Fifty-Three Topics of OPAR

I am going to try something that will likely be difficult and painstaking. You see, last year, I wrote that I was going to use this blog as a means to understand socialism, but then the world changed, and I did not finish the project. I did write one post exploring the definition of socialism, I did write another post about a terrible lecture on socialism I forced myself to watch (twice), I started reading The Communist Manifesto, and I read half of the book, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis by Ludwig von Mises. But then, the mood in America shifted, and my Facebook news feed that had been dominated for months by adulatory articles championing the wonders of Democratic Socialism began to be overtaken by extreme levels of tribal insanity over Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The blistering irrationality of the things people were saying in total seriousness about the election was just so extreme that I could not look away. And so, I did not become a godlike expert in Democratic Socialism like I had wanted.

I want something different now. Not that Democratic Socialism isn’t important—it is. And not that I am a flake—I don’t think I am. But rather, there are twelve chapters in the book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand with fifty-three chapter subheadings in total that I would very much like to write about.

Ayn Rand is the shit, you see. Her major works include three novels, two works of short fiction, a play, and seven works of nonfiction from about 1935 to 1980. Inspired to a great extent by Aristotle, Rand developed her own philosophical system called Objectivism, the essence of which she summed up as, “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” (from the appendix of Atlas Shrugged). An atheist and a laissez-faire capitalist, Rand once said in an interview with Raymond Newman: “Philosophy, since it underlies everything in life, cannot be presented too briefly,” which anyone who has ever read Atlas Shrugged can appreciate.

Rand also said, “If Objectivism could have been presently briefly, I should have done so. Instead, I have written millions of words, and even at that, I cannot say that I have completely finished.” What’s interesting is that apart from John Galt’s 50-page speech in Atlas Shrugged, and apart from the topic-specific explications contained in her nonfiction works, Rand wrote no all-inclusive treatise on her philosophy of Objectivism. She left that task to Dr. Leonard Peikoff, whom she designated as her philosophical heir and best interpreter. In 1991, Peikoff published the book, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand based largely on a lecture course he gave in 1976 entitled, “The Philosophy of Objectivism.” Those original lectures were attended by Rand, and she stated, “Until or unless I write a comprehensive treatise on my philosophy, Dr. Peikoff’s course is the only authorized presentation of the entire theoretical structure of Objectivism—that is, the only one that I know of my own knowledge to be fully accurate.” Rand never wrote that treatise. In other words, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (or OPAR, for short) is the only complete disquisition on Ayn Rand’s philosophy that exists.

What does this have to do with my blog? Well, in the summer and fall of 2014, I read the following Randian works:

  • The Fountainhead 
  • Atlas Shrugged 
  • Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology 
  • For the New Intellectual 

Then, in 2015 and 2016, I read the following works by Peikoff:

  • Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
  • The Ominous Parallels 
  • Understanding Objectivism: A Guide to Learning Ayn Rand’s Philosophy
  • The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out

I also started reading all of the following books last year but have not yet finished them:

  • Philosophy: Who Needs It
  • The Virtue of Selfishness
  • Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal
  • The Romantic Manifesto

I have a problem, though. You see, over the past three years, I read all of this philosophical material a little too quickly without focusing on each conceptual element long enough for the ideas to properly simmer or integrate. I didn’t intellectually “chew” on the content long enough to digest it in the way that ideas should really be digested. I would read a book, say to myself, “That seems probably awesome!” and then immediately go on to another book before coming to any real conclusions about the ideas in the previous book or even allowing the ideas to become 100% clear in my mind. I was like a person who sits down to a delicious 7-course meal, scarfs everything on the table in two minutes, and then cannot remember all of the details about what exactly I ate other than that it agreed with me and was probably delicious.

Peikoff once stated in a lecture on the Objectivist theory of concepts:

The proper teacher therefore, has to take you in stages, let you absorb a certain amount, let you automatize it in your mind, and this then frees you to absorb further material at a later time….And then as your knowledge grows, we revisit the issue in a more complex perspective, go over the same subject again, but from new, more advanced angles. We see new meanings in older points which are eliminated by our new context….It would in short be—a spiral. We go over and over the same issues and topics, again and again, each time from a more complex perspective. That is what we mean by the spiral progression of knowledge.

In other words, knowledge progresses in the shape of a spiral rather than in a straight line. You learn something initially in whatever way you can grasp it, and then, after living a little and learning other things, you return to that original something and consider it from a more complex perspective. And then you do it again. And so on. And then you become a philosophical master of the universe.

The purpose of this new blog project will be to use Peikoff’s notion of the spiral theory of knowledge as inspiration for a re-read and second exploration of the book, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. The book has twelve chapters (Reality, Sense Perception and Volition, Concept-Formation, Objectivity, Reason, Man, The Good, Virtue, Happiness, Government, Capitalism, and Art) that are structured hierarchically. Each chapter builds on the chapters that came before. It is a worthy book, one that deserves to be read more than once (not as a wild and starving savage), and it is a book I believe will help me develop a better understanding both of Rand’s philosophy and of my own assessment of Objectivism.

Within each blog post, I plan to address:

  • What idea is covered in the section?
  • How easy or difficult is this particular idea to understand?
  • What questions or concerns might I or other people have about this idea?
  • How integrated is this idea within my own mind? (This last point will be stored in a secret number somewhere within the post.)

In short: fifty-three blog posts on Objectivism are forthcoming. It’s going to be great!

First

Hello, internet. It turns out that writing about the world is a thousand times more terrifying and difficult than writing about oneself, and it turns out that I have spent the last ten years as a coward.

When you write about yourself, you are your own universe and your own ultimate authority. No one is there to look over your shoulder and judge you for calling a mud puddle a daisy, and no one is ever going to challenge your interpretation of your life’s own events because no one else was there inside you experiencing what you experienced in the way you experienced it. You are basically immortal and a wizard.

But it takes courage to make a claim about the world that exists beyond your own mind. It does actually take a special kind of bravery to point down at a daisy growing out of the dirt and to say, “That is a daisy right there.” If you claim that something in particular exists or happened, people will ask, “Where?” and, “When?” and, “Do you have any evidence?” If you formulate an idea or put forth a hypothesis, they will probe it gently or not-so-gently with sticks, saying, “But that doesn’t make any sense because I experienced a thing that directly contradicts your idea,” or, “But you have failed to take into account [something extremely important],” or, “You really do not have enough evidence to support that.”

The danger in making claims about the world is that other people can get into their cars and drive out to the field where the daisy you wrote about is located, and they can look down and see for themselves whether or not the thing you described actually has a green stem and petals. And if the daisy turns out to be a mud puddle…then you are just wrong. You just are. With writing about the world comes accountability. Or it should.

I really hate it when people don’t care enough about the truth of things to go and see whether the daisy actually exists or not. It’s all over the paper: “Daisy found in empty field where nothing has grown for 500 years!” They’ve called for a holiday and founded a new political party: The Daisykins. Someone even started a new Daisy religion, and everyone is joining, and everyone is so happy happy happy! But the question that it seems almost no one cares to ask is, “How do we know that the daisy actually exists? Did anyone look?”

I started this blog for several reasons that I am now going to list here:

  1. I used to think that I knew a lot of stuff about the world. I had a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, and I was a high school teacher, and teachers know stuff. But then, through a series of semi-traumatizing events, I saw for the first time how absolutely and embarrassingly ignorant I was of the actual world that existed beyond my vague, agnostic, solipsistic bubble of faux-knowledge that I had built for myself out of a shitty five and a half years of college education. I was an ignoramus. Inexcusably so. But! Since realizing this, I have been trying pretty hard to redeem myself by backtracking over a lot of old terrain and looking to see if any of the ideas I took for granted for so long were ever actually connected to reality in the first place. In doing so, it has started to become exceedingly clear to me that the majority of people who talk about ideas in this world do so with only the vaguest notion of what they are actually talking about. This bothers me. It bothers me so much that I created this blog in order to write about what I have noticed.
  2. Secondly, if I am ever going to get better at thinking and at writing, I am going to have to get over my fear of disappointing people and my fear of writing un-perfect arguments. I am going to need to at least make an attempt. Please bear with me, as this blog will be a work in progress.
  3. When I look out at the world, what I hear are many people talking about Democratic Socialism. Based on what I have read about it over a period of about four weeks, Democratic Socialism does not make any sense and neither do the shallow claims made about it by those who are looked up to in society. I have a very strong suspicion that Democratic Socialism is not the daisy everyone seems to think it is, but I recognize that four weeks of research is not enough time spent to know this for sure. This is the third reason why I have created this blog. I want to understand Democratic Socialism, and I plan to spend more time doing so here.

Well, that’s it. I guess there are really only three reasons why I have started blogging again for the first time since I was twenty-four and dumb: to integrate into a more cohesive whole some things I have noticed about the world, to become better at thinking and writing in general, and to figure out what is really going on with Democratic Socialism. The thought of putting forth the product of my own mind to be weighed, measured, and examined is intimidating, frankly, and I have honestly never done this before, so you may need to bear with me a little. In all my years of “wanting to be a writer” and “applying for my MFA,” I only ever wrote about myself.

I should also probably mention that even though the date at the bottom of this post says May 5th, that is not actually the date of this post. Today is May 10th because it has taken me that many days to un-wimp myself. Just so you know.

Thanks, internet. Be back soon.