My history with Objectivism

Who would have thought that kid dropping out of school and considering applying to seminary, deep in a collectivist cease pool of a frat house, would discover the most incredible book written, Atlas Shrugged? And who would have thought that such a kid would, upon reading that book, reject all of the faith-based, collectivist hogwash that was dished his way? Well, that is my story. It wasn't any easy process. Having been a fairly serious Christian up to that point, I couldn't immediately shuck off. I had to be confident that this new philosophy was real. I even immersed myself one last time in a church camp the summer after reading Atlas Shrugged just to see if these new ideas really had the grounding I thought they did. If I remained convinced of Objectivism even after spending 10 weeks among Christians, then I knew this philosophy could not be denied. Of course, those of you at home are probably sitting back thinking "Freaking idiot! Of course Objectivism can not be denied. Take a look at reality." And that's exactly what I did. After some reflection, I realized that my desire to attend seminary was to understand God precisely because I didn't understand the concept up to that point. Rand's arguments for rejecting faith sealed the deal. Without faith, there is no God. Period. End of discussion.

So after dropping out of school and taking a semester off, I re-enrolled in college and started my private eduation of Objectivism by purchasing every major Rand book I could find. The Fountainhead, We the Living, Anthem, and the 5 pack of non-fiction: Virtue of Selfishness, Philosophy: Who Needs It, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, The Romantic Manifesto, and For the New Intellectual. I also subscribed to the Intellectual Activist and starting getting online and reading all I could about Objectivism.

At was at this point, around 1997, that I learned about the Rand - Branden split and the Kelley - Peikoff split. At first my heart sank. How could such a joyous philosophy, so right in hundreds of ways, cause these explosive splits? It didn't make any sense. Certainly these heroes of mine had no conflicts of interest. Being committed to reality, I knew I had to wade into the arguments and make a judgment for myself. And this I did. I have little to say about the Rand-Branden split. Branden committed the biggest sin in Rand's eyes, he lied to and cheated on her. Rand wanted nothing more to do with him. Not much more to tell.

But the Kelley - Peikoff split involved a difference of philosophical issues. So, like a good trooper, I read through all the requisite articles "On moral sanctions", "A Question of Sanction", and "Fact and Value". I can't remember now if I read anything else, but it's likely I did if a search engine could find it. There are two things I noticed in reading these articles, a) Peikoff left a logical hole between judging ideas to judging individuals and b) the argument about whether Objectivism was open or closed seemed rather irrelevant. Let me explain these further.

I understood and agreed with Peikoff on everything he said about judging ideas, not just true and false, but good and bad (or evil). But, and this a big but, I could not find a logical connection between judging an idea as bad or evil, and its implications on judging a person bad or evil.

He says: "Just as every "is" implies an "ought," so every identification of an idea's truth or falsehood implies a moral evaluation of the idea and of its advocates."

Why does it apply to its advocates? Now, I'm not saying that it shouldn't, only that Peikoff's example of inherently dishonest ideas addressed a small portion of ideas. What about all other ideas that are false/bad? How do we judge the advocates of those ideas? This is the problem I had with his argument. There is a subtle shift of focus from judging an idea as evil to judging the person that holds inherently dishonest ideas as evil. I realize now that he is specifically reflecting on Kelley's example of academic Marxists, although at the time, I didn't see that. But even so, there was a hole as to how to judge individuals with mixed premises. How should I morally judge friends that were Christians, but are generally good, honest people? Their faith in God was harmful to their own life, but not directly harmful to mine. They treated me with respect and justice, and we had many enjoyable times playing games together, camping, going to bars for drinks, and talking about cars, football and women.

Surprisingly in hindsight, I didn't find any logical errors in Kelley's arguments, although I do today. The best I can come up with is that I committed sloppy thinking. I was good at following logical arguments, but bad at questioning the premises of the arguments. I didn't take the time to sufficiently challenge and fully understand what was really being said. I didn't ask myself what were the full ramifications of this idea if consistently held. I was young and hadn't been trained on how to think (damn public education). I also think I read more into his discussion of toleration than what was there.

On the open versus closed debate, I don't want to go into it here.

Besides the philosophic arguments between Peikoff and Kelley, I heard a lot of personal stories about how people who agreed with Kelley were virtually shunned by those who agreed with Peikoff, even if they had been good friends prior. That behavior seemed rather ridiculous. Now I'll admit I never verified any of those stories, but it was enough for me to be hesitant of any further interaction with ARI.

Over the next 10 years, I hovered around the periphery of the Objectivist movement, interested in the philosophy, but also interested in doing and learning many other things. My involvement consisted of attending local clubs, attending a couple TOC summer seminars, reading (although rarely participating in) Objectivist discussion lists, becoming webmaster of the Daily Objectivist, and teaching at Camp Indecon, inspired by Objectivist Lorie Bugby. It was at the last that I meet Diana Hsieh, whom I had read about, but had never known personally. During that week of camp, I developed a friendship and a great deal of respect for her, as she was intelligent, honest, and just. So a year later, when I started reading on Noodlefood about her dissatisfaction with TOC, I took greater interest than I would have otherwise. If the problems with TOC were as serious as she portrayed them to be, then it was something I should look into myself.

This unfortunately happened around the same time I started my PhD. I was swamped with school work and, after a year, swamped in my home life with a new baby. But my PhD program also taught me the skills I need to re-evaluate the split in ways I was unable to 10 years prior. For the past 2 years, I've wanted to dig in to this old debate and see if I could make sense out of the arguments. Only now have I had a chance. That discussion while be completed shortly as part 2 in this series.

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