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Why Objectivism is so unpopular

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http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/08/15/my-id-on-defensiveness/

 

This post by Scott Alexander gives the best description of why Objectivism is unpopular I have ever seen. Though it is not specifically about Objectivism, he does mention it about three quarters of the way in.

 

'It is really easy for me to see the path where rationalists and effective altruists become a punch line and a punching bag. It starts with having a whole bunch of well-publicized widely shared posts calling them “crackpots” and “abusive” and “autistic white men” without anybody countering them, until finally we end up in about the same position as, say, Objectivism. Having all of those be wrong is no defense, unless somebody turns it into such. If no one makes it reputationally costly to lie, people will keep lying. The negative affect builds up more and more, and the people who always wanted to hate us anyway because we’re a little bit weird say “Oh, phew, we can hate them now”, and then I and all my friends get hated and dehumanized, the prestigious establishment people jump ship, and there’s no way to ever climb out of the pit. All you need for this to happen is one or two devoted detractors, and boy do we have them.'

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That post assumes that winning popularity contests is what makes or breaks a belief system. I disagree. I think Objectivism has a bright future no matter what the idiots following either Liberal or Christian pseudo-journalistic publications believe about it.

So Slate or HuffPo can make up all the lies they want. It doesn't matter, because the people who rely on those publications for their information don't matter.

And I think we can all agree that what Christian fundies believe doesn't matter.

Edited by Nicky

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The trouble is that people don't always know that there is stuff they don't know. They often don't know that there's much more involved and what little they were told could have been wildly misrepresented. I think philosophies are something more prone to this happening than, say, math or plumbing or foreign languages. Because of this, people may never pursue Objectivism who otherwise would have because they have received information that shows Objectivism to be something with such huge, glaring contradictions and shoddy, minimal work in creating it. It looks like a big waste of time to look into something that is obviously wrong and not in a position of power where it could pose a threat to you either. The problem isn't that people are expressing negative feelings and disagreement with Objectivism, it's that they are not accurately presenting it.

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I didn't read a lot of the article, but it seems to be saying that philosophies or systems of thought can turn angry and defensive because its a response to accusations of being wrongly portrayed as such. That may be true of some individuals, but it doesn't make sense to explain systems of thought in terms of psychology. For that to be true, there needs to be a systematic case of anger and defensiveness promoted by the philosophy.

 

I think Objectivism is unpopular online a lot of the time these days because many of the more vocal proponents aren't good at portraying the ideas of Objectivism, or aren't so good at philosophy. At least in the Internet world these days, there's a major lack of any real focus on the positive life-promoting aspects of Objectivism, just a lot counter-arguments. Counter-arguments are good, but what attracts people to learn is mainly going to be some really awesome ideas for achieving better things in life.

 

But the main reason I'd say is that it's not really popular at all to advocate for anything fully dedicated to self-improvement and self-mastery. So even the life-promoting things are hard to talk about with people who don't already seek to be their best. I don't think it's hopeless, though, it's not an impossible task to change minds.

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If no one makes it reputationally costly to lie, people will keep lying.

“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I've learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one's reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one's master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person's view requires to be faked.” - Hank Rearden

 

The notion here is that a penalty ought be imposed by someone.

 

 

The conclusion of the article offers a false alternative as well.

That seems to leave only two choices.

 

First, give up on ever having the support of important institutions like journalism and academia and business, slide into the black hole, and accept decent and interesting conversations with other black hole denizens as a consolation prize while also losing the chance at real influence or attracting people not already part of the movement.

 

Or, second, call out every single bad argument, make the insults and mistruths reputationally costly enough that people think at least a little before doing them – and end up with a reputation for being nitpicky, confrontational and fanatical all the time.

Or learn to recognize on for yourself, what makes for a potentially slanderous approach, and/or simply dismiss fallacious arguments.

 

The idea of attracting people who are not part of the movement, reeks of an agenda.

 

The idea that every bad argument or fallacious notion needs to be called to task and identified, once again by appealing to imposing a higher authority to oversee it, undermines the very notion that other minds are capable of developing such a capacity for themselves.

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I am really surprised by the reposes.

 

The author is making descriptive claims, not prescriptive ones. He is not saying it is right that intellectuals avoid Objectivism because it's unpopular, he is saying that is an incentive which does in reality affect whether or not people ever take the time to learn or stick with the philosophy. 

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The author is making descriptive claims, not prescriptive ones. He is not saying it is right that intellectuals avoid Objectivism because it's unpopular, he is saying that is an incentive which does in reality affect whether or not people ever take the time to learn or stick with the philosophy. 

Well, can you explain why you think the article explains why Objectivism is unpopular?  I don't see how it actually applies to Objectivism, it seems like it only applies to why some people in a movement or philosophy become toxic.

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"I like discussion, debate, and reasoned criticism. But a lot of arguments aren’t any of those things. They’re the style I describe as ethnic tension, where you try to associate something you don’t like with negative affect so that other people have an instinctive disgust reaction to it.

 

There are endless sources of negative affect you can use. You can accuse them of being “arrogant”, “fanatical”, “hateful”, “cultish” or “refusing to tolerate alternative opinions”. You can accuse them of condoning terrorism, or bullying, or violence, or rape. You can call them racist or sexist, you can call them neckbeards or fanboys. You can accuse them of being pseudoscientific denialist crackpots.

 

If you do this enough, the group gradually becomes disreputable. If you really do it enough, the group becomes so toxic that it becomes somewhere between a joke and a bogeyman. Their supporters will be banned on site from all decent online venues. News media will write hit pieces on them and refuse to ask for their side of the story because ‘we don’t want to give people like that a platform’. Their concerns will be turned into bingo cards for easy dismissal. People will make Facebook memes strawmanning them, and everyone will laugh in unison and say that yep, they’re totally like that. Anyone trying to correct the record will be met with an “Ew, gross, this place has gone so downhill that the [GROUP] is coming out of the woodwork!” and totally ignored."

 

 

 

That's probably the meat of the article. Objectivism has been so tarnished by being associated with negative side effects (specifically, "cultish," "elitist," "anti-poor,"psychopathic," etc.) that is has passed what the author calls an "event horizon." Once passed that point, a movement is to toxic that is is typically dismissed out of hand by most people, even intelligent people who would otherwise be a perfect fit for it.

 

Though before a movement hits the event horizon:

 

 

"There’s a term in psychoanalysis, “projective identification”. It means accusing someone of being something, in a way that actually turns them into that thing. For example, if you keep accusing your (perfectly innocent) partner of always being angry and suspicious of you, eventually your partner’s going to get tired of this and become angry, and maybe suspicious that something is up.

 

Declaring a group toxic has much the same effect. The average group has everyone from well-connected reasonable establishment members to average Joes to horrifying loonies. Once the group starts losing prestige, it’s the establishment members who are the first to bail; they need to protect their establishment credentials, and being part of a toxic group no longer fits that bill. The average Joes are now isolated, holding an opinion with no support among experts and trend-setters, so they slowly become uncomfortable and flake away as well. Now there are just the horrifying loonies, who, freed from the stabilizing influence of the upper orders, are able to up their game and be even loonier and more horrifying. Whatever accusation was leveled against the group to begin with is now almost certainly true."

 

 

EDIT - I should note that neither I nor the author think this layer break down completely purges rational members from the group. I am not saying everyone on this website is a loon.

Edited by Dormin111

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The article seems to be operating on a type of social metaphysics. Rational individuals do not "associate" with Objectivism, they accept the Objectivist philosophy as corresponding to reality and that has nothing to do with what other type of people are seen as "associated" with Objectivism. Groups are nothing but the individuals who comprise them. Objectivism is a philosophy that has many different individuals professing to represent it. That says nothing about the philosophy qua philosophy as relates to toxicity.

Edited by Plasmatic

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That's probably the meat of the article. Objectivism has been so tarnished by being associated with negative side effects (specifically, "cultish," "elitist," "anti-poor,"psychopathic," etc.) that is has passed what the author calls an "event horizon." Once passed that point, a movement is to toxic that is is typically dismissed out of hand by most people, even intelligent people who would otherwise be a perfect fit for it.

But I'm asking how you think it's true. What reasons are there to think the majority proponents of Objectivism are all a toxic group responding in kind to toxicity? Objectivism is so broad and doesn't have leaders, so all you can say is that maybe a handful of people rally together and get angry and toxic. I don't see how you can then say it's a very huge reason for Objectivism being unpopular. I'm looking for examples you have in mind of how this idea plays out, because I don't think it can, plus one of the premises is that people really become what they're accused of being so easily. It's not based anything, it's just a fancy Freudian narrative that "feels" true maybe. As far as I see, projective identification isn't even supposed to be applied to groups!

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That's probably the meat of the article. Objectivism has been so tarnished by being associated with negative side effects (specifically, "cultish," "elitist," "anti-poor,"psychopathic," etc.) that is has passed what the author calls an "event horizon." Once passed that point, a movement is to toxic that is is typically dismissed out of hand by most people, even intelligent people who would otherwise be a perfect fit for it.

 

Intelligent people aren't always rational. But I've never been dismissed like that by any rational person. Also, I wasn't born an Objectivist. I became one. I didn't dismiss Objectivism before learning about it. It's just something I wouldn't do, no matter how many people decide to insult it or attack it with fallacious arguments. Why assume that other rational people would?

 

P.S. In general, I really don't think that is how groups necessarily function. I think it takes a specific kind of, very damaged, culture in which most people will react like that to a point of view just because it's tarnished by shallow attacks.

 

I think that in a relatively rational culture people are able to differentiate between substantive criticism and slander, and if they see a point of view being savaged, if anything, they become curious about what it is that upset all the irrational savages. They wouldn't just take the irrational attacks as cause for dismissing their target belief system.

 

I think the guy gives way too much credit to those types of attacks. I'm sure it works with the kind of fringe groups I mentioned above ( the far left and religious fundamentalists), but the main reason why Objectivism is unpopular with normal, reasonable people is because of what it is, not because of any of the lies obsessed bloggers spread about Ayn Rand. Objectivism is radical philosophy that contradicts pretty much everything most people believe about morality and politics. It's a tough sell, with or without the idiots calling Ayn Rand names.

 

Let's put it this way: it wasn't Ayn Rand's slanderers who went on o'Reilly and said that according to Objectivism nuking Tehran should be a tactical option available to the military (or whatever was said exactly). It was Leonard Peikoff. And, in my opinion at least, it was a pretty accurate representation of Objectivism. It was a mistake to say it, because it's not something most Americans are ready to hear, but it's not like it's not true. And I bet that single TV appearance turned off more people to Objectivism than all the slanderous articles put together.

Edited by Nicky

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Are not those who misrepresent information the ones who become the victims, counting on the evasions and blindness of those they deceive from discovering the truth?

 

They hurt themselves, but that fact doesn't make them incapable of hurting others at the same time. Stabbing a stranger for kicks would be bad for the stabber, but obviously it would also be bad for the person who got stabbed.

 

“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I've learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one's reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one's master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person's view requires to be faked.” - Hank Rearden

 

The notion here is that a penalty ought be imposed by someone.

True as Hank's quote is, we're talking about people who probably aren't familiar with it. A consequence not known to be coming from an action doesn't serve well as a deterrent to that action.

 

I don't think anything in that article could ultimately doom Objectivism in particular, just that it could make things harder and slow progress down.

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They hurt themselves, but that fact doesn't make them incapable of hurting others at the same time. Stabbing a stranger for kicks would be bad for the stabber, but obviously it would also be bad for the person who got stabbed.

True as Hank's quote is, we're talking about people who probably aren't familiar with it. A consequence not known to be coming from an action doesn't serve well as a deterrent to that action.

 

I don't think anything in that article could ultimately doom Objectivism in particular, just that it could make things harder and slow progress down.

The individual taken in by a lie is capable of being hurt more, yes. Their ability to identify lies as such has not been honed, leaving them vulnerable.

Stabbing someone with a knife leaves pretty clear evidence. Injury from a lie is currently delimited to fraud and slander in law where the evidence is less clear to most. Outside of these two, holding and/or spreading wrong ideas still falls under caveat emptor.

 

If science spent as much time and effort investigating the causal consequences of being a liar as it does to global warming . . . (rhetorical.)

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The author is making descriptive claims, not prescriptive ones.

The responses are addressing the descriptive claims.

 

 

That's probably the meat of the article. Objectivism has been so tarnished by being associated with negative side effects (specifically, "cultish," "elitist," "anti-poor,"psychopathic," etc.)...

This is the descriptive claim that people are disputing. In particular, Eiuol and Nicky countered that the "tarnish" is not because of the side effects, but because of the core and essential aspects of Objectivism.

Edited by softwareNerd

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I think there's sort of two groups with two problems. One group is just not open to the possibility that something that is so opposite so many mainstream values could be correct. The other group is much more open to the possibility. There's little to no hope of changing the minds of members of the first group any time soon. Even if they get some accurate information and don't come into things having ever heard of Objectivism before, they'll quickly stop giving Objectivism a fair hearing. The second group with some accurate information will give Objectivism a fair hearing. However, members of the first group who hear of Objectivism first before some members of the second group can make trouble by feeding an inaccurate picture of Objectivism to those members of the second group.

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 This is the descriptive claim that people are disputing. In particular, Eiuol and Nicky countered that the "tarnish" is not because of the side effects, but because of the core and essential aspects of Objectivism.

 

I think it's both, but the larger force is the tarnished name of Objectivism. The vast majority of people I've spoken to about Objectivism who reject it, do not do so on the basis of a deep or even surface reading of the philosophy, they do it based on no reading because they've heard so many bad things about it. And yeah, I do think part of the reputation problem stems from Rand's own actions and those of her successors, but misrepresentation of her ideas and character is a bigger problem. The average intelligent person hears the philosophy and its creator's reputation and forms a negative association with it out of hand, so he or she never actually bothers to investigate.

 

One interpretation of that process is simply that the current culture and/or the people within it are overwhelmingly corrupt. I'm not really sure that's true or how its possible to even measure something like that. People only have so much time to spend reading philosophy, and it makes sense to rely upon heuristics to figure out where to turn one's attention. Like it or not, Rand's opponents won the war for Rand's reputation. That's how I see it.

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Dorman said:

One interpretation of that process is simply that the current culture and/or the people within it are overwhelmingly corrupt. I'm not really sure that's true or how its possible to even measure something like that

I can tell you with certainty that a "heuristic" won't do as a substitute for a philosophically principled answer to that question.

Like it or not, Rand's opponents won the war for Rand's reputation. That's how I see it.

Guess those heuristics didn't help prevent her enemies from successfully making personality a substitute for philosophical detection.....

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I think it's both

Yes, it's both. It's obviously both. But how much of both depends on what the ideas are. Objectivism is radically antithetical to mainstream western philosophy. "Effective altruism" doesn't sound like it is.

 

So what's the value in drawing a comparison between the two? Effective altruism, in the absence of people tarnishing the reputation of its proponents,  sound like something that would have no problem drawing people in. It just sounds like another flavor of the same old things everyone already accepts without much question.

 

The proposition that mainstream academics would be open to his beliefs if only people would stop lying about them sounds plausible (just based on the name...I don't actually know anything about it).

 

With Objectivism, on the other hand, they wouldn't be. Most people would never ever consider, let alone accept Ayn Rand's ideas. They're afraid of the ideas, not Ayn Rand. So what's the point in constantly fighting it out with well known liars? What will that accomplish? Do you really think the people who unquestioningly accept the stuff the leftist media is peddling would be woken up to reality by an Objectivist making a good argument that Ayn Rand wasn't what they've been told?

 

It's not like Objectivism is the ONE thing an otherwise honest leftist media (and the whole leftist cultural establishment, including academics and politicians) is lying about. It's not like if we only cleared up this one misunderstanding, everything would be right in the world. They lie about everything. EVERY single story is aimed at assassinating the character of whichever side they wish to paint as the villain, every single story cherry picks facts that back their views, every single story ignores basic, obvious facts that prove their conclusions wrong. Same with political speeches, same with academic curricula.

 

At some point, you have to just look at a mob that feeds on that and say: let's just keep a safe distance and ignore them. There's just no point in engaging in any way.

 

Meanwhile, there are people who see the leftist establishment for what they are. They don't believe any of the lies. They see through the propaganda about evil businessmen who would destroy everyone and everything if left to their own devices, they see through the propaganda about the racist murderous cops out to get innocent black people, etc., etc. I'm sure they also see through the propaganda about Ayn Rand. Why not focus on reaching them instead? By engaging them, in a meaningful conversation, not by going around engaging liars on leftist blogs.

Edited by Nicky

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The average intelligent person hears the philosophy and its creator's reputation and forms a negative association with it out of hand, so he or she never actually bothers to investigate.

 

But the article wasn't talking about ideas being unfairly represented, or about people failing to evaluate ideas rationally, resulting in those ideas being labeled as cultish or absurd. It is talking about the proponents of those ideas themselves becoming actually cultish and absurd -because- of the accusation, thereby ironically reaffirming the unfair representations. So I'm wondering where you've observed such a thing going on. The worst I've seen is a few people getting angry and lashing out on article comment sections online.

Bluecherry's response about two groups/two problems makes more sense as one explanation for an unfairly tarnished reputation. I've seen it happen like that many times. The people who will not give a fair hearing at all, and cite a fact like "she's a hypocrite, she took social security!", which is only half-accurate. Then people who are willing to listen get more and more bad information, then it builds and builds like a feedback loop.

Then there's the simple fact, as Nicky was saying, that "Objectivism is radical philosophy that contradicts pretty much everything most people believe about morality and politics."

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But the article ...  It is talking about the proponents of those ideas themselves becoming actually cultish and absurd -because- of the accusation, thereby ironically reaffirming the unfair representations.

On this score, I think Objectivism is doing pretty well in its current (third?) generation. The passage of time, the self-conscious fight against rationalism, and a fragmentation of leadership have all been for the good. Of course, there's a type of dogmatic person who is attracted to radical movements (sometimes they even hop from one philosophy to another -- satanism for a few years, then Objectivism, the Hinduism). However, I think the proportion of dogmatists has been reducing with each successive generation.

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A person who rejects ideas only on hearsay doesn't really care about ideas -- that's clear on the face of it. Do you know anyone who takes thinking seriously, who doesn't find his own facts in order to clarify his own ideas?

A thinker (or a "classically normal" person) doesn't need hand-led through slanderous claims. He simply learns and decides for himself. I agree with the prior posts: it's not the slander or the slandered that's the problem, it's the people who believe it without a second thought.

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Why is Objectivism "unpopular?" In responding to this question, it may be worth noting that the preponderance of the West's professional intellectuals have both financial and also psychological reasons to dislike Objectivism. Financial, because most of the West's professional intellectuals make a living in a manner that is inconsistent with Objectivist principles; psychological, because these principles imply that this manner of making a living is shameful.

Most of the West's professional intellectuals are professional educators. And most educators, whether at the university level or below, are directly or indirectly subsidized through taxes that are coercively extracted from their fellow citizens. Because Objectivism implies that such forcible extractions are unjust—even criminal—most professional educators have reason to oppose Objectivism, and to oppose classically liberal philosophic principles generally. In so far as educators are voicing this opposition before intellectually suggestible students in their classrooms, then, or otherwise expressing it publicly, one might reasonably expect Objectivism to become unpopular.

This writer recently published a short essay that pertains directly to this issue. The essay, entitled "Socialized Education and the Ascendancy of Socialism," and published in the Letters to the Editor section of the online Objectivist periodical The Undercurrent, does not specifically address the subject of Objectivism's public reputation. It does, however, attempt to explain the relationship between the government subsidization of education and educators, and the rise of socialist ideas and policies. Indirectly, therefore, it may help explain "why Objectivism is so unpopular."

If permitted by the Administrators, below is a link to the aforementioned essay:

http://theundercurrent.org/socialized-education-and-the-ascendancy-of-socialism-guest-post-by-author-aengus-song/

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17 minutes ago, Aengus Song said:

In responding to this question, it may be worth noting that the preponderance of the West's professional intellectuals have both financial and also psychological reasons to dislike Objectivism. Financial, because most of the West's professional intellectuals make a living in a manner that is inconsistent with Objectivist principles; psychological, because these principles imply that this manner of making a living is shameful.

Nicely put. And a smooth transition to your article.

Welcome to OO.

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