A Speculation about the Roots of Brandens Demonizing


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For those who didn't see this PS to a post in the "Rants" forum:

And now I must bow out of discussion until next week. Multiple little details to attend to before leaving for a physics conference later this week.

ES

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Ellen,

I was already resigned to missing you for a while. I just noted that you were not out to the loop yet and excitedly came to look at your latest post. What a disappointment to find that you were only taking leave of us. Well, I hope you have a great time, or had a great time if you read this when you get back. Of course, the great unwashed masses must wonder how anyone would have fun at a physics conference!

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The irrational viciousness and distortion of Objectivism that those people practice certainly is a curiosity.

Hsieh apparently has turned omniscient and has become a mind reader.  

Those people are control freaks and the one thing I did that most earned their hatred

It's a curiosity enough for me to want to study the cognition/psychological/neural correlates behind it, and other similar, trains of thought through human history. Biiiig project. I visit some "vicious" sites (personal and otherwise) sometimes to do this individual research on 1) the follower mentality, 2) the demonizing mentality, 3) the idolatry and hero-worship at the expense of one's own mind, and 4) the lapse of self-knowledge in relation to what's intellectual, what's personal, and what's emotional, and how some really mix those up to the extent that what they think is intellectual is actually more emotional.

All of this is interesting within the realm of studying cognitive bias. There is soemthing called a "bias blind spot"-- in which a person has the bias that they possess *no* cognitive bias, and that they are always acting objectively, in totality.

Fascinating!

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I once wrote an essay about what I believe is one of the epistemological reasons for these cognitive blind spots. It dealt with cognitive and normative mental events.

I had not studied this very deeply and I have since been doing a LOT more reading about it. The more I study, the more I see that I was absolutely right, but I didn't have all the words back then. Thus my former essay will become a larger work that I have already outlined.

Basically, I took my lead from Rand's identification of cognitive and normative abstractions. Here is a quote from my essay, "Understanding Is and Ought - A Personal View":

One constant theme running through Ayn Rand’s works is the correct identification of situations. In technical terms, she calls this integration of cognitive concepts. In popular language, she asks the questions "What do I know?" and "How do I know it?" Both questions, respectively, point to two areas of philosophy: metaphysics and epistemology.

Since man needs to act, he needs to evaluate. He uses normative concepts for this. The popular way to understand them is to ask the question, "What should I do?" Normative concepts are guides to choices and actions. They are ethics, the third major area of philosophy. Ayn Rand called ethics the normative science.

To quote Ayn Rand (from "The Psycho-Epistemology of Art" in The Romantic Manifesto):

"While cognitive abstractions identify the facts of reality, normative abstractions evaluate the facts, thus prescribing a choice of values and a course of action. Cognitive abstractions deal with that which is; normative abstractions deal with that which ought to be (in the realms open to man's choice)."

One point repeated many times in her writings is that ethics rests on metaphysics and epistemology. Using technical jargon, normative concepts are based on cognitive ones. In layman's terms, a fact must be correctly identified before it can be properly judged or evaluated.

All this is well and good, and generally understood by everyone, until we get into the realm of traditional ethics (including Rand’s). Often people skip the part about identifying "What is it?" and "How do I know it?" so they can get to the "What should I do?" part more quickly. A simple out-of-context phrase will trigger a strong reaction. An incorrect identification is made. This is because the cognitive integration was no longer present. But eliminating cognitive concepts is a completely incorrect use of reason.

Where I was incorrect is that Rand never usd the term "cognitive concept" or "normative concept" but "cognitive abstraction" and "normative abstraction" instead. Still, it is so obvious that an abstractions leads to concept formation that it is logical that some concepts will be formed that way.

As an example, when you look at a rock, you can see only the cognitive concept, when identifies what it is and nothing more. If you are building something, or need a weapon, or need to dig a hole, a normative component is added, since it starts to take on value.

If you work at a rock quarry, the cognitive part can become so automated by looking only at what value rocks have to you that you can no longer look at any rock in a purely cognitive manner.

I think this happens with true believers. The mentality is more complex, of course, because they put great value on hatred and contempt, they demonstrate a psychological need for belonging to a tribe and some other goodies. But I think cognitive-normative confusions is one of the doorways that allows the irrational to seep into the minds of these otherwise intelligent people.

btw - Rand bounced back and forth at will in her cognitive and normative use of key terms like rights, altruism, morality and several other phrases. This has created a great deal of confusion over the years. I have an article outlined for this also.

Michael

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John,

Some dictionaries may indicate that "psychologize" has a neutral meaning, but I've never heard a psychologist refer to a psychological explanation that he or she deems credible as "psychologizing," or use "psychologize" as a verb for "provide a psychological explanation."

In today's world, "moralize" is nearly always pejorative, and so is "rationalize." I've occasionally seen the word "rationalize" used in print to mean "organize according to some rational principle," but it has always come across as old-fashioned to me. I suppose clinical psychology has helped to give both words a negative connotation.

All of this reminds me that my high school principal (who preferred Plato and Whitehead) used to say "Ayn Rand is a philosophizer, but not a philosopher."

Robert

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Phil,

If we are talking strictly about philosophy, I agree that there is a "category mistake" in trying to cover things more properly dealt with in psychology and law. However Objectivism came into being fully armed, like Athena, in art works, depicting how life should be.

You get the impression that the whole thing was put together to favor high-achievers only (especially in terms of individual rights) and not all of humanity. The depictions and discussions of family, friendship, etc., is pretty sparse (and often negative), yet the depictions and discussions high-end and low-end abound.

There is nothing wrong with focusing on the extreme ends, but it is not a complete picture.

Michael

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Michael,

While I was laid up after my accident, I read most of the material in Ayn Rand's Journals (the 1997 book). (I'd dipped in before, but decided that I would be a good idea to read them all after that discussion on the old SOLOHQ, about Rand's brief fascination, in the late 1920s, with a killer named Hickman.)

I think you are onto something with your comments about "high-end" vs. "low-end." The bulk of the material in the 1997 book comes from when Rand was working on The Fountainhead, then on her abandoned treatise on individualism, then on the script for Top Secret, and finally on Atlas Shrugged. It struck me that for her the most important opposition during that period wasn't reason vs. mysticism, or even egoism vs. altruism, but the Creator vs. the Parasite.

More later...

Robert

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Prime mover versus boat anchor is the overriding vibe in FH and Atlas. That's what I remember as the main vibe when I first read them.

I really believe that on one level or another that is the main thing that most people retain from the books.

As true as so many things are she says in that regard, I can see how it might be the kind of thing that embitters people, makes them kind of mean.

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I must say that I am vastly tickled by the idea, as often clearly implied or stated by the orthodox, that a biographer must never dare venture to investigate the psychology of his or her subject. Presumably, biographies should consist of the listing of events in chronological order. Fascinating!

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After a number of years, I've just reread David Kelley's The Contested Legacy of AynRand: Truth and Toleration. It's a brilliant and fascinating work. In the Notes -- page 110 -- Kelley discusses the claim by the orthodox that non-orthodox Objectivists are enemies of the philosophy. It's a beautifully succinct statement, which applies to his own position and that of TOC, as well as to Nathaniel and me and a number of other excommunicees. (Did I just coin a word?)

He writes that to many people the most puzzling aspect of the tribal attitude of the orthodox is the fact that people sharing the same philosophy should be such bitter enemies. He writes:

"But in fact it is the logical extension of the attitude I have analyzed in the text, and it is a common historical pattern. The early Christian church never went after infidels and pagans with the same ferocity it exercised toward Jews, and even more toward heretics within Christianity. The Freudian psychoanalysts never attacked behaviorism, their polar opposite in the field of psychology, with the same venom they expressed toward innovators in their own movement like Carl Jung.

"The reason for this pattern is that apostates, heretics, innovators do not simply challenge some of the movement's ideas. If that were all, then it would indeed be incomprehensible why orthodox adherents of a creed are much more bothered by these relatively small areas of disagreement than with the wholesale differences from their philosopohical or idealogical opponents. But innovators also challenge -- they reject -- the authority of the movement's leaders. This is an issue of method that goes far beyond the substance of any new idea or reform that the innovator puts forward. In susbstantive terms, he may have called into question only a small portion of the movement's system of belief. But he has completely rejected the method by which true believers embrace that system. Nothing could be more threatening. The apostate also threatens the true believer by his willingness to risk exclusion from the movement, putting his own ideas and his own judgment ahead of membership in the group. To those for whom membership is essential to their very sense of identity, again, nothing could be more threatening -- especially if the doctrine they profess is one that regards independence as a virtue."

Barbara

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Barbara,

Thanks for the DK quote.

There is a different reason for the rank and file. Simply the effort required to think for oneself. The "true believers" want a prescription method for every situation, any deviation threatens their security. They are not truely individualists. They cannot stand that thought that there might be unanswered questions. How convenient if Ayn Rand provided the answers to EVERYTHING. Just study hard and you too can be a superior human with the right to call other people "evil". Lazy bastards. I call them "public school rote learners".

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The quotation that Barbara provided from David Kelley's monograph reminded me that I'd been planning to recommend a fascinating book called The Origin of Satan, by Elaine Pagels. Her topic is how Satan became a major figure in sectarian Jewish thinking, starting a little after 200 BC, and how such apocalyptic beliefs (about heaven, hell, and the Day of Judgment) then passed into early Christianity.

Here's an excerpt from a talk I gave about The Origin of Satan at our local UU Fellowship a few years ago. Note in particular the sentence I put in bold.

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Jewish apocalyptic books began to be written during the Maccabean period (around 160 BC), a time of protracted struggles to overthrow Greek domination and re-establish the Jewish religion—and a time of significant dissension within the Jewish community. During the century and a half before the time of Jesus, there appeared such highly influential books as 1st and 2nd Enoch, Jubilees, and The Life of Adam and Eve.

Jubilees and the books of Enoch both forecast a Day of Judgment and the eternal rewards and torments to follow. All four tell a tale of fallen angels, whose leader becomes the Chief Bad Guy. "The Book of the Watchers" describes a schism within the heavenly ranks that results in Semihazah and his angels mating with earthwomen to produce bloodthirsty giants and Azazyel teaching human beings all manner of forbidden knowledge. Jubilees tells another version of the giants story. The Life of Adam and Eve, in which Adam and Eve, moping after being expelled from Eden, run into Satan again and get the inside story from him, introduces an element of sibling rivalry. [satan tricked Eve and got them expelled from the Garden as an act of revenge; he had been ordered to bow down and worship God's new creations, and was cast out of heaven when he refused.]

According to Pagels,

"these stories of Satan… agree on one thing… This greatest and most dangerous enemy did not originate, as one might expect, as an outsider, an alien, or a stranger. Satan is not the distant enemy but the intimate enemy—one’s trusted colleague, close associate, brother. [This is] the attribute that qualifies him so well to express conflict among Jewish groups. Those who asked, "How could God’s angel become his enemy?" were thus asking, in effect, "How could one of us become one of them?" (p. 49)

An extreme Jewish group known as the Essenes, whose most devout members removed to a monastery in the wilderness near the Dead Sea, collected all of these apocalyptic works and more. They had a wide range of names for the Chief Bad Guy—Belial, Beliar, Mastema (which means "hatred"), Melkiresha (which literally means "my king is wickedness"), Beelzebub ("lord of dung" or "lord of the flies")—and would curse him during their services. In the so-called War Scroll, an Essenic author described in obsessive detail the final combat between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. (So obsessively that he even specifies how far away the latrines in the Good Guys’ camp will be placed from the tents.) The Sons of Darkness were meant to include the Kittim (a code word for the Roman oppressors)—but they also included any Jews who didn’t interpret the Jewish law as the Essenes did.

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Seems relevant in the present context.

Robert Campbell

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Robert quotes a passage from The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels.

"Satan is not the distant enemy but the intimate enemy—one’s trusted colleague, close associate, brother." [Robert's emphasis]

There are stories that Satan's original name was "Lucifer," the bright one, (loosely) the child of light, and that he was God's first and originally best-loved son -- thus Jesus' older brother. I find those stories' parallels to the history of the O'ist world interesting.

For a fascinating psychological analysis of God, and of Satan's role in inducing God to grow toward greater awarenes (God keeps forgetting to consult his omniscience, but Satan provides nudges), I recommend Jung's Answer to Job.

Ellen

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Robert quotes a passage from The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels.
"Satan is not the distant enemy but the intimate enemy—one’s trusted colleague, close associate, brother." [Robert's emphasis]

There are stories that Satan's original name was "Lucifer," the bright one, (loosely) the child of light, and that he was God's first and originally best-loved son -- thus Jesus' older brother. I find those stories' parallels to the history of the O'ist world interesting.

For a fascinating psychological analysis of God, and of Satan's role in inducing God to grow toward greater awarenes (God keeps forgetting to consult his omniscience, but Satan provides nudges), I recommend Jung's Answer to Job.

Ellen

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When I was a wee lad, I was read stories about Adam and Eve and

the Garden of Paradise (NOT the "Garden of Eden"), in which Eve was

approached by Lucifer and invited to eat the forbidden fruit. That Lucifer

was "the devil" -- the leader of the forces of evil throughout the cosmos --

was what I grew up with and it was not until I was quite elderly -- about

10 or 11 years old -- that I became aware of that other name "Satan",

which has always remained a bit foreign to me. -- Mike Hardy

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There are stories that Satan's original name was "Lucifer," the bright one, (loosely) the child of light, and that he was God's first and originally best-loved son

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... and what I was taught in second grade, and I suspect is Catholic dogma,

is that Lucifer was originally the leader of the angels, remaining so until he

turned against God. -- Mike Hardy

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Robert: "This greatest and most dangerous enemy did not originate, as one might expect, as an outsider, an alien, or a stranger. Satan is not the distant enemy but the intimate enemy—one’s trusted colleague, close associate, brother."

I discuss in PASSION that Rand was careful not to let into what I called her "safe haven" -- that is, the realm of complete acceptance, the realm of those people whom she believed were not only intellectual but also spiritual allies -- any but a handful of people. This was true throughout her life. And when she had allowed that entry and later felt betrayed -- as was the case with Nathaniel and with me -- she reacted not only with rage, but, I am convinced, with an unacknowledged terror. Such people, in her mind, had invaded the only space where she expected to be safe, and protected, and understood -- in a world where she felt unsafe, unprotected, painfully misunderstood.

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Mikee: "The 'true believers' want a prescription method for every situation, any deviation threatens their security. They are not truely individualists. They cannot stand that thought that there might be unanswered questions."

Somewhere -- I think on Solohq -- I stated my personal definition of maturity. It is the ability to live with uncertainty. We'd better be able to do so, because we've got a lot of it.

Barbara

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In his mad quest for power, Pope Innocent III used the crusading fervor in Europe to lauch the Fourth Crusade, in which Constantinople was captured in 1204. He claimed the Lord left Peter the governance of the whole world, not just the Church. He then moved to gain control over all of the Kings of Europe. In southern France, however, the Catharists defied him, so he declared them allies of Satan. These Catharists, especially prevalent in Albigenses, were probably the most prosperous, educated, and industrious people of Europe at that time. Of course, prior to this Pope Gregory the Great had prohibited the laity from reading the scriptures, to prevent the people from misinterpreting them. The Catharists abstained from eating flesh or killing animals, they read the Bible themselves, condemned tithes, preached peace and nonresistance, aimed to return to an ideal of poverty and simplicity in principle, they refused to worship images, saints, angels, and the Virgin, did not believe the Trinity, the Incarnation, Resurrection and Ascension, denied the power of bells, crosses, and the bones of the saints, and denied the authority of the Pope. Clearly, these were really bad people! So Innocent III mounted a crusade against them in 1209. The immediate heretics, and anyone who lived in the same town, were killed man, woman, and child in the next 20 years. Before the end of the century, about 1 million were killed. Given the population of Europe then, this was a truly remarkable slaughter.

Then recently Muslims in Afghanistan wished to use Sharia law to justify killing a man who had left the Muslim religion to become a Christian. This is certainly another good example of a religion most hating those who authorities beleive have gone astray.

Compared to the Christian Church, ARI has accomplished an awful lot in only a few decades. The Christians were wracked with discension for hundreds of years, with Ecumenical Councils galore to vote on the official Christian Dogma. The Christianity of 500 AD was very different than that of 100AD. But here ARI has a received dogma already. They are way ahead of the game, or at least the Christians. But, like the Christians, they have a destiny of split off sects ahead of them. No doctrine will be adhered to by everyone. People are too independent minded for that to be in the future. Of course, TOC is already akin to the Protestant movement, in an anologous sort of way. Then there are those SOLO and Rebirth of Reason groups with a wide distribution of ideas in each. So, ARI determined their doctrine early, but they will have no luck in maintaining it as the belief of all Objectivists over time. Of course, there will likely be some who will prefer that doctrine going far into the future also.

There are many Christian groups whose beliefs retain so little of the doctrines of the Christian Catholic Church of 500, that one hesitates to call them Christian at all. It is probably just a desire to fit into the umbrella of a Christian tradition in this country that causes such groups to call themselves Christian. If Objectivism ever does become the dominant philosophy of America, then such groups will most likely arise and call themselves Objectivist, whether ARI likes it or not.

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'...my personal definition of maturity. It is the ability to live with uncertainty."

I do remember this, but I wasn't able to find it. Thanks for the reminder. Perhaps only mature humans are able to be individualists, and confident in their abilities to deal with the uncertainties of life.

For some reason Louis Armstrong's "What a wonderful world" popped into my mind.

"I hear babies cryin', I watch them grow

They'll learn much more than I'll ever know

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world"

Louis evidently wasn't too worked up over life's uncertainties.

Thank you for your reply Barbara. I love your work.

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Mikee,

I agree with your observation as well as with David Kelley's. I have written of the phenomena you commented on also on several occasions.

Barbara,

I also have written about this strange fear of uncertainty, though I did not connect it with maturity. I thought it was simply rationality. As long as we have unanswered questions, we will have uncertainty. If we were to become All Knowing, we would be as cursed as God. If we really always knew what tomorrow will bring, then life would become the ultimate boredom. I do not think it would be bearable. Perhaps our errant Objectivists would say that we know all there is to know about philosophy, but we do not know the weather for tomorrow or at least for next week. I suppose that would be enough uncertainty to satisfy very small minds. I, for one, actually like the quest to answer more substantial questions. Besides, even if the answers were all known by Ayn Rand, which was not the case, it would still be my duty to learn them for myself and check them with my experience for validity. I wonder that some proclaimed Objectivists do not seem to want to take that task on themselves.

So in the quest for certainty, which few of us would want to actually achieve, many proclaimed Objectivists feel most comfortable with a received dogma. Perhaps they should proscribe the reading of the works of Ayn Rand, as Pope Gregory the Great did the Bible, so that no one will come up with an independent interpretation. They need a priesthood with ordination. No, they seem already to have that.

By the way, when the reading of the Bible was proscribed, people stopped reading or even learning to read, which was the real reason for the Dark Ages. It was the immediate result of Christian dogma and the need to maintain it. Will ARI's dogma lead them to make such a drastic, but logical, choice in the future?

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"It is in the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is a hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn't get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before in various periods in the history of man." --Richard Feynman

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Charles identifies an existent in the Objectivist movement:

They need a priesthood with ordination. No, they seem already to have that.  

By the way, when the reading of the Bible was proscribed, people stopped reading or even learning to read, which was the real reason for the Dark Ages.

Simple and profound.

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and a number of other excommunicees. (Did I just coin a word?)  

Barbara

Usage note: Just as "alternate" is pronounced to rhyme with "eight" when used as a verb and with "it" (sort of...) when used as a noun or an adjective, so also with a number of other words ending in "-ate", including "excommunicate". One who is excommunicated ("...cate..." rhymes with "ate") is an "excommunicate" ("...cate..." rhymes more-or-less with "it"). -- Mike Hardy

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