Rebirth of Reason

War for Men's Minds

The Missionary Position
by Barry Kayton


A recent poll at SoloHQ revealed some interesting results. The poll question was: "How many people that you know have become objectivists owing to their interaction with you?"

The responses were as follows:
  • 43% indicated they had introduced objectivism to no-one;
  • 39% indicated they had introduced objectivism to one or two people;
  • 12% indicated they had introduced objectivism to three to five people;
  • 2% indicated they had introduced objectivism to six to fifteen people; and
  • 4% indicated they had introduced objectivism to 16 or more people.

This suggests that most SOLOists do not go out of their way to convert others. In other words, for the most part objectivists are not missionaries.

Why? What is it about deliberately seeking to introduce others to your way of thinking that seems unappealing? Let me begin by asking: to what in reality does the concept "missionary" refer?

The way of the missionary

A missionary is a person who holds as a primary value the goal of propagating his faith in order to "save the souls of the damned". To this obsession, many other values -- safety, comfort, health, wealth and sometimes family -- are sacrificed.

Christian colonial missionaries took up the challenge of "civilising the savages" by spreading Christian values, principally through teaching people to read (and using the Bible to do so). It is easy to forget that to people from oral cultures, literacy and Bibles must have been regarded as a kind of magic or supernatural power: the silent thoughts of a mind -- the mind of a god -- rendered in intricate symbols to be deciphered and spoken by anyone. This is one of the reasons that these missionaries were -- in some respects -- devastatingly effective.

Contemporary missionaries include a wide range of evangelists from those who continue to venture into remote regions of the world, to those who walk from door to door professing their faith in our own neighbourhoods, to those who try to impose their beliefs by political means.

Historically, then, being a missionary has been intimately connected with religion, altruism, a life of poverty and a drive to impose beliefs on others. So it is not surprising that we probably tend to find the concept repugnant.

The way of objectivism

In contrast to the way of the missionary, the way of objectivism is clear. We all lead our own lives with our own hierarchy of values. We're designers, programmers, artists, journalists, scientists, etcetera, and we have our friends and families. Objectivism is not a religion that treats us as hosts for its own propagation, but a philosophy to guide you in living your own life.

I would expect that few of us are driven by a desire to belong to an "objectivist movement" nor by a desire to impose our ideas on others. It is not so much a sense of belonging that draws us together but the values of friendship, reason, knowledge, wisdom and benevolence we derive from this and other forums.

Choosing to be a missionary for objectivism -- even on a limited scale -- seems to mean diverting time, resources and energy away from our personal goals and values towards an impersonal goal, which has as its primary beneficiary other people. In other words, making a point of introducing objectivism to other people seems to be inherently self-sacrificial. But is this necessarily true?

What about objectivist educators?

The closest approximations to missionaries in the objectivist movement are teachers, lecturers, speakers and writers. Some are educators in their own disciplines, say economics or literature, who apply objectivist principles in the content and methods of their teaching; others are full-time philosophers who include objectivist positions in their courses; and others are employed at TOC or ARI. Why then do we not regard them as missionaries? Indeed, why is it unlikely that they regard themselves as missionaries?

Properly understood, teaching or lecturing are no less selfish pursuits than any other career choices -- such as medicine, engineering or architecture. In Part One of The Fountainhead Howard Roark explains to the Dean:

Well, I could say that I must aspire to build for my client the most comfortable, the most logical, the most beautiful house that can be built. I could say that I must try to sell him the best I have and also teach him to know the best. I could say it, but I won't. Because I don't intend to build in order to have clients. I intend to have clients in order to build.

Roark wants to build. He thrives on the creative process of designing a building and seeing the idea made real in stone, steel and concrete.

Similarly, those of us involved in education find pleasure in the process of imparting knowledge, skills or values, and satisfaction in seeing the outcome of that process: minds that have discovered -- or rediscovered -- the fascination of facts, logic and imagination; hands that have mastered the skill of painting or design; hearts that are burning with passion for life and liberty. What we build are bridges between individuals and reality. What we design are systems for developing minds. What we create are opportunities for people to discover or rediscover the value of self. What we produce are ideas for the expansion of individual freedom. And what we try to develop are people with a taste for life.

So, since objectivist educators do spread the philosophy in whole or in part, they are missionaries in at least this one respect if not in any others.

A "missionary position" for non-educators

Is there then no "missionary position" for objectivists who are not educators? Are there no reasons for personally wanting to introduce people to objectivism? Of course there are, but these are contextual and we each need to decide for ourselves where in our hierarchy of values we should rank the value of building an objectivist community. There is no duty or universal imperative to spread the philosophy.

You may find the process of introducing people to objectivism a rewarding experience. You may find satisfaction in the outcome -- a growing circle of objectivist friends. And, in the long run, you are bound to benefit from participating in a community of mutually supportive people who share your fundamental values.

So, if you want to set yourself the modest challenge of personally introducing one or two people per year to objectivism, what are some of the simple, rationally selfish steps you can take that may help to spread the philosophy?

The first step is to decide on a strategy: how -- in the broadest terms -- are you going to go about the task of spreading objectivism?

You may decide simply to identify potential objectivists amongst the people with whom you are in daily contact. Or, if your circle of interaction is limited, you may need to decide to find ways of meeting more people. In this way you can pursue other values at the same time: join a gym or running or mountaineering club (and improve your health); join Toastmasters (and learn the skill of public speaking); join MENSA or a bridge or chess club (and enjoy a mental challenge); join or start up a travel club (and see more of your own country or the world); etcetera.

The second step is to decide what kind of people to look for: who would you expect to be hungry for a philosophy free of contradiction and hypocrisy? One possible answer is teenagers. Not all of them, of course, but you are likely to find more potential objectivists among teenagers than anywhere else.

Many teenagers are quick to challenge the status quo, ready to cast off the strictures of conventional thought, eager to make the most of their lives. By contrast, many adults cling stubbornly to their unreasoned beliefs. Once their intellectual arteries are constricted by a diet of faith in the supernatural and faith in government, public education and postmodern art, the damage is done -- and can only be undone with Herculean effort.

As a part-time and rationally selfish missionary, perhaps the easiest and most effective way to spread the philosophy is to give away second-hand copies of Anthem or The Fountainhead to potential objectivists amongst your circle of friends and colleagues, and amongst the members of organisations to which you belong. You could also make a point of including potential objectivists in some of your social activities. Or start up an informal group such as a monthly movie club that combines entertainment with an opportunity to review and discuss a film and its ideas.

Introducing objectivism

Sooner or later you will be asked about objectivism and you will need to decide how to answer. Context will determine how you respond, of course, but there is one fundamental choice to make: are you going to offer a scholastic or a sense-of-life response? On the one hand you could choose to discuss axioms, the five branches of philosophy, the pillars or objectivism, etcetera. Or, on the other hand, you can describe how your worldview brings reality into focus, sharpens your mind, challenges you to set and achieve your goals and fills you with an appreciation for life and liberty.

I would expect that most people are probably less interested in theoretical philosophy than they are in its personal impact on your life. So I would resist the temptation to break into scholastic song until you have described the experience of your "philosophy for living on earth".

For an excellent discussion of how to introduce objectivism, see "Selling Objectivism: Try the Curiosity Approach" by Robert Bidinotto.


If by "missionary" we think of an altruistic obsession with propagating a faith then obviously an "objectivist missionary" is an oxymoron. But surely we can recognise the value of spending some of our time deliberately seeking to spread our ideas and widen our circle of influence? Surely spending a small amount of our time finding young minds hungry for a rational alternative to the status quo is more productive and rewarding than debating philosophical technicalities with trolls or philosophical openness with dogmatic objectivists?

If we're seriously concerned with the future of freedom and we believe that objectivism offers the best defence of our liberty, then shouldn't we be committed to spreading the philosophy in ways that are personally convenient and efficient? The fact is that the trickle-down effect from colleges to culture just won't cut it.

So why not try out the "missionary position"? After all, wouldn't you agree that it's good for both parties?

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