Ayn Rand—Objectivism as Ritual?
"The dogmatic Objectivist desperately tries to reduce principles to concrete rules that can be applied automatically, like a ritual, so as to bypass the responsibility of thinking and moral analysis. These are “Objectivist” ritualists. They want Objectivism to give them what a religion promises, namely, ten or one hundred commandments, which they can apply without having to think or judge anything." - Ayn Rand, The Art of Nonfiction
We've all met them at one point or another.
They call themselves the Objectivists.
They're robot-beings from the future, programmed to kill by way of repetition, imitation, redundancy and moral condemnation. And if that doesn't work, they'll argue you to death. Or at least ban you from their organizations, clubs, newsgroups, Facebook pages, Twitter, Instagram feeds, Tea Parties and perhaps stop taking your calls. For any number of reasons. And don't worry, they'll find one.
My first interaction with this martian-monolithic-brain entity was at a protest that they had invited me to. It was at the Playa Del Rey in Los Angeles, California—right near an office that housed some of their "official" activities. I was new to the USA, having just moved here from Canada to attend classes at The Brooks Institute of Photography (Santa Barbara). And this was to be the first time that I would meet fellow Objectivists. As such, I was super-duper excited because in Canada, I was the only one that I knew of.
Up until then, the sole interaction that I had with people who had heard of Ayn Rand were the kindly (unwashed) owners of used bookstores. Mostly on Queen Street in Toronto (excellent sausages btw). And they always looked at me as if I was asking to sleep with their sister (and maybe Mom?) whenever I queried them about their Rand selection. And yet, they never failed to carry her books despite what they thought of her or me (for buying them).
And so there I was—Sunny California—the promised land. The world of my 90210 Saved-By-The-Bell Tiffany-Amber-Thiessen dreams of Jeanie. And this after 21 years of suffering, freezing my beautiful ass off in the Great White North. And even better than that, I was off to meet my heroes at the gates of Valhalla.
MEET THE SUPER-FRIENDS!
So I drive up to the event in my brand new yellow Mustang with JOHN GALT RACING emblazoned across the front, and my last name sticker-ed to the windshield in that over-the-top NASCAR-style. I'm wearing my Randy-finest. Ferrari t-shirt (what's more Objectivist than a Ferrari?). Flared motorcycle jeans with matching boots. Bono-like yellow-tinted Zooropa sunglasses. Indian-Motors belt-buckle. A Chinese-dragon tattoo (only drug dealers and Ed Hardy had tats back then). Buzzed widows-peak hair with perfect 1968-Elvis comeback-special sideburns (but not too furry).
I did believe (and still do) that one should look like a "selective re-creation of reality according to...(their) metaphysical value-judgments" (Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto). In English: One should reflect on the outside the heroic values within. And so I did. Freedom. Individualism. Liberty. Rebellion. All represented by my James Dean x Brando x Lords of Flatbush (more like Fonzie) x Enzo Ferrari-inspired, All-American semi-Italian retro-racer open-road "seize-the-day" aesthetic. Plus I was certain that my ridiculous good-looks, particularly in this getup would attract the plethora of Objectivist females who would be there cheering me on and later—ask me over to break their fireplace. (there was one female, and she was married)
Anywho, where was I? Oh yes. My new Objecti-pals had invited me to this awesome protest where we would stand up to a group of radical environmentalists. These Marxists fiends were apparently trying to prevent Capitalist-Hero Steven Spielberg from putting up a new studio on some swampland. The kooks wanted to save the frogs and/or some mosquitos. How very Californian.
I can't quite recall all the details—but I think there were two of them handing out flyers—and they weren't exactly the precursors to AntiFa. More like out-of-work math-tutors. And while my spider-sense told me that Spielberg could probably take care of himself and his own legal issues, there we were—in the midst of the battle to save Western Civilization by way of...drum-roll...Anti-Environmentalism! Engaging with and promoting Objectivism by...alienating every SoCal passerby within eye and earshot. No joke. This is how they promoted their organization. This was the pitch to reignite an interest in Rand's ideas. With an op-ed and sound-byte on why Environmentalism is evil. In Southern California. And while much of their written content was bang on, the pitch was clearly terrible as was the effect—IF you were trying to get any sort of positive attention for Rand. (they weren't)
But back to the subject at hand, since it's always ALL about me, RIGHT?
ONE MAN, CONTRA MUNDUM!
After about 10 minutes at this protest (which was a few blocks from their office), I noticed something odd. My fellow Objectivists who had extended the invitation to me, wouldn't stand anywhere near my general person. None of them. And that was a little strange. People usually loved me, at least until they got to know me. Were they psychic? Was it my cologne? Body odor? (impossible) My hair? Was my fly open? Had I slept with the girl and not remembered? (that's happened before)
I was holding the "Who is John Galt?" sign in clear view of all the cars passing by who were honking, spitting and swearing at me. What was I doing wrong?
Then, the only nice chap of the group—the head of their student outreach who really was (and is) a mensch came over and relayed the bad news. Apparently, the head honcho didn't like the fact that I wasn't dressed in a suit. And even though HE knew that I didn't KNOW about the "memo" to his staff about how he wanted everyone to present themselves, he decided that no one should associate with me. In case the press showed up (they didn't) and confused this amazingly cool Zoolander-ish Canadian with the group of assholes wearing cheap black suits in 95-degree fracking weather. And they were cheap. Suits.
Now understand, I came all the way from Canada at no small expense and no small effort to dedicate at least part of my life to the dissemination of Miss Rand's ideas into media, film, animation—all facets of popular-culture that I could affect. (and I fracking have!) That's why I was there. And it took YEARS of work to have this opportunity to stand together with these Daleks...er...Borg. And the pricks were ignoring me because I wasn't dressed the same way as them. And I'm not kidding in the slightest. I was NOT dressed the SAME as the great individualists. Can you believe this shit? It's 20 years later and I still can't. Of course, nothing has changed. In fact, it's gotten considerably worse.
But my first day adventure amongst the "Invasion of the Objectibots" didn't end there. Nope. I was kindly invited to lunch at a local faux-Thai restaurant suitable for Qwai Lo tastes (white meat only) where I was told that I couldn't order my own dish since they wanted to order...for everyone? I mean, really. I told them that I wasn't a big fan of Thai (bullshit American-style Thai, to be specific—I love Thai food), and all I wanted to do was order my own dish which I was ready, willing and able to pay for. But they wanted to order for everyone. Ok. So I looked at these fine Objectivist individualists, who to be fair, I already wanted to strangle and said, "Isn't that a little...collectivist?". I should have done the Doctor Evil thing with my finger. If only the way-back machine wasn't in the shop.
THEY'RE ALL GOING TO LAUGH AT YOU!
Should I go on? Should I tell you how they tried to encourage me to dump my career dreams as I would "never succeed" in the "current philosophical climate", blah mother-fracking blah blah. Should I tell you how these pieces of shit tried to convince me before I had even started it, that MY LIFE was going to be a waste of fracking time? And I'm not kidding. I know I keep saying that but it's still all so unreal. But this was their pitch to me. Almost as effective as their sales job on the community they were reaching out to in the hopes of promoting Objectivism.
Lads and Lassies. I share this story not to be petty, 20 years after the fact. And there's far more in between. I share it to illustrate a point. These sort of people were not and are NOT Objectivists. In fact, I have come to the realization that most of the actual Objectivist Brothers-in-Arms out there read Ayn Rand's books, got bloody inspired and went out into the world to make their dreams reality. We hear about them all the time. Bankers. Filmmakers. Artists. Teachers. Developers. Investors. Software designers. Politicians. Me.
And while they may not understand how to explain or teach the finer philosophical points of Objectivism—they represent the ideas in action. And they live it. As far as it will take them. And some do compromise it all away. And others forget. But most I think carry her spirit with them forever, even if they don't dedicate their lives to Rand's ideas. They often do one better. They LIVE their lives for themselves. And if they live well—mission accomplished.
A RANDY DIAGNOSIS
So who the hell did I meet? Well, Rand had a very interesting take on this aberration of her own philosophical movement. A movement that she never believed should be organized in any traditional sense of the word.
"I never wanted and do not now want to be the leader of a ‘movement’. I do approve of a philosophical or intellectual movement, in the sense of a growing trend among a number of independent individuals sharing the same ideas. But an organized movement is a different matter." —Ayn Rand, To Whom It May Concern (1968)
She called these people who took Objectivism to be a religion—"Objectivist Ritualists". And there is a very detailed explanation as to why and how these fools came to be as they are, which has very little to do with Rand herself or her ideas. But I will save that tale for another day. For now, let me share with you Ayn Rand's take on these characters. These same individuals who have fluttered around her name, her estate, her work and her reputation since her passing in 1982 and have caused enormous damage. The main victim has been Ayn Rand's reputation, her legacy and the opportunity for the dissemination of her ideas. But don't worry, I'm here to fix all of that. And I'm going to start by gifting to these people the grand honor of being actual, REAL "Objectivists" so that they can do with it what they've done for 40 years. Turn it into a religion. That no one wants to join.
I will be pitching another brand altogether but with the same chewy chocolate-center. And now on with the show...
From The Ayn Rand Institute website:
"In 1969, Ayn Rand gave a series of informal lectures on the art of nonfiction writing to a select group of friends and associates, often discussing her own writings as way of example and illustration.
As editor and Objectivist scholar Robert Mayhew notes in his preface: “She did not deliver prepared lectures. Instead, she spoke on a topic (some evenings for over three hours) guided solely by a brief outline. These ‘lectures’ were interspersed with: general discussion; requests for clarification, with her replies; discussion of homework assignments; and question-and-answer periods.
The course was privately recorded. My task was to convert the recording into a book.”
In completing his task, Mayhew explains that he cut extraneous material, reorganized what remained and edited it for clarity, the last of which “involved transforming Ayn Rand’s oral presentation into written form, i.e., condensing what she said, eliminating repetitions, and, where necessary, correcting grammar.”
Excerpts from "The Art of Nonfiction" by Ayn Rand
Philosophy cannot give you a set of dogmas to be applied automatically. Religion does that—and unsuccessfully. The dogmatic Objectivist desperately tries to reduce principles to concrete rules that can be applied automatically, like a ritual, so as to bypass the responsibility of thinking and moral analysis. These are “Objectivist” ritualists. They want Objectivism to give them what a religion promises, namely, ten or one hundred commandments, which they can apply without having to think or judge anything.
The purpose of philosophy is to guide a man in the course of his life. Unfortunately, many Objectivists have not fully accepted, concretized, and integrated this principle. For example, in the presence of a given event, work of art, person, etc., too many Objectivists ask themselves, “What do I have to feel?” Instead of, “What do I feel?” And if they need to judge a situation I have not discussed before, their approach is, “What should I think?” instead of, “What do I think?” This is the childhood remnant of anyone who to some extent was influenced either by the religion of the culture or, later in college, by Platonism. Both give the impression that the good, the important, the philosophical are like church on Sunday: you use them on special occasions, but they have nothing to do with your daily life. If any part of this attitude remains in you, it is important to eliminate it.
For example, someone submitted to The Objectivist a movie review that was chaos. I could not tell whether the author was reviewing a movie or preaching Objectivist morality. The two aspects were totally unintegrated. He would say something about the movie, and then start into a diatribe on the evil of presenting such people. (It was a gangster movie.) The diatribe was not integrated with what he was saying about the movie. The author thought that you could not review a movie of that sort without making it a platform for Objectivism. Of course, it was unconvincing in regard to the Objectivist slogans he used, and it was unconvincing as a review. He had two intentions: to say what he wanted about the movie, and to fulfill his “duty” to Objectivism. Well, that was the attitude at the height of the Middle Ages, when nothing was permitted except what led to the greater glory of the Church.
It is not the duty of an Objectivist writer to smuggle in something to the glory of Objectivism, along the lines of waving the flag or a cross. When you write an article in which you evaluate cultural phenomena rationally, you do more for Objectivism than you could in any other form—even if you never mention reason, man, his means of survival, or any other Objectivist bromides which ritualistic “Objectivists” too often use inappropriately.
If, for example, you are an advocate of individualism, and you suddenly observe that you write like a collectivist, that is all right. That has taught you something; you have material that you can correct. But to sit in fear, thinking: “I believe in Objectivism with all my soul, but what if the printed page shows me to be a monster?”—is to take a mystical approach, which indicates that you do not understand free will. There is nothing wrong in having “demons.” What is wrong is evading them and doing nothing about them.
Some people think that when they write, they must practice Objectivist “company manners.” Such a person guards his subconscious, because he worries that if he let himself go he might write improperly. Nothing could be better calculated to stop you from writing. In fact, the opposite premise is necessary. When you write, you must trust your subconscious, and more: you must allow your subconscious to be the sole authority in the universe. Otherwise you cannot write. This does not mean that man is only the subconscious and that the conscious mind does not count. It is the mind that uses the subconscious. But the subconscious is a programmed computer, and if it is programmed incorrectly, there is no way for you to write if you repress your machine.
In fact, if you have written some bad sentences, or expressed some wrong ideas, the conclusion should be not that your subconscious has demons, but you did not think though the subject carefully and that your subconscious is fallible. But you are there to correct the mistake. Again, there is nothing wrong in making mistakes. What is wrong is not correcting them."
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