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determinist

Challenging the "Cult" Accusations

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I am sure it is familiar to many of you that some people call self-described Objectivists "cultists." Rumors say her writings are often followed like a Bible, that self-identified Objectivists are highly intolerant of critics, and she is treated like a morally perfect being by self-identified Objectivists. I created this thread as a survey that serves to refute the "cult" accusation. Here it is.

1. Are you an Objectivist?

2. Do you believe that that Ayn Rand was morally perfect or morally imperfect?

3. Did Ayn Rand ever make a mistake when she publicly assert anything, and if so, what exactly was it? What was her mistake and what should she have done differently?

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Rumors say her writings are often followed like a Bible

They may or may not be by certain individuals - that has no relevance to the validity of the rationale presented by her philosophy.

that self-identified Objectivists are highly intolerant of critics

I would need to see a specific example. From my experience, Objectivists who seem "intolerant" of a critic are simply responding to the critic's intolerance toward or ignorance of Rand's philosophy.

1. Are you an Objectivist?

I would call myself a student of Objectivism.

Do you believe that that Ayn Rand was morally perfect or morally imperfect?

I am not familiar enough with Rand's personal life to make such a broad conclusion.

3. Did Ayn Rand ever make a mistake when she publicly assert anything, and if so, what exactly was it? What was her mistake and what should she have done differently?

See above. I do remember Peikoff getting asked a question like this, but I don't recall his response.

Edited by brian0918

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As Rand defined it, moral perfection is striving for constant rationality. In that sense, from everything I've read on her, Rand was definitely "morally perfect." That definition also leaves room for errors following from rationally-based judgments. And surely, Rand made some mistakes in her life, as all people have, since knowledge must be learned.

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I am sure it is familiar to many of you that some people call self-described Objectivists "cultists." Rumors say her writings are often followed like a Bible, that self-identified Objectivists are highly intolerant of critics, and she is treated like a morally perfect being by self-identified Objectivists.

Who/Where in the world are these people? Honestly, I have never seen anyone do any of these things. Where are these "rumors" of "often" doing this or that, where are they coming from? What evidence is cited? Where exactly are all these cultists?

I created this thread as a survey that serves to refute the "cult" accusation. Here it is.

1. Are you an Objectivist?

2. Do you believe that that Ayn Rand was morally perfect or morally imperfect?

3. Did Ayn Rand ever make a mistake when she publicly assert anything, and if so, what exactly was it? What was her mistake and what should she have done differently?

I don't want to dump on your good intentions, but I question how this survey is supposed to do what you claim it does (i.e. refute cult accusations.) Answering question one can't really refute anything either way it is answered. Question two is suggestive, but rather ambiguous. What exactly is meant by moral perfection? What is the standard being held out as perfection by which we can measure the life of Ayn Rand. I don't know if this question fits well with Objectivist ethics, since it would be improper to hold something impossible to attain as perfection. And then, since none of us here are biographers or have known Ayn Rand personally, it's going to be rather difficult to answer such a question in any event. Number three is also problematic at refuting anything because it simply sets up a situation in which if you agree with X, you are a cultist, but if you disagree with X, you aren't. That's no objective criterion. I'm willing to be no one on here agrees with everything anyone ever said, you can pretty much click on every thread here to see some sort of disagreement playing out. What other criterion do we have? Being intolerant of critics? Okay, that might make one an a-hole, but I fail to see how that qualifies one of being in a cult. I think a lot of these accusations are generally in regards to the historical context of the life and times of Rand, in which she and her group of friends and followers were rather colorful people. But I think "cult" is a pretty harsh word here, many philosophers were quirky people after all.

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Determinist, I'm sure I'm not the only one who doesn't understand what you mean when you say, "morally perfect." If you mean morally infallible, then of course not, nobody is (Rand wasn't either). Knowledge about morality is like any other sort of knowledge; it has to be learned, there is always more to learn, and people often make mistakes while trying to learn it.

Edited by FeatherFall
grammar

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I think most of the people who refer to Objectivism as a cult aren't so much referring to contemporary people who read Atlas Shrugged, and some Objectivist non-fiction then agree with it, so much as they are referencing the relationship that rand had between herself and her mostly younger followers and friends who read atlas shrugged as it was being written (Peikoff, Greenspan, Branden)

As far as I can tell that characterization is inaccurate

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Objectivism is certainly more concerned with individual worth and value than other systems of thought, so I prefer it.

Being that Rand was a human being, and human beings are fallible and make mistakes, I do not view her as morally perfect. She certainly did have some great ideas which help mankind a great deal.

Her work is often misunderstood as fascist and anti-human, especially Atlas Shrugged.

People fail to realize that Rand's works were the product of another time, and another place.

They were the labor of a woman who had endured the tyranny of the Soviet system in which to quote George Orwell's "Animal Farm": "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." She worked in Hollywood, where there need be no explanation of a lack of genuine compassion and creativity.

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You know, until I came on the O'ist lists a few years ago I only had a vague idea that there were other Objectivists 'out there', and didn't think too much about it. For almost 30 years I met a few people here who had heard of Rand - but not another Objectivist. Only on the forums did I first come across this weird notion of a "cult".

What did that make me all that time? A cult of one?

How many people comprise a cult?

I suppose any and every group of individuals with a common purpose and understanding could be called one.

I'd suggest, when the accusation is made, to laugh it off.

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Cult does have a usage which is defined as: great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad.

However, when I have inquired as to what the individual means when stating that, they usually reference individuals who they consider to be obsessed with religion. I would have to say brian0918's take cuts straight to the chase.

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The first question is only intended to prove the person responding is a self-described Objectivist.

By "moral perfection" I meant what the self-identified Objectivist believes it is. The same thing applies to "standard of morality" as well. That is, the question is being asked with respect to your own standard of morality if you are a self-identified Objectivist. To address the unfamiliarity with Rand's personal life: Of course, nobody has an archive from a camera man that followed Ayn Rand her whole life (and if there was, time would still be an issue). The 2nd question is being asked with respect to all of Rand's actions that you are familiar with.

1. Are you an Objectivist?

2. Do you believe that that Ayn Rand was morally perfect or morally imperfect?

3. Did Ayn Rand ever make a mistake when she publicly assert anything, and if so, what exactly was it? What was her mistake and what should she have done differently?

For those who questioned the point of #3, it might have been better if I framed it this way. "If Rand was morally imperfect, what (specifically) did she do that was immoral?"

Edited by determinist

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Who/Where in the world are these people? Honestly, I have never seen anyone do any of these things. Where are these "rumors" of "often" doing this or that, where are they coming from? What evidence is cited? Where exactly are all these cultists?

There’s Jeff Walker’s The Ayn Rand Cult, a chapter in Michael Shermer’s Why Do People Believe Weird Things, and other sources. I’ve encountered cultist behavior among Rand fans, both in person and online, including on this site. I suggest reading Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, I think it can immunize you from the bug.

1. Are you an Objectivist?

2. Do you believe that that Ayn Rand was morally perfect or morally imperfect?

3. Did Ayn Rand ever make a mistake when she publicly assert anything, and if so, what exactly was it? What was her mistake and what should she have done differently?

1. I didn’t vote Democratic in 2006, so, at least according to one Objectivist “authority”, I don’t even understand it. Therefore no. sarcasm.gif

2. Guided by her moral code, she achieved far more in life than I have, by the same age and (naturally) in total. But what would “perfect” mean? Is there an individual you hold to be perfect?

3. She once publicly said that homosexuality involved “psychological immorality”. She didn’t know what she was talking about and should have passed on the question, sticking to her valid point that it is not be the business of the government to regulate what people do in their bedrooms. Note that she never wrote on the topic, this was a one time Q&A thing.

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. . .

By "moral perfection" I meant what the self-identified Objectivist believes it is.

. . .

Det,

Rand was an Objectivist. What did she think was moral perfection? What did she write on the concept? Did she think her fictional character Howard Roark was a morally perfect person? Why did his big mistake not count as a moral failing? Did he attain perfection by "paying for" the error?

Why not learn Rand's philosophy from her? No, I am not an Objectivist. I'm very strict about what counts as which philosophy. You said in your bio that you study biology, but have an interest in philosophy. Good and good. I invite you to study philosophy. Study it with the precision with which you would study science. Find out what it really is. Leave the little stuff to the little people.

Stephen

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2. Guided by her moral code, she achieved far more in life than I have, by the same age and (naturally) in total. But what would “perfect” mean? Is there an individual you hold to be perfect?

I understand threads get long and tedious, so I will quote my post in this thread that addresses this question for you:

"By 'moral perfection' I meant what the self-identified Objectivist believes it is. The same thing applies to 'standard of morality' as well. That is, the question is being asked with respect to your own standard of morality if you are a self-identified Objectivist."

Perfect morality would mean that in accordance with your standard of moral, an individual's track record of actions has no immoral actions. Of course, in this context, it would mean no known immoral actions exist in the individual's known track record of actions. I emphasize "known" because the questions is intended in a practical sense; we can not know everything that Ayn Rand ever did.

Edited by determinist

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What exactly is meant by moral perfection?

In the Objectivist sense it is stated simply as to always follow reason to the best of one's ability within any given context. This is easily achievable and is not a symtom in any way of cult-like behavior, but instead is exactly it's opposite.

Edited by EC

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The "Randian cult" conspiracy is primarily a fallacy of conceptualization. It involves such epistemological errors as non-essential thinking (which leads to bad metaphors, e.g., "You believe that you are in the center of everything the same way people used to believe that Earth is the center of mass of the universe," etc.), invalid, out of context usage of concepts (the same causes Marxists to hold that liberty is the equivalent of so-called "oppression"), as well as the absence of an explicit stand of evaluation (e.g., atonal music is "sophisticated," anarchy is "freedom"---ask yourselves what's common about all of these instances).

Let me handle it briefly: in order to prove that Objectivism is irrational on the same grounds that cults are as such (which is what they attempt to do), one has to define a cult, explain what's wrong about it (and why), and find whether Objectivism does or does not share those characteristics. And if they followed these steps, they will have inquire the following:

(i) (Fundamentals) do Objectivists think that Ayn Rand has an authority over knowledge?---can she, according to them, comprehend things "ordinary" people are unable (as distinguished from unwilling) to, and the latter will be thus forced to take her on faith? is a statement true just because Ayn Rand said so?

(ii) (Ethics) morally speaking, do Objectivists place Rand above themselves? do Objectivists live for Ayn Rand?

Any true Objectivist's answer would be, of course: Not at all. Then, it begs the questions: Why do they keep calling you a 'cultist?' and, that being their intent, what use is the 'cult' metaphor of---can't they just show that Objectivism involves any form of faith or sacrifice? These two questions have a single answer: They always, regularly, systematically skip the above step, and not only in the sense that they often openly reject the whole concepts of 'proof' and 'rationale.' Instead, they choose to make a blind comparison between Objectivism and various cults, based on either some complete random non-essentials or actual shameless lies. (As an illustration of the last lies, consider the "Divine Miss Rand" case. Presumably, I am involved in Objectivism more than Mr. Shermer or any of his friends, and I know beyond any doubt that this idea has absolutely no basis in fact, whatsoever.) The term 'cult' (which is barely even properly defined by them) constitutes something of an intermediate station, that helps them transform the given facts (so long as what they give you is truly a fact) into a false conclusion. It makes it easier to confuse the unfocused reader.

So far we discussed the bad reasoning of the "cult" conspiracy. But, obviously, the 'cult' thing is but a rationalization. Their deepest motive has to do with the fact they do not accept at least one of the three axioms, and I think it is expressed eloquently in The Unlikeliest Cult in History by Michael Shermer, who is apparently upset since he would not have been accepted as an Objectivist due to the 'insignificant' disagreement on objective values:

"As long as it is understood that morality is a human construction influenced by human cultures, one can become more tolerant of other human belief systems, and thus other humans. But as soon as a group sets itself up to be the final moral arbiter of other people's actions, especially when its members believe they have discovered absolute standards of right and wrong [is this absolutely right? Is your object of criticism absolutely wrong?], it is the beginning of the end of tolerance and thus, reason and rationality. It is this characteristic more than any other that makes a cult, a religion, a nation, or any other group, dangerous to individual freedom. This was (and is) the biggest flaw in Ayn Rand's Objectivism, the unlikeliest cult in history."

(This is just one example, and do not presuppose that this conflict is merely ethical---he mentions the belief in an 'absolute truth' as another cultish attribute. Italics added.)

Because they do not accept the fact that reality exists or that it might be perceived by man, it makes no difference to them whether a knowledge is acquired by reason and perception or by faith and emotion. As far as they are concerned, its validity remains the same. When asked about the essence and the nature of religion, they reply: "Certainty and consistency," for this is what they never had and never shall have, and this is least primitive fact they can possibly identify with their method of thinking. And I suspect we are going to get a further analysis of that in the DIM Hypothesis.

Now, this topic has an ironic aspect, too. I have met numerous 'Randian cult' theorists. I have repeatedly asked them to tell me what makes Objectivism a cult, and even made similar arguments. But, no matter how I tried, and no matter how convincing my speeches were---they literally refused to understand, and kept obsessively calling me a 'cultist'---as the emotionalist ever will---implying that I am too dogmatic to judge their alleged proofs. So, in that sense, the 'Randian cult' conspiracy is a cult itself :lol:

Oh, and BTW, Ninth Doctor: since as far as I remember, there was a time when you addressed yourself as an Objectivist---and you know, at least to a certain degree, that you were not a "cult member"---I think you should not be accused of trusting propaganda, but of something far worse: accepting the basic premises on which the propaganda is founded.

Edited by Tomer Ravid

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"In the Objectivist sense it is stated simply as to always follow reason to the best of one's ability within any given context. This is easily achievable and is not a symtom in any way of cult-like behavior, but instead is exactly it's opposite."

I think some Objectivists, especially the newbie, passionate ones, can sometimes act in ways that would invite the "cultist" label. What I have in mind is the automatic, seemingly sheep-like following of Rand's preferences -- favorite architect? Frank Lloyd Wright, of course! Favorite non-Rand novel? Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables", of course!! That and quoting characters from Rand's novels, as if they were real people.

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The best way to defend against an opponent to your school of thought in any manner calling you a member of a cult is to disregard it as ad hominem and one of the most common and spurious forms. It's much too easy just to claim that someone is dogmatic and fundamentalist. Make them prove it to you.

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That and quoting characters from Rand's novels, as if they were real people.

I see no inherent problem with reciting quotes from fictional characters, whether they be from The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, or The Bible. What matters is not the source of the quotation, but its content.

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"What matters is not the source of the quotation, but its content."

True...I should have been more specific. What I had in mind was the treating of characters as if they were real people instead of characters in a work of fiction.

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Fictional characters are often better in presenting a stereotype, thus allowing one to focus one's mind. For instance, the Buddhists have a story where two women go to a king, claiming the same baby. The wise king asked them to fight over the baby to see who gets it. When the child was being hurt, one woman let go: presumably showing that she was the mother. It is almost certainly fiction, but -- being so -- it allows the mind to focus on just one aspect, which one could not do if these were actual women with all sorts of evidence for or against the claim that each was putting forth.

I doubt anyone treats fictional characters are literally real, though they might point to some fictional character and want to emulate them in some way. In that, it is no different to point to a principle: which is not "real" either.

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For instance, the Buddhists have a story where two women go to a king, claiming the same baby. The wise king asked them to fight over the baby to see who gets it. When the child was being hurt, one woman let go: presumably showing that she was the mother.

What? This is from the Buddhists? I am afraid you are mistaken! This is an original story from the Holy Word of God, The Bible!

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What? This is from the Buddhists? I am afraid you are mistaken! This is an original story from the Holy Word of God, The Bible!
;)

Thanks for playing straight-man.

The tale probably pre-dates the Buddhists and who's to say if the Hebrews came up with it or if they both got it from a common source. For instance, it may be a modification of an older Aryan parable.

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