Rebirth of Reason

War for Men's Minds

Objectivist Newbie Guide
by Joseph Rowlands

There are many ways someone can pursue activism in Objectivism.  I've typically focused my own activist efforts on in-reach programs for Objectivists.  I think there's often a preconception that real activism must be outwards oriented, like introducing the ideas to new people.  In-reach programs are sometimes thought of as preaching to the choir, and not doing anything to really change the world.  I disagree, and think that there are important opportunities available.

For instance, there are plenty of people who find their way to Objectivism one way or another.  But that's only the first part of a long trip.  They have to grow to understand the philosophy.  They have to integrate the ideas into their world view.  They need to put those ideas into practice.  And they have to do this in the face of a world that sometimes doesn't understand, and is often hostile.  In-reach programs can provide the tools to make their transitions easier. 

One particular idea I've been thinking about is a kind of Objectivist guide for people new to the philosophy.  The goal isn't to explain the philosophy itself, but provide a supplemental tool for actually making the transition to an Objectivist worldview.  I think there are a lot of resources that could be useful to a newcomer to the philosophy, and making the process easier would certainly have a benefit.  It's not enough to just get the word out to people that there is this radical philosophy for living on earth if most people find it difficult to adopt for themselves.

What follows is not a thorough blueprint of such a project.  It's aimed at identifying a few possible avenues and hopefully stimulate some further ideas on the topic.  It's also not intended to include all forms of in-reach, which I think there are many.

The first general category of ideas I call "How to not screw up your life".  How many newcomers to the philosophy end up terminating long lasting friendships, divorcing themselves from their families, and pissing off people in general?  Sometimes it might be justified, as Objectivism gives people the strength to reject relationships that are not beneficial.  But sometimes it's just overly enthusiastic people trying to convert everyone around them and getting upset when they don't instantly recognize the glory that is Objectivism.

So part of the advice one could give is to not act too rashly.  Getting used to identifying values takes some time, and ending longtime relationships because of philosophical disagreements may be a costly mistake.  It's too easy to reject a non-ideal world and sulk about how horrible everyone is, and to find philosophical excuses for it.  So part of the advice would be how to have patience and work to improve your life in this world, instead of dreaming about living in an imaginary Galt's Gulch.

The other half of avoiding the screwed up life is to avoid having other people hate you.  There's a commonly understood point of etiquette.  You're not supposed to talk about politics or religion in polite company (or on first dates, or whatever).  Well, Objectivism is both politics and religion lumped together with every other cherished belief.  There should be a warning label on it:  "Use of this product may result in anger and loss of friendships.  Use carefully.  In case of a bad reaction, stop applying immediately and seek professional advice." 

I'm half kidding, of course.  A more useful guide would help show how someone can approach philosophical ideas with their friends and family without making it confrontational.  By keeping the focus on persuasion and communication, instead of "winning the argument", you have a better chance of reaching others anyway.

There are lots of other ways newcomers to Objectivism can screw things up, and having a resource identifying the more common ways could save a lot of heartaches.

The second category of ideas relates to how enthusiastic newcomers often feel so strongly that they want to go rush out and convert all their friends and family, even before their own understand is firm.  Since the results aren't usually very positive, it's been suggested that maybe newbies should wait until they have a comprehensive understanding of the philosophy before they go about trying to persuade people.  While that might ensure better results, I don't think it's realistic to tell excited newcomers that they shouldn't mention this life-changing philosophy to others until they've spent years mastering it.

Instead of trying to counsel the impossible, we could try to provide them the tools they need to be more effective at communicating their ideas.  Part of this could be having organized information online that they can simply refer others to.  Part of it could be guides to actually communicating the ideas better.

One specific idea I have in mind for this category is showing that there really are problems in the world.  Often people don't really believe the Objectivist view of altruism as self-sacrificial..  Or maybe they don't think collectivism actually exists.  Or maybe they think environmentalism is a good thing.  By providing convincing proof that these things exist and are often implicitly accepted, even if in a contradictory way, we can remove one of the more irritating things that newcomers have to go through.  Namely, disbelief that there's even a problem.

A third category of ideas that could help with the transition is practical ideas for how to put Objectivist ideas into practice.  It's not enough to know that life is the standard of value in an abstract way.  Understanding how to apply that to your own life can still be difficult.  How do you put the virtues into practice?  How do you choose between short and long term values?  How do you think more consistently in terms of self-interest.  How do you go about reprogramming your emotions?  There's countless areas where putting Objectivism into practice is not obvious, and people can benefit from those of us with some experience. 

Additionally, there are a lot of pitfalls along the way.  I've mentioned elsewhere that morality is often viewed in terms of a rule-based code, where you follow blindly.  Even when someone understands life is the standard of value, they may not fully grasp how radical the philosophy is, and end up hurting their lives in the process.  Warning people about these common errors would not only improve their understanding of the philosophy, but again would help with the transition.

There are plenty of other kinds of things that could go into a guidebook for newcomers to Objectivism.  You could have a dictionary of commonly used words in Objectivism, or words we use different then most other people (selfish, evil, objective, etc.).  There could be explanations of typical "problems", such as Quantum Physics or the Big Bang, which are often confused as proof against Objectivism.  There could be reading lists and book reviews for Objectivist material, or advice on how to go about getting a more comprehensive understanding of the philosophy.

Obviously there's a lot that can be done, and this kind of work blurs the line between in-reach and outreach, as it aims at those with an interest in Objectivism, but haven't made the full transition yet.  While it's important to continue to raise people's awareness of the philosophy, I think it's absolutely crucial to make it as easy as possible for them to adopt the philosophy themselves.  Without those tools in place, outreach programs will always have a very limited effect.
Sanctions: 67Sanctions: 67Sanctions: 67Sanctions: 67 Sanction this ArticleEditMark as your favorite article

Discuss this Article (20 messages)