Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Confessions Of An Orthodox Objectivist

The Signer
I have a confession to make. For two years I was an Orthodox Objectivist.

On any usual day, I used to make nice and reverent comments in the social media about some Objectivist God or demigod (I will reveal later in the article who the Gods and the demigods are). I was a member of the “Orthodox brigade” on FB—we used to “like” each other’s nice and reverent posts and leave complementary comments. Such activities made us feel that we are part of a large network of Objectivists and that we were taking concrete steps to make the movement grow.

But not every activity of the Orthodox community is saccharine coated. Along with liking each other’s posts and saying nice things about our Gods and demigods, we also needed to orchestrate vigorous campaigns to expose and denounce the heretics (where there are Gods and demigods, there will also be heretics). By the way, these campaigns were lots of fun because they allowed us to disgorge the accumulated bile in our minds, forget our personal problems, and feel relaxed.

I used to happily participate in the social media campaigns for exposing and excommunicating the anarchists, libertarians, moral agnostics, religious conservatives, and the supporters of Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, Dr. David Kelley and other intellectuals who have been morally condemned by the Gods of Objectivism. I also contributed by passing nasty comments on the journals, and the online forums where they have freewheeling discussions on Objectivist issues.

Being fully convinced that the Orthodox Objectivists are the true followers of Ayn Rand, I started a FB group to support their cause. In this group it was normal for at least five or six people to be identified as heretics every month—these heretics would be hauled before an inquisition committee composed of the Orthodox members (including me), they would be accused of various crimes of heresy, and if they did not come up with an explanation (in most cases they couldn’t) they would be severely castigated and trolled before being unfriended and excommunicated.

Eating the Forbidden Fruit and Loss of Orthodoxy

Alas! I lost my orthodoxy when I ate the forbidden “apple” from the tree of heretical knowledge—which means that I read a few books, essays, journals and websites which are not endorsed by the Objectivist Gods and demigods. The quantum of my sin was further magnified by the fact that I praised some of these sacrilegious books, journals and articles in my blog and social media timeline. But I also criticized some of them. Yet, this did not matter. For, now neither heaven nor hell could save me from the wrath of the Orthodox community.

One day the inevitable happened: The heavy boot of the Objectivist inquisition fell on my forehead. My inquisition was a rather messy affair. It went on for about 15-days and it had all my best friends in FB turning against me and questioning my character, my intellect, my knowledge and my moral values. Having observed the Orthodox community for two years, I knew very well that it was futile to try to defend myself—the inquisition, once it starts, will only end after it has utterly mowed down the victim under a gigantic roadroller of insults and accusations.

Now I am no longer Orthodox; I am just an ordinary Objectivist. I have been denounced, castigated and trolled. I have been unfriended by most members of the Orthodox clique. I have been booted out of the cult of passive minds. Yet I have not given up on Ayn Rand. I continue to be an admirer of her literature and philosophy—only now the veil of orthodoxy is gone and I can approach her ideas with an unprejudiced, open and irreverent mindset.

Please allow me to shed light on the theological structure and the ten commandments of Orthodox Objectivism.

The Theological Structure of Orthodox Objectivism

Having emerged from the cocoon of Orthodoxy, I now realize that no one has “sinned” more against the legacy of Ayn Rand than the Orthodox Objectivists, who are the dogmatic sticklers of her philosophical system. I use the word “sinned” deliberately because for the Orthodox Objectivists, Rand is equivalent to God and her writings have the status of a Holy Scripture.

A believer in Rand’s system is required to say “yes” to each and every letter, word and punctuation mark in her corpus; you have to believe that every decision that she ever made in her entire life was holy and perfect. If you harbor a single doubt over a single line that she has spoken or written, or if you think that she has made a single incorrect decision in her lifetime, then you face the risk of being denounced as a heretic and excommunicated. To be fair, the Orthodox Objectivists do believe Rand made some “errors of knowledge”, just no “errors of morality”; her biggest “error of knowledge” was trusting Nathaniel Branden for eighteen years, apparently. Hard to believe that such a wise God could have been so deceived for so long.

But the orthodoxy of the Orthodox Objectivists does not remain confined to Rand—in the Objectivist paradise there are other Gods and demigods who must be appeased. Dr. Leonard Peikoff is the number two God and the intellectuals endorsed by him are the myriad demigods. Like Rand, the number two God is infallible. As Dr. Peikoff is infallible, the demigods that he has endorsed are also infallible. Also, the only holy Objectivist institutions are the ones that are supported by him.

In his 1989 article, “Fact and Value,” Dr. Peikoff asserted that in his view Objectivism is “rigid,” “narrow,” “intolerant” and “closed-minded.” And under his godhood, Objectivism has, indeed, transmogrified into a “rigid,” “narrow,” “intolerant” and “closed-minded” cult.

The Ten Commandments of Orthodox Objectivism 

Ayn Rand saw herself as the philosopher of reason, but the Gods and demigods who followed her have transformed her into the ultimate God of revelation and this has resulted in her philosophy of Objectivism deteriorating into some kind of a revealed religion or a cult.

Here are the ten commandments of Orthodox Objectivism which I had been assiduously following in the recent past:

1. Ayn Rand is the first God, her intellectual heir (Dr. Peikoff) is the second God, and those endorsed by the intellectual heir are the myriad demigods.

2. You shall not take the name of the Gods or the demigods in vain.

3. You shall regard every word written or spoken by the Gods and demigods as a holy writ that must be blindly accepted as the holy truth.

4.You shall regard the Gods and demigods as the most intelligent, knowledgable and effective philosophers in the entire history of human civilization.

5. You shall unleash all your firepower against anyone who finds himself in agreement with the viewpoints of Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, Dr. David Kelley and other heretical intellectuals.

6. You shall keep away from the enemies of Objectivism: the libertarians, moral agnostics, anarchists, and all those whom the Gods and demigods have condemned morally.

7. You shall believe that Nathaniel Branden was the one to blame for all that went wrong in his relationship with Ayn Rand, who, being a Godly figure, can never commit any mistake of morality.

8. You shall believe that The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden is“non-cognitive”. You must never read it and you must do all you can to dissuade the newbies from reading it.

9. The enemies of the cult are everywhere. You must be on lookout for not only the heretics outside the cult but also for the enemy within. If an Orthodox Objectivist develops heretical thoughts, you must not show him mercy—boot him out of the cult.

10. You shall share the quotes and articles of the Gods and the demigods in your social media timeline, and treat with suspicion all those who fail to like or retweet your posts.

I owe an apology to those who were target of the castigation, trolling and excommunications campaigns in which I participated during the days when I was part of the Orthodox Objectivist cult. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Orthodox Objectivism is dead, long live Objectivism! 

Related:

My Farewell To Organized Objectivism

18 comments:

  1. You have committed quite a list of sins, Mr. Verma. Let me enumerate a few of them: 1. rationality, being committed to objectivity and adherence to reality, 2. honesty, especially intellectual honesty, 3. integrity, refusing to surrender the judgment of your own mind, 4. independence, being willing to live or die by your own thought and actions, 5. productivity, sharing coherent, thoughtful comments about things you have read, 6. justice, calling a spade a spade, and not appeasing those who act against your (and their professed) moral standards, and 7. moral ambitiousness, or pride, not settling for mediocrity or stagnation or passive "chewing" of other people's thinking, but striking out to discover what others want to be kept hidden or not discovered in the first place. Gee, if those are sins, we could use a whole lot more sinners like you in the world! Keep up the good work and keep fighting the good fight - and don't let the creeps get you down! :-)

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    1. Thank you. The creeps are not getting me down, but I think they have already got Objectivism down. Even though Rand's books sell in millions around the world, people hardly care about Objectivism and this is because of the obnoxious attitude of the Objectivist leaders.

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  2. Mr. Verma, I believe that Roger has accurately identified your transgressions, from the mortal sins down to the pecadillos. Now, however, is not the time for an "Ego te absolvo." Or for any required recitations, either of the Orthodox 10 Commandments or of the Maternoster. Go forth and continue to sin :)

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    1. I intend to. If looking for evidence is a sin, then all of us have to become sinners.

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  3. Anoop, You might have noticed that I have stayed distant on this process you are going through. (I know you know who I am since you sent a Facebook friend request some time ago. :) ) My distance has not been due to not having an opinion. I do and it's a strong one: There is nothing more precious than an independent mind. This is one of the reasons I am writing right now.

    I have another strong opinion, too: The major enemies of the world are not to be found within the Objectivist subculture. This is not because there are no cults (yes, more than one), bad people, etc. There are these lost souls just like there are many good people. It's because in the big picture, these subculture "enemies" are irrelevant or so fringe, they pale beside the real destroyers of the earth.

    We all need enemies (for many reasons), so wisdom for me has been learning to choose my enemies wisely. My life has meaning and so does yours. Why waste it as a flyswatter?

    But I realize there is a process to leaving an Ortho mindset. Been there. Done that. Did even worse. :) The good news is the pain goes away after a while and the previous dark communal and visionary temptations turn into wisdom in the cleansing rain and sunlight. To use a vulgar metaphor, the best, most beautiful and fragrant roses had to eat manure. Roses that don't are doomed to becoming ordinary roses.

    I wish you well. You're a good person.

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    1. Mr. Kelley, Thank you for your understanding. But I did not write this article out of any feeling of pain or hatred. I wrote it in a somewhat "humorous" style because I genuinely believe that this is a problem that Objectivism faces.

      Ayn Rand's books sell in millions but people simply don't care about the philosophical system that she started. This is because Objectivism has become a very closed minded system which is wholly controlled by a clique whose prime objective is to retain its total control over the minds of the few Objectivists.

      The kind of nonsense that is being spread about the intellectuals who have a different take on Objectivist issues is quite disgusting. If you read the books of Kelley, Branden, etc., you find that their ideas are also mostly in line with Objectivism. So what is the problem! There is lot of good information in forums like Objectivist Living, SOLO, and others but the same is not regarded as mainstream.

      There is an effort to squelch discussion in the Objectivist environment and that is what I find most disgusting.

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    2. Ha! Kelly, not Kelley. The Kelley is the better man. I'm damaged goods. :)

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    3. Sorry typo. I can't correct it as blogger does not allow editing of comments. :-) I think Objectivist Living has good information in a range of issues. I have been reading the website's past posts in last few weeks.

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    4. (Blogger limited the character count of the post, so this is in 2 parts)

      Part 1

      For the record, I'm not here plugging OL. I don't promote it for the simple reason that philosophy folks don't buy much and OL costs time and money. :) But I'm glad you enjoy the backlog. It's mostly there for interested people like you to meander through, although sometimes things heat up.

      (btw - This is not an indirect pitch for you to join. I don't do that--or let's say, if I ever do, it will not be in this form. What you do with your life is your choice. As to myself, I'm happy to have more readers than active participants. Since you run that group on Facebook, imagine doing that for years--the good, the bad and the ugly. Imagine this well imagined and I think you might have an inkling of why I feel the way I do. :) )

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    5. Part 2

      On another point, you wrote: "Ayn Rand's books sell in millions but people simply don't care about the philosophical system that she started." And you blamed this on those at the head of the movement(s). That's a premise I think needs checking.

      If you look at which Rand books sell the most, and which do not, you will see a huge gap between her fiction and nonfiction sales numbers--the fiction vastly outsells the nonfiction. This doesn't happen due to subcommunity shenanigans. Hell, many Rand fiction readers--ones who love her books--don't even know the names of the movement leaders.

      It's due to underlying resonance patterns (not just the hero's journey) that Rand brilliantly used as a platform for her ideas. I contend that without Rand's fiction, most of her nonfiction would probably be out of print by now.

      I've been doing a deep dive on these patterns. Oddly enough, the more I learn about them, the more appreciation I have for Rand. This is one reason why I think subcommunity turf wars and bickering about O-Land personalities are a waste of time. The public doesn't care. When they want that stuff, they go to church, a townhall meeting or a football game--being that all three are vastly more entertaining. :)

      The public buys patterns that have been honed from the beginning of human history somewhat like the telephone game. This is where one person tells another something, and that person tells another the same thing, and so on down the line. When you get to the end, the message has been totally distorted, but there is a core that remains the same. That core is the resonance pattern. Imagine this over centuries.

      Rand was a master of some of these patterns, packaged them in great stories, sold them well--and many readers liked (and still like) the ideas that she conveyed with them. In O-Land, I believe people are just now waking up to this. For example, a few more folks than in the past are starting to learn how to tell a decent story, but from much of the stuff I have read, there's still a long way to go.

      Wanna see a pattern that doesn't work? Sitting in an auditorium (or watching a video) and listening to a boring uptight person preach rules to people on how they should live and think peppered with quotes from Rand, all while making derogatory comments about strawmen. :) That is the pattern most have used in the subcommunity up to now. With the current cast I don't see it changing anytime soon. One thing is for sure. It is not something that will ever catch on with the public at large.

      Especially not when Rand herself served up suspense, ticking clocks, riddles and mysteries, suicides, murders, rapes and rough sex, betrayals, massive acts of destruction including some rip-righteous explosions, torture, chase scenes, gunfights, etc. :) And, of course, some great stuff like larger than life love stories, save-the-word inventions, awe-inspiring human achievements and events, a secret hideout for the good guys, etc.)

      Add all this underlying resonance stuff to great ideas and you get fiction that sells gobs decades after it was written. And with each work of fiction consumed, her ideas go with it. It's never the other way around, albeit there are some great underlying resonance patterns for nonfiction, too.

      Notice that these elements are essentially the basis of most organized religions, even though many don't call the fiction parts fiction.

      (On a side note, I contend that story form is just as important to an objective epistemology--just as important to reason--as concept form is, but that's a long discussion.)

      Sorry for the detour. I tend to go on at times when I get a thought that excites me...

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    6. I agree Mr. Kelly that Rand's fiction sells much more than her books containing her essays on philosophical and cultural commentary. But it is in her literature that she has best expressed her philosophy.

      Also, literature needs many readers in order to get established. But philosophy does not need many readers -- it needs to address only a few top intellectuals in the society: the academics, the media intellectuals, the think tanks, etc.

      I think Mr. Peikoff's stringent attitude has ensured that the minority intellectuals (in academia, media and think tanks) keep away from Objectivism. Much of this minority is not ready to touch it.

      For instance, recently Brian Leiter of U of Chicago, and Robert Paul Wolff made very derogatory comment on Rand's "A is A" principle. they basically laughed at it and said this is a rather unoriginal idea.

      Objectivism has become a dogma that is isolated from the academic and cultural intellectual mainstream.

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    7. Re cultural impact, I'm sitting here wondering who funds "the academics, the media intellectuals, the think tanks, etc." and why these folks don't need much of an audience. Not needing an audience to me is a drawback, even for philosophy. Why should philosophy not need one? I'm talking about cultural impact. If it's just to be the equivalent of a crossword puzzle--something to do in your spare time and discard when you get bored--I'm fine with exempting it from audience. But culture means people.

      Anyway, when I look at the money trails, it all becomes clear: it's the G word (government). So I don't see that particular environment as worth very much. Oh, there is some value, but nobody is going to change the world among those folks. Especially when almost all money roads lead back to government subsidies in one form or another (including the vastly inflated student loan fraud).

      Besides, does anyone really think Rand would have wanted her ideas to be spread through government funding?

      I'm not trying to be snarky. Just looking at reality.

      People who print and buy Rand's books on the open market use their own money. I claim that's where real culture happens and real cultural change unfolds.

      Maybe this was not as valid in former times, but with the wonders of the capitalist market and modern communication technologies, we are moving into a world where gatekeepers--intellectual and otherwise--are losing their power. (Thank goodness!)

      Apropos, don't you find it odd that the main think tanks promoting Objectivism--the quintessential philosophy on the morality of capitalism (among other issues)--are nonprofits? That never seems to bother anybody in O-Land. :)

      For as much as anyone may bash the Brandens, NBI never suffered from that sin. It was a capitalist venture funded by selling services and products to paying customers.

      This, to me, is a talk-the-talk versus walk-the-walk thing. Not gotcha-level, but as a general rule of thumb. Sort of like don't take diet advice from fat people. Don't take money advice from broke people. Don't take advice about free-market capitalism from those who live on charity, grants and government funds.

      And, most of all, don't take reason advice from unreasoning bullies. :)

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    8. ---
      I agree with this. All these issues need lot of thought.

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  4. If I may: I think that the biggest problem with the orthodoxy phenomenon you describe is that the orthodox try to protect themselves from contamination by non-Objectivist ideas from the larger culture, and thus avoid all sorts of areas of knowledge deliberately, preferring the orthodox stereotypes and cliches about those things. This makes Objectivist critique of the larger culture into a kind of straw man, which reduces the credibility of the critique, but it also reduces access to sources of information which support and complement Objectivist ideas. After I put the whole movement behind me many decades ago (while continuing to maintain friendships with specific individuals) I was constantly surprised by how often I would find myself saying "oh, you would probably *love* such-and-such" and the Objectivist I was addressing had never heard of it. This has always saddened me; there is a larger world out there, and people inside the bubble have a great hunger for more things to read and look at and listen to, but the assumption that anything not produced by a handful of loyal Objectivists is poison leads to them starving in a sea of plenty.

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  5. I think you're a bit hard on yourself, and others. Read your "confession" in a few months, or a year and see if it's not as binary as it seems now. I continue to participate in both Objectivist camps and can synthesize the two while accepting faults in both. Maybe time will heal the divisions. In the meantime, I'm not going to let it keep me from considering good ideas.

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  6. Mr. Verma, the main reason I follow your blog (and Verma Post, for the slight comparison) is because you've collected a well-curated blog list - so it's one-stop updating. That's the movement I'm "following." I also appreciate your book reviews. It is, and will continue to be, "earlier than you think."

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  7. I resigned from a local Objectivist club this morning, largely because I do not accept all of the Objectivist orthodoxy.

    I thought this was a big deal, but in some connected discussion with a wise friend, I recognized that it's a blessing in disguise.

    I'm not angry and I genuinely wish them well. I am happier, though, being true to my hard-won conclusions.

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