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You Are All Cultists

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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. 

Your statement struck a nerve with me. I don't really associate with people in the neighborhood very much. I joke with my wife that I've become anti-social (I was very social in college), but the fact of the matter is, I've discovered my values (my daughter, career, keeping in shape) and a relationship with a neighbor is of little value to me if it does not supplement my values. When someone starts talking to me about the Cleveland Browns as if they are the most important thing in the world, I know they are low on my personal value meter. :P Seriously, I was overjoyed when I found out this forum existed. It's a nice place to visit and know that there are other rational minds out there, because Objectivists seem to be spread thin.

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When someone starts talking to me about the Cleveland Browns as if they are the most important thing in the world, I know they are low on my personal value meter.  :thumbsup:

Well no wonder! It's the Browns! If you haven't read The Comprachicos though, I strongly suggest it. It pretty much sums up my entire high school educational experience.

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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:

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?

I originally thought Objectivism was cultish. Only because anyone I knew or argued with who was an Objectivist would often same almost the same thing word for word as another Objectivist did, when arguing with me about taxes. Only after reading Atlas Shrugged did I realize that they were nearly quoting Rand word for word. And I still find that most Objectivists do this. However, after acquainting myself with the philosophy I would say that it is not a cult.

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... anyone I knew ... who was an Objectivist would often same almost the same thing word for word as another Objectivist did, ...
It might seem that way to a non-Objectivist of course, but this forum will show you have a few differences remain. (We're working on it though and one day we'll truly be clones of one another :D )

Seriously, the commonality and strength/depth of the views is an indication of having accepted common underlying principles. You might find an equal degree of commonality in (say) the serious members of a mainstream church, or among fans of Karl Marx, or fans of Kant.

Today, any degree of certainty about philosophical principles is looked at funny. If a group of people agree about principles in Physics or even Economics, it is considered okay. Not so in philosophy. People seem to think that a person needs to develop an individual philosophy. This idea mixes optional and non-optional values. Philosophy is a science. Our individuality does not flow from our philosophical principles.

Sometimes, students of Objectivism make the same mistake about optional and non-optional values. A trite example would be a fan of The Fountainhead who assumes that he ought to like skyscrapers. This thread (link) has some discussion on the issue.

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