If an idea is true, then it correspond to reality. Insofar as reality is what it is irrespective of context, an idea's correspondence to it is what it is irrespective of context. Truth does exclude other possibilities, because there is only one reality. The only possible alternative to the truth is falsehood; either an idea is true or it is false; there is no third alternative.

You write, "And I think that this kind of thinking is required in the battle between philosophical ideologies that do not lend themselves to efficient testing and whose truth value partly depends on the agreement of others."

But Objectivism rejects the idea that the truth value of an idea depends on the agreement of others, which is a form of collective subjectivism and, in Objectivist lingo, implies the primacy of consciousness. Furthermore, don't you see that you yourself are putting forward a philosophical ideology of sorts - an ideology that is not itself subject to the kind of "efficient testing" that you presumably have in mind. Yet you are quite willing to accept your own views as true and the views of those who disagree with you as false.

You write, "My primary point is that many perspectives are compatible with the truth as we currently know it and that knowing what is wrong is far easier than knowing what is right. However, cultists prefer to have it the other way round."

Many perspectives are compatible with the truth? Not if we are talking about the same object of belief. If you believe X and I believe non-X, at least one of us is mistaken, because two mutually exclusive ideas cannot both be true. You say that knowing what is wrong is far easier than knowing what is right. I'm not sure I follow you. Do you mean something like the following: A claim is made that cell phones cause brain cancer and that view is discredited. We discover that it's wrong, but we don't yet know what's right, i.e., what does cause brain cancer? I agree that it may be easier to discredit one idea than it is to validate another. But there's an obvious sense in which by discrediting one idea, we ~are~ validating another. Insofar as it is false that cell phones cause brain cancer, it is true that they do not cause brain cancer. In that sense, knowledge of what is false ~presupposes~ knowledge of what is true.

- Bill



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Post 183

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 2:22pmSanction this postReply
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It was pretty clear to me what Rick meant ("I guess Rick meant the first..."). The ambiguity is in his literal words I quoted.
Jody wrote:
"Ayn Rand is a proper name.  It refers to a specific person." 
If you can see why there is nothing ambiguous about this statement, then you can see why there is nothing ambiguous about Rick's statement.
It doesn't follow. The subject is the name of a philosophy, not a person.

I have a question for those who claim the narrow meaning of "Objectivism" is the only correct one. Do you call yourself - or anybody other than Rand - an "Objectivist"? If so, why? Your view seems to say that Ayn Rand is the only person entitled to be called "Objectivist." Shouldn't you always refer to yourself (and others) as "a student of Objectivism" or something like that?

I tried to think of another philosopher who named his own philosophy in the manner of Rand. Charles Sanders Pierce came to mind. He called his philosophy Pragmatism. When his followers James and Dewey took his thought in directions to which he objected, he invented a new name for his own philosophy, Pragmaticism. He picked this because he thought it was "ugly enough to be safe from kidnappers."




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Post 184

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 2:33pmSanction this postReply
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Andrew gets all territorial, going to basic tribal mechanics:

Laj, one of the reasons you get the treatment you do here is because you're on our turf.
 
I'm inclined to just let this one sit there and do it's work for me. It kind of speaks for itself.

OK, I waited a full minute to see if I could calm myself, and I haven't.

 Hmm, where shall I start?  Maybe a stupid riddle: "How do you get a woman with two black eyes to listen?" Answer: "You don't-you already told her twice."

That is one of the shittiest statements I have ever heard from an editor of anything, anywhere. I wish I could say I didn't expect it out of you. But lately, you gave me reason to wonder. The term "apologist" comes to mind.  

I've given myself one minute of reflection on this, which is a pretty long time for me, and something like this. The only goodness that I can find in it is  that it was a severely misguided attempt to "educate" him as to the environment that he has entered.  Something to look forward to. Hint: stay away from marketing, it's not you.

Think about it. I believe you are better than that, much better.  

rde
Seen that one before, and it tires my soul.  

(Edited by Rich Engle on 10/04, 2:40pm)




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Post 185

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 2:48pmSanction this postReply
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Hint: stay away from marketing, it's not you.

Well, I was about to actually bother writing a response to Rich's overblown little reaction to my post, until I noticed he had inadvertently paid me one of the best compliments I've received in recent days!




Post 186

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 3:01pmSanction this postReply
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Laj, your original statement was quite clear: "even if Objectivism was a cult, that doesn't imply that Objectivism is all of a sudden depraved just for that reason." (emphasis added)

Now, if you meant to say "parts of Objectivism are cultlike" or "many Objectivists exhibit cultlike attributes," fine, then my response in Post 175 doesn't really apply. But I can hardly be charged with "trickery" for taking your actual words at face value and responding accordingly.




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Post 187

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 3:04pmSanction this postReply
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I can sympathise with Andrew's sentiment. It's like being out in the world all day, faced with various forms of opposition which we're expected to "tolerate." Home is supposed to be sanctuary where one can be oneself without incrimination. Imagine coming home and having to defend your castle from within! I had a ex who wanted us to have two rooms in case his parents came to visit (he was not "out".) I told him forget it, I do not hide in my own home.

It's got nothing to do with tribalism, it's about having a place where one can simply be with likeminded people without justification, no apologies.



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Post 188

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 3:16pmSanction this postReply
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Dan B.:

Thanks for the kind words.

I also agree with you that a rational attitude is far superior than the the "know it all" attitude.

--Walter
Wishing that I knew it all...then I could retire! 




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Post 189

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 3:24pmSanction this postReply
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Laj,

"Your interpretation of my post is fine by me. It's obviously wrong, but I guess that people cannot tell the difference between..."

Obviously wrong? It's like your finding some position and calling it the correct one, thereby stifling one's ability to appreciate the nuanced differences that exist in different positions.

People cannot tell the difference? Are their thoughts and actions not determined. 





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Post 190

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 4:07pmSanction this postReply
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Andrew-

Hint: stay away from marketing, it's not you.

Well, I was about to actually bother writing a response to Rich's overblown little reaction to my post, until I noticed he had inadvertently paid me one of the best compliments I've received in recent days!

That's true, if you were good at marketing, it would mean you were good at sweeping reality under the rug for the sake of appeasing(or marketing to) pomo-relativists.  My first reaction was similar to yours, but now I see your point: that was a compliment.




Post 191

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 4:15pmSanction this postReply
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Also Andrew-
I am also glad that I have the opportunity to be the first to second that compliment.  As an editor, as a contributor, and as a participant to SOLO you have displayed remarkable competence and integrity by treating reality and ideas seriously, rather than as marketing tools of appeasment to be used to sacrifice reality for the sake of popularity and multi-culti "tolerance" of other logics and realities.

(Edited by Jody Allen Gomez on 10/04, 4:16pm)




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Post 192

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 4:47pmSanction this postReply
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Jody and Andrew come on -- We're supposed to treat everyone absolutely equally under all circumstances and accept all ideas.  I for one am totally convinced by these new arguments and I'm converting to a new religon --

The Universalist Utilitarian Egalitarian Church (UUE)

 - Jason




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Post 193

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 4:50pmSanction this postReply
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Jason-
That's a great idea, we need a philosophical mascot though and there are so many to choose from I'm having problems.  Anyone have any suggestions?




Post 194

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 5:21pmSanction this postReply
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A mascot for the The Universalist Utilitarian Egalitarian Church (UUE). Hmm....

How about a Kigme?





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Post 195

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 7:07pmSanction this postReply
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Andrew,

Would you encourage anyone to join the Ayn Rand Institute?

Here's what you said in your post a couple of pages back, at http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0636_7.shtml#155:

...ARI, often posited as prima facie evidence of Randroidism-run-rampant, actually produces a lot of sterling work from creative writers and scholars, and has improved much in recent years. Yes, they still have some room for improvement, but they're hardly the strict Objecti-convent that many ARI apostates portray them as.

What would you point to as signs of improvement in recent years?

I'm well aware that ARI encourages some Rand scholarship.  My concern is what the net effect is, once you factor in the organization's vigorously ongoing efforts to discourage all other Rand scholarship.

I was naive enough to think that when Andrew Bernstein agreed to publish a (very short) reply to a review in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, perhaps ARI was beginning to show greater openness to Rand scholarship undertaken by persons not affiliated with the organization and its leaderhip.  Instead, as soon as the article appeared in print, Bernstein had to make public penance in sackcloth and ashes.  Adding to the insult was his face-saving but obviously false assertion that he didn't know what kind of journal JARS was, or which authors had published in the journal in the recent past.  These days, JARS is totally off limits to writers and scholars affiliated with ARI.  Merely communicating with anyone on the JARS editorial board appears to be professionally risky for them.  I hope someone will have the guts to defy the interdict, but I am not expecting anything like it any time soon.

There is a lot of individual variation among ARI members.  And a certain amount of slack is extended to ARI-affiliated academics, who may speak in a couple of forums that unapproved scholars also frequent (currently, these are the Ayn Rand Society and the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University).  But if you read the work of ARI-affiliated scholars closely, you will note that unapproved scholars are not cited, even in order to criticize them.

People became Randroids in the past without any help from ARI; nor will future Randroids always need its promptings.  But as far as I can see the organization, though far from uniformly successful at it, is effectively dedicated to producing Randroids.  And in this mission, as in virtually everything that it does, ARI claims to draw its inspiration from Ayn Rand herself.  I have been reading Tom Rowland's many posts on recent threads as a fascinatingly frank statement of the way that members of ARI are encouraged to think.

As so many have rightly pointed out here at SOLO, much in Rand's writings stands in the way of any scheme to turn Randians into dogmatic sycophants.  But not everything does: her corpus also contains public demands for obedience, and declarations that one must accept her system of thought as a package--or reject it in toto, while sinking irreversibly into depravity.  At ARI they manage to overlook some things that Rand said, but they rarely fail to derive leverage from the authoritarian passages.

When Randians lapse into "indifference and cynicism," there are various reasons why they might do so.  Isn't the example set by the Ayn Rand Institute one of those reasons?

Robert Campbell




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Post 196

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - 9:29pmSanction this postReply
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Andrew writes:
>I have a friend who insists on this approach, so I put the question to him this way, "If someone were to rape your girlfriend, would that act be totally evil, or would there be some small tinge of good in it? And when you and she make love, is it ever totally good?" Even with the controversy put in such stark, personal terms, he insisted that it's never black-and-white, just a muddled mixture of different shades of grey. Now that's an example of cultism.

Laj responded:
>2. "Totally good"? "Totally evil"? Please, let me know what the word "totally" adds.

Yes, as a problem it is nothing but a silly word-game. It's not even an example of "cultism". Why Andrew, who is clearly *not* stupid, thinks it is an impressive question I can't say. Perhaps he needs some smarter friends to debate with.

- Daniel



Post 197

Wednesday, October 5, 2005 - 7:13amSanction this postReply
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Well, I was about to actually bother writing a response to Rich's overblown little reaction to my post, until I noticed he had inadvertently paid me one of the best compliments I've received in recent days!
 
Most people who have ever had to hire a marketing intern probably I agree with you. I do.

Yeah, the whole "turf" thing set me off. Sorry.




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Post 198

Wednesday, October 5, 2005 - 7:21amSanction this postReply
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My...

That kind of says it all. If you bash Unitarian Universalism, you've pretty much said that you have no limits. It makes sense. The same people who do that sort of thing also usually have no regrets about eating their own kind.

I'm down with it. They've been burning us at the stake since the 1500's. Not impressed.




Post 199

Wednesday, October 5, 2005 - 7:37amSanction this postReply
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The Universalist Utilitarian Egalitarian Church (UUE)
 
I just can't get enough of this. Egalitarian. Huh-huh, he said "egalitarian," Beavis.

Geez, dude... I can only imagine what you were like on the playground. :)
 







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