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I've often heard people suggesting that Objectivism is a cult. I'm sure many of you heard it too - and since I've read some questions about dealing with this issue, I'd like to share my thinking on the subject.

It really bores me to death to write about these things, but it may prove helpful, so here goes:

1. There are some objective similarities between Objectivists and members of cults.

2. There are also many crucial differences.

3. The honest, intelligent person may get the impression of a cult in early stages of familiarity with Objectivism, but will soon learn to distinguish Objectivism from a mindless cult.

4. The dishonest will persist, in face of evidence. Their attitude will show clear disinterest in learning the facts. They will pronounce a judgement and will never agree to examine it objectively.

First, let's look at the definition of cult, from the Oxford English Dictionary:

cult

  • noun 1 a system of religious worship directed towards a particular figure or object. 2 a small religious group regarded as strange or as imposing excessive control over members. 3 something popular or fashionable among a particular section of society.

  — DERIVATIVES cultish adjective cultist noun.

  — ORIGIN Latin cultus ‘worship’.

I have no problem with someone charecterizing Objectivism as #3: "something popular or fashionable among a particular section of society". What they mean, however, is usually 1 or 2.

So let's start with some objective similarities between Objectivism and real cults:

* Objectivists believe in their ideas very strongly, and speak very confidently.

* Objectivists feel very strongly towards their ideals. They may get protective of Ayn Rand or Objectivism if they feel it is wrongly attacked.

* Objectivism may affect decisions throughout an Objectivist's life, including his choice of career, his artistic taste, his choice of a spouce, his way of dealing with other people, his political inclination, etc.

* Objectivists enjoy meeting and talking to other Objectivists, and there is a kind of international network of ties that spans cultures, locations, and languages. Objectivists often feel a strong bond with someone upon discovering he is an Objectivist (this is many times unjustified, BTW).

Some crucial differences:

* Objectivism is not a religion, and is not based on faith. It's an atheistic, secular philosophy which upholds reason. Objectivists should therefore always willing to consider a logical argument. This is outside the realm of any real cult.

* Objectivists do have a sense of worship towards its ideals, but only in the sense of something being "extremely important and valuable", not as a self-degrading act. The objects of worship are experienced as beneficial to life, and therefore important. They are not above life, or above happiness, in any way.

* There is no leadership or heirarchy in the conventional cult sense. No one is giving or following orders. There are no orders, and there can never be orders since one of the top principles is that every man is an end in himself, with his own happiness as his goal. Some philosophers and intellectuals might be considered an "intellectual leadership", but only in the sense of their words being very convincing and hence influencial.

* Objectivists usually have non-Objectivist friends. They are involved in many activities, hobbies, careers that do not involve Objectivism. They usually don't live around other Objectivists, or choose their location according to the this. They often marry non-Objectivists, and they judge people according to their character, not their stated philosophy.

Once in a while, as with any other philosophy, a mentally unhealthy and evil individual will try to use Objectivism as a basis to forming a real cult, with mind-control techniques, group pressure, and deceit. In these cases, however, the real strength of Objectivism is revealed. These cults usually either fall apart very soon after, when the followers discover the real nature of their "leader", or the cult leader finds that he cannot use Objectivism, and drops it for a more "constructive" philosophy that leaves room for faith and subjugation.

Any other thoughts on the matter?

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It really bores me to death to write about these things, but it may prove helpful, so here goes:

And we're all THRILLED at your willingness to sacrifice yourself for our benefit. :)

ERAN'S BEING SACRIFICIAL!!!!!

*cough* Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system. I don't think Objectivism is a cult; I just read most of the Return of the Primitive yesterday, and one of the things that really struck a nerve with me was Ayn Rand's description (in "The Comprachicos") of the chronic loneliness that afflicts individuals that persist in analyzing and thinking.

I don't know that ALL Objectivists experience this loneliness but I'd be willing to bet a fair majority do, which is probably why we have such strong reactions when we meet other Objectivists. Even though it doesn't necessarily mean the other person is a great person because they claim to be an Objectivist, your chances that they're at least reasonably decent seem much better than if they say "I'm a Catholic" or "I'm a Buddhist."

I once likened Objectivists to a small town spread over a geographically large area. Not a cult, a town; you meet new people constantly and there are feuds, disagreements, longstanding relationships, etc, we just identify a more strongly with each other than we do with most everyone else. (Or at least we think we do.)

(Note to self: never ever ever start a new Ayn Rand book at 10pm because you won't be able to put it down and you won't get any sleep and you will be forced to use liberal doses of caffiene to stay awake and you will be bouncing off the walls.)

Edited to fix punctuation.

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This article on Richard Lawrence's Objectivism Resource Center seems quite relevant.

Is Objectivism a Cult?

By the way, I think it's a mistake to accept any package-deal of good and bad meanings of "cult" and argue that yes, in a way, Objectivists are part of a cult, but that's the good meaning of cult. Better to argue that as far as the intended insulting meaning of those who frequently term us cultist is concerned, there really is no such thing. The similarities you point to are true (they do identify actual facts) but do not identify anything essential that would suggest that we are partly cult-like, not unless the word is to be almost completely stripped of its essential meaning.

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It's interesting to note that the points you bring up are not necessarily the points we are being judged on. Michael Shermer, in his article, "The Unlikeliest Cult in History," (originally printed in Skeptic magazine and reprinted in his book, Why People Believe Weird Things, lists the following guidelines for determining if an organization is a cult:

Veneration of the Leader: Excessive glorification to the point of virtual sainthood or divinity.

Inerrancy of the Leader: Belief that he or she cannot be wrong.

Omniscience of the Leader: Acceptance of beliefs and pronouncements on virtually all subjects, from the philosophical to the trivial.

Persuasive Techniques: Methods used to recruit new followers and reinforce current beliefs.

Hidden Agendas: Potential recruits and the public are not given a full disclosure of the true nature of the group's beliefs and plans.

Deceit: Recruits and followers are not told everything about the leader and the group's inner circle, particularly flaws or potentially embarrassing events or circumstances.

Financial and/or Sexual Exploitation: Recruits and followers are persuaded to invest in the group, and the leader may develop sexual relations with one or more of the followers.

Absolute Truth: Belief that the leader and/or group has a method of discovering final knowledge on any number of subjects.

Absolute Morality: Belief that the leader and/or the group have developed a system of right and wrong thought and action applicable to members and nonmembers alike. Those who strictly follow the moral code may become and remain members, those who do not are dismissed or punished.

Shermer, however, does not tell why these set of guidelines and no others are indicitive of cults. They appear to be arbitrary rules set up with no basis in reality. He also bases his arguments and his judgements soley on the writings of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden.

It is interesting to note that these are almost the exact same guidelines by which fundamentalist Christians judge a group to be a cult.

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Besides other problems with these 'guidelines', there is a very obvious and glaring problem with the following two:

Inerrancy of the Leader: Belief that he or she cannot be wrong.

Omniscience of the Leader: Acceptance of beliefs and pronouncements on virtually all subjects, from the philosophical to the trivial.

These are manifestly disproven by Leonard Peikoff's own descriptions of his personal likes/dislikes, and their differences from AR's. The most obvious one is his fondness for Beethoven, a composer she seriously disliked, and described negatively more than once. This guy is simply rehashing old myths which were originally spread by dishonest people attempting (and actually succeeding) to make a living off making cynical pronouncements on the few things left in the world that qualify as pure and noble.

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Besides other problems with these 'guidelines', there is a very obvious and glaring problem with the following two:

These are manifestly disproven by Leonard Peikoff's own descriptions of his personal likes/dislikes, and their differences from AR's. The most obvious one is his fondness for Beethoven, a composer she seriously disliked, and described negatively more than once. This guy is simply rehashing old myths which were originally spread by dishonest people attempting (and actually succeeding) to make a living off making cynical pronouncements on the few things left in the world that qualify as pure and noble.

I agree. Someone on the forum recently quoted Ayn Rand from a question and answer session in which a girl had told Ms. Rand that she didn't think she could be an Objectivist since she liked Beethoven. Ayn Rand told her that liking Beethoven had nothing to do with being an Objectivist.

The same people criticize Ayn Rand for excluding the Brandens from her circle of friends yet they won't acknowledge the fact that she had a right to associate with whomever she wanted to.

I mentioned to one person making such an arguement that Ayn Rand was friends with Mickey Spillane, a Jehovah's Witness. They never had an answer for me as to why she could associate with someone who was openly in defiance of her philosophy if she "excommunicated" everyone from her life who didn't agree with her. I can only imagine the evasions this person went to in order to accept this contradiction.

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And we're all THRILLED at your willingness to sacrifice yourself for our benefit.  :thumbsup: 

ERAN'S BEING SACRIFICIAL!!!!! 

:D

Actually, I started writing about it thinking it's going to be interesting, and then 60% through I found out it was boring me. So I added this sentence about it boring me.

So you see, it's not so much being sacrificial as wanting to finish what I started. :lol:

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The Unlikeliest Cult in the World is a dishonest work. Reading parts of it made me sick. The amount of lies in this book, plain lies, was really shocking to me.

And no, I don't accept the claim that Objectivism is a cult. It is obviously not a cult, if you take the objective definition into account.

What I WAS trying to show is that not everyone who's stuck with this impression is necessarily dishonest. There ARE some things that the average person would associate with a cult, and would almost never see outside of cults or religions, until meeting with Objectivism.

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Has anyone read the book about objectivism being a religion by Albert Ellis?

I haven't and I don't think I would want to. Without even seeing the book, I would venture to say it uses the same mentaility as the Christians who claim science and secular humanism are religions. Essentially, they attempt to redefine the term religion so that a person doesn't necessarily have to believe in a god or gods to be a religion.

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I haven't and I don't think I would want to. Without even seeing the book, I would venture to say it uses the same mentaility as the Christians who claim science and secular humanism are religions. Essentially, they attempt to redefine the term religion so that a person doesn't necessarily have to believe in a god or gods to be a religion.

Do you know who Albert Ellis is?

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:lol:

Actually, I started writing about it thinking it's going to be interesting, and then 60% through I found out it was boring me. So I added this sentence about it boring me.

So you see, it's not so much being sacrificial as wanting to finish what I started. :thumbsup:

Hey, at least you got that it was a joke. :D The thing that amused me was that, if Objectivism WERE a cult, it WOULDN'T be a joke and you'd likely be in for some disciplinary ostracism at the very least.

I think that is a hallmark of a cult; members are physically "disciplined", (and if you don't think that ostracism is physical discipline watch how the Amish use it sometime) sometimes brutally, for deviations from "the Rules".

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Do you know who Albert Ellis is?

It looks like he's a psychologist. Frankly, though, if he claims Objectivism is a religion at all, he has a problem with definitions. I experienced the same argument from Christians when I was a Secular Humanist.

Most people define a religion as "belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe." (New American Dictionary) However, the argument for Secular Humanism being a religion rather than a philosophy of life goes like this:

1. Relgious people see God as the most important part in their lives.

2. Secular Humanists consider humans the most important part of their lives. Therefore, secular humanists consider other humans a god.

3. Therefore, Secular Humanism is a religion.

You can see the fatal flaw in the Christians' logic. Just because something is an important part of your life doesn't make it a god.

In order to define Objectivism as a religion, you would need to define a god for our religion. The only possible way to do that would be to raise Ayn Rand to the level of the supernatural. Of course, there isn't one of us who consider Ayn Rand to be any more than a brilliant phillosopher. She was a genius but she is not a god and never claimed to be.

Of course, the other way you could define Objectivism as a religion is to redefine religion.

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I read a very small portion,or rather, I skimmed through a book describing Objectivism as a cult (I have since forgotten the name of the book) once in a Barnes and Noble at the time that I was first learning Objectivism. Even in my fledging judgement I could see that the attacks were mostly ad hominem and foundationless. If I remember correctly, The author devoted a whole chapter to the claim that all Objectivists condemn having children, because none of the characters in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged ever conceived a child.

He also cited an antecdote in which Peikoff was giving a lecture and Rand was listening in. He claimed that during the question-answer period a young girl asked if holding a religious belief for the benifit of comfort or solice (I think the specific context was in the case of the death of a loved one). Rand alledgedly stood up and yelled that the girl was immoral and holding such belief for any reason (but that reason in particular) was disgusting (or something along those lines).

The desired effect was lost on me. After I read it, I only admired Rand more.

[Edited myself, for accuracy]

Edited by Megan Robinson

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I read a very small portion,or rather, I skimmed through a book describing Objectivism as a cult (I have since forgotten the name of the book) once in a Barnes and Noble at the time that I was first learning Objectivism.

The name of this book is

The Ayn Rand Cult

by Jeff Walker.

I have not been able to keep up with the wirlwind of new forum rules, especially in regard to posting links. For this reason I will neither post an excerpt or a link, but all those interested can google this above information. It is fairly easy to locate in a Google search.

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Even in my fledging judgement I could see that the attacks were mostly ad hominem and foundationless.

[Edited myself, for accuracy]

The Ayn Rand Cult by Jeff Walker is a book that has too much meat in it to simply slap on an ad hominem on it and walk away. He brings up a few good points, despite his virulence.

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The name of this book is

The Ayn Rand Cult

by Jeff Walker.

I have not been able to keep up with the wirlwind of new forum rules, especially in regard to posting links. For this reason I will neither post an excerpt or a link, but all those interested can google this above information. It is fairly easy to locate in a Google search.

I skimmed through the same book in a Barnes and Noble once. If I remember correctly, he devotes entire chapters to showing how the (supposed) behavior of Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden, and Leonard Peikoff "proves" that Objectivism is a cult.

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Do you have any examples of "good points" that he brings up?

I am afraid you will have to e-mail me if you sincerely wish to know what I think his "good points" are.

--Brian

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I am afraid you will have to e-mail me if you sincerely wish to know what I think his "good points" are.

--Brian

Why? we're all here for the pursuit of truth and knowledge, and if you believe that you have uncovered some truth about anything why would you not wish to share it? If the points are indisputably valid would we not conceed? Do you really think that Objectivists, people understand that reality cannot be uncovered by means of evasion, would themselves evade for the convienience of thinking something that is not true? If someone could prove indisputably to me that Ayn Rand was an insane Russian psychotic bent on world domination I would conceed, but the fact is that any such claim is simply untrue.

Secrecy breeds corruption. You have made a claim, sir. Substaniate it.

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Why? we're all here for the pursuit of truth and knowledge, and if you believe that you have uncovered some truth about anything why would you not wish to share it?

You don't get it Megan. He doesn't think we're in pursuit of truth. He think's we're a cult! :)

Yet for some reason he's afraid to be thrown out of this cultist forum.

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No, but I heard the name before. Actually I kind of like it.

I think a robot programmed with Objectivism and lacking volition would still do better in life than most people. Of course, the combination of Objectivism AND free will conquers all. :D

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I think a robot programmed with Objectivism and lacking volition would still do better in life than most people. Of course, the combination of Objectivism AND free will conquers all. :lol:

No, it woudn't, because Objectivism doesn't offer specific advice, only abstract principles. You can't operate on Objectivist principles without using reason to apply them to the specific circumstances of your everyday life.

Look at the entry for "Dogma" in the Ayn Rand Lexicon.

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Anyone here ever been called a "randroid" before?

I’ve often heard the term used in this sort of remark when I mention being an Objectivist:

“It’s fine that you like Ayn Rand, I think she makes some good points about X, but you’re too nice of a guy to be one of those cultist Randroids, right?”

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