|I'd first like to thank my responders here. I respect them, all of them. They've all individually shown me, in some way or other, that they are respectable folk (3 stand-up guys, and 1 stand-up gal). |
I also think that at least most of my responders have a high opinion of myself. So I hope that the point about "getting defensive" or "taking it personal" is understood to be a relatively minor issue regarding my upcoming answers (though I fully expect strangers to view my answers as simple self-defense). Now, some of what follows is open for debate, but one thing is sure: I do lay out my position well (and well laid-out positions are the best kind for criticism, good and bad).
Of special note, I have trouble reading fiction (any fiction). I've had this trouble for several years. I can't explain it. Earlier in this thread, I chalked it up to "wiring." Specifically, in the beginning of The Fountainhead, I remember having "trouble" with Rand's profuse description of Roark's physique. And I do understand that her detail about how 'chiseled' his physique was, was to integrate this with how 'chiseled' his philosophy was (I understand artistic stylization).
Sometimes I can seem like a troll online, taking apart a point until it seems like there is nothing left, nothing left over which to argue. I think most clearly taking points in isolation -- which is a blessing and sometimes a curse. I might seem to do that here, and apologize in advance.
One of the things that this discussion reminds me of is when folks say that Objectivism is for 'idealistic' teen-agers, and that when they grow up into 'realistic' adults, it's perfectly natural and normal for them to drop Objectivism as if it were a glorified pipe dream. To these detractors I'd say what it is that I've said to Robert; that I'm a living exception to this presumed rule (having only discovered Rand after I had already spent 3 decades on this planet).
One of the issues I have with folks who argue that there's only one path to understanding Rand -- whether you're likening it to a Holy Grail, or merely a "Rosetta Stone of translation" -- and that path is to read at least one of 2 special books; is that it reminds me too much of what a mystic might say to a disinterested unbeliever.
One such mystic might say something like: "You couldn't possibly understand my religion until you've read my Holy Book(s) -- and even then, you might still not understand it; unless your heart was open to it at the time." This all seems to me to be a little too close to the setting of a bar for making it into the 'in crowd.'
Now, likening Rand's fiction to a holy work -- supposedly "inspired" by a Higher Power -- is an awfully bad analogy. Rand's works, fiction or non-, were most definitely NOT inspired by ANYTHING supernatural, and no 'straight thinker' would attempt to argue against that proposition. But, in championing this bottle-neck approach to understanding Rand, a "flavor" of mysticism is still there. But Objectivism is different than religion, and this is a key point in my line of reasoning.
To be fair, the point has been made that one couldn't fully appreciate Objectivism without a prior -- some might say, conditional -- appreciation of Rand's written fiction, particularly a prior appreciation of The Fountainhead and/or of Atlas Shrugged. In each of these novels, Rand concretizes a moral ideal -- and the personal perception of those specific concretizations has been held to be a prerequisite for truly "getting it."
The unspoken (but implied) premise is that you couldn't 'get it' any other way. Another way to say this is that in order to "truly" understand Objectivism, you would have had to have been exposed to the particulars of the lives of either Howard Roark or John Galt. Not being exposed to these particulars -- and exactly how these heroes had responded to them in their lives -- one is left otherwise blind (or very poorly guided; and by a very, very dim light).
This is a premise with which I have trouble. I have only been exposed to key expressions from these Randian heroes, and it is assumed that it is impossible for me to understand Objectivism without understanding the entire context behind their expressions. There is something wrong with this assumption.
What's wrong with this assumption then, this assumption that you couldn't 'get it' any other way -- any other way than through a detailed exposure to the precise particulars of the lives of 2 heroes as penned by Rand? In a word: Subjectivism. If one adopted a subjective stance on Objectivism, then it would immediately follow that one need read all of Rand -- and particularly, her fiction -- before one could ever stake claim to 'getting it.' In fact, if subjectivism were adopted, one would need to be able to claim that it was as if they could see through Rand's own eyes -- before claiming to truly "get" Objectivism. But as I alluded to before, Objectivism is something more than some person's personal perceptions.
What about an objective view of Objectivism? If one were to adopt an objective view of Objectivism -- a view that held the nature of man as shared and remarkable stable -- then one could draw from one's other life experiences; because these other general experiences, not just of man, but of moral ideals, would be available to even those who hadn't read about the particular moral dilemmas and development of one of those 2 Randian heroes. This is how Objectivism is different from religion, it stakes claim to objective -- rather than particular -- truth.
Now, the immediate counter-point is that, in order to understand what Rand meant, one need read all that she wrote (and in particular, that which she 'created'). But this view takes 'creation' to supercede 'discovery' and -- in doing so -- again, at least tacitly, champions subjectivity. For what would all of Rand's works be worth, if they couldn't be generalized objectively? A discovery is necessarily objective. A creation is necessarily subjective. I claim that Rand's philosophy was more of a discovery than it was a creation -- and that, again, is what it is that makes it different from (superior to) religion.
Now sure, creations can be 'selective' recreations of that which is objectively true -- as they are in Rand's novels, where what's given literary weight is what's good in the world, and the petty is properly treated with disdain. But, I argue, Rand's 'selectivity' here (about that which is good in the world) can be reproduced by other thinking beings, other objective thinkers. To argue against this is to view Rand as the new Messiah, rather than as a great artist or perhaps the world's greatest philosopher.
In sum then, I argue that a benevolent view of the universe -- and a heroic view of man and yourself -- is entirely possible without reading Rand's fiction (because of the objective nature of these things). The argument that is left open to opponents then becomes one that resembles the following:
"Well, you can gain a benevolent view of the universe, a heroic view of man, a heroic view of yourself, an unflinching and total acceptance of reason and reality, a radiant sense of life, an objective hierarchy of value, an inspirationally productive purpose, a cherished and earned self-esteem, a prime motivation by love (instead of fear), you can live your life by the unwavering power of your mind, all without reading Rand -- but you still wouldn't 'get' Objectivism" (you'd have to read Rand's particular creations in order to truly "get it").
p.s. This postscript is mostly for me to vent, and there are definitely no hard feelings meant. Perhaps readers will understand my reactions better after reading this.
When I was a Christian, I had a special disdain for the Christians who, merely because they knew the Bible better, or went to Church more often, thought themselves superior -- in spite of living more 'sinful' lives.
As an Objectivist, I harbor a similar twinge for Objectivists who seem quick to point out 'the path' for me -- because of their more-presumed-than-displayed "superior understanding" of the matter.
In fairness, I do get the point about the immediate (artistic) perception of a moral ideal, and how the best available artwork for this purpose would be Rand's fictional novels.
(Edited by Ed Thompson
on 2/11, 9:19pm)