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!

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To the Left

Why do politics divide us? Really, why do they?

All people, whether they admit it or not, hold beliefs which are based on other, more fundamental ideas which are based on deeper, even more fundamental ideas which together form a “philosophical pyramid,” if you will. Politics, which rests at the fourth level of this pyramid, concerns itself with defining and enacting a proper social system. Below politics is ethics, which deals with discovering and defining the moral values that people should live by. You can’t decide on the best social system without first having some sort of ethical code (whether you hold that code implicitly or explicitly) that you use to weigh and judge a political system. Beneath ethics sits epistemology, which deals with the question of how humans can claim to know anything at all. You cannot determine which kinds of human behavior are good and which are bad, for example, if you do not have some sort of method by which to know anything at all. To be specific, some people believe that the Bible is an appropriate method of acquiring knowledge; others believe in their innate intuition; others believe in logic; others believe in some mixture of all of these methods; etc. Epistemology provides an answer to the question, “But how do you know?” And finally, below epistemology lies metaphysics, which concerns itself with the question, “What even exists in the first place?” Metaphysics is the investigation into the nature of the universe itself and the kind of world we actually live in. (Do we live in seven dimensions? Or one? Or inside a computer? Or in the hands of a god? Or in an illusion or a dream?)

Why do politics divide us? Because people hold vastly different beliefs about things that lie quite low on the philosophical pyramid. People do not actually agree on the kind of world we live in or on the proper method for acquiring knowledge. They especially do not agree on the proper moral code for human behavior. And so these people will obviously disagree on what kind of social system is the best kind to have in America.

Do politics really divide us in America today because some people are just ignorant, miseducated idiots with hate and fear and sexism and racism in their hearts? Really? Is that the essential reason why this is happening?

I posit no.

And I posit that nothing is going to get better until we face our disagreements for what they actually are: disagreements about the deepest, most important questions of life.

Please stop treating this era in American history like it is the most obvious thing in the world, because it isn’t. If you cannot clearly define the metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical positions of the opposing team, you should not present your opinions about the election as authoritative.

This is for you, Left.

A Revision

I would like to qualify my statements from Two Minutes of Hate last week. Throughout the whole (brief) post, I referred to the object of my hatred simply as “politics,” which was an imprecision. I said, for example, “Why hate politics? Because politics puts a crown on the head of the worst methods of human thinking and enshrines those methods on a comfortable throne.” 

My use of the term “politics” did not make clear the distinction between contemporary politics and politics as a vital branch of philosophy. My statements failed to differentiate between politics in essence and politics in the manner in which they are carried out today in our compromised, pluralistic, unprincipled, mixed-bag of a collectivist quasi-democracy.

In philosophy, politics is the fourth level of the pyramid. Politics sits on top of ethics, which sits on top of epistemology, which rests on metaphysics. Politics uses ethics to set goals and determine the proper actions to take in order to bring about the best future for humans living together on Earth. Political philosophy is, according to Ayn Rand, “abstract theory to identify, explain and evaluate the trend of events, to discover their causes, project their consequences, define the problems and offer the solutions” (from Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution). In this sense, I actually love politics.

Compromised, pluralistic, unprincipled, collectivist, quasi-democratic politics are “an affront to the good, the noble, the just, and the true” (to quote myself), but they are not all politics.

I think this distinction matters. I would like to revise what I said.