The Deification of Ayn Rand


Mike Renzulli

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I have have just read part 3 of Neal Parille's review of Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics at Objectivist Living and (despite not having read PARC or PAR) completely agree with his assessment. Its PARC's author's silence or lack of rebuttal to Neal Parille's review that speaks volumes of Mr. Valliant's credibility (or lack thereof).

Aside from David Kelley's split from ARI which mirror's the split of protestants from the Catholic Church, I could not help but notice that the debate over what Ayn Rand was like is similar to a debate that occured in Buddhism.

When Buddha was out teaching his philosophy, he made it emphatically clear to his followers that he just wanted people to learn his philosophy and did not want to be "deified". Unfortunately, after he passed away, one faction of the Buddhist movement did just that.

Instead of focusing on the teachings of Buddha, the mystic Buddhists made their philosophy into a religion and portrayed Buddha as superhuman (i.e. a god).

Christianity did the same with Jesus. Islam did the same with Muhammed. And now the orthodox Objectivists with the Ayn Rand Institute want to do the same thing with Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand was a wonderul individual and I love her philosophy. But I could not think of any way to better insult Ms. Rand's memory by making her out to be a victim which is what Valliant and the ARI folks do while trying to "deify" her at the same time.

I think one or two people who post on these boards practice Buddism too and could give more insights into the philosophy and split that occured.

There are also 3 main factions of Objectivism and it just so happens that there are 3 main factions of Buddhism too.

Anyone care to comment?

Edited by Mike Renzulli
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How much of this Rand herself?

From what I understand the ARI's deification of "Miss Rand" is primarily the belief in her absolute and infallible logic (her break up being strictly philosophical for example) but she herself said things like "Either accept all of my philosophy or accept your an evil toohey out to rationalize a hodgepodge - yer gonna go ta HELL!" (exact quote).

They ARI seem to be carrying Rand's self image forward pretty faithfully.

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Mike,

A small thing—but Muslims deny deifying Muhammad. The Qur'an contains many passages reminding the faithful that Muhammad is an ordinary man, not even well educated. (Though a few passages also allot special privileges to him.) Christians are sharply reproved for investing Jesus (to Muslims, an earlier prophet) with divine attributes.

Actual practice is more complicated. Pious Muslims won't mention the Prophet without a special formula of obeisance ("Peace be upon him").

And I would think that the alleged prohibition against portraits of Muhammad (not a view that has always prevailed--there are nice Persian and Central Asian miniatures of Muhammad from the Middle Ages) would be a source of trouble in Islamic theological circles. The prohibition makes sense only if Muhammad is considered divine and portraits of him idols, in contradiction to their scripture and their fundamental doctrines.

Robert Campbell

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Robert,

I seem to recall reading that many Moslems are against pictures or "graven images" period whether or not they consider the entity depicted as divine.

I've seen "Pennsylvania Dutch" dolls without faces for I imagine the same reason.

-NEIL

____

Edited by Neil Parille
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When Buddha was out teaching his philosophy, he made it emphatically clear to his followers that he just wanted people to learn his philosophy and did not want to be "deified". Unfortunately, after he passed away, one faction of the Buddhist movement did just that.

Instead of focusing on the teachings of Buddha, the mystic Buddhists made their philosophy into a religion and protrayed Buddha as superhuman (i.e. a god).

Christianity did the same with Jesus. Islam did the same with Muhammed. And now the orthodox Objectivists with the Ayn Rand Institute want to do the same thing with Ayn Rand.

It does seem to be a pattern that people engage in over and over, the making of a deified figure out of a founding figure.

I think one or two people who post on these boards practice Buddism too and could give more insights into the philosophy and split that occured.

The person on this board who knows most about Buddhism is Ross Barlow, but he hasn't been posting much at all on any board lately. He has health problems which interfere with his posting.

There are also 3 main factions of Objectivism and it just so happens that there are 3 main factions of Buddhism too.

I'm not sure where you're getting the "3 main factions" of either Objectivism or Buddhism. I thought there were 2 main groups of Buddhists -- or are you thinking of Zen as a 3rd main group to Hiniyana and Mahayana? And are you thinking of Linz's group as a 3rd main group to ARI and TAS?

Ellen

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There are also 3 main factions of Objectivism and it just so happens that there are 3 main factions of Buddhism too.

Could you elaborate on this? I'm a Norwegian studying Objectivism, and am only aware of the orthodox "closed system" ARI variety, and the unorthodox "open system" Branden variety. I believe these are called "Objectivism" and "Neo Objectivism"?

I'd appreciate a description of the third variety.

Thank you.

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Mike,

A small thing—but Muslims deny deifying Muhammad. [....]

Actual practice is more complicated. [....]

I think that actual practice and actual emotions displayed belie the denial, in similar fashion to the actual tone, emphasis, method of arguing of, and method of defense of, PARC belying JV's insistence that the book isn't hagiographic. Consider, for instance, the reaction to Satanic Verses. Would there have been so extreme a reaction ("Off with his [Rushdie's] head!") if deifying emotions hadn't been affronted?

Ellen

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**how to study Objectivism**

> Could you elaborate on this? I'm a Norwegian studying Objectivism,

JMartins, it sounds as if you may be new to this philosophy. (Forgive me it that's incorrect, though.)

You're not going to get much clarity by trawling this or other websites. They are sensationalist and a carnival. Especially the unmoderated, standardless ones which want traffic and are open to anyone colorful, angry, or cantankerous who wants to post and where there is a lot of ignorance and misleading information. Rand was the best explainer of her ideas in her nonfiction anthologies as well as novels. You don't learn physics by 'kicking back' and watching television. Reading - and rereading - books and thinking deeply about them is how you study Objectivism (before going on to formal lecture series). Not from a "chat" room with no admission requirements.

You can be entertained on the internet - as in a freak show - and watch the sly three card monte expert, the bearded, tatooed lady, and the fire-breathing sword-swallower.

You just can't learn (or study) Objectivism there.

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You can be entertained on the internet; you just can't learn Objectivism there.

Phil,

While I agree that there is much misleading information on the Internet and that Rand's works are the best place to learn Objectivism, I disagree that you cannot learn it on the Internet. If you like, I can prepare you a nice little list of resources, starting with both the TAS and ARI sites, the Objectivism Reference Center and even here on OL in threads devoted to studying ITOE or in essays in the different author corners (although I do not recommend learning Objectivism from scratch on OL since one of the purposes of this site is to check premises, not teach them to newbies).

Where a person definitely will not learn Objectivism properly is on sites devoted to saving the world. Now that I can agree with.

Michael

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**how to study Objectivism**

> Could you elaborate on this? I'm a Norwegian studying Objectivism,

JMartins, it sounds as if you may be new to this philosophy. (Forgive me it that's incorrect, though.)

You're not going to get much clarity by trawling this or other websites. They are sensationalist and a carnival. Especially the unmoderated, standardless ones which want traffic and are open to anyone colorful, angry, or cantankerous who wants to post and where there is a lot of ignorance and misleading information. Rand was the best explainer of her ideas in her nonfiction anthologies as well as novels. You don't learn physics by 'kicking back' and watching television. Reading - and rereading - books and thinking deeply about them is how you study Objectivism (before going on to formal lecture series). Not from a "chat" room with no admission requirements.

You can be entertained on the internet - as in a freak show - and watch the sly three card monte expert, the bearded, tatooed lady, and the fire-breathing sword-swallower.

You just can't learn (or study) Objectivism there.

Thanks, I'm certainly the bookish sort of learner though, and am in the process of going through this reading list (I have however listened through all lectures on www.ari.org). Since I haven't been all that active on Objectivist websites, I have very little knowledge about the split between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden, and the different "branches of Objectivism" (although I'm temped to say that there's only one, judging by what I have learned so far). I believe that the Internet is the only place where I can find information on this, as most people here in Norway are oblivious to Objectivism. I take it the "third branch" are the people who are in disagreement with both ARI and the Atlas Society then -- most likely the "Randian Libertarian/anarchist" Paul-supporters.

I agree that many of the ARI Objectivists should pay more heed to this particular quote:

“You graduate from being a student when you no longer need to use the name of your teacher.”

--Ayn Rand

And yes, I am fully aware of the absurdity of quoting that particular quote. ;-)

Edited by JMartins
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JMartins,

As Jack (yes, that one) used to say: "Let's cut it down into manageable parts." :)

(OK, enough dark humor, although the subject of "true" Objectivism warrants it.)

Actually there are two basic divisions in the official Objectivist world, and even here, there is enormous difficulty in defining what "official" means. ARI and TAS are those poles.

People seriously interested in Objectivism who do not adhere to either of those two sides can be categorized into something like "All The Others." They are a diverse crowd, too. There are independents that are former ARI people like George Reisman, Robert Tracinski and Betty Spreicher, those who find value in the Brandens like those here on OL (although we do favor TAS because we like those poeple), boneheaded personality cults like Solo Passion, and so forth. There are many groups and individuals and the "All The Others" category can become just as splintered as the division between ARI and TAS.

One thing bothers me about this kind of division: it is tribal at root. I prefer a much more qualitative division, one that I wrote about some time ago: The Ayn Rand Love/Hate Myth. You can find the qualitative division of individuals given in that essay in all the different Objectivist tribes:

People who loathe Rand

People who worship Rand

People who think for themselves

Obviously these are poles. There are degrees between them, also. I believe the qualitative division will endure the test of time while the tribes will die out.

One of the objectives I have set for OL is to encourage people to think for themselves and discourage tribal yearnings. So even though we are a loose-knit group, OL is not organized around a charismatic personality or set of dogmatic beliefs. There are some forum house rules and in enforcing them, I have been very flexible. They concern civility and legality and not being obnoxious and snarky, like not bashing the Brandens (or other posters), and that is about all. People are free to disagree with each other, even criticize each other (without too much snarkiness), and generally find their own ways with their own minds.

Strangly enough, we have had some problems with bigotry. There is a thin line between discussing issues involving bigotry (which is OK) and preaching bigotry (which is not OK). Some people like to constantly hover around that line. I think this is OK as an example, too, because it helps define things. It is common to find on Objectivism forums people who constantly use Objectivism to try to justify their bigotry. This is one point where a tribal division is no good and qualitative thinking is crucial.

Michael

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**how to study Objectivism**

> Could you elaborate on this? I'm a Norwegian studying Objectivism,

JMartins, it sounds as if you may be new to this philosophy. (Forgive me it that's incorrect, though.)

You're not going to get much clarity by trawling this or other websites. They are sensationalist and a carnival. Especially the unmoderated, standardless ones which want traffic and are open to anyone colorful, angry, or cantankerous who wants to post and where there is a lot of ignorance and misleading information. Rand was the best explainer of her ideas in her nonfiction anthologies as well as novels. You don't learn physics by 'kicking back' and watching television.

Unfortunately, Rand seemed to think that she could learn certain subjects by "kicking back" and opining about them (though not necessarily while watching television). For example, she knew very little about my specific areas of interest, which are painting, sculpture, photography and music, but that didn't stop her from being more colorful, angry, cantankerous and ignorant about those subjects than well-read, scholarly, consistent or rational, but it also didn't stop her from having some good insights. The advantage of the internet is that others respond and challenge you when you "kick back" and opine, and you're not left sitting there, like Rand, admiring your own uninformed opinions and not knowing that they need correction.

Reading - and rereading - books and thinking deeply about them is how you study Objectivism (before going on to formal lecture series). Not from a "chat" room with no admission requirements.

"Thinking deeply" is good, but being willing to be deeply critical is better. In online forums, you can find a lot of very intelligent arguments both for and against Rand's ideas. Many of the arguments against Objectivism remain unanswered by Objectivists, including those who have read all of her books and attended numerous formal lecture series. Exposing yourself to criticism of Objectivism is a good thing.

You can be entertained on the internet - as in a freak show - and watch the sly three card monte expert, the bearded, tatooed lady, and the fire-breathing sword-swallower.

You just can't learn (or study) Objectivism there.

I agree that you're unlikely to get a good understanding of Objectivism, or anything else, if your only source is the internet, but I think that reading some of the arguments and debates that happen on these forums can be very helpful in clarifying your thinking. I think the evidence of the potency of some of the online critics of Objectivism is that even very learned Objectivists generally fear debating with them about Objectivism. On most of the occasions that I've seen Objectivists go out there, unprotected, into the "real world" and try to defend Objectivism against scientists, artists and philosophers, etc., the Objectivists get their asses kicked.

I'd say read, think and argue anywhere that you can. Any source that stimulates thinking is a good source.

J

Edited by Jonathan
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> am in the process of going through this [ARI] reading list (I have however listened through all lectures on www.ari.org). [JMartins]

The ARI progression of readings is not a bad one. One thing I would change is I would read entire anthologies not jump from essay to essay. Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal is the crucial book which clarifies how Objectivism would work in the real world. And what has happened historically when it has not been practiced.

So, barring special circumstance, I would clearly read that first after the novels.

And in its entirety.

The reason is that ethics (the topic of Virtue of Selfishness) becomes much more clear when you see how a whole society works if based on egoism. How conflicts are resolved. How competition works. How the trader principle works and freedom benefits everyone. How one can find those to trade and work with. How meritocracy works.

And market economics, laissez-faire, is the simple giant example of the beneficence, the happy results of rational egoism writ large.

>I have very little knowledge about the split between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden, and the different "branches of Objectivism"

Regarding the former, if you wanted to learn the ideas of Behaviorism or Freudianism, would you spend time examining whether or not Freud or William James had a mistress? If you wanted to learn what were the breakthroughs of Isaac Newton which revolutionized physics, would you spend time studying which church he belonged to or his arcane speculations about numerology or religion or astrology?

Whether a major thinker made mistakes outside of his major contributions or in his personal life is not germane and, good or bad, should be totally put to one side while you are in the middle of the difficult enough process of trying to grasp and integrate and see if you agree with his major contributions.

[JM, I can see by your comment about there probably only being one branch, that you perhaps already agree with the above...so I'm writing more for others in a 'to whoever it may concern' mode :-) ]

Regarding the latter, Objectivism advocates identity and 'metaphysical realism' in metaphysics, reason in epistemology, rational egoism in ethics, and laissez faire in human relationships and in economics and political theory. And all that those things imply . . . You have to add some more principles, but once one knows what those very abstract ideas mean -- they will define whether or not one is an Objectivist. While Objectivists disagree on tricky questions about how to apply those philosophical theoretical positions, there are no 'branches' of Objectivism if one agrees with those positions and applies them fairly clear-headedly.

Some people mistakenly say "I am not an Objectivist" because they disagree with Ayn Rand's views on current events or on psychology. Or on whether Immanuel Kant was evil or simply mistaken. But Objectivism is a school of philosophy, not psychology. It has NO POSITION on whether you should vote for a particular Republican or a particular Democrat as the lesser of two evils or for a Libertarian. Or on whether Victor Hugo or James Joyce is the better novelist.

Once again, imagine trying to say I'm a Platonist or an Aristotelian based on who seduced whose sister or whether you thought science has proven smoking is harmful or the icecaps are melting or whether you agreed with a particular preference or application of their ideas to who was a bad guy or a good guy in ancient Greece 2500 years ago.

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... if you wanted to learn the ideas of Behaviorism or Freudianism, would you spend time examining whether or not Freud or William James had a mistress? If you wanted to learn what were the breakthroughs of Isaac Newton which revolutionized physics, would you spend time studying which church he belonged to or his arcane speculations about numerology or religion or astrology?

Phil,

This leaves out a context that is not present with Freud, James or Newton. If a school of zealots (including an heir for authenticity) had developed from these thinkers and these zealots were hellbent on saving the world and they proclaimed loudly that the fact that their idol had a mistress (or whatever) was proof of their idol's moral perfection despite appearing to everybody else the contrary, and they viciously targeted—almost as a trademark signature—people in public who mentioned such things and did not agree with them, how can a person interested in these thinkers ignore such behavior?

For as much as a newbie is interested in the ideas, it has to cross his mind, "If I study these ideas, will I turn into that?"

I combat zealotry and tribalism in the online Objectivist subculture and this is the reason I refer to it as the garbage detail. I can't do anything about the crappy image (that I neither created nor sanction). But whoever gets too close to garbage ends up stinking a bit himself.

Barring this context, I agree with you.

Michael

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Michael, once one has learned the philosophy and all the related application issues, then if someone wants to explore in depth and thoughtfully such issues as 'If these ideas are so good, what's subverting them?', 'How can i spread and persuade?', I wouldn't have much complaint.

But I don't find that sequence to be the case. I find that people are constantly distracted by these issues from gaining a solid foundation in both the theory and in the applications -- both to the world and to understanding themselves. They are like shiny candy that one sees lying on the ground and it's quick and attractive and easy to scoop it up and eat it without (leaving sanitary considerations aside) having had sufficient, non-obesity forming nutritious food as a solid base beforehand.

> If a school of zealots (including an heir for authenticity) had developed from these thinkers

The best way to defeat a school of zealots -- as well as a loose coterie of lazy people who don't want to work hard enough to know the ideas -- is to know the philosophy cold, to have one's writing and persuasive skills down cold, to be able to apply the ideas and pull the rug out from under those who misapply it by calm reasoned essays and speeches. Not by giving too much attention to the more extreme or least plausible of the anti-Oists or the 'super'-Oists.

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The advantage of the internet is that others respond and challenge you when you "kick back" and opine, and you're not left sitting there, like Rand, admiring your own uninformed opinions and not knowing that they need correction.

!!!

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I find that people are constantly distracted by these issues from gaining a solid foundation in both the theory and in the applications -- both to the world and to understanding themselves.

Phil,

This is exactly my point.

It is human nature to care about humans and be curious about them. People are going to value that whether you or I or anybody likes it or not. Nobody will ever be able to change that short of destroying all of mankind.

But look where this natural human interest is directed by the boneheaded stink-mongers.

To stinks.

Otherwise, threads like this one would be more popular: Remembering good things about Ayn Rand, and emphasis on the ideas could be more on the table.

My concern is not to change human nature, but to work with it. As the lady said, A is A and I think it is advised to accept it. I cannot obliterate this urge in humans, but I can make use of it for branding.

I want newbies, at least, to know that Objectivist ideas will lead them to independent thinking and, hopefully, a self-confident productive happiness. Objectivism does not have to lead to bullying, pathological indifference, snarkiness, boneheaded reasoning, gnawing insecurity and ganging up on people who think for themselves or are not afraid to ask inconvenient questions. I believe many others on OL think the same as I do on this.

As I use the same name (Objectivism) as certain very loud and active tribalists do, there is the issue of branding that I have to attend to. Reality dictates that. If I do not attend to it, I will be branded a kook along with kooks. I have market goals I am striving to attain (currently leaving the planning stage, but still in pre-production) and this will seriously get in the way in the future.

If you don't believe me, go to any non-Objectivist intellectual forum and see what they say about Objectivists. It would be nice if it worked your way (I refer to the "best way to defeat a school of zealots"), but the reality I see doesn't work that way at all. So I have to do it my way.

Incidentally, I don't want to defeat any school of anything. Let the zealots make their little virtual communes if they wish. My aim is another. I want to distance my image from the zealots. That means I have to talk about them at times.

I am proud of my branding efforts. They have achieved a small measure of success so far.

Michael

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The third faction is Vajarayana which is the Tibetan version. The third faction of Objectivism I refer to is SOLO.

I'm not sure where you're getting the "3 main factions" of either Objectivism or Buddhism. I thought there were 2 main groups of Buddhists -- or are you thinking of Zen as a 3rd main group to Hiniyana and Mahayana? And are you thinking of Linz's group as a 3rd main group to ARI and TAS?

Ellen

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The third branch of Objectivism are the Sense of Life Objectivists (aka SOLO) started by Lindsay Perigo. As opposed to ARI & TAS, SOLO embraces the closed system but considers themselves superior to TAS and ARI. In what way they consider themselves superior I am not sure. Perhaps SOLO's website would explain it better: http://www.solopassion.com/

Could you elaborate on this? I'm a Norwegian studying Objectivism, and am only aware of the orthodox "closed system" ARI variety, and the unorthodox "open system" Branden variety. I believe these are called "Objectivism" and "Neo Objectivism"?

I'd appreciate a description of the third variety.

Thank you.

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Thank you, Ellen. This is what I mean with regards to Islam. I appreciate Robert clarifying the role Muhammad plays in Islam but deduced that Muslims do revere him like a saint or god despite the fact that, as Robert points out, that Muslims consider Muahmmad a human being.

I think that actual practice and actual emotions displayed belie the denial, in similar fashion to the actual tone, emphasis, method of arguing of, and method of defense of, PARC belying JV's insistence that the book isn't hagiographic. Consider, for instance, the reaction to Satanic Verses. Would there have been so extreme a reaction ("Off with his [Rushdie's] head!") if deifying emotions hadn't been affronted?

Ellen

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Ayn Rand was a wonderul individual and I love her philosophy. But I could not think of any way to better insult Ms. Rand's memory by making her out to be a victim which is what Valliant and the ARI folks do while trying to "deify" her at the same time.

As in Saint Ayn? :)

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The third branch of Objectivism are the Sense of Life Objectivists (aka SOLO) started by Lindsay Perigo.

Mike,

Heh.

I really don't know how to write about this statement without ribbing you, like offerning to sell you the Statue of Liberty for cheap.

:)

It's going to take a tiny bit more than a low-traffic website and some pompous declarations by a mediocre media has-been in a small country (albeit a charming one) to make a "branch" of the Objectivist movement. Even site-wise, spend some time on the ARI site and the TAS site. There is a problem of both scope and quality here and the distance is HUGE. Here is a comparison to transportation for an easy analogy. Supposing these "branches" are vehicles.

ARI and TAS = Jumbo jets

Solo Passion = Plastic trycicle with a busted axle

Michael

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