IamBalSimon

How important is the "Objectivist" label to you?

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I frequently find myself puzzled by those who claim independence of thought, participate with philosophical groups that claim said independence as a primary value, and then say things like, "Well, that's not true xyz-ism," as if that's supposed to carry any weight with someone who truly is independent in his/her (hir) thinking.

Long ago, I used to participate in some General Semantics forums, and while many there *did* practice the independence of thought (they'd put that word in quotes, as in "thought"), many acted like true believers.

I have seen some comments here where people say, "I know this isn't true objectivism, but..." as though they are making an apology. Why the need for that baggage? I don't get it.

I am NOT an objectivist any more than I am a general semanticist. If there is a label that I would use, it's "balsimonist." That my views correspond to yours or anyone else's is a matter of happy coincidence. My only beef comes when the practical results are ones that I don't like, e.g., taxpayer money being spent on parasites, or people being stoned or beheaded because they don't believe in some specific deity. I don't mind if someone tells me that I'm going to burn in hell. Just don't burn down my house or make it difficult for me to earn a living. I don't much care if you're a thesit, a polytheist, an atheist, or (like me) an agnostic. How you act - how your actions impact me and mine - that's what matters to me.

And "me and mine" covers a lot of territory. 911 comprised an attack on *my* country. You'd better believe that I got pissed. And I wouldn't have cared if the attack had come from little green men who believe that the deity is covered with chocolate frosting or if it had been from some idiot in the environmental movement who believes skyscrapers are an abomination to the goddess Gaia. What mattered was the attack; the loss of life; the mayhem and maimings, the disruption of people's lives and the loss of and damage to property.

Does this make sense to anyone besides me?

What is in a label - other than a shorthand way of communicating?

- Bal

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You cover a lot of ground. First of all, all "isms" attract True Believers and if you have not Eric Hoffer's book, you are missing a lot of context. Also, all "isms" are offered as integrated bodies of thought. So, for each "ism" you have a lot "ists" who accept its tenets in whole or in part -- but usually in part. That much is to be expected based on the absolute genetic basis for individualism: no two people can perceive the world the same way. Forced conformity cannot work.

Then, there is communication by symbol. I usually say that I am a libertarian. To another libertarian, I will say that I am an objectivist. In a graduate class last year at this time in Ethics in Physics, I said that I am a "rational-empiricist, i.e., an objectivist." I might tell someone that I am a lifelong admirer of the works of Ayn Rand. And so on. The label is a convenience, not a clamp.

Within any broad philosphy, you get a range of people who identify with it, but who of necessity differ among themselves. It is a fact in sociology that generally any measurable differences are greater within groups than across them. So, there are "good" Catholics and "good" Muslims and "bad" Objectivists. I see people drawn to philosophies (or religions) for emotional attractions. They then find intellectual justifications as they extend their understanding.

You speak of patriotism and 9/11 and I understand that. We all do. I point out, however, that there are Objectivists who would nuke Teheran and Objectivists who would withdraw from the Middle East entirely. In a recent discussion elsewhere, Ayn Rand's essay "The Roots of War" was offered as evidence that she did not support the US entry into World War II. Whether she did or not, the salient point is that a self-defined Objectivist argued with others of the same kind that the US entry into WWII was not noble or heroic or even necessary. Just to say: within any group, differences of opinion are inevitable.

So, the label "Objectivist" is important to me when I am among other libertarians. When among Objectivists, I avoid the label "anarcho-capitalist" as it causes too much animosity and confusion, preventing my pointing to actual facts in the real world of multinational corporations today.

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Hi Michael,

I appreciate your response. And indeed, I understand that people will have differing opinions and come to different interpretations and conclusions, even if they start from "the same" articulated premises and foundations.

I like what you said about the label serving as a convenience and not a clamp.

My opening post refers to people who seem to use these labels as a clamp. That's what I don't get. Especially in an arena where "the individual" is celebrated as is the "freedom of thought."

I have no problem at all with someone challenging the morality of the US entering into WWII. I know for a fact that I would not be alive today had America not done so, so I feel biased in a big way about that. Of course, if I weren't here, perhaps someone else would be - and that other person might contribute more to the evolution of humanity than I do. (But how many angels do dance on the pathways surrounding the Lincoln Monument?)

What I have a problem with is people saying, "Oh, you're mistaken *because* that's not xyz-ist doctrine." That sort of "logic" has never made any sense to me. A proposition stands or falls on its own merits; and not because it conforms or doesn't to some formal doctrine.

Does this make sense?

- Bal

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You cover a lot of ground. First of all, all "isms" attract True Believers and if you have not Eric Hoffer's book, you are missing a lot of context. Also, all "isms" are offered as integrated bodies of thought. So, for each "ism" you have a lot "ists" who accept its tenets in whole or in part -- but usually in part. That much is to be expected based on the absolute genetic basis for individualism: no two people can perceive the world the same way. Forced conformity cannot work.

Then, there is communication by symbol. I usually say that I am a libertarian. To another libertarian, I will say that I am an objectivist. In a graduate class last year at this time in Ethics in Physics, I said that I am a "rational-empiricist, i.e., an objectivist." I might tell someone that I am a lifelong admirer of the works of Ayn Rand. And so on. The label is a convenience, not a clamp.

Within any broad philosphy, you get a range of people who identify with it, but who of necessity differ among themselves. It is a fact in sociology that generally any measurable differences are greater within groups than across them. So, there are "good" Catholics and "good" Muslims and "bad" Objectivists. I see people drawn to philosophies (or religions) for emotional attractions. They then find intellectual justifications as they extend their understanding.

You speak of patriotism and 9/11 and I understand that. We all do. I point out, however, that there are Objectivists who would nuke Teheran and Objectivists who would withdraw from the Middle East entirely. In a recent discussion elsewhere, Ayn Rand's essay "The Roots of War" was offered as evidence that she did not support the US entry into World War II. Whether she did or not, the salient point is that a self-defined Objectivist argued with others of the same kind that the US entry into WWII was not noble or heroic or even necessary. Just to say: within any group, differences of opinion are inevitable.

So, the label "Objectivist" is important to me when I am among other libertarians. When among Objectivists, I avoid the label "anarcho-capitalist" as it causes too much animosity and confusion, preventing my pointing to actual facts in the real world of multinational corporations today.

Very interesting and thoughtful post. As an outsider to this I see an urgency to identify oneself with specific political values which are very personal, a very American phenomenon.

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What I have a problem with is people saying, "Oh, you're mistaken *because* that's not xyz-ist doctrine." That sort of "logic" has never made any sense to me. A proposition stands or falls on its own merits; and not because it conforms or doesn't to some formal doctrine.

Does this make sense?

- Bal

Bal,

Well, sure it does. I do think though that you are more likely to come across this on more student-orientated forums.

To be fair, I'd say it carries some validity when someone shows interest in XYZism, that a proponent of it points out to him any contradictions and discrepancies he makes.

Whether it stands or falls on rationality, exposes the flaws or efficacy of the entire doctrine.

So why the labels? Like you I could call myself "whynotist". Hello, pleased to meet you, "balsimonist".

Great, we're both individuals (-istic) of the human species. What next do we share in common.?

Many members of groups will assure us they are no different.

The question is, do they fully understand the meaning of 'individualism', epistemologically or politically?

Also, is it a part of their lives - do they practise independence of mind constantly and consistently?

Not in my regular experience, where it's clear after longer conversation that many people have assumed the 'label', unjustifiedly.

The convenience factor for identification to others, imo, is not as important as the self-identification and effort that it takes to live up to one's chosen doctrine. For selfish reasons, the name of the concept is the flag on one's masthead.

Tony

[i do understand the seeming contradiction of a bunch of rational egoists getting together under one banner, is strange. But who else could understand us? Who else can we fight with? :D ]

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Bal,

Just so you know, when Kat and I started this site, we had been involved in another forum called SoloHQ, which split into two forums, becoming Solo Passion and Rebirth of Reason.

The use of the term "Objectivist" on the old SoloHQ and the two splinter sites is one that involves a sense of social movement. The owners want to save the world in the name of Objectivism. (Guess who they imagine as gurus in that world, too? :) )

I use the term in a very different manner and approach. to start with, I am not very good guru material, nor do I want to be. But I an fairly knowledgeable about Objectivism and use it as a starting point for further thinking, inquiries, premise-checking, and so forth. Often I find myself going off into places that are quite distant to what Rand would have approved of. There are many people around here who think as I do--even as we might disagree on where our respective thinking leads us.

Often this give-and-take, which is usually quite civil, but sometimes nasty, with all degrees in between, turns into a hotbed of creativity. People get colorful and you can see many grope for their honest best efforts within their own thinking. Some folks produce works.

I think it's beautiful.

We all have been impacted by Rand's work in some manner and it has formed a part--often a very important part--of how we frame our outlook on life and ideas. This common experience is what brings people together here. OL is a place where folks generally get Rand, whether at any given moment they are agreeing or disagreeing with her ideas. And that's a lot better than trying to explain everything from scratch down at the church (or wherever) just so you can talk about stuff that interests you.

So Objectivism in this sense is nothing more than a starting point for individual thinking. Not an end point for saving the world.

Another important difference is that it is OK--even encouraged--for a person here to work out ideas by thinking out loud and discussing them with whoever wants to participate. This sometimes gets really weird--and the person often changes his or her thinking later. I think it's great to have questions thrown at you out of the blue by someone knowledgeable, but totally outside the box.

It's a vision, I suppose. Ideas in minds here are works in progress, not sculptures of dogma that need constant polishing. At other Objectivist places with a more traditional approach, the emphasis is on learning Rand's canon, implementing it and preaching it to the world. Here ideas are kindle-wood for starting fires of independence in people's souls.

So all "Objectivist" means here is that folks are familiar with Rand's work and like discussing ideas within a loose framework of her ideas. But each person speaks for himself or herself--and OL is not part of any formal Objectivist movement. (The preacher types who sometimes show up usually get really irritated after a while. :) )

Frankly, I have enough problems trying to make my own world work out well. I just don't have the time or will to seek converts and do the save the world trip.

This doesn't mean I am against spreading Rand's ideas. On the contrary, I do my own share of this. But it is always from the approach of adding intellectual richness to a person's life, not persuading such person to think only as I do. (Some very specific topics excepted--like freedom, for instance.)

There is a beautiful book called The Story Factor by Annette Simmons that contains many quotes that hit the nail on the head with the way I think (and, of course, some things I don't agree with). I particularly like her phrase about being a "messenger of grace"--as opposed to being the moral condemner I see so often in our subculture. But one quote shines above the others as being me with my emphasis on independent thinking. It's from p. 203.

If you speak to a roomful of 400 people you want to inspire 400 creative ideas moving in the same direction, not 400 people asking, "what do I do next?" Your stories will either focus your listeners on how smart you are or how smart they are.

I wish I had said something like that so gracefully.

But I'm learning. :)

Anyway, I hope this clarifies why OL seems to be so different than other places in our subculture and what "Objectivism" means here.

And as a final thought--I fully believe that this vision is the best implementation possible of Any Rand's philosophy, even though that is not my primary value.

Michael

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Hey Tony and Michael,

Thanks for the clarifications, guys.

Tony - yes - I think we're on the same page - or at least in the same chapter of the book when it comes to the labeling. A token serving as a shorthand way of communicating a general sense of how we orient ourselves. For me, I have not yet fully digested Rand's philosophy as articulated in Atlas Shrugged, and I have more reading - mainly of her non-fiction works to flesh out what she tried to communicate. At some point that will happen.

In the meantime, the best way to describe "balsimonism" would be to point to the well-known personalities (authors) who have influenced me. I haven't adopted any of their views whole-cloth, but there are great and varying degrees of overlap. I love Alfred Korzybski, J. Samuel Bois, Gregory Bateson, and Alan Watts. Maslow, Eric Berne, N. R. Hanson have a seat at the "Simon Round Table" as well. All of these dealt with the way we use and are affected by symbols and meanings. Rand comprises a recent member of this august group. What would "Whynotism" broaden out as?

Michael - I believe I understand. And certainly, in the limited exposure that I have had here and to you, I have seen little in the way of a "clamp" mentality. I especially liked this by you: "So all "Objectivist" means here is that folks are familiar with Rand's work and like discussing ideas within a loose framework of her ideas. But each person speaks for himself or herself--and OL is not part of any formal Objectivist movement."

That suits my preferences very well indeed. If I can participate within an OL framework without insisting that it is THE definitive way of looking at things, and if those who read my words understand that I write within an Objectivist arena about Objectivist subjects without feeling the least need to classify myself as an Objectivist or to orient myself "as an Objectivist would," discussions can proceed swimmingly.

Big world; I am just an egg. There is much to learn.

- Bal

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In the meantime, the best way to describe "balsimonism" would be to point to the well-known personalities (authors) who have influenced me. I haven't adopted any of their views whole-cloth, but there are great and varying degrees of overlap. I love Alfred Korzybski, J. Samuel Bois, Gregory Bateson, and Alan Watts. Maslow, Eric Berne, N. R. Hanson have a seat at the "Simon Round Table" as well.

Big world; I am just an egg. There is much to learn.

- Bal

Bal,

You are entirely too modest; you responded to thoughts of those authors because of your own previous thoughts, on top of which, you put in the hard yards understanding them.

I was going to say you picked them, but in a poetic sense it's more like they picked you.

And I appreciate your modesty. I feel exactly the same about writers who influenced me: a lifelong gratitude.

I reckon that the best way to describe "balsimonism" would be to point to you.

:)

Tony

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