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Tuesday, June 22 - 6:37amSanction this postReply
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"-egghead- is..directed at people considered too out-of-touch with ordinary people and too lacking in realism, common sense, virility, etc. on account of their intellectual interests. The British equivalent is -boffin-...the term has largely been replaced by ... -elitist- (political), and -geek- or -nerd- (social)." [wikipedia]

The term 'egghead' brings into focus a very important and destructive phenomenon that exists in reality. It's directed at those who misuse their intellects in a certain way. It identifies a rather profound lack of realism and common sense [I'd remove the term virility from the common usage] to such an extent that it puts eggheads out of touch not just with ordinary people, but with many practical and important aspects of reality.

It's not the same as being an intellectual or interested in ideas as such. (Both of which are good things.)

My first contact with 'eggheads' in this pejorative sense was when I encountered a unique phenomenon freshman year, the standard issue college professor. I hadn't met them among my high school teachers. Like NCO's as opposed to higher -ranking officers in the famous saying, schoolteachers actually work for a living.

But my college professors at a prestigious school weren't rewarded for teaching and had a different attitude toward it.

They were actually quite non-productive in a crucial economic sense...

(to be continued)





(Edited by Philip Coates on 6/22, 6:57am)




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Tuesday, June 22 - 5:28pmSanction this postReply
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Subject: The Plight of the Objectivist Egghead, Part 2

College professors, especially at a prosperous or prestigious school, are prime examples of feather-bedding. They are too often given tenure and promotions and recognition for writing in academic publications. Not for teaching. If this were generally valuable work, one could call it productive. But academics themselves point out that in many fields, especially in the humanities as opposed to the sciences or the technical and professional fields, it's often extremely long, scrupulously footnoted work concerning minutiae. The dissertation files and journals are full of this. In fact, if you attempt too wide or ambitious a topic (like the one I'm addressing now) you will attract intellectual nitpickers, people who will quarrel with your definitions, with every comma, with whether or not you read some obscure volume published long ago and then (deservedly) forgotten. Safer to write a tiny addition on a tiny subject. And years of doing this breeds a certain habit of mind.

The professoriate tends to look down on teaching as an inferior or simple or mundane skill. They never took a single course in how to teach, the thing their paying customers expect of them. In their arrogance, most of them unthinkingly (and often inaccurately) assume their own brilliance and that their hard-won Ph.d.'s automatically make them skilled at educating people. (Or at writing.)

If you have achieved a safe sinecure, such as tenure at a university, there is a temptation to sort of relax and, finally, feel able to indulge your interests rather than always respond to market pressure, consumer demands, troublesome questions from those who are not in your little niche or fraternity. Other than in the sciences and in the professions, cutting edge businesses and innovations and great works of art or literature are not often made by academics. Even before the rise of the university system, the greatest innovators, such as Michelangelo and Newton and Edison and Beethoven had to please customers or at least wealthy and sometimes demanding patrons. They didn't have tenure.

But the successful 'egghead' today is often protected, sheltered, insulated. He seldom has to face the market or customer complaints. He can indulge a tendency toward impenetrable writing, toward jargon, toward otherworldly flights of fancy, toward the obscure and irrelevant [e.g., "New knowledge about Shakespeare's cousins on his mother's side"], toward a lack of common sense or toward indulging his own emotional preferences [e.g., hopping on the bandwagon in regard to global warming]. He can lazily indulge in long-winded, jargon-filled, pedantic writing [e.g., note how few op ed writers are academics]. And he doesn't have to teach for very many hours. The teaching and student interaction loads of full professors are a fraction of that of a secondary school teacher.

The academy is respected in our intellectual culture and so even the most undeserving professors can gain a reputation for brilliance, can get chances to write for major publishing houses, can get contracts and speaking gigs for the most arrant nonsense.

An extreme example in philosophy or literary criticism would be the deconstructionists and postmodernists. No matter how bad their ideas or how incomprehensibly expressed, they will not necessarily suffer any adverse market effects, as long as they stay on the right side of the intellectual elites.

(Note: There are exceptions to every rule, and there are professors for whom none of the above applies. But the tendencies are far more widespread among that group than among accomplished and highly trained professionals who don't work in the academy or have to meet primarily non-academic standards. Doctors, engineers, lawyers, software specialists, scientists. )

But what about intellectuals who are outside of the charmed circle, who do not have tenure, who are not 'in with the in crowd'? Whose ideas might even be deeply against the conventional wisdom? What happens to those who have rarefied or less-marketable interests?

And here's where we come to the Objectivists across five decades . . .



(Edited by Philip Coates on 6/22, 5:46pm)




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Tuesday, June 22 - 10:49pmSanction this postReply
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Excellent posts, Phil.

Two things come to mind: One is the book Prof Scam, by Charles Sykes - If you haven't read it, you'd love it. It is a fast but scathing look at the university that is very much like what you've written.

The second thing that comes to mind is how much cultural relativism, moral relativism, and subjectivity in general work as a background set of theories for working in that tenured system where the most important thing is to be able to disagree (at the nitpick level) with your fellow academicians while still not saying they are immoral or actually wrong. It gives tacit permission for each professor to publish absolute rot and not get called on it, since their partners in crime aren't going to want to rock the gravy boat. (I think Robert Merrill pointed this out in his book - not sure.)



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Wednesday, June 23 - 7:55amSanction this postReply
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Thanks, Steve! (I was wondering if anyone was reading this thread and whether I would continue.) Last year I read another good book by Charles Sykes, "Dumbing Down our Kids", about some of the problems in education --- but before college this time, at the primary and secondary levels. As a teacher, usually operating below college level, that was very useful to me. With regard to college professors and their types of mistakes, I fear I'm going to get a lot less agreement and more resentment when I start to indict in my next few posts for some of the same ivory-tower mistakes (not cultural relativism, moral relativism, and subjectivity though).

I did get a taste of some of the prof-scam type corruptions peculiar to college teaching environments when I taught at that level and didn't care for it and abandoned it for adult level and high school level.

PS, Did you mean Ron Merrill, who wrote a book on Objectivism?



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Wednesday, June 23 - 9:20amSanction this postReply
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Phil, yes, Ron Merrill's book on Objectivism. If I remember correctly he was discussing why Rand was not well received in the academy... it is somewhere early on in the book.



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Wednesday, June 23 - 10:08amSanction this postReply
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"(I was wondering if anyone was reading this thread and whether I would continue." Phil

I'm eagerly waiting Part III.



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Wednesday, June 23 - 12:36pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks, Jeff. The next two parts are already drafted, so I'll post them right now... (Feel free to comment on parts already posted, things which look to be independent of the total.)


(Edited by Philip Coates on 6/23, 12:38pm)




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Wednesday, June 23 - 12:40pmSanction this postReply
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Subject: Part 3, The Plight of the Objectivist Egghead

There are many ways someone who is intellectually inclined can be an egghead in the sense of being somewhat out of touch, lacking common sense, or simply lacking realism, either in small or large ways. The famous caricature is of the absent-minded professor who can't remember where he parked his car. But being out of touch with reality can be far less extreme or only partial and far easier to let happen to oneself on a more subtle level.

Some years ago I knew an Objectivist who was a newly minted Ph.D. in philosophy. She had, (characteristically--Oists over the last few decades have continually been trying to start magazines, start schools or colleges, start nationwide networking ventures, sell Objectivist products, market their own pamphlets, self-publish, get a syndicated column, get their own radio program) a very grandiose intellectual project, an undertaking in which she was going to change the world of ideas in short order. Unlike her, I had some business and marketing and entrepreneurial experience and was able to point out several obvious pitfalls that would have sunk her almost instantly. "Oh, don't tell me that! Don't tell me that! Don't tell me that! I need to keep my motivation up."

What's more important, keeping your motivation up in the short run by ignoring practical realities, or keeping your motivation up a couple years later after running headfirst into business barriers and having wasted a lot of time and money?

The classic example we've all heard of is the half-century old idea in Ayn Rand's inner circle that if the newly published Atlas sold ten or fifty thousand copies, the culture was doomed. The gross out-of-touch failure of common sense by everyone concerned there, the speculation without historical basis, was a failure to actually investigate the real world. The real world causal and psychological mechanisms by which highly abstract and controversial and counter to the culture ideas spread. Or in this case encounter resistance. Another form of failing to be grounded or realistic is the idea of many Objectivist writers that they can change anyone's mind by merely stating that capitalism is a moral not a practical issue, or merely stating that man should be selfish in an op ed. Or reciting Rand's (incomprehensible to the outsider who is not a philosophy grad student or who hasn't already spent some time reading the books and studying the philosophy) standing on one foot mantra.

The person who becomes an intellectual -- whether a college professor to be or an ordinary person who read some books which awakened him -- is attracted by the beauty and the reach of the world of ideas. They give him great power, great articulateness. It is then natural to allow the pursuit of abstractions, of theories, of philosophies, of systems of ideas to so completely captivate someone to the extent that he sweeps aside more mundane or practical concerns to far too great an extent. (If he combines lack of attention to them with a level of contempt for them or their supposed simplicity or imperfectness, then he develops an attitude similar to the one Plato held toward the shifting, tacky, messy, recalcitrant world of 'appearances'.)

The problem with this is that everyday life, practical consequences, how people think in reality, what it takes to be persuasive, what an intellectual entrepreneur must master -- are not inconsequential things. In fact, they can sink you, make you ineffectual if you don't spend a lot of years attending to them at the same time as you are polishing your intellectual specialty and reading all the books in that area.

The difference between the tenured professor at an Ivy League college who has taken this route and an Objectivist intellectual who has no giant institution, no prestige, and no funding or support system, is that the former can very often still be influential and get away with being out of touch....



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Wednesday, June 23 - 12:42pmSanction this postReply
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Subject: Part 4, The Plight of the Objectivist Egghead

But the Objectivist doesn't have the prestige, the blind acquiescence, the cap-doffing respect, the centuries-old support system. Far from it. Given the reviled or baffling nature of what he has to sell intellectually, the wind is never at his back but always blowing gale force in his face while he slides in the mud trying for a moment's traction on an uphill slope. He will gain traction in a crisis with temporary allies and appear on Fox news or speak at a right-wing meeting, but that rug can be pulled away very swiftly. And, in many cases, it's anathema to the intellectuals, to the colleges and professors, to the publishers that he needs to gain access to. He needs to make permanent and full scale inroads and converts and to get tenure at colleges or respect at the intellectual journals and regular publishing in The Atlantic or the New Yorker or the equivalent. He actually needs to have the skills to -change- the culture. And you can't change the culture if you are only talking to yourself or to a handful of tea party suburban moms and gun nuts and wall street investors.

He has to have at least some of the world class intellectual skills Rand had with almost none of the liabilities.

What all of that means is the last thing he can be is an out of touch "egghead". He can't let loose the occasional stupid or uninformed remark about a field where he hasn't done research. He can't write the incomprehensible or unpolished or tedious piece. The gatekeepers or his outright intellectual opponents will pounce on it ruthlessly and argue that he shouldn't be given another chance. He has to be skilled both as an entrepreneur and as an intellectual. He has to be a good to great writer, a good to great teacher, a good to great speaker, a good to great persuader. Or at least one or more of those, and then stay in that niche until he gets better (realistically, not in his own inflated sense of grandiose self-worth).

( Aside: We've seen how enemies will pounce on any dirt they can find in Rand's life to discredit her or portray her as a monster, will take any rash statement in a journal or notes to herself to smear her philosophy. Anything to not have to deal with the actual ideas. Perhaps it's fortunate that the second and third strings, the bench players who followed Rand, are generally seldom noticed, have not really impacted the culture, because they would likely be demonized and laughed back into obscurity by the same kind of discrediting or distorting or context-shifting, but without millions of admiring readers to write angry letters and set the record in context and carry them through dark times. )

(to be continued)





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Thursday, June 24 - 9:13amSanction this postReply
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The Plight of the Objectivist Egghead, Part 5

Every since I first met other students of Objectivism in college when I started a campus club, I have been constantly amazed at how a philosophy of reason could so frequently attract people who didn't apply it, or at least not in a full and realistic way, or (worse) people who used the abstractions as a source of pride yet who lazily coasted on the basis of having the right abstract, intellectual system. Sort of like the smug academics, the college professors I mentioned at the start.

Sometimes the rank and file Out-Of-Touch Objectivist is a person who constantly interrupts everyone else's conversations or is always angry in person or has zero social skills. Sometimes he can't use simple jargon-free English. Often, very often, he turns people off on Objectivism rather than making them want to consider it more closely as soon as he opens his mouth or puts fingers to keyboard.

Sometimes even the movement leaders are OOTO's in some crucial area. Preaching and teaching are not doing and acting. Mastering or creating the theory doesn't guarantee understanding or implementing the practice. Verbal skill does not guarantee common sense.

(i) For Rand it was her alienation and her anger and her moral condemnation of people who didn't automatically agree.

(ii) For Branden it was a character flaw that made him a liar and bully and a deceiver in personal affairs (at least early on; he now has repudiated much of this).

(iii) For Peikoff, it was some of the same mistakes as Rand, plus sometimes a rationalistic tendency as in trying to deduce and proclaim as a blanket policy which party you should vote for and then reversing it two years later or creating an inflexible educational curriculum of four core subjects only regardless of context.

(iv) For Kelley and others at TAS, it's first an inability to communicate in simple, vigorous, direct, and compelling ways about the issues that most concern ordinary people, not epistemologists. And second a profound lack of organizational skill - an inability to finish projects, be productive, get things done, a sense of lack of accomplishment in their organization. (An inability even to get something as basic and practical as a website right.)

(v) For ARI, it is not organizational skill or project implementation [at which they are so far ahead of TAS that it's laughable], but lack of external persuasiveness or ability to reach outside Objectivist ghetto. Sometimes they publish pieces which simply assert Objectivist principles as intrinsic bromides in a rash or brash manner without patient explanation and full persuasion or they drop context in the application (as in the armchair generalship of the 'nuke Tehran' essays or prescribing detailed rules of engagement without actual military knowledge.)

For almost all of the Oist leaders across more than a half century, the 'eggheadism' (the inappropriate or unrealistic form of being an intellectual severed from or unserious about practical reality in crucial ways) takes its most obvious form in an inability to grasp and implement proper strategy and tactics in order to persuade the culture. I say almost all, because Branden (or probably Nathaniel and Barbara together) were the only ones across a long span of years who actually had implemented something that actually was starting to change the culture. And there are lessons in what they did that, because of disgust with how the thing blew up or with the bullying and intimidation that seems to have gone on, or because of 'egghead hubris' have simply been swept aside.


(Edited by Philip Coates on 6/24, 9:31am)




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Thursday, June 24 - 11:31amSanction this postReply
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Phil,

Thank you for presenting this thoughtful postmortem of Objectivist efforts to date. If there is anything that Objectivists should learn from past history, it is that Objectivists should be willing to recognize and when appropriate, acknowledge their own weaknesses. That does not mean withdrawing from the arena or becoming reticent. It does mean becoming more self-aware and world-aware outside the comfortable confines of settled Objectivist intellectual territory. Thanks again and I'm looking forward to the discussion this piece will generate.

Jim 




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Thursday, June 24 - 11:43amSanction this postReply
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Thanks, Phil.  I did not know the word "boffin." 

However, I have a question.  You wrote: "The classic example we've all heard of is the half-century old idea in Ayn Rand's inner circle that if the newly published Atlas sold ten or fifty thousand copies, the culture was doomed." 

I never heard of that, so it is not a classic example for me.  Do you mean that if Atlas Shrugged sold only ten or fifty thousand copies that present American society was doomed to collapse under collectivism?  Or do you mean that if Atlas Shrugged sold at least 10-50,000 copies that the present culture of collectivism was doomed to be replaced by Objectivism?  Were they speaking of total sales for the year or for the rest of their lives or for all time?   Fifty thousand copies for the first year sales of a book was impressive back then.  Now, of course, the NYT Bestseller list counts printed copies, not actual sales, so many books are launched as "best sellers."   Is that what they meant?  

If that was a "classic example" would it not be unambiguous?  Or is it a classic example of an ambiguous statement from a self-defined "collective" of Objectivists? 

By "all" I assume you mean all of the people listed in the RoR membership roster, except me, or did you mean all the people on Earth, except me?  Or was it is everyone you met in person, as you and I never have, thus not invalidating "all"? 

Will there be a Part 6 where you tell the story of your own successes, or are you the Objectivist Egghead whose plight is unresolved by the failures of other Objectivists to make a world of your liking? I am not too clear on the point of the essay.

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 6/24, 12:00pm)




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Thursday, June 24 - 12:57pmSanction this postReply
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Jim HN--> Thanks again and I'm looking forward to the discussion this piece will generate.

Jim, I predict this kind of critical of the movement piece will -not- generate a lot of discussion, neither on this list or elsewhere compared to one more thread on bad things happening in the culture or politics. No matter how well I document it. No matter how many examples or how many decades of lessons there are in it.

The discussion so far has been disappointingly slight compared to the amount of time I've put in and discourages me from doing anything again in so great detail for small movement audiences. I'd be surprised if a flood of posting suddenly springs up at the end and inspires new self-improvement threads: If I wanted to comment on something substantive, I wouldn't wait until all five or ten parts of it were posted. Too much to hold back, unless you're printing it all out or clipping it to a computer file.

One of the problems of Objectivist Eggheadism is hubris and smugness or complacency. Most people think they don't need to go back and retool or 'work on their game'. For example, Peikoff and Kelley and Reisman and ARI and TAS and other movement intellectuals, if they even see or carefully read through this (highly doubtful), will simply resent the parts which seem to criticize them and brush this all aside.

Michael, I thought every one who'd been around awhile had heard the story. They said that if Atlas ever reached that number of total sales (not annual), Objectivism would easily win and the culture of mysticism-altruism-collectivism would be pretty quickly swept aside in the way that communism fell. Easy-peasy.

> I am not too clear on the point of the essay.

The point of the essay is to document mistakes and wrong attitudes, so we can learn from them in the future. Both in terms of a movement and in personal lives.




(Edited by Philip Coates on 6/24, 1:15pm)




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Thursday, June 24 - 1:25pmSanction this postReply
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Phil:

I am enjoying your thoughtful series of observations. I think you are on to something.

re: If you have achieved a safe sinecure, such as tenure at a university,...

Have observed the same thing: they collect up there like DustBunnies, safe under a warm bed of subsidy and pure imagination, far from the spinning machines and bleeding fingers...

But significantly, they live at an intellectual focus point, the fulcra where this open nation with its open borders and open universities were once deliberately attacked. What remains is the self-replicating residue left over from those attacks on freedom. There is a reason why these institutions are so lopsided in their politics of national self loathing, and why, as well, they so often sell such unmitigated crippling slop. Far too few Tibors--he's not alone, but universities are totally out of anything resembling balance when it comes to differences of outlook in this regard. At my own Disneyland of indoctrination, for every John Stossel that escapes unscathed, there are hundreds of Krugman's and Wests and no end of the Last True Friends of the Real Working Man, who have never set foot in a steel mill and never will.

But, there is a fundamental conceptual problem facing those selling freedom vs. collectivism/totalitarianism ideas; freedom requires no collectivist 'selling', no tribal organizing principle other than defense of and from tribal organizing movements, of attempts to assert singular answers to 'what should we do?' It is a hard 'sell' to sell nothing, especially to huddled, fearful masses clinging to a smooth, damp rock, separated from the void by a whispy thin layer of gas, and increasingly aware of it.

Fundamentally, freedom is, freedom from the tribe; an assertion of "I", not "We". That's a hard sell ... to the Tribe. Especially one that, for now, has been inculcated from birth with an absolute, unshakable belief in totalitarian terms of art like 'The' Economy -- as if there really was a singular 'one' of them, and the tribe had a firm grasp on managing 'it.' That alone -- and widespread usage of its religious corollary, "S"ociety -- reflect the success with which this religions onslaught has succeeded in creating a de facto national theocracy in this once free nation. We've long been over-run, and that is why Objectivists have such difficulty getting any traction. They are strangers in a strange theocratic land, fully enveloped with totalitarian thinking for decades.

Free, secular nation? Only if religion is cartoonly defined as Easter baskets and crosses, as a deflection. Social Scientology is a religion, and we've bought it tooth and nail.

To the herdists, tribalists, collectivists, the assertion of "I" is seen as an impediment to the religious assertion of "We" uber alles, and must be hunted hunted down, discouraged, subdued.

It is a -much- harder sell encouraging a mob to organize under the principle of being dedicated to the right to be free from each other.

This discussion could well be a hundred years late to the conflict, that is the problem that not just Objectivism but any rational alternative to scientific statism/collectivism/totalitarianism has. The religion Social Scientology/ scientific statism, was sweeping the world a hundred years ago. This nation might have more or less strongly resisted, but we didn't actually win the Cold War; we caught the cold.

regards,
Fred



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Thursday, June 24 - 7:48pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks, Fred. Making a parallel between college professors and Oist intellectuals may seem a bit harsh, but I hope the way I'm comparing them is clear. Next installment coming up...



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Thursday, June 24 - 7:49pmSanction this postReply
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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.





Post 16

Friday, June 25 - 4:37amSanction this postReply
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PC wrote:

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 appeared 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.

Our local monthly Objectivist Meetup group attempted to slog through this book in manageable "chunks" some years ago and finally quit after getting about three-fourths through it. The first few chapters we found quite readable. After that, the word that came to mind again and again to describe the text was: RANT. We had the sneaking suspicion that the author hired an editor for the first 25% of the book and then fired him. Reisman not only rants, but writes unintelligibly long and convoluted sentences. I see absolutely no excuse for a well-educated author to write in this fashion.

We are now reading The Theory of Money and Credit by Ludwig von Mises. The translation from German makes it slow going in English at times but at least the author conveys his points in a concise fashion when compared to Reisman. The historical insight given its year of publication (1912) also sheds light on lessons learned and not learned since that time.



Post 17

Friday, June 25 - 8:13amSanction this postReply
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> Our local monthly Objectivist Meetup group attempted to slog through this book in manageable "chunks" some years ago and finally quit after getting about three-fourths through it. The first few chapters we found quite readable.

Luke, one reason for my suggestion about dividing the book into separate volumes is different audiences. As I pointed out in my post above, "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". The further chapters, if I recall correctly, are designed for those with a decades-long or intimate grasp of that field. A long sentence on a technical issue is going to seem even longer if you are not familiar with the differences between how Adam Smith and Ludwig Von Mises viewed the multiplier effect: Different audience, different tolerance for complexity, jargon, and technical detail.

"Reisman's exposure of modern mercantilist fallacies takes its place alongside that of Adam Smith." - James Buchanan,
Nobel Laureate in Economics, 1986.

"Reisman's ringing manifesto for laissez-faire capitalism free of all government influence is at once a conservative polemic and a monumental treatise, brimming with original theories, that is remarkable for its depth, scope and rigorous argument." - Publishers Weekly.

"Reisman has compiled one of the best defenses of the economics and morality of liberty I've seen written in recent years." - Walter E. Williams, Professor of Economics, George Mason University

My experience is that not only doesn't Reisman merely "rant" (make an extreme or heated claim with no backing) but he calmly and carefully gives exhaustive reasoning and evidence for his technical views in the field of economics.



(Edited by Philip Coates on 6/25, 8:17am)


(Edited by Philip Coates on 6/25, 8:43am)




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Post 18

Friday, June 25 - 12:46pmSanction this postReply
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There is another failing of the Universities... a sin committed by their many of the faculty. Because they wanted to be known as philosophers, or scientists, or experts within a discipline, rather than 'just' teachers, they changed the very nature of the universities. Scholarship used to be the careful analysis of text to verify the accuracy, to catalog, to index, to reference. And the university was a place where scholars taught about the subjects, but were not among those taught about. They were not the sources of the ideas that informed each major discipline. They didn't do analysis of the ideas or add their own. An analyst is that one step removed from the scholar and neither are the source of the orginal idea.

But there came a transition during which they taught about the thoughts of both contemporaries and past exemplars in a field - some who were outside of the academy, but they also had some who had come in from the cold. As if, in the loss of patronage that had supported men of arts and letters through the centuries and the increased need to sell in a marketplace, there was a move to make of the university a shelter, and a patron of the arts. Some teachers acquired this taste of a the heady wine of being the subject of the discussion, not just the discussor.

Then, in more recent decades, came the third act in this tragic comedy. The closing of ranks by those inside so as to exclude anyone succeeding on the outside. With a stunning arrogance many academics began to sing from the same page and the lyrics all say, "if you aren't recognized by us, you don't matter." Philosophy, psychology, science, history... they are all going, going, gone that very way. The mediocre, the obtuse, the envious, the wanna-be and the confused have all found a corner in the castle and bellowed out their angry support for pulling up the draw bridge. Now they will speak to us from on high. We can listen to their wisdom on all things delivered from the parapets.

It is so liberating to be on the inside because it comes with new rules. You get to separate things into now versus history. This is done so that the valiant new professor can present things in ways that prevent negative comparisons between his 'work' and that of the people who went before him. By wrapping his work in the new-speak jargon and specially engineered methodologies it can be differentiated from all that went before. And all those outside of the castle - they are just popularizers - writing for the unwashed masses - and clearly not good enough to get inside of the castle - and not to be spoken of but in derisive terms.

Culture is a structure. We need it like the beaver needs his dam and the pond it builds. There are weasels that have taken over part of the beaver's dam - they are parasites that have subverted the purpose of that part of the structure. Many of the faculty are no better than parasites that have crawled inside of the mechanism whose purpose is to gather and pass on the knowledge and academic skills from generation to generation. They take the money, tell the world lies about good intentions, and use their ill-gotten position to stroke their egos while blanking out the damage being done to the structure and to the body of knowledge it houses. They hold a greater responsibility for the lamp of human knowledge being turned lower and lower till one day it will go out, leaving mankind to struggle out of yet another dark age.

(Needless to say, this couldn't have happened but for government intervention, and would be vastly improved by just keeping government out of the education and the grant money business. Also, there are many fine professors that are as unhappy about this historical turn of events as I am - and they have my sympathy.)


(Edited by Steve Wolfer on 6/26, 12:23pm)




Post 19

Saturday, June 26 - 8:45amSanction this postReply
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"One experiment is worth a thousand expert opinions."

-- R. H. Mathies, Contributing Inventor of the Sewing Machine

This observation cuts both ways. There are people who try things and fail because they did not accept valid advice. There are others who try nothing and "successfully avoid failure." A third group consists of those who accept seemingly valid advice, try, fail, learn from the failure, then try again and continue this cycle until they succeed.

I am not sure by what standards Reisman, etc. measure their successes or failures. If people are already in their comfort zones, what others see as "failure" they may see as "success." So I have a hard time criticizing people who supposedly "leave money on the table" when they already consider their cash flow as "adequate" for their purposes without the "pain" of having to stretch themselves for more.

One does not have to be the "best" in order to be "adequate." I have said it earlier on this site but it bears repeating: "The excellent is the enemy of the adequate." So I suppose the originator of this thread needs to clarify his idea of "success" versus that of his targets of criticism. After all, if they have achieved what they want, then what Phil wants will mean squat to them -- as it jolly well should. Phil seems to want more for them than they want for themselves. What they call "happy" he calls "smug" and "complacent."

MEM asked:

[A]re you the Objectivist Egghead whose plight is unresolved by the failures of other Objectivists to make a world of your liking?

That question about Phil crossed my mind also.

(Edited by Luke Setzer on 6/26, 9:58am)




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