|The Plight of the Objectivist Egghead, Part 6|
When I went around to more than a half dozen campuses and started campus Objectivist clubs, I was able to see the problem very starkly, In case after case, the new club leaders had no concept of how to run a meeting, how to publicize, how to plan for an outside speaker. I was years older and gave them very sound advice. But they didn't want to hear it. They wanted to make their own mistakes. And so the clubs I'd started which, since I knew how to publicize them on a college campus, attracted thirty people to the first meeting, all very enthusiastic and thrilled to know that there were others who loved Ayn Rand on their campus and a majority who had read some of the non-fiction as well, those clubs under the student leaders dwindled down to twenty, then fifteen, then nine, then four people - the hardcore - after just four or five meetings.
The root problem is one common to students of Objectivism and many Objectivist leaders, to academic intellectuals, and to the kids getting the top grades in school. As a teacher, I've often found the bright kids are the ones most in their comfort zone and the hardest to get to make any fundamental change. They were told what great writers they are and don't want to stop always using the pompous and inappropriate big words. They don't want to adopt "The Elements of Style". They dislike suggestions.
The problem is that once someone thinks they are successful intellectually, once they have a subject they love, once they are in a comfort zone, oonce the wheel only seems to squeak once every fifty turns, you get smug. You build up an image of yourself as superbright, get complacent, think you are on the top of the mountain.
But the reality is, unless you are fortunate enough to be in a protected sinecure or have a wealthy patron or are supported by changeproof and loyal member contributions, real life is much harder once you are out of school and your actual success will be proportionate to how willing you are to learn new skills. And to break with old habits. I'm reminded of the movie "Rudy", of the pint-sized runt who had a burning desire to play college-level football. Rudy knew he had to work his butt off, attempt new things. But the bigger and stronger players didn't put in that kind of time. They had made the varsity. They were "set", they thought. No one was going to beat them.
And in the case of Objectivist intellectuals, the reality is that they are the Rudys and if they don't act like Michael Jordans or Kobe Bryants or Ayn Rands, they will be ineffectual in massively changing minds and hearts on a fundamental level. As they have largely been (other than Rand's fiction writing and the rapid spread of the NBI courses) for more than half a century.
Michael Jordan became great because he was the first guy in the gym and the last one out. He was already great, but lacked hubris and complacency. And realized each summer he wanted to add a new skill. Kobe Bryant, imitating his example, is now the same, working on his game, taking endless shots in practice. In each case of a great player with a long career, each summer or in the off-season, he worked on adding a new component to his game. This past summer, Kobe realized he was being double teamed more successfully and his outside shot more contested, so he went to one of the great retired centers, Hakeem Olajuwon, and asked him to teach him how to play the postup game and what the footwork was involved. There are similar stories in other sports, other fields such as music. Practice, Innovate, Broaden, Practice, Practice.
Ayn Rand wanted to master every aspect of being a writer. She had to learn a new language, read systematically through world great literature, reflect on what she'd seen and write in endless journals. How many Objectivist intellectuals who work at the think tanks or are published writers or try to attract people to Objectivism or run an educational venture have taken a course at AERI or the Leadership Institute? How many of them have read and heavily annotated "Guerrilla Marketing"? How many lower-level intellectuals have done any of this, have tried to lift themselves up by their bootstraps in ways analogous to this? How many when they write a piece are actually willing to seek out criticism....and act on the good suggestions or critiques?
In particular, even for those who have polished their writing and speaking skills and their knowledge of Objectivism is comptele, the tendency for a high-level "intellectual" -- just as it is for the college professor -- is to let the non-academic or non-intellectual or administrative or practical or marketing or people skills things slide. They are not fun, they are alien, they are not part of one's previous experience, they are outside the comfort zone.
The campus clubs would only announce a speaker and put up posters or send out a press release a day or two before. People already have plans, they haven't had time to see the posters, student papers need press releases a week or two in advvance. Result: Student-organized events get ten or twenty to show up. Experienced adult-organized events get forty or eighty. George Reisman has written "Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics", a brilliant comprehensive book on economics, breaking new ground, and with a powerful writing style. It has been called "the most remarkable textbook written by any economist in this century." But the book appeard in 1998 and hasn't seemed to sell at all or make much of a ripple in twelve years. The remarkably influential "Road to Serfdom" it has not been even though it is a much more innovative book. Just as one example, within its pages is perhaps the most unanswerable and devastating intellectual demolition of 'environmentalism' ever penned. But --- in flagrant defiance of publishing 101 and of basic common sense being in touch with reality --- it is the length of an encyclopedia and with very small print and physically too tall to fit on bookstore shelves and actually physically hurts if you hold it in your lap and the price for something this massive is $93. By this time and after the book had been going nowher for a number of years, I'd had lots of experience with Oist intellectuals contemptuoulsly brushing aside or bristling at good practical suggestions. But I knew him and emailed him: "Since the first third or so of the book is introductory and readable by non-economists and the last third or more is very technical and aimed at the economics profession, why not come out with a two-volume (or even three) edition? Those who are tentative or newbies can buy the first, and if they get hooked buy the rest. Each book would be less expensive, could have somewhat larger print, could be less tall so Barnes and Noble and Borders can fit it on their shelves." Care to guess whether the suggestion was found to have merit? (There's more on the design and marketing of books. Ask me about major self-inflicted damage with regard to Ayn Rand's non-fiction. Or the material she didn't write or approve for her fiction.)
I've been around Objectivism for a long time and involved in both its intellectual side and its marketing side. These are just a small fraction of the elementary mistakes I've seen made, attributable to eggheadism. But also to a certain quiet hubris on every level. To complacency. To unwillingness to learn and stretch and absorb new and practical ideas.