Wednesday, March 01, 2006

This Is Objectivism?

From "Introducing The Objective Standard," the first article to appear in the new journal of that name:
[W]e reject the notion that man’s nature is inherently corrupt (i.e., the idea of “original sin,” or the Hobbesian view of man as a brute), making his character necessarily depraved or barbaric. We also reject the idea that man has no nature at all (i.e., the twisted, modern interpretation of man as a “blank slate”), making his character the consequence of social forces, such as upbringing or economic conditions. A person’s character is neither inherently bad nor the product of social forces; rather, it is a consequence of his choices. If an individual chooses to face facts, to think rationally, to be productive, and so on—and thereby develops a good character—that is his achievement. If an individual chooses not to face facts, not to think, not to produce, and so on—and thus develops a bad character—that is his fault.
See the strawmen rampant? Man is born either totally bad or totally blank. That false dichotomy clears the way for complete self-determination. In fact, we must strive to overcome our nature and nurture, to the extent that we find them a hindrance to self-fulfillment (see the preceding post). But nature, nurture, and choice* can -- and do -- lead many humans to a life of brutality.

Predation (the sacrificing of others for one’s own alleged benefit) is no more in one’s best interest than is altruism. Happiness, like everything in the world, is something specific; it has a nature. Happiness is the state of mind that follows from the successful pursuit of rational, life-serving values. Genuine happiness comes from achieving values, not from stealing them; from thinking rationally and being productive, not from relinquishing one’s mind and becoming a parasite on the thought and effort of others; from earning romance and making passionate love, not from raping people.
Try telling a Hitler, a Stalin, or a bin Laden that he is an unhappy predator. They are "happy" by their own, perverted standards. How can an Objectivist (of all people) presume to get into the mind of another person and declare him "unhappy"? The notion that happiness "has a nature" is typical of the Platonic idealism that seems to run throughout Objectivism. The world must operate as Objectivists say it does because . . . it must, that's why.

As for Objectivists' stubborn insistence that there is such a thing as altruism, read this. Objectivism, in large part, seems to be a rejection of
the morality of altruism—the idea that being moral consists in self-sacrificially serving others (whether the poor, the “common good,” “mother nature,” or “God”).
[a]ltruism is not good for one’s life. If accepted and practiced consistently, it leads to death. This is what Jesus did. If accepted and practiced inconsistently, it retards one’s life and leads to guilt. This is what most altruists do. An altruist might not die from his morality—so long as he cheats on it—but nor will he live fully. Insofar as a person acts against the requirements of his life and happiness, he will not make the most of his life; he will not achieve the kind of happiness possible to man.
Which is just more mind-reading. What we call altruism is, in fact, a form of self-fulfillment. It simply happens to be of a different form than the Objectivists' ideal. Which tells us a lot about Objectivists, who must have altruism as a foil for their adherence to egoism:

Egoism is good for one’s life. If accepted and practiced consistently, it leads to a life of happiness. If accepted and practiced inconsistently—well, there is no reason to be inconsistent here. Why not live a life of happiness? Why sacrifice at all? What reason is there to do so? In the entire history of philosophy, the number of answers to this question is exactly zero.

There is no reason to act in a self-sacrificial manner, which is why no one has ever provided one.
Oh, please! Just say "no" when the Red Cross calls and be done with it. You don't have to rationalize your decision for my benefit.

Finally (for me), there's this:
[W]e emphatically oppose the politics of libertarianism—the anti-intellectual movement that claims to advocate “liberty,” while flagrantly ignoring or denying the moral and philosophical foundations on which liberty depends. Liberty cannot even be defined, let alone defended, apart from answers to questions such as: What is the nature of reality? What is man’s means of knowledge? What is the nature of the good? What are rights, and where do they come from?
As for "reality," "man's means of knowledge," and "the nature of the good," Objectivism seems to rest on a priori assertions, circular reasoning, and nothing more. As for "rights," read this if you seek something deeper than Objectivism has to offer. There is an excellent antidote to Objectivism's cloud-cuckoo view of reality: reading Hayek. You might start here.
* The link is to Judith Rich Harris's website. Harris, the author of No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality, argues that we are formed by genetic inheritance and peer relations (as opposed to parental influence). I take peer relations to be a form of nuture, that is, an environmental influence.