The Top 5 Misconceptions About Objectivists
Ayn Rand gets a lot of press these days, but her philosophy, Objectivism, is still wildly, ridiculously misunderstood. Typically this is because many people who COMMENT on it don’t actually think they need to READ it. But it also is because there are vile people in the world who would like others to think Objectivism is something that it isn’t, in order to prevent it from spreading in the culture. These vile people would prefer a world of ignorance, slavery, and large-soda bans.
Perhaps even more misunderstood, then, are the strange and wonderful creatures who call themselves Objectivists. (Yes, I just called myself a strange and wonderful creature.) Just because we are the intellectual superheroes of the world (too much?) doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like to be better understood, and even appreciated. Even Superman needed to be appreciated. And if Superman were real, it would prove my point.
Objectivists are, to put it simply, people who have studied Ayn Rand and her philosophy, Objectivism, to such a degree that they understand its essentials, have decided the philosophy is true, have attempted to live by it, AND have erected an alter in Rand's name with 7 candles representing each of the 7 virtues. (That last one is actually voluntary.)
Objectivism is a closed and complete system of thought, so agreement is actually possible. It’s the same as a person saying, I’ve read and agree with the philosophy of Aristotle, except that it’s Ayn Rand we agree with. What it means to be an Objectivist is that you philosophically understand and accept that reason is your only means of knowledge, and you resolve to honestly use reason and logic to the best of your ability in and for your life. That’s pretty much it. Done. Normal, yet exceptional. But that is not what most people think about us. Here are the top 5 most common misconceptions about Objectivists.
5. Objectivists Are Intellectual Elitists Who Think They Are Totally Right About Everything.
Um, well, this one is true. I have always been troubled by this accusation. If you don’t think you are right, then I guess you think you are wrong, or you are not sure about your ideas. Is that supposed to be a good thing? What is so bad about thinking you are right? It’s only bad if you have rested your opinions on ignorance, like most teenagers or Slate.com writers.
"Ignorant" is listed as an antonym in the thesaurus under "Objectivist." Objectivists are probably the most well-read people you can find. And I don’t mean they’ve read Glenn Beck's or Ann Coulter’s latest tome, although they probably have. I mean they have likely read EVERY piece of worthy classic literature, stacks and stacks of books about history and philosophy, volumes of trade books from their respective professions, and of course scads of essays and other short analyses. Objectivists are READERS! The number-one topic of conversation among us when we meet in person is book recommendations; number two is Star Trek.
Many Objectivists have studied works and thinkers from the entire history of human thought in depth and can compare and contrast the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Kant, Marx, Rand, and many others. How many of you can do that with your own philosophy? How many of you can even explain your own philosophy top to bottom? We have worked hard to explicitly identify our own philosophy and we’re proud of it. We think we are right and we’ve earned that. Good for us!
If you are walking around thinking you are wrong, then shame on you and go crack some books, preferably Ayn Rand books, because the greatest thing that Ayn Rand gave me, that Objectivism gave me, was total certainty that I am right about all the things that really matter – and the ability to prove it!
4. Objectivists All Like Star Trek.
Ok, well, this one is actually true, too. Some of us like Doctor Who as well, but there is not consensus about Doctor Who among us (stupid show!). Many Facebook threads are devoted to that disagreement, I can tell you, but there is no disagreement about how wonderful Star Trek: The Next Generation is. It is established Objectivist canon, as is a preference for modern architecture, railroads, and steel mills. These are just some of the arbitrary opinions you must adopt, or else the “Objectivist Police” will put your name on a list of people not invited to their birthday parties.
3. Objectivists Blindly Follow Dictates From Ayn Rand and/or Her Appointed Philosopher Kings.
Since Objectivists regard being rational (objective) as the height of virtue, what you are witnessing is not blind following. What you are witnessing are men with CERTAINTY. We KNOW Ayn Rand was right because we have put it to a rigorous and extensive process of thought, backed up by, and I mean this literally, direct perceptual evidence. Therefore we tend to think our ideas are more obvious and commonsensical than they are. It is as though we can say, “See that rock over there? Therefore, Objectivism is totally correct.” WE understand each step to get from “rock” to “capitalism is the only moral social system,” but we’re probably not always great at recognizing that others don't and so we don't communicate as well as we might.
We may also get a bad rap for this because SOME people have brought their dogmatic mentalities to the application of philosophy, including a philosophy that says you MUST think for yourself and be independent-minded (Objectivism), which is kinda the opposite of blind following. If you ever hear an Objectivist say to you, “It’s true because Ayn Rand said it’s true," you are dealing with one of these types. Back away while making loud noises, and if they still come at you, drop to the floor and play dead.
I will admit that there are some, but very, very few, Objectivists who think that to be an Objectivist you must be in love with architecture and hate the Parthenon, like red hair and hate Ludwig van Beethoven, have fits of ecstasy when in New York City, and buy your girlfriend a ruby necklace on a thin chain (it wouldn’t hurt, gentlemen). Not true. These things are optional. But there really is something wrong with you if you don’t like trains.
2. Objectivists Are Snobs.
People may assume Objectivists are snobs because of their extreme intellectualism (nerdiness). The Objectivist population seems to include a lot of nerdy folks, and even those of us who are cool are really nerds. We’re nools, or cerds. This means that many of us might be shy and lack ease and comfort in social situations, especially with new people, which can be mistaken for snobbishness.
However, it is also true that our certainty can come across as snobby. And again, just keep in mind, would you call Einstein a snob? Or Superman? Exactly.
1. Objectivists Are Against Charity
This is by far the number-one most misunderstood thing about Objectivists and Objectivism.
If Objectivists are against charity, why is their preeminent organization, The Ayn Rand Institute, a non profit, which functions on, you guessed it, charitable contributions? That sounds like a good Philosoraptor meme. (Go check out the Philosoraptor meme.) I went ahead and made one:
Objectivists are not against charity, compassion, generosity or any of those things. What we are against is the idea that your virtue, whether or not you are a good person, rests on ANY of those activities. Can you be a good person on a deserted island? Yes. Was Tom Hanks immoral until he got rescued in Cast Away? Duh, no, because he took care of Wilson. I mean, just no.
Charity etc. is only “bad” in our book if it is a sacrifice of a greater value to a lesser value. We are against human sacrifice (goats are okay). If your wife needs a kidney and you can give her your kidney to save her, but instead you give it to your neighbor, that’s sacrificing your wife to your neighbor. That’s bad. If you want to write a novel and your day job means you can only write on Sundays and you take Sundays to go feed the homeless instead, that’s sacrificing your productive purpose, your long term happiness, to a stranger’s full belly. That’s bad.
Taking care of YOUR life and YOUR values in a rational fashion, since reason is your means of survival, is what it means to be a good person, according to Objectivism.
With that said, if you want to have positive relationships with other people in life, you should probably be compassionate and generous toward your loved ones—to those whom YOU VALUE—and that comes quite naturally for most people. If not, you might be a psychopath, and so probably not an Objectivist (except for that one guy….)
I hope this has helped you understand Objectivists and Objectivism better. I think now you all must be saying to yourself, “Dang, I need to get an Objectivist friend right away.” And you would be correct. I’m certain of it.