Thursday, April 02, 2009

Are You A Rand Cultist? Take Our Simple Test.

It's often hard to distinguish people who like Ayn Rand's books and find her work as a general inspiration from those who, at the other extreme, fit in with what Jeff Walker called the Ayn Rand Cult. So the ARCHNblog has created a simple litmus test to help tell the fans from the Randroids. The first three statements are from Nathaniel Branden's description of the original '60s cult, the rest are derived from Rand herself or various of her orthodox followers, such as Leonard Peikoff or Harry Binswanger, or from the ARCHNblog's own observations. Give yourself a point for every statement you agree with.

1) Ayn Rand is the greatest human being who has ever lived.

2) "Atlas Shrugged" is the greatest human achievement in the history of the world.

3) Ayn Rand, by virtue of her philosophical genius, is the supreme arbiter in any issue pertaining to what is rational, moral, or appropriate to man’s life on earth.

4) Acceptance of Objectivist epistemology is essential to mankind's future survival on earth.

5) Immanuel Kant is the most evil person who has ever lived.

6) Immanuel Kant deliberately set out to cause the Nazi Holocaust.

7) Nathaniel and Barbara Branden are only slightly less immoral than Immanuel Kant.

8) James Valliant's book "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics" is a profound, brilliantly argued expose of the above.

9) Modern physics, such as Einstein's theories, are philosophically corrupt and must be urgently replaced by a new physics based on Ayn Rand's epistemology.

10) Words have "true" meanings that are only available to superior Objectivist philosophers, whose job it is to inform those in lesser disciplines, such as scientists, of these true meanings. Where these special true Objectivist meanings clash with conventional dictionary meanings, those conventions are false and corrupt.

11) Ayn Rand invented a new, Objectivist super-logic which incorporates the standard bi-valent logic formalised by Aristotle, yet dramatically improves on it, solving among other issues Hume's problem of induction.

12) Ayn Rand is the only true Objectivist that ever lived, and will ever live. Everyone else is merely a student of Objectivism.


0 points = Congratulations, you are an Ayn Rand fan who while rightly inspired by her vision of productivity, reason, and human achievement is nonetheless sensible enough to have avoided her various cultic incitements.

1-6 points = Amber light: definite Randroid tendencies. However, this may be avoided by taking a suitably hard-nosed approach to her work, especially in epistemology and human nature where her defective theories are most evident to the critical eye.

7-12 points = Ultra-Randroid, and proud of it. You are welcome to debate with us here at the ARCHNblog (despite the fact you would be giving your sanction to our evil by doing so) but to be honest you'd be better off talking to a deprogrammer.

30 comments:

Neil Parille said...

Dan,

A couple others:

1. You refer to Rand as "Ayn Rand," "Miss Rand" or "AR," never "Rand." Likewise, Peikoff is "Leonard Peikoff" or "LP."

2. You think Rand’s claim that the streaker at the 1974 Academy Awards was a Kantian nihilist was the ne plus ultra of cultural criticism.

Damien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damien said...

Daniel Barnes,

I'm certainly not a major Rand Fan although there are few things one could admire about her. Although I would count myself as one of her critics, there are some objectivist who are good reasonable people and many of them have done a lot of good. I have read some things they say and sometimes I agree with them. But just for the heck of it, here are my responses to each statement.

1) Ayn Rand is the greatest human being who has ever lived.

No, but there were and still are people far worse than her.

2) "Atlas Shrugged" is the greatest human achievement in the history of the world.

I haven't read it, but it was just a novel, and even if it was the greatest novel ever written, it would still be a stretch to claim that it was the greatest human achievement of all time.

3) Ayn Rand, by virtue of her philosophical genius, is the supreme arbiter in any issue pertaining to what is rational, moral, or appropriate to man’s life on earth.

There are some flaws with Rand's objectivist philosophy. Its ethics are some what contradictory for one thing. But even so, Rand herself did not always live according to her own philosophy. She made mistakes just like everyone else and at times she was a hypocrite.

4) Acceptance of Objectivist epistemology is essential to mankind's future survival on earth.

Mankind survived for a millennium before Rand and they survived for a millennium before that. Why should accepting objectivist epistemology be necessary for man's survival? He survived in the past without it. So why does his long term survival depend on embracing Objectivist epistemology?

5) Immanuel Kant is the most evil person who has ever lived.

Based on what criteria? The fact that he said a few very vague things that one could use to support evil actions? What about those who use Kant's philosophy to justify things that Rand supports? What crimes or evil actions did Kant commit?

6) Immanuel Kant deliberately set out to cause the Nazi Holocaust

Based on what evidence?

7) Nathaniel and Barbara Branden are only slightly less immoral than Immanuel Kant.

Why, because they abandoned objectivism and become critical of the movement? No seriously, what did they do to justify the view that they were among the most evil people to ever live on the planet? Open disagreement is inevitable in free society.

8) James Valliant's book "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics" is a profound, brilliantly argued expose of the above.

I can't say much about it, since I've never read it. But I'm guessing it was a glowing portrayal of Rand and her philosophy.

9) Modern physics, such as Einstein's theories, are philosophically corrupt and must be urgently replaced by a new physics based on Ayn Rand's epistemology.

That attitude is putting ideology above science. Thus it would prevent scientists from doing their job, which is genuine science. Forcing physics or any other science to conform to objectivist epistemology would be like making biology conform to the Bible. Many creations do that, ignoring anything that contradicts their literal interpretation of scripture. If your an objectivist and you actually think that "Modern physics, such as Einstein's theories, are philosophically corrupt and must be urgently replaced by a new physics based on Ayn Rand's epistemology," based on what do you make such an assertion?
If you are an objectivist and a scientist, what would you do if data contradicted your epistemology in some significant way? If you would put your philosophy above your science and refuse to accept any data that contradicts it, how are you any better than a creationist?

10) Words have "true" meanings that are only available to superior Objectivist philosophers, whose job it is to inform those in lesser disciplines, such as scientists, of these true meanings. Where these special true Objectivist meanings clash with conventional dictionary meanings, those conventions are false and corrupt.

If 99% of the population uses words differently than you do and mean different things than you say they do, when they say them, than how do you know what they really believe? How are you going to go about effectively convincing them to embrace your belief system? Would you not have trouble communicating with them at the very least? Plus what makes your new definition correct and the old definition that people have been using for say centuries, wrong?

11) Ayn Rand invented a new, Objectivist super-logic which incorporates the standard bi-valent logic formalised by Aristotle, yet dramatically improves on it, solving among other issues Hume's problem of induction.

Really how?

12) Ayn Rand is the only true Objectivist that ever lived, and will ever live. Everyone else is merely a student of Objectivism.

Okay than how is objectivism supposed to help man? How is embracing objectivist epistemology supposed to help us?

Harq al-Ada said...

My score is one, possibly two.

7) Nathaniel and Barbara Branden are only slightly less immoral than Immanuel Kant.

This one may be true. I don't know enough about these three to derive their moral character relative to one another.

"12) Ayn Rand is the only true Objectivist that ever lived, and will ever live. Everyone else is merely a student of Objectivism."

Since according to Rand even slightly disagreeing with her on any issue makes one stupid and evil and probably ugly, I don't see how anyone else could be a true Objectivist.

Michael Sutcliffe said...

It's not a very good survey. Even the most ardent Objectivist would have trouble agreeing on many points - how will we know if we're adequately committed to Ayn Rand....I mean Miss Rand's philosophy?

You should try some questions like:

'Objectivism is the only philosophy so far in human history to provide a rational and complete philosophy across metaphysics, epistemology and ethics'.

See, I could score a point on that one. That's how you'd separate out the true Objectivists from the deluded irrational souls like yourselves!

Anonymous said...

Did Ayn Rand contribute anything novel at all to philosophy or political theory? Aside from a movement called, "Objectivism."

I mean why can't I start a "Truthism" movement and copy older philosophies to compose "Truthism" and go BAM! It's truth~!

Daniel Barnes said...

Michael S:
>Even the most ardent Objectivist would have trouble agreeing on many points...

Why do you say that? They're almost all drawn from senior Objectivists. F'rinstance, Leonard Peikoff would probably score 12 for 12 - many of the silliest ones are things he's said himself. (well, perhaps he might only do 11, as I think he now has some doubts about 8)...;-))

What ones don't you agree with?

Michael Sutcliffe said...

Why do you say that? They're almost all drawn from senior Objectivists. F'rinstance, Leonard Peikoff would probably score 12 for 12 - many of the silliest ones are things he's said himself.

I said 'objectivist' not 'obsessionist'! I totally agree that many of high priests and priestesses say some silly things from time to time. It's kind of an obsession with absolutes ( - not that absolutes don't exist).

What ones don't you agree with?

I think I'll save my energies for the real debates, so with due respect, I'll pass on this one!.

Xtra Laj said...

Mr. Sutcliffe:
I think I'll save my energies for the real debates, so with due respect, I'll pass on this one!.


With all due respect, I think this is a cop out. I think the real reason you don't want to respond is that your dissension from what Dan wrote will be shown to be a trivial matter of degree and maybe sophistication. And I won't be surprised if you literally agree literally with some of the things Dan posted. It's just another example of how divorced Objectivists are from reality (but many human beings are, so that is not such a bad thing, IMO, unless they live in a culture where they can't empathize with the prevalent myths).

I have a couple of brothers who are Objectivists and they display similar attitudes to what Dan posted. Some of the issues might be related to phrasing (they might replace Ayn Rand with "reason" in some of the statements), but the generally nihilistic attitude of Objectivists towards real empirical inquiry (as opposed to ideologically biased inquiry) into such subjects like history and science is part of the reason they display such attitudes. After all, if you're convinced that Kant and Hume are evil, what is the point in actually understanding their positive effects on scientific inquiry?

I mean, who is the greater philosopher, Hume or Rand? Now, Hume wrote his best work in his early 20s and many are astonished by the level of genius and insight into human psychology that lay in his Treatise. What was even more amazing to many was that Hume's initial goal was to defend/validate induction and hence scientific inquiry, but he had the courage to be honest that his arguments did not get him to his original goal.

If only more philosophers were capable of such honesty.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

If only more philosophers were capable of such honesty. - laj
___________________________________




What about Greg regarding his reluctance to see the 'religious conservatives' for what they really are

even with a little nudge/help from me?

Michael Prescott said...

I was just reading Tolstoy's novella Hadji Murad, which contains an incisive and derogatory portrait of Czar Nicholas. It occurred to me that simply by changing the gender of the pronouns and making a few other minor alterations, one could have a very good sketch of Ayn Rand "qua" cult leader. (Nice use of the lingo there, eh?)

=======

Continual brazen flattery from everybody round her in the teeth of obvious facts had brought her to such a state that she no longer saw her own inconsistencies or measured her actions and words by reality, logic, or even simple common sense; but was quite convinced that all her pronouncements, however senseless, unjust, and mutually contradictory they might be, became reasonable, just, and mutually accordant simply because she gave them....

Any approval of her philosophical insights was particularly pleasant to Ayn because, though she prided herself upon them, at the bottom of her heart she knew that they did not really exist....

It was impossible to express dissent. Not to agree with Ayn's decisions would have meant the loss of that brilliant position which it had cost Peikoff forty years to attain and which he now enjoyed; and he therefore submissively bowed his dark head (already touched with grey) to indicate his submission and his readiness to fulfil the cruel, insensate, and dishonest supreme will....

Weary as she was of the praises heaped upon her, Ayn duly accepted them. All this was as it should be, because the welfare and happiness of the whole world depended on her, and wearied though she was, she would still not refuse the universe her assistance....

Yet though convinced that she had acted rightly, some kind of unpleasant after-taste remained, and to stifle that feeling she dwelt on a thought that always tranquilized her -- the thought of her own greatness.

========

I think Count Tolstoy would have understood Ayn Rand very well. Maybe it's a Russian thing.

(The modified quotes are from Ch. 15. Complete text of the novella is here.)

Xtra Laj said...

Red Grant: What about Greg regarding his reluctance to see the 'religious conservatives' for what they really are even with a little nudge/help from me?"

Red,

I disagree with Greg too on many aspects of that issue too, but I can understand his position. I don't know him well enough to psychologize about why he thinks the way he does, but I don't see any point in debating the issue seriously, since it's unlikely that I have any arguments that will change his mind or that he has any that will change mine.

I grew up the son of an agnostic/atheistic father and an Anglican/Methodist Christian mother, and my brothers are militant Objectivists, while my sister is a Pentecostal Christian. As a student of human nature, my explanation of religion has become reductionist and is heavily influenced by Pascal Boyer's "Religion Explained". My commitment to scientific empiricism has left me agnostic on the main question, but to a degree that borders closer to atheism because there is so much empiricism in this world that one would not care about under the influence of traditional religion. I think that is what Greg fails to often appreciate when he a priori dismisses this or that view heavy handedly, though I sometimes think that is a function of his rhetorical writing style as opposed to his nuanced thoughts on the issue.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Red Grant: What about Greg regarding his reluctance to see the 'religious conservatives' for what they really are even with a little nudge/help from me?"

Red,

I disagree with Greg too on many aspects of that issue too, but I can understand his position. I don't know him well enough to psychologize about why he thinks the way he does, but I don't see any point in debating the issue seriously, since it's unlikely that I have any arguments that will change his mind or that he has any that will change mine. - Laj
___________________________________




Greg certainly can change my views on religion so long as he presents a consistent argument

and

logically convinces me his argument is superior to what I hold at the moment

based on historical evidence that I accept.



___________________________________

I grew up the son of an agnostic/atheistic father and an Anglican/Methodist Christian mother, and my brothers are militant Objectivists, while my sister is a Pentecostal Christian. - Laj
___________________________________





I grew up the son of parents who thought they were good Catholics who were most definitely not.


They wanted me to go to a seminary and become a priest, and I almost did.

My brother is a fraud who plays a Christian on Sunday and other days when it's going to make him look holier than thou.




___________________________________

As a student of human nature, my explanation of religion has become reductionist and is heavily influenced by Pascal Boyer's "Religion Explained". - Laj
___________________________________



As an observer of human nature, and after reading Oswald Spengler's "The Decline of the West", my take on religion is pretty much it's for philosophical cowards.

(Btw. I started reading both Oswald Spengler and Vilfredo Pareto due to some liberal professor railing against them during my college years.)

"A Real Man" doesn't need God.

Not only that, "A Real Man" will NOT bow to God even if he knows God exists.

If anything, "A Real Man" will struggle against God and strive to teach God a lesson that he would rather die a freeman (by his standard, and his standard alone as he thinks it to be) than to live forever as a slave in somebody else's heaven.

He relies on his own inner strength, and nobody else for his emotional fortitude.


That's at least one thing I'm grateful for Ayn Rand (as much as I have problem with her psuedo-intellectualism, based on style over substance philsophy)

for creating Howard Roark, who is the ultimate ideal of what a "Real Man" should be as I imagine him to be.



___________________________________

My commitment to scientific empiricism... - Laj
___________________________________



At one time, I was along the same path, but as I studied the history of science more and more, I have a feeling that scientific empiricism is too overrated in philosophical sense.

First of all, I would like get rid of the word "Laws" of this, "Laws" of that from science textbooks.

Instead simply use, "Hypothesis".

After all, so-called "Laws" of science are really nothing more than somebody's model of educated guess that has proven accurate enough in utilitarian sense for the certain scientifc and/or engineering application.




___________________________________

My commitment to scientific empiricism has left me agnostic on the main question, but to a degree that borders closer to atheism because there is so much empiricism in this world that one would not care about under the influence of traditional religion. - Laj
___________________________________




Believe it or not, I am not an atheist or even agnostic.



I believe in "New Man", who is beyond whether to believe in God or not.

"New Man" or "Real Man" will not bow to God even if God exists.




___________________________________

I think that is what Greg fails to often appreciate when he a priori dismisses this or that view heavy handedly, though I sometimes think that is a function of his rhetorical writing style as opposed to his nuanced thoughts on the issue. - Laj

4/05/2009 08:37:00 PM

___________________________________




As I see it, Greg is in denial. I believe Greg is obviously intelligent enough to know "what is what", but doesn't have enough of intellectual fortitude to stand on his own "two feet", and declare his emotional independence from sentimental attachment of his personal past.

Winston Riley said...

I think if a person dives deep enough into her truest vision, you would see great intelligence. But what really falls apart isn't altruism vs reason but accountability to finite resource theory. In other words, it may be ok to just go out and get stinking rich and not worry about being your brother's keeper, unless by doing so you are harming the planet--hence everyone else.

So their thought about freedom to act as long as it harms no one never accounted for ecology

Daniel Barnes said...

I agree, Winston, that Rand was highly intelligent. Greg's even described her as a near-genius. But great people can be greatly wrong...

Dragonfly said...

I wonder where the myth comes from that Rand was very intelligent, a myth that apparently even non-Randians are believing. Where is the evidence? Repeatedly making quite elementary logic errors in an argument is for me certainly not a sign of great intelligence.

We may safely dismiss accounts from her acolytes that Rand could win any argument with intellectual opponents. The only evidence we have is that she avoided any discussion ("she was not interested"...) with a real opponent. Let's say that she was at least intelligent enough to know that she wasn't intelligent enough for an argument with a real opponent (many Objectivists aren't even that intelligent...).

In my life I've known quite some very intelligent people, and I can assure you that their intelligence was in a totally different ballpark than Rand's.

Neil Parille said...

DF,

Plenty of intelligent people who knew Rand reported that she was intelligent. You've got to be really smart to craft a book like Atlas Shrugged.

I think the 2009 biographies report that Rand wouldn't speak unless it was agreed that the interviewer wouldn't ask about her critics.

-Neil Parille

Jeff said...

The questions are obviously biased. Let's see, One must defend Objective philosophy without using the philosophy. The attacker is free to not only use the philosophy but liberally use it and mix their own with it. The references to contradictions I consider attempts at humor. Nobody got excited about them before Ayn Rand. There was a couple of interesting references to god. Even if there was a god, Should we worship the entity on our hands and knees? Why? This omnipotent entity has such low self-esteem it needs constant praise to feel good about itself? Not much of a god really. That little old Ayn Rand and a few hundred followers could cause this much commotion is great encouragement. I love how the internet has made it possible to have conversations across time like this.

Anonymous said...

This is a pointless task; Those who touch the objectivist philosophy with a ten-foot poll are lost to reason and need to be ignored. Only 1% of the population can withstand true arguments, the rest can be left with lies, hanging around in the cave....

Jeff said...

Friend Anonymous: I understand your point of view. I'm not convinced the psychology is perfect. I have been doing this for a while and I believe I have seen positive results. Good quality posts make the bad ones look even worse. Do you think we should give up on the world without a fight? These comments will be here for a long time available to anyone who cares to look. Let them see something interesting.

Daniel Barnes said...

Jeff:
>The questions are obviously biased.

Really? In what way? They are for the most part sourced from prominent Objectivists or Objectivist doctrine itself. Please explain.

Daniel Barnes said...

Shorter Anonymous: I parrot Ayn Rand, therefore I am intellectually superior to 99% of humanity.

Anonymous said...

Atlas Shrugged is the worst book of all time. Not even Battlefield Earth comes close to matching its relentless awfulness.
If it's not the worst book ever published, then the worst book didn't get published.
It's just awful on every level. It's too silly and boring to take seriously.

Jeff said...

You're not the same Anonymous I talked to before. Atlas Shrugged has been in continuous print for 56 years and counting. It sells about 500,000 copies per year and growing. Not too shabby for " the worst book ever published, then the worst book didn't get published.
It's just awful on every level. It's too silly and boring to take seriously." Come on! That's just plain nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Oh well Jeff, following that logic Rambo must be an excellent film as it did great box office and Citizen Kane must suck as it barely broke even on it's release.

Does Thriller, by Michael Jackson, take pride of place in your music collection?

Because if something is popular it must be good, if something is good it must be popular. Right kids?

As for the idea that selling 500 000 copies a year makes a book good then those sales are dwarved by The bible, the Qoran and Chairman Moas little red book. Now, with sales figures like that how can you argue those three are awful?

Jeff said...

Hi Anonymous, There is a lot of feedback on this little forum, nice. Rambo was a good movie and Citizen Kane was too long and a bit of a bore rosebud. However, if it makes you feel better, Thriller gives me a headache. I never saw or heard the appeal. Now to business. You seem to be testing Bell's inequality on me. You are constantly mixing philosophy with physics. I don't mind that so long as you are not trying to disprove one with the other.

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

So Thriller, an album which has sold 65 million copies since 1982, which roughly works out at 2 million a year, can be described as lousy. But Atlas Shrugged which sells 500 000 copies a year, can't? Hmmmmmmmmmmm, plus no mention in your response of the sales of the Bible, Quoran or the Little Red Book.

Then you try to fudge the issue by saying I'm at fault by following your line of arguement.

But good to hear that Rambo is what passes for a great movie in objectivist circles.

Mark Peter said...

"Fan" or "cultist" is a false alternative. The purpose of this quiz seems to be to wipe out the possibility of a person who is in substantial agreement with Rand's philosophy and isn't a fanatical moron.

Since your blog purports to be a critique of Rand's actual philosophy (and not a straw man), why not create a questionnaire that presents an alternative between actual Objectivist positions with which you disagree, and your own perspective on those issues?

Then you would look like you take these ideas seriously instead of looking like someone standing on the sidelines and sneering.

Daniel Barnes said...

Mark Peter:
>"Fan" or "cultist" is a false alternative.

Not at all. I use the word "fan" to cover people who are enthusiastic about Rand's work at any level, but simply aren't Randroid cultists.

>why not create a questionnaire that presents an alternative between actual Objectivist positions with which you disagree, and your own perspective on those issues?

We went one better: Greg wrote a whole book, and we created a whole blog, laying all the above out in detail..;-)

Michael Stuart Kelly said...

Just for the record, I used to be a pretty good fan of Ayn Rand.

But now I am a Rand cultist.