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Sean O'Connor

Introduction To "An Epistle To Dr. Nathaniel Branden"

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Dear Dr. Nathaniel Branden,

I don’t know if you will read this however I hope you do because it pays tribute to you; because you deserve to know what your essays mean to me. As you know, the philosophical, psychological and political facts you explain in your essays are extremely relevant to the most fundamental aspects of human life. Because some people evade what is relevant to their well-being, the meaning of your essays and the issues you write about- and furthermore all abstract and intellectual matters- are sometimes regarded as trivial, or relevant only to “intellectuals”. That deeply saddens me. As I explain what your essays mean to me it will be more blatant than ever before that “an intellectual” is not simply a “type of person”. To the contrary, “intellectualizing” -and ultimately reasoning- is indicative of psychological health which should not be an ideal that only a few people strive for. To the contrary, it is a universal ideal! Due to the extraordinarily high caliber of your eloquence and thoroughness, writing to you sir, I must confess, is quite an ambitious and challenging task. To be clearer: it isn’t enough to merely offer you my compliments and tell you just a little bit about myself. I am an especially ambitious and optimistic man so no thought or action of mine is cheap and served quickly. My ideals, you see, reach beyond the Milky Way galaxy, and in fact, that makes me feel great pride. For the purpose of being more concrete, and also, to provide you with a clearer idea of the man who is writing you this epistle, I shall tell you a few of my personal ideals. I want to be one of the richest and longest living men in human history. I want to revolutionize the way people think about philosophy. Mentioning to you that those are some of my many ideals not only serves here as a general description of myself and my aims; it also more precisely establishes the necessary context behind my rationale for writing you.

For the sake of identifying all I plan to achieve in my life I keep several lists. One of those lists consists of essay topics. Some of the topics I plan on writing about in the near future include: meaning and value, the freedom of speech, guns, Vivaldi and Bach, the movies “Phenomenon” and “Limitless” and my education. Although I am still configuring the order in which I shall write about these topics I realized several weeks ago, in the midst of configuring, that writing you this epistle takes priority.

I label this memorandum an “epistle” because a mere “open letter” does not suffice. I had never thought of using the term “epistle” before however it flashed in my mind. I looked up the precise definition of the the term and learned that an “Epistle” is “a formal, literary letter”, and throughout human history “epistles” have often been the medium for profound spiritual- ideological discussion. The term “open letter” however does not imply the same degree of timeless, literary grandeur as the term “epistle”. Cicero the Roman Philosopher, Paul the Apostle, Hazrat Ali the fourth Caliph of Islam- they wrote epistles. (I confess that I have not read them all) Who writes open letters? Anyone with anything to say. I am not merely “someone” writing “someone else” about “whatever”. I, Sean O’Connor, am writing to you, Dr. Nathaniel Branden and I am discussing philosophy.

Dr. Branden, you are indeed one of the most brilliant men alive and I revere your brilliance. In fact, you are my hero. I am grateful that I have both the fortune of being a secondary beneficiary of the knowledge you have discovered and the opportunity to read your genius essays. It is fair to ask “what do you mean by genius?” since today many people evade definitions and use their words loosely and sometimes even arbitrarily to such an extent that discourse often gets muddled. (Addressing issue of definition; clarifying definitions; making them more exact- this is one of my top priorities as a philosopher) I know you agree that this is a necessary philosophical priority because you wrote, in regard to the definition of self esteem, quite profoundly that “if the research was to have value one would need to know what the writers meant by ‘self-esteem’ and if all the writers were working with the same concept. Otherwise, it would be a Tower of Babel, and what merit could their conclusions have?” So by genius I mean 1)an individual who clearly presents an ideal, and proves that it is ideal; 2)a word referring to a clearly presented ideal and the proof that verifies that the ideal is indeed ideal. (A good friend of mine helped me reach this definition) You rationally present, and explain self esteem- which is obviously an ideal- by addressing it from its root- which is volition- and upwards. Since one of my favorite things to do is praise those I admire it is of course logical that I issue you my praise, and that I do so in as direct and thorough a manner as possible. I will also submit to you a few ideas of mine for your judgement- ideas I am quite proud of- and ask you some questions.

Before I proceed I must address one thing. On October 25th, 2012, I sent you a message on Facebook and although some of what I wrote in that message is legitimate and will be discussed here, it was nonetheless- I regret to say- extremely rushed, subjective and improper- I was in a state of anxiety about our culture; specifically the constantly worsening political situation. It was so rushed in fact, that I accidentally addressed you as “Mr. Branden”, instead of Dr. Branden. On December 13th, 2012, I wrote to you on Facebook again, to apologize and explain the fact that I was indeed very anxious when I wrote to you the first time and that I wanted to carefully outline and draft a much more formal letter to you. I want to emphatically reiterate my apology because those two earlier messages were cheap. If someone is going to petition for your time he or she better make it time well spent! I am pleased to say that I took a fair amount of time to prepare this epistle. It has been outlined, and the original outline was revised twice. The actual writing has also been drafted, revised, and then perfected. That is my essay writing process.

My praise begins with your judgement of Ayn Rand.

You raised some extremely important points in your essay “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand”. The following sentences of yours perfectly summarize an accurate judgement of Ayn Rand’s principles and sufficiently establishes the ideological context from which I am writing to you: “Ayn Rand might turn over in her grave to hear me say it, but she really did have the right to be wrong sometimes. No need for us to become hysterical about it or to behave like petulant eight-year-olds. Growing up means being able to see our parents realistically. Growing up relative to Ayn Rand means being able to see her realistically — to see the greatness and to see the shortcomings. If we see only the greatness and deny the shortcomings or if we see only the shortcomings and deny the greatness, we remain blind.

“She has so much that is truly marvelous to offer us. So much wisdom, insight, and inspiration. So much clarification. Let us say ‘thank you’ for that, acknowledge the errors and mistakes when we see them, and proceed on our own path — realizing that, ultimately, each of us has to make the journey alone, anyway.”

Indeed Ayn Rand’s literature is “truly marvelous”. She is in fact, my heroine. However, as you said, indeed, she made errors, many of which you have identified and corrected. It is very comforting that you did, because in the midst of my study on Objectivism, I have found to my disappointment that some Objectivists, even certain prominent ones, merely parrot her sayings without the slightest criticism; without an interest in advancing the field of philosophy.

One of Ayn Rand’s most ironic errors, which I was unaware of until reading your essay, is her denunciation of hypnosis. It is ironic because she ascribed so much importance to the subconscious, (comparing it to a computer program; describing it as designed by the premise of one’s ideology; emphasizing the importance of relying on one’s subconscious while writing, etc.) and yet she failed to consider that there could be a psychological technique by which the subconscious can be reached, open to suggestion, and alter a person’s behavior or habits. In regard to this, you wrote: “Ayn Rand knew, or believed she knew, that hypnosis was a fraud with no basis in reality; on the other hand, in 1960 Nathaniel Branden was the closest thing on earth to John Galt. And John Galt could hardly be dabbling in irrationalism. So this produced some very curious conversations between us. She was not yet prepared, as she was later, to announce that I was crazy, corrupt, and depraved. At the same time, she firmly believed that hypnosis was irrational nonsense. I persevered in my studies and learned that the human mind was capable of all kinds of processes beyond what I had previously believed. My efforts to reach Ayn on this subject were generally futile and I soon abandoned the attempt…” (“The Benefits and Hazard of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand”; http://mol.redbarn.o...AndHazards.html) I cannot understand why she thought hypnosis was “a fraud with no basis in reality”. You explain this by stating “that she became very quick on the draw in response to anything that even had the superficial appearance of irrationalism, by which I mean, of anything that did not fit her particular understanding of ‘the reasonable [in contradistinction to the purely rational].” What aspect of hypnosis did not fit her understanding of ‘the reasonable’? Could it be because she thought of it in terms of a proposed thought process- in replacement of reasoning- as opposed to a psychological technique?

I am particularly glad you made this point because not only is hypnosis as conducted by a psychotherapist an important technique; self hypnosis for the rational individual can also be very useful. I cannot yet say just how effective self hypnosis has been for me since I am not good enough at it yet, however the general practice of thinking ourselves into states of deep relaxation, and making rational suggestions to our subconscious, if only for the purpose of reiterating to ourselves self that despite what we have not yet achieved, we can relax and rest assured that we can achieve what we want to achieve, is a very healthy, self enhancing habit. If I had more time I would make a habit of it. Ayn Rand should have practiced self hypnosis! It could have helped her quit smoking. She should not have smoked as smoking is destructive to the her lungs (and other organs) and thus was not in her rational self interest (unless she was enduring excruciating psychological pain which no psychotherapist could help her alleviate and smoking was somehow her only means of relief).

Another error of Ayn Rand’s that you noted is that she did not discuss benevolence “adequately” I agree. I wish, in particular, that she had been emphatic about the importance of benevolence between employers and employees, precisely because she was so emphatic (and virtuously so) about the importance of protecting an employer’s right to determine his or her company’s policies and the wages he or she wants to pay his or her employees. At present in our culture this particular issue (employer-employee relations) is very skewed; irrationally approached. The root of this problem is that many employers will not be benevolent to their employees unless the government forces them to (and likewise, employees often are only benevolent to their employers out of desperation; because they want to keep their job, get special treatment, et cetera) Employers tend to believe it is not in their interest, for example, to pay their employees sufficiently. (I suppose Henry Ford’s wisdom on this particular issue is typically regarded as an anachronism) The owner of the grocery store I work for doesn’t pay me enough to live in my own room somewhere and feed myself. (Thankfully my girlfriend and I make quite literally just enough money together) An employer might ask himself: “why is my employees’ sustenance and even his or her savings my problem?” The answer is: because he should want his employees to provide him with the utmost quality of labor. Sure, the employee can work to the best of his or her ability no matter how much the employer pays, because the employee needs the money and because it is virtuous to work to the best of one’s ability, but so long as the employer underpays and thus undervalues the employee he or she is stunting the ultimate value and efficacy of the employee’s labor since anxiety over financial problems stress and preoccupy the employee’s consciousness. I do not mean that an employer should spoil his or her employees with more money than the employee deserves, but an employer should pay his or her laborers at least enough money to afford a small room in somebody else’s house, condominium, townhouse, apartment, et cetera, and three meals a day. Most laborers unfortunately are not paid that much. Had the importance of benevolence been more accurately and widely discussed in our culture there would likely be less poverty, less resentment between employers and employees, there would be a higher quality of labor and production and less governmental coercion- which is what Ayn Rand was striving for in the first place!

I also agree with your point that Objectivism encourages dogmatism. You wrote: “Ayn always insisted that her philosophy was an integrated whole, that it was entirely self-consistent, and that one could not reasonably pick elements of her philosophy and discard others. In effect, she declared, ‘It’s all or nothing.’ Now this is a rather curious view, if you think about it. What she was saying, translated into simple English, is: Everything I have to say in the field of philosophy is true, absolutely true, and therefore any departure necessarily leads you into error. Don’t try to mix your irrational fantasies with my immutable truths. This insistence turned Ayn Rand’s philosophy, for all practical purposes, into dogmatic religion, and many of her followers chose that path.” I find this problematic- in fact absolutely frustrating- because although most of Ayn Rand’s assertions are correct she is indeed guilty of holding several contradictions. I say this is absolutely frustrating because I have shared my discoveries (discoveries which I shall unveil at various points throughout this epistle) with several Objectivists ( I make my essays available on my website seanoconnorliterature.com for free at this time, I promote my essays on Youtube, Facebook, I have also posted passages from those essays on an Objectivist forum and I have written to Dr. Peikoff and am awaiting his response. [i confess my emails to him were rushed but my points were clear]) and at present nobody is willing to explicitly acknowledge my discoveries. Some may simply struggle to understand, but others I suspect, are blinded by dogmatism.

You are also correct that Ayn Rand’s moralizing is irrational. You wrote “Errors of knowledge may be forgiven, she says, but not errors of morality. Even if what people are doing is wrong, even if errors of morality are involved, even if what people are doing is irrational, you do not lead people to virtue by contempt”. The basis of my agreement is the the fact that there are three types of immorality. Before I elaborate I want to be clear that there is a difference between contempt- deeming someone a threat to others and/or deserving of severe punishment/misfortune- and condemnation- expression of complete disapproval- and I assert that everything must be either condemned- if it is illogical- or praised- if it is logical. The reason I say this is because, in reference to the three types of immorality -self destructive, insulting, and violent- those who are self destructive but not insulting or violent have at least some remnant of respect for humanity; thus while they must absolutely be condemned they are not yet contemptible. Once a person becomes insulting and/or violent and thus renounces whatever tiny remnant of respect he or she used to have for humanity he or she thus explicitly confesses and demonstrates the fact that he or she is contemptible; this is evident because if somebody has no respect for humanity he or she can have no respect for him or herself and is in essence saying “I’m contemptible so you are as well! We are all contemptible!”. Yes, it is true that insulting and violent people can potentially change their ways but until and unless they do- they are contemptible. As for trying to convince them to indeed change their ways, you reveal how this is a worthwhile endeavor for interested (and ambitious) psychologists and that Ayn Rand evaded this fact. “She knew next to nothing about psychology. What neither of us understood, however, was how disastrous an omission that is in a philosopher in general and a moralist in particular. The most devastating single omission in her system and the one that causes most of the trouble for her followers is the absence of any real appreciation of human psychology and, more specifically, of developmental psychology, of how human beings evolve and become what they are and of how they can change.”

Another important fact I have learned about morality is that it is crucial, when making our moral judgements, that we do not merely state that one action or another is “moral” or “immoral”; we have to be more specific and emphatically refer to each action as either life enhancing, self destructive, insulting, or violent. No, I would not go so far as to say we should avoid using the terms “moral” and “immoral” however I do assert that, if, for example, I told a drug addict, who is obviously evasive but not insulting (not insulting to anyone but him or herself), “You are hurting your body. You shouldn’t do that. I wish you wouldn’t as it decreases the value of your life and I know that your life is indeed quite valuable because when you’re not smoking yourself into oblivion you make a lot of sense. It is self destructive. You are wasting your intelligence.”- it is much clearer and will be much more effective than telling him, or her “your apathy is immoral! You’re evil! You’re evasive! You’re irrational!”....

(read more at http://seanoconnorli...haniel-branden/)

Edited by Sean O'Connor

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