The Pseudo-Objectivism Concept of Phil Coates

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The Pseudo-Objectivism Concept of Phil Coates

Phil Coates posted an article entitled "Pseudo-Objectivism" on RoR and SOLOP. It is not one of his better efforts, so I wasn't going to respond to it, but in following the discussions, some obvious points were not raised or elaborated on and this bothers me.

Here is a brief summary of the article.

"Pseudo" means faking it. For example, a pseudo-intellectual is one who does not understand many of the words and concepts he mouths as if he did, nor has read many of the works and authors he mentions to show off. Likewise, a pseudo-Objectivist is one who mouths Objectivist catchwords and apes behavior and postures from Objectivist literature, but does not really understand the philosophy.

Phil divides Pseudo-Objectivists into two types: the intrincisist (Randroid) type, whose communication style is curt, abrupt and dismissive; and the subjectivist type, who holds to a watered-down version of Objectivism because of inner doubts about some of the ideas, but likes the name "Objectivist." His communication style is long-winded and unfocused.

Then Phil calls such faking-it a "psychological issue not a moral one." Finally, he says Objectivism is a hard philosophy.

(End of summary.)

Reading the article gave me a creepy feeling inside. Before I continue, let me state that I hold high regard for Phil and his intellect. I do not hold high regard for this article.

The first thought that leaped out in my mind was the dichotomy of "Pseudo-Objectivist" against... er... what? A "Real Objectivist"? "Genuine Objectivist"? "True Objectivist?"

Every time I run into one of these damn dichotomies purporting to cover the full range of an issue, my mind goes into alarm mode - the bells go off - and the blasted thing nags me until I say something. That's why I'm writing this as a rant, not a formal answer.

You know what is missing? The idea of an individual who holds his mind supreme and philosophy is merely one area of his life. That doesn't fit the pseudo-genuine Objectivist dichotomy at all because a person is a person way before being a member of whatever he supposed or alleged to be.

Whatever is right.

Still, two questions arise in this dichotomy:

(1) By what standard?

(2) Who decides?

Let's do it the simple way - looking and pointing at things in reality. Let's start with the first two biggies in Objectivism: Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. Was either a Pseudo-Objectivist? Hmmmm... How about Peikoff and Kelley? Any Pseudo-Objectivist there? Hmmmmm... On a far lower scale, Perigo and Rowlands. Pseudo-Objectivists anyone? Hmmmmm...

You know, none of these people could get along after a while. They fought and harshly criticized each other in intellectual, philosophical and personal terms. Did one stop being a Genuine Objectivist after the fight and become a Pseudo-Objectivist? Which? Which one stayed the Genuine Objectivist? Since we are discussing intellectual leaders and aspirants to leaders, who decides?

(Incidentally, the reason I got moderated on RoR is that I said Objectivist leaders don't get along, so who actually decides when people disagree? Despite such clear history in Objectivism of personality conflicts, Rowlands got ticked and didn't think this was something you should say.)

I will agree that the intrincisist-subjectivist thing has a small value in Phil's article, especially the part about writing style, but the actual dichotomy has practically no value at all if you are discussing independent individuals who adhere to the principles of Objectivism when they use philosophy.

(The real dichotomy is people who think for themselves and people who try to belong to a group or movement where some of their thinking is done for them.)

What constitutes a Genuine Objectivist? Understanding and practicing the philosophy? That's great. Now if all these leaders have accused each other of not understanding and/or practicing the philosophy, then what standard can be used? From the looks of it, they sure as hell didn't care when they fought. They had other priorities at the time.

I could do an in depth analysis of the principle facets of the concept of "Pseudo-Objectivist," but I don't find it to be of any value to me. I'm content to point to the complete lack of any agreed-on parameters and stop there.

Something bugs me about all this, though. Something sets off those inner alarm bells. People who propose these kinds of dichotomies - and loudly propose them - may vary in terms of what standard to use. They may not even be clear as to what the standards actually are. But they are all crystal clear on one thing.

They know damn well who should decide.



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I was also puzzled by that article. I just couldn't believe that it was seriously meant, it seemed to me a spoof of some kind. And I'm still not sure it isn't. Phil replied to my criticism with:

CS, the fact that an evaluative concept is widely misused does not mean the concept is invalid. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater: standards of measuring how well someone comes close to a difficult goal *do* exist, else one is a subjectivist. One needs to apply this one very carefully, but one can't "blow off" the fact that Oism is a hard philosophy and very many people misapply it severely or claim to be Oists who aren't.

I really can't believe it, this sounds like the rant of a true believer (therefore I still think it must be some kind of joke). What's the use of such a definition? It's just a label to discredit people who are not Real Objectivists™ and I find the use of such labels incredibly silly. They are invariably used to silence or discredit opponents without any real argument. How often haven't I heard in discussions that I'm a Kantian, a rationalist, a Popperian and a dozen other -ists and -ans, as if such an arbitrary label would be an argument. Moreover, as I'd pointed out, this label has already been used extensively by the "official" Objectivists and their claque, and now we should give it a new meaning? The only result this can have in practice is dialogs like: "you're a pseudo-Objectivist because you claim that blah blah blah, no you are a pseudo-Objectivist, as you say... etc." and similar "arguments". This kind of label is exactly what you can expect from a religious cult, you have the bearers of the Truth and you have those impostors, the evil looters who should be banned to hell while they try to poison the Eternal Truth. But now we've identified them: "Pseudo-Objectivist" is their mark of Cain!

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I think I can see why Phil wrote the article by putting it in context with what he's been doing/experiencing in forum activity (vs. apparently having a lot of sex with everyone; the guy must be whipped by now).

It seems to me that one thing is for sure... Let's say that somehow the glorious occurred and the "is you is or is you ain't an O'ist" was blanked out of the picture. What would remain? What if there simply weren't any accusations of impurity/impiety being hurled around? I know for sure that a lot of the forums would dry up even more than they already have. There are people that really dig that whole prejudicial pigeonholing practice, and I leave it to y'all to postulate as to the why of that, other than to say I can't find any healthy reasons, they all greatly resemble racial purity stuff. I mean, what the Hell are you protecting whom from, and more importantly, how, really? Through sanitizationi? It's a philsophy for the individual.

I know quite a few exceptional people who view Atlas Shrugged as a pivotal piece of work that changed their lives, personally, and in business. Heck, I date one. They live it, but until they talked to me didn't even know that there was such a thing as Objectivism. They looked around at the forums and, for the most part, got totally disgusted at some of the doings.

And, I'm sure these folks would be disqualified by some as genuine, or maybe even pseudo. Yet, there they are, movers and shakers.

I know that there are many, many top executives who hold Atlas Shrugged in this high regard, and would simply turn away from the forum antics.

What is happening here (and this might be especially disturbing to atheists who think by nature they are immune to such sociological phenoms) is exactly the same kind of polarization that occurs in all religion.

That is, the broadest separation you can make, the biggest category divide, in organized religion is a very simple one, I have written about it before. That is, whether something is Creed-based, or Covenant-based. Whether something is orthodox ("right" thinking), or not.

The genuines will always and forever make qualifying statements as to what is right thinking. If you remove the structure of closed, of Orthodoxy (or whatever they have determined to be orthodoxy) from such a person, it creates a void, a very fragile state.

This is particularly true, I think, of those who finally found comfort after years in Objectivism, but happened to hard-core it up a little too much. If they fell away from the rigid structure, implosion would be imminent.

There are those of us who cannot say we are Objectivists, and of course I am one. For one thing, I find the term repugnant because it smacks of the credal, the orthodox. I can say that I am deeply influenced by a great deal of AR's work, the novels more than anything else she ever did, and I have integrated that great work into my life, as I have many other things.

This, of course, is unacceptable to the credal, the orthdox, and that is to be expected, and it means nothing to me. Between that and the fact that I have deep respect for Nathaniel Branden, have benefitted from his work, and got a chance to work with him a little, I am heretic- a position from which I find great comfort.

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You bring up an interesting focus on why you do not call yourself an Objectivist. I want to expand on that.

I call myself philosophically an Objectivist because of everything I have read, Objectivism best fits the philosophical bill. However, there are some areas I believe are incomplete because an incomplete concept of human nature was dealt with. (I only find Objectivism to be wrong in some areas where it tries to be complete - yet I mostly find such partial subjects to be correct if looked at as partial. Thus the wrongness is not in the concept but the scope.)

In nationality, I am an American, yet I was an expatriate for decades. In soccer, of course, I am a hardcore Brazilian fan. As a human being, I am an individual and a male. These last come way before a philosophy and the first are pretty much on par with it.

What I am trying to say is that the choice to call myself an Objectivist is to identify my basic philosophical thinking with a specific body of thought and acknowledge the source, nothing more. Just like most Christians do with religion (think of all the varieties).

It is not to proclaim myself as a part of any organized movement. For the organized movement, I am best described as a Renegade Objectivist. Apparently, from the volume of acrimony aimed at me, this posture threatens many hardcore Objectivist movement people.

I am especially not that interested in saving the world, since I don't believe it is perishing. The life we live in this century with the advances of reason is a wonderful life, despite the messages of doom in Rand's writings. I wrote an e-mail to Barbara the other day where I mentioned this. Below is a quote:

Jeff Walker, despite his obnoxiousness, pointed out a very strong truth. If you go by population growth (about six billion people so far) and the growth of life extension, the human species is biologically one of the most successful ones on the planet. Messages of doom fall flat in light of these facts. You can say "mankind is perishing in an orgy of unreason," but the fact is that he is flourishing.


(The only doom message that really is supported by facts is that we need to concentrate on keeping those in power from blowing us all up or setting loose some other major disaster.)

Objectivist movement leaders (but not all) constantly tell people that life is terrible, the collectivists/altruists/mystics are making a living hell of this earth, etc., yet they pronounce this on broadcasting systems to be heard by people watching TV in their own climate-controlled homes, driving computerized automobiles or otherwise tuning in on state-of-the-art reception equipment. They print it on the Internet, which allows them to publish their thoughts for free and have the whole world be able to access them instantly. Or in books, magazines or periodicals where distribution and sales structures allow them a vast audience with only one effort on their part (merely writing).

Most people who listen to or read Objectivist messages of doom (those preaching things like "Age of Unreason," etc.) are extremely comfortable in life with oodles of things made by reason. Instead of the prophets focusing on convincing people to strive to go even higher, these Objectivist Movement Leaders (but not all) try to convince people that the marvelous existence they are privileged to have is actually rotten. That is probably why most people don't listen. They hear words of doom then look around and see that life is good.

TOC is proving to be an exception with a focus on achievement. This organization is derided a great deal by the orthodox prophets of doom, who claim that achievement is not a core value in Rand's philosophy, if I understood correctly what I have read. (It has been difficult to believe and I have had to read passages twice or more to make sure I was not mistaken.) I have seen this affirmation and/or insinuation is several places criticizing TOC's mission statement, where the following phrase is mentioned: "the core Objectivist values of reason, individualism, freedom, and achievement."

As an example, look at the following quote:

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

I am a member of TOC because I contribute money and I happen to agree with most of their views, but I am not engaged in saving the world. I am engaged in acquiring knowledge and wisdom, realizing my own achievements and hanging out with people I like.

That, incidentally, is the focus of OL. The only value I want to provide here is the individual value each member can receive to those ends - and give, if he/she so chooses. This is a forum for individuals in the strictest sense of the word. There is no "OL movement," only a forum of ideas and lots of wonderful, intelligent and charismatic people - many as different as night and day.

The main point I want to stress is that TOC, OL and other organizations are merely part of my life; my life does not exist to be part of them. The same goes for Objectivism. Being an Objectivist is merely part of my life. I do not exist to be an Objectivist.

The public I target is the "silent contingency" of Objectivism - people like you describe who read Rand's works and go about living their lives as best they see fit without becoming involved in any Objectivist movement. I was that way and silent for decades. Now I am that way and public.

I have no doubt many of those in the "silent contingency" would like to call themselves "Objectivists" philosophically, but they are either revolted by the antics of all the personality clashes they see between people who raise that banner, or they simply don't want to bicker with the nasty folks and, in the big picture of their lives, it's just not important.

Here on OL they can call themselves Objectivists, or Objectivism-friendly, or however they wish to call themselves. They will be taken seriously without hostility.

(Trolls, of course, will not have an audience here.)


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However, there are some areas I believe are incomplete because an incomplete concept of human nature was dealt with. (I only find Objectivism to be wrong in some areas where it tries to be complete - yet I mostly find such partial subjects to be correct if looked at as partial. Thus the wrongness is not in the concept but the scope.)  

Oh, Lordy, and how... And also, what you mention about TOC including achievement vs. egoism is rather interesting from that perspective, is it not? I also remember somebody blasting away at them for doing that, as if they had violated canon law....

I can think of egoism being a state just as easily as I can it being an ethical doctrine. There's a case to be made that pretty much everyone acts in their own self-interest, all the time. That can include shameless self-sacrificers; it makes them happy and that's what they go do.

But real achievement, now- that requires discipline in all things and all ways. You want to really make something happen, you want to move some prime...way different game.

So I think it's a better choice for TOC.

There is no reason to wonder why ortho-types go bughouse mental at the TOC, even for little tweaks like this- business-type moves that companies do all the time. Companies- you know- people that make shit happen, like in the AR books. Companies that are nimble, adapatable, flexible, open, evolving things. From what I see, TOC at least is taking somewhat of a business-driven approach to what they're doing.

I am in business. I am a businessman. That's my main link to AR- we make things happen, we build things, we do. Those who contribute to what I'd call the pathological downside of O-world, well, if they do that too, it's sure being done elsewhere, or not competently. This year I watched a group of them flounder away wildly just trying to mobilize properly, ~like a business plan is executed~ into activism. It was a total cluster-fucq, and to this day I have seen nothing out of it. It deteriorated into, amongst other things, a bunch of rational egoists who were too principled to partner up and negotiate themselves into a position of action. When (purpotedly rational) egoism goes nuts...

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The idea of an individual who holds his mind supreme and philosophy is merely one area of his life.

I like that.

Don't hold back MSK! Tell us what you really think! :)

I agree with Rich. There is an appearance of orthodoxy in the Objectivist world, especially in the leadership which I find off putting. Some seem to at first bend their minds to fit Objectivism, make themselves fit in, then latter try to bend Objectivism and other Objectivists to their own ill fitted image.

Starting a web forum seems to them give credibility as Objectivist leaders, (present company excluded) kinda like founding a church makes you able to talk to god. Just like Christianity, which now has about 666 different denominations, the organized Objectivist organizations keep splintering into factions. Why?

Hell, I don't know!

I do know this. I was the way I am before I read anything by Ayn Rand. I know that she was brilliant. I remember thinking 'Wow! There is someone in the world like me!"

I saw her as a supremely talented human who could put into words what I could not. I knew that I was not alone in my thinking or living. I saw her take on philosophy as correct. I did not see it as a movement to be followed.

To me being objective is simple. I just don't see why Objectivists make it so damned difficult.

The formula is A=A.

It's not that hard!

I also think that most Objectivist organizations are lost because of the power politics involved. When you have leaders and followers objectivity tends to get lost. How does an Objectivist follow?

But who am I?

Just a poor dumb pseudo-non-objectivist heathen!


It's really not that hard!

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Like Michael, I am soon to be an expatriate. I am emigrating to Europe.

Like Rich Engle, I don't call myself an Objectivist. The following will explain why.

I cannot find this quotation again; it was attributed to Ayn Rand herself. I will paraphrase from memory, in the hopes that someone will find the quotation. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong:

Rand: I hope that people will not call themselves Objectivists if they hold ideas diametrically opposed to mine. In such case, people should give me credit for such ideas of mine that they accept, and take responsibility for their own ideas.

There was more to the quote; I believe the above represents Rand's essential message.

I may have made a mistake; but assuming I was correct, I will agree with Ayn Rand.

I do not agree with everything Ayn Rand said.

I therefore do not call myself an Objectivist.

I will always give Rand credit for the many things she said, with which I do agree. I am happy to take responsibility for my own ideas.

With that in mind, the question looms: WHO IS AN OBJECTIVIST?

Does the above make me an Objectivist, or not?

The floor is open.

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Is there even any purpose in saying whether one is or one is not?

Any positive purpose, say?

To not do so is a pretty appealing takeaway from the, uh... various cadres that are in such continual petulant frenzies about who is worthy of being in the special club...

Honestly, who gives a flying fucq? It means nothing.

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The reason I do not "obey" Rand in this (which is a very early quote when NB was still the second best Objectivist ever) is the same reason I do not think independent writers should obey her injunction against writing about Objectivism (she actually tried to block several writers from doing so during her lifetime, Mimi Gladstein is one example) - a body of ideas is not personal property. Only the written works are.

To quote once again from above, my reason is "to identify my basic philosophical thinking with a specific body of thought and acknowledge the source. Nothing more."


Like I just stated, the value of stating this is simply one of intellectual identification for discussion with others - like saying you are a Christian without specifying the denomination.


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Yeah, I do understand the point there, Michael. I guess I'm just tired of all the clamor. Plus, it's been smelling funny for awhile. And of course, we know that she was hesitant to come up with any name at all, if I recall.

It was the same thing when Bruce Lee settled on "Jeet Kune Do" (the way of intercepting fist) as a name for his system, which was in fact using no way as way- not being locked into the confines of a closed system... using everything.

Off tangent, but I start thinking this... the best thing about all of O-world still are the novels, particularly Atlas, IMHO. I have yet to see any piece of fiction that would carry on that impact, but modernized... hopefully the film (whenever that happens) will have some clout, if they don't douche it up too badly.

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  • 2 weeks later...

~~ I've tried 3x over the past 2 wks to send a post to this thread (apart from the previous 'test', which of course got through, as this one no doubt will) and found ZILCH of those getting through. We're talking HOURS of typing.

~~ Sorry. Just ranting, knowing this'll make it. I've a prob with your article, Mike, re Phil's article, and typed a whole hell of a lot which has disappeared into cyber-space. I suspect that I have a prob involving 'pop-ups' (nm that I "X" them out) that apparently thence interfere with 'sending.'

~~ Anyone got a cue as to how to interfere with send-'interferences'?



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Let us know when you have this whole web thing figured out, John... #-o

These damn 8-year-olds are so damn good on computers and look at us.


Waiting, with baited (versus "bated") breath.

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i can point you at the scotoma that's at root of the guru syndrome in the objectivist world. it was installed by rand herself. it is the anti-concept of 'ideas as property'

ideas do not possess the nature of exclusivity that real material property does, however, as an author, depending on special monopoly privilege born of ancient royal and ecclesiastical fear of ideas, there is an obvious cui bono regarding a choice to further this anticoncept as a commonplace.

it is objective reality that an idea can be in many places at the same time and that nobody can possibly steal an idea because, as any 3 year old child of 2 can tell you: if it isn't missing it can't be stolen!


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Does the above make me an Objectivist, or not?

I'd say not to worry about it. That question has ceased to be of any real meaning to me. It's like wondering if I'm a real Christian or a real Scotsman: I'd rather save myself the headache and consider it all well and done with by knowing that I am me.

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Right on, Jenna!

It's always the sad thing you see in various communities- people who incorporate so much of them into their face that it becomes a mask.


I hate masks they're sweaty for one thing.

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That is really good that you and Kat got to hook up with Phil. Phil is a pretty damn principled guy, from what I see. He put his tush on the line and worked an incredibly tough room when he aired out the Hsieh thing and in my book, he did it with dignity and style. Most of us won't go over there, for various reason- fear not being one of them, but still- he ran a marathon, and whether anything was resolved or not (how could it be, really, considering the unholy alliance...) doesn't matter, what he did and how he did it spoke volumes.

The fact that he is an insatiable, high powered sexual dynamo is just icing on the cake. Did he look worn out?


We can only pretend to Phil's throne- his pimp hand is very strong.

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> Kat I met Phil Coates last week at the seminar and he is a marvelous upbeat person.

Thanks, Michael! It was great meeting and spending some time with you and Kat as well. Great conference!!

> The fact that he is an insatiable, high powered sexual dynamo is just icing on the cake. Did he look worn out?

Rich, people at the conference couldn't figure out why I looked so tired.

It has taken someone who was not even there to figure this immense mystery out.

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Peter, you said: "i can point you at the scotoma that's at root of the guru syndrome in the objectivist world. it was installed by rand herself. it is the anti-concept of 'ideas as property'"

But Rand never said that ideas are property. She approved of the fact that ideas cannot be patented or copyrighted, that only the physical form in which they are embodied -- such as a book or an invention -- can be legally protected.


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Rich: "Phil is a pretty damn principled guy, from what I see. He put his tush on the line and worked an incredibly tough room when he aired out the Hsieh thing and in my book, he did it with dignity and style."

I second the motion! And he gave an excellent talk at TOC on heroes and role models. I especially liked the fact that he didn't do what most Objectivists would do: suggest that one take as role models only the heroes and heroines in Rand's books. Phil, why don't you tell Objectivist Living members something more about your talk?

And you should see Phil doing disco dancing to jitterbug music! Puzzling, but interesting.


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Phil jitterbugging! What an image! :D

Phil, please share more of your insights with us. I'm sorry that I missed your talk, and I'm REALLY sorry that I didn't get to see you jitterbug!


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  • 5 years later...

[emphasis added]

Rich: "Phil is a pretty damn principled guy, from what I see. He put his tush on the line and worked an incredibly tough room when he aired out the Hsieh thing and in my book, he did it with dignity and style."

I second the motion! And he gave an excellent talk at TOC on heroes and role models. I especially liked the fact that he didn't do what most Objectivists would do: suggest that one take as role models only the heroes and heroines in Rand's books. Phil, why don't you tell Objectivist Living members something more about your talk?

Puzzling that this was the last message in the thread ... Phil, that is a great start off point to discussion, don't you think -- even these years later?

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