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Assertiveness

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Jon Southall
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The Objectivist mantra is "I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

 

Objectivists know what this means - a rejection of altruism and of force initiation, choosing one's life as his or her standard of value.

 

I read a book recently on assertiveness. It occurred to me how behaving assertively embodies the Objectivist mantra, and how very few people, even Objectivists, behave assertively.

 

Behaviour can be split between non-assertive, aggressive or assertive. Behaving assertively rests on a proper understanding of one's rights and obligations in a given context, and the rights and obligations of others.

 

People subscribe to altruist morality when they behave non-assertively - that is allowing other people to disregard their individual rights because of some sense that this is better for all concerned. They sacrifice themselves.

 

People also subscribe to it when they behave aggressively - they violate the rights of others because either they do not recognise they have rights at all, or that they do but act with disregard to them. They sacrifice others.

 

These behaviors can range from the subtle to the extreme. It is not just spoken words, but body language, tone etc. 

 

I just wondered what other people interested in Objectivism think about this.

 

Ought a good Objectivist practice assertiveness and avoid non-assertive and aggressive behaviors when they deal with strangers, loved ones, colleagues, bosses or sub-ordinates? What's the benefit of doing this?

Edited by Jon Southall
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  • 1 year later...
On 10/2/2014 at 7:36 AM, Jon Southall said:

What's the benefit of doing this?

Both of the alternatives involve the cognitive quicksand of non-objective goals.

 

For servility, it's not enough to comply when someone says "jump"; one is expected to obey anticipated orders, in advance. This usually isn't stated explicitly (that would be too easy) but it always surfaces after a sufficient period of consistent appeasement. For details on obedience to unspecified and undefined orders, see AntiTrust.

For predation, you must rely on your victims' irrationality, cowardice, humility, et cetera; by fighting their virtues you place yourself at the mercy of their vices. For details on its impracticality, see Conservatism: an Obituary.

 

Neither of these goals can be approached in any deliberate or long-range sort of manner (since it's in the nature of a mind to grow from one day to the next); their requirements cannot be known in advance; if one attains them at all (by getting one's way) it can only be in a strictly improvised, ad-hoc manner, which cannot be reliably replicated.

 

Proper self-assertiveness is the exception. It is predictable, knowable, replicatable, suitable for long-range planning; it is Objective.

 

The reward one gets for such behavior is certainty.

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On 4/28/2016 at 1:55 PM, Peikoff's Mullet said:

Objectivists are assertive.  Look no further than Peikoff's appearance on O'Reilly.

Nice, I hadn't seen this before.


This interview aside, I agree completely that Objectivists do seem to have a problem with assertiveness.

It almost seems like people have taken philosophical/political concepts of non-aggression and non-interference - i.e. avoiding the use of non-initiatory, rights-violating, unjustified violence against innocent people, by individuals and especially governments - and applied these more broadly, taking as general principles of behavior in their lives the idea that they ought not have any kind of assertiveness or aggressiveness in their personality at all. 

These are critical personality traits for working with reality and with other people - especially for men. Seizing opportunity and pushing on people for answers to one's questions, for things you expect from them, to morally or aesthetically criticize (or endorse) their behavior or their work, or in general holding people to standards of reason and value.

Just because someone has a legal right to be free from violent interference by you to do something immoral, wrong, sub-optimal, irrational - doesn't mean there is any legal or moral right whatsoever for them to be free from your assertiveness, insistence, advice, criticism, argument. In fact the moral onus is exactly the reverse - if you see something unreasonable or sub-optimal, in the world or in others around you, you owe it to yourself to *say something*, to push on it, to change it - and to insist as vigorously as you reasonably (and legally) can on what only makes sense, what would only make something better. The non-aggression principle is only the furthest edge at which you must *stop* - NOT a general prescription to avoid any kind of interference in general.

Can you imagine a chief of operations in a company, say a railroad, whose principle of behavior was to allow anyone he employs to do things however they like, according to whatever standards they happen to hold, moral or immoral, rational or irrational - with *no* interference, assertiveness, or otherwise non-rights violating aggressiveness from him whatsoever - with his justification being that it's their legal right to be free from aggression? The company would dissolve into complete dysfunction and failure in no time at all. 

Or what about a teacher or a coach who did nothing to guide, correct, or push their students or players to do better, to correct their problems, or to follow a proper method? It should be no surprise when they fail tests and lose games.

Now imagine this on a societal scale, where there are no philosophical or moral leaders with any assertiveness. People are left directionless and swayed by whim when no one of any philosophical expertise or conviction is there to teach them, to guide them, to push them on what's morally right, what's rational, what's ideal - to push them to do better, to be better, to produce better work - because that's what makes sense, that's what's rational, that's what will bring themselves and those around them the most value, and advance their lives, happiness, and flourishing the most.

Every Objectivist needs to read this essay by Ayn Rand from her book The Virtue of Selfishness:

HOW DOES ONE LEAD A RATIONAL LIFE IN AN IRRATIONAL SOCIETY?


https://campus.aynrand.org/works/1962/01/01/how-does-one-lead-a-rational-life-in-an-irrational-society/page1

And by the way - this applies *especially* to men. 

The world needs a lot more assertive, aggressive, pushy, masculine Objectivist men.

Some of you were asking me in the gender thread for me to be specific about what are the normative moral principles of masculinity. Well here's a perfect example.

The liberal, androgynous postmodernism of our time is an epidemic which is now doing great harm, especially among young people. It needs to be aggressively challenged by driven, principled, Objectivist leaders.
 

Edited by epistemologue
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On 4/28/2016 at 1:04 PM, Harrison Danneskjold said:

For details on obedience to unspecified and undefined orders, see AntiTrust.

For predation, you must rely on your victims' irrationality, cowardice, humility, et cetera; by fighting their virtues you place yourself at the mercy of their vices. For details on its impracticality, see Conservatism: an Obituary.

 

I like that you drew a connection from something apparently so personal as assertiveness in relating to people to these two articles. I'll read them with this connection in mind. Thanks :)

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I briefly read Greenspan's essay on Antitrust, but I don' think that was what you were referring to, right?

Thinking of my own experience working under unspecified orders and undefined orders (in banking) I simply worked as best as I could and did what was logical in any given situation. I did what I could as far as abiding by clear rules but every situation was different and if I wanted to be rule-following the only way would be to spend 20min or more per task researching rules & regulations and trying to contact compliance. (and even then many rules are not clear.) 

I once tried this with one particular method of work that I developed. Everyone told me not to do it but I saw no problem in doing it. I emailed the head of compliance since by my understanding of the policy it was a proper method of work. I received a reply a month later of over two pages on bank policy in relation to some unrelated method of work which completely evaded my question. What did I do? I implemented my method of work and waited for a compliance review that would force them to make a decision. They did and it was considered a legitimate method and then other people started using it. 

Thus, I put no thoughts towards achievement in performance or compliance reviews--they simply became meetings where I was told I was doing something wrong and I corrected it.

Without having studied it, I assume this works the exact same way in antitrust. When the rules are arbitrary and undefined my guess is they are ignored as it's impossible to work otherwise, and then you just hope for the best and do whatever you're told when you're called out on doing something against the rules.

 

Edited by LoBagola
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