Ayn Rand and me: Distinguishing self-adoration from big-O Objectivism – over brunch.

Pulling this forward to amend it with this video, a clip from a Church of Splendor service imagining a Sunday brunch with Ayn Rand that she might not storm out of: Praising the empathy of her fiction while taking her to account for failing to have appropriate empathy for her followers.

This is more about Nine empathies, of course, a deep empathy for Rand herself and for her followers:

Ayn RandThis is a short colloquy with a reader. I love these kinds of questions, and I would love to hear more of them.

> I read Man Alive a number of months ago, and I liked it. Particularly the simple strategy you give for living a better life by thinking of yourself as on a number line and always making your decisions toward the positive end of self-adoration.

It’s funny, but that’s been a huge win for me, too. I’ve stopped writing satire because of it, and I realized today that there is a style of joke that is as self-destructive as satire, so that goes, too.

> I also got a lot out of your 21 Convention speech, such that it has put you on a kind of pedestal in my head as somebody who is definitely a lot smarter than me, and so I should be careful not to sound too stupid. I’ll try.

My belief is that we are all essentially equal. A body-builder looks very strong, compared to me, until we compare the two of us to an elephant. If I did the hard work he does, we’d be even more alike. I look smart to you because I’ve spent my time on these issues, while you and other people were concentrating on other things. Specialization makes all of us smarter, and the only way I could actually flummox you is by concealing what I’ve learned. If I share what I know, not only can anyone else learn it, in due course I will be eclipsed entirely. I think that’s wonderful.

> I’m also a huge fan of Ayn Rand, and I owe more of who I am today to her writings than to anything else up to this point in my life (I’m 26).

Me, too. I read The Fountainhead when I was 19 and it changed my life. I was headed for a life like Gail Wynand’s, prosperous but miserable.

> Anyway, thank you for the work you’ve done and continue to do.

Tell it to the world!

> I have two questions. First, how is what you say different than Rand or Objectivists, except regarding limited government vs. anarchy?

My moral philosophy is very different from Rand’s, both in its origin and in its ends. Worrying about the ontology of the self, as discussed in Man Alive, put a lot of space between my egoism and hers. In her spirit, and in her fiction, I know she understood everything I’m talking about — as does anyone who can read Man Alive to the end. But in her philosophical defense of her egoism, she lost sight of the self, which is why she herself and everyone who is deeply versed in big-O Objectivism is so miserable. This is discussed without naming names in Chapter 6:

The second type of ethical creeds called egoism is actually other-centric. Whether the philosopher claims that his egoism permits him to dominate other people, or that his egoism forbids other people from dominating him, the focus of the doctrine is not the self at all – not the self as I describe it nor even the reflexive or utilitarian self – but is instead those other people.

> I’m intrigued by anarchy but I’m still in the Objectivist camp of extremely limited government because I haven’t read or seen much to dissuade me.

Here’s my way of thinking about this: If you and I lived in isolation, we would never have any need to fear each other. So if everyone is like us — not in detail, but simply in the avid pursuit of self-adoration — there is no need for a state. Other than evangelizing egoism, I have no immediate plans for political philosophy. By the time it matters, the issue will have taken care of itself, one mind at a time.

> What would you recommend I look at or read to learn more?

There’s this much on anarchism from me.

I don’t love most other anarchist stuff because everything I’m interested in starts with moral philosophy, where most anarchists try to paper over the idea of egoism — a de facto concession to Marxism, call it the Republican Fallacy.

I’m delighted to hear from you. I encourage you to talk about Man Alive with everyone you love. The ends for each person matter a lot less than the means, learning how to choose admirably at every inflection point. If you and everyone you prize most highly make a habit of that kind of thinking, everything will get better for each of you, and your relationships with each other will become steadily more perfect.

I would scoff at those kinds of promises from anyone else, but my own life is my own best proof that self-adoration really works.

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  • Brian Brady

    “I look smart to you because I’ve spent my
    time on these issues, while you and other people were concentrating on
    other things. Specialization makes all of us smarter, and the only way I
    could actually flummox you is by concealing what I’ve learned. If I
    share what I know, not only can anyone else learn it, in due course I
    will be eclipsed entirely. I think that’s wonderful.”

    This may be the best thing you’ve written in the 7 years I’ve known you. FWIW, readers should know that Greg readily shares with anyone who is interested, challenges you, and delights in your discoveries.

    • Bless you, sir. Thank you.

      I find that kind of only-I-am-smart-enough-to-get-this attitude doubly stunning. First, it’s false. Any normal human being can master the most arcane of disciplines — which category most certainly does not include moral or political philosophy — if he is willing to put in the effort. And if it were true, the implication is that we are all doomed, since all-but-one of us is too stupid to live. I’m interested in ideas no one else has cared much about, until now. My aim is to change that, but the only way to effect that change is to evangelize egoism. The good news is, my map more-accurately reflects the territory, so it will prevail in due course, for precisely the same reason Indian numerals supplanted Roman numbers.

  • The Cul-De-Sac Hero

    “I’ve stopped writing satire because of it, and I realized today that there is a style of joke that is as self-destructive as satire, so that goes, too.”

    I too found the number line to be the most compelling aspect of Man Alive. Since I’ve adopted it, I have found that satire and sarcasm don’t feel the same. I have written many a sarcastic quip into twitter or someone’s comments section only to stop short before hitting the Post button and think, “What does this post say about me?” It’s hard, because I am naturally such as sarcastic person and it is something I’ve consciously tried to reduce, even before I discovered Greg Swann’s theory.

    Now, I still believe that sarcasm and satire are useful tools. For instance, what are you supposed to say when a school official is reported to say, “Perception is reality.” In my mind, the joke writes itself.

    Student draws bomb – school levels suspension because "Perception is Reality" School officially enters twilight zone. http://t.co/jnAFAMrAYc— The Cul-De-Sac Hero (@TheCulDeSacHero) October 16, 2013

    I hope the link to my twit works. In case it doesn’t: https://twitter.com/TheCulDeSacHero/status/390603985574309888

    The question this brings me to: is it worth it to sacrifice the self-worth to put something so asinine down? If the results are satisfying, does it balance out? I have to wonder if such ridicule spewed towards someone causes a defensive reaction, so, the energy would be best used in another way.

    • My apologies. I didn’t see this comment when it came in.

      As I noted, this is a work in progress for me, figuring out where to draw lines. As with you, I find myself abandoning comments unposted, because all I would be doing is akin to snapping a towel — which is undoubtedly a deliberate infliction of injury.

      Here are some helpful questions:

      Will I love myself more after doing this? Is this an event I will want to call to mind later as a fond memory? Will doing this change any minds? Would I want to see my children acting this way? Would I want for them to adopt my example? What will have come to be more beautiful as the result of my being ugly in this way?

      I don’t want to take anything away from anyone, but I don’t think I’m missing anything by ridding my life, as much as I can, of casual cruelty.