Objectivism diffused

For one of my classes, we're reading Roger's classic "Diffusion of Innovations". In it, he describes the history of innovation diffusion research and the key findings from that research. What struck me as interesting was the brief discussion on how innovations can mean more than just new technologies, but can include ideas and philosophies (he uses Marxism as one example). That got me to thinking about how Objectivism could be diffused throughout society. While I haven't study diffusion of innovation research enough to argue for or against the validity of the theory itself, there are certain parts of it that may be useful in discussing diffusion of Objectivism throughout society.

In the first part of this series, I want to discuss the attributes of innovations and their relation to rate of adoption. These attributes are relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, triability, and observability.

Relative advantage - This is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being better than the idea that preceeds it. In the case of philosophy, it would be the perceived advantage Objectivism has over the ideas an individual already holds. It may seem obvious to those of us who understand Objectivism what the relative advantages are to adopting a comprehensive, integrated, reality based philosophy. But is it obvious to others? If not, is there a way to better present the philosophy that demonstrates its relative advantage.

Compatibility - This can be viewed from several points of view, but basically says that individuals will be more likely to adopt an innovation if it is compatible with societies expectations and values. Now obviously, Objectivism rejects this implication explicitly. However, many Objectivists still celebrate Christmas, not in a religious or even pagan way, but for the sheer joy of gift giving, party going, and celebration with fellow people. Why? Probably because adopting a traditional societal holiday allows us to remain connected with others that also celebrate Christmas. If Objectivism is presented in a way that alienates individuals from society, its diffusion will be extremely slow if not altogether impossible. I'm by no means suggesting Objectivism should be watered down for the masses. But by the same token, the masses will only accept Objectivism if it does not alienate them from their traditions.

Complexity - Not much to say about this one. Objectivism is complex, but is easier to understand than most philosophies. There are certain common sense things about it that people can understand, but as a fully integrated philosophy, it would require significant study to fully understand. This will slow its adoption, but is unavoidable.

Triability - This is the degree to which an innovation can be tested. Again, not much to say. You can't try Objectivism out for a day. Either you accept it and believe it or you don't. There may be instances where you challenge an individual to "try" being honest for one entire day and see the results of their own actions. You can also suggest that individuals participate in thought experiments. But at best, you show that individual one small aspect of the philosophy. Not the whole thing. But these small steps may be all that is necessary to convince a person to study the rest of Objectivism and apply it to their lives.

Observability - Perhaps the greatest observable aspect of Objectivism is Ayn Rands novels. Nothing concertizes Rand's philosophy better. Readers of her novels usually know quite quickly whether or not they want to adopt her philosophy.

Observability is where Objectivist groups have been focusing their efforts. Both ARI and TOC/TAS have been trying to make Objectivism more visible with differing degrees of success (I'll leave it those in favor of one organization or another to offer they're conclusions).

But more than just op ed pieces, observability should really be focused as much on individual Objectivists living principled, ethical lives in such a way that others cannot help but see the effects of Objectivism. Those interested in Objectivism will eventually find message boards such as solopassion.com and rebirthofreason.com. What will they observe about Objectivism when they go there? Will they see Galt's gulch with many productive, rational men, or will they see a malevolent universe of bickering and irrationality? Every statement we say and do online is observable. Are what we saying and doing projecting the type of universe we want to live in? Are we directing our energies to promoting the good or attacking the bad? There is a proper time and place for both, but every Objectivist needs to ask themselves where their energies can be best served. If anyone has any desire for Objectivism to spread through society, how can their actions on these message boards promote or hinder that spread?

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