excerpted from caro's journal: topic: objectivist doctrine reconsidered

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2001-04-21:01:19

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objectivist doctrine reconsidered
It occurred to me this evening, after Netscape crashed and dumped today's burgeoning entry, that objectivist men might be thinking in terms of Territory as some sort of weird interpretation of the Francisco/Hank/John Galt no-conflict-of-interest lover-rivalry thing. Ack!
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2001_04_02:23: One Little Academic.html

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objectivist doctrine reconsidered
I feel really, really wonderful right now. I have so much work to do that if I thought about it I would be scared to death. But unlike this winter, when all I could think about was How Much I Had To Do In How Little Time, I'm back in the moment, loving the work, having a blast. I resisted certain ideas, certain ways of being, simply because before I was even able to use language it was given in my family that there were certain things of which we were incapable, and certain fates to which we had to acquiese.

It is hard for me to remember now what that was like.

I'm thrilled to be working on the propositions paper. I feel like I've made so many connections that they cannot be suppressed any longer. What is it like, to be an intellectual, to be a philosopher rather than someone who sometimes thinks philosophically? I think it is just this state of being, when I know that this is what I do, what I am, how I think, how I love; when I know that there is nothing that gives me more pleasure, makes me feel more alive, than being hot on the trail of some discovery, great or small, consequential or not, that will give me more of what I crave: connections, understanding, but most importantly, self-awareness and self-efficacy. It is the thrill of working hard but feeling like I'm just having fun. When I have this feeling, I know that there are people who are ready to ask why I am wasting my time with such nonsense. And this too, tells me what it is like to be a philosopher: it is to see the importance in realms unknown to others. I can't really complain, because it is not theirs to comprehend--how could they, without my explanation? Their fields are different from mine. Nevertheless, they will feel the results of my work in their own fields, because philosophy is that sort of discipline. It affects all realms. The closer it gets to the truth, the more influential it is.

This is one reason that Kant scares the hell out of objectivists, I think. No doctrine could become so influential, without a multitude of scholars and academics picking up on it, extending it, mulling it over, and using it. And no doctrine could get such attention, without being close to the truth.

Stephen was once arguing with me that Kant was deliberately evil, and the proof of that was that he got the wrong answers in every single inquiry. He came so close, and was clearly smart, and yet got the wrong answers. I can't remember now whether Stephen purported that Kant slipped up at the very last second on purpose, or whether he was just so evil that his evilness blinded him to the truth that would set humanity free, or what. That's not important here. Here, what is striking is the idea that Kant came close to the truth, not what Stephen thought prevented him from getting all the way there.

Just a solitary guy, sitting alone in Konigsburg, minding his own business, coming close to truth--and look at the influence he had! It is incredible, from one cynical perspective: how should one little academic have so much impact with his false ideas? But from a much happier, more well-adjusted, more human, more organic, more bottom-up perspective, it's really quite natural that the people who approach the closest to truth will be the ones who in the end change the world, even if no one is paying them the huge sums of money that they could be making selling pre-cut raw frozen cookie dough or electronic bulls for indoor rodeos.

That Kant didn't arrive at The Truth (or write Atlas Shrugged) also shouldn't surprise us. Newton didn't do quantum mechanics or relativity theory; his not doing so can be seen, cynically, to have held humanity back--to have created great evil, even; after all, if Newton has just gotten his act together, millions of people wouldn't have had to die on account of the lack of nuclear power. But there are levels of development, and Kant has not set us back, on net, when we look at the kind of thought he's made possible.

And then the question naturally arises: If one little academic sitting alone in Konigsberg, teaching his philosophy courses at the university and otherwise minding his own business, could have so much influence on the world, allegedly from Marx to Hitler to the average person in the street, then how might one go about spreading Objectivist ideas and methods? That's a rhetorical question, of course. We all know exactly where this power lies: at the University of [your school here].
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2001_09_19:21: American Flag

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In response to some alarming statements on the wetheliving lists this week, citing Rand's horrific and ill-considered proclamations regarding the culpability of ordinary citizens of a country engaged in unjust wars or acts of atrocity, I wrote this:
There's a common tenet of folk psychology that holds that the victim is to
blame for his or her oppression. This idea persists in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, for a variety of reasons. The present reason that comes to the fore is that we'd like to kill Osama bin Laden, but there are innocents in the way. It would be easier to believe that they somehow share his guilt. Then we could slaughter them with a clear conscience.

I'd like to recommend two resources, one very general, the other very
specific. The specific one, which may help a little with understanding why the innocent bystanding Afghanis have not arisen and done their duty to protect the United States from the Taliban and bin Laden, is the Front Line web site, at

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/interviews/

These interviews are with people who have actually been to Afghanistan, who have seen the condition of the people and the country, and who have talked to Afghanis which the outspoken people on this list have obviously not. If you can read these resources and still think that it's acceptable to bomb the victims of their own government, then you will need to provide a better justification that their complicity in their own victimization.

The other, general resource I highly recommend, is a technical thesis
written for psychologists: Judith Herman's TRAUMA AND RECOVERY: THE
AFTERMATH OF VIOLENCE FROM DOMESTIC ABUSE TO POLITICAL TERROR. If you read and try to understand this material, it will mercifully dispel from your mind any temptation to believe that we are justified in slaughtering the victims as co-conspirators.

Finally, I'd like to point out that the very same reasoning can be used to show that the rise of Hitler and the destruction caused by the nazis is ultimately the fault of the Jews. If only the Jews had risen up and done their humanitarian duty to the world by otherthrowing the nazi regime, World War II never would have happened, and many fewer people--including Jews--would have been slaughtered. Hitler's nazis, and bin Laden's, would be very pleased if this were the conclusion we were to draw. It would complete their victory, because the very people who ought to be stepping in to defend their victims would then take over their job and help them achieve their vision.

Carolyn
I'm livid about the article of Jack Wheeler's, forwarded without explanation by Nathaniel Branden, that calls for threats to destroy Mecca. But I don't have the strength to deal with this right now; I'll do so later. In the meantime I'll merely thank my lucky stars that no one in our current government will listen to him. Yikes! I know I write some bizarre stuff sometimes, but this is bizarreness to put mine to shame! Perhaps this is what happens when you mix narrowly-focused learning with a complete ignorance of psychological realities.
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2001_09_22:02: Private Little War

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These are casual notes, not a rigorous treatment. I haven't read David Brin's The Open Society. It's on my list. The little I've heard about it excites me. I'm thinking about privacy, secrecy, surveillance, tapping, and encryption alot right now.

I don't want to lose my rights. I don't want people to use ordinary private information about me to infringe upon my rights. For example, with the sudden rush of patriotism has come an alarming rush of religious noises. I wouldn't want someone to decide that "If you're not with us, you're against us" in the area of religion, because I'd come out on the Against side. This is, I'm given to understand, the main difficulty that libertarians and objectivists (and a bunch of other Americans) have with people listening in: it gives people potential power over me that is morally wrong and currently forbidden by the U.S. Constitution.

I think the probability of that is very low. And I've been really proud to be an American this week, as I see how the people who really matter are responding to the nazi targeting of people on the basis of their religion, which is a private issue. I think the United States is past institutional persecution on the basis of religion or absence thereof, and unless we backslide hard, or suffer a lot more destruction at home, I don't think it's going to happen.

But other people don't seem to care whether the probability is low. They seem to be really really concerned that they have complete privacy. And while I don't think that we should randomly and maliciously violate people's privacy, the question that always leaps to my mind immediately is, What in the world is so desperately secret?

If someone found all my email today and read it, I'd have some cause for embarrassment, maybe, but not much. There's certainly nothing to incriminate me. I don't write as carefully in my journal as I do in my essays, and I don't write as carefully in my private email to friends as I do in my journal. Someone could find some particularly bad piece of reasoning of mine, and spread it around the Free World as an example of what an idiot I really am. Oh, no!

But it's hard for me to imagine something that I would want to keep from the government. I criticize my government, leaders, policies, the police, in public, right here in this journal. That's my guaranteed right. If I have to worry about any of my written statements, it's the statements I write in public. The things I say in private are, well, boring by comparison, if you're any sort of government official or secret agent.

Again, I might be a little embarrassed if I were surprised by a backpack search in a store, depending on what I was carrying. But I handle these things the same way I handle buying private things in stores: surely the checkout person has seen other people buy those things, so it's really my own problem, if I ever feel embarrassed. (I don't anymore, but I can remember feeling that way when I was much younger.)

And so my mind begins to wander around the edges of what it is that other people are concealing that makes them get so upset about this issue. What I see creeps me out.

Before September 11th 2001, the issue of surveillance and privacy came up most often for me with regard to the safety of children from their guardians. My basic view: when you become a guardian, your life becomes public. Otherwise, you can subject the child to all manner of atrocities for years without anyone ever finding out. I know this first hand. Many was the day and the hour when I wished that someone would come, someone would see, someone would help, someone would stop her, someone would take me away. But my mother's privacy was inviolable, and so I suffered in her private jail. I suffered so much that it was many years before I was able to begin to distinguish acceptable behavior from unacceptable behavior. There are vast numbers of children who grow up this way and much much worse; I knew some who were the captives of a much more horrible hell, such that I would say to myself that I had it good by comparison. I talked to a friend yesterday, and this issue came up, and he said he could remember saying the same thing, despite how horrible his own parents were.

Nothing would have pleased me more than to have surveillance cameras in my mother's home. Being clinically paranoid, she herself actually believed that we were being watched by surveillance cameras. But being nuts, she also thought that she could avoid being watched via camera, by never turning on any lights in the house and keeping the mirrored medicine chest doors swung open to face the wall.

Children are individuals. They have the right not to be held captive, subjected to physical abuse, or brought up in a psychologically toxic environment against their wills. Our Constitution means very little, in my view, if it doesn't protect the basic rights of children. But to protect them, you have to see them, and as things stand right now once the door to the parental home closes no one sees them for hours and sometimes days on end. In the worst cases, no one knows about them until they're killed.

My thoughts cruise from this point, to terrorism. It is almost universally accepted that human beings are naturally violent and there's nothing that can be done about that. I vehemently disagree. I think that human beings are endlessly creative experimentalists. Yes, small babies will experiment with violence, where violence is defined as swinging an arm or leg to see what will happen. But they also experiment with crapping on the floor. We teach them not to crap on the floor, and then they don't do it anymore. We don't throw up our hands and say that crapping on the floor is just human nature.

The violence of ordinary human beings is entirely and 100% the fault of their parents. It is their job, first and foremost in a free society, to teach them that the experimental swinging of the arm is not acceptable. It is no more acceptable than crapping on the floor. This is how you teach the little experimentalists that that particular strategy won't work and is not to be used, ever, ever, unless there is an extraordinary emergency. A child disagreeing with its guardian over bedtime or saying 'fuck' is not an extraordinary emergency. Neither is the child's crapping on the floor.

I ask you: How many parents crap on the floor to prove to a child that it shouldn't crap on the floor? How many parents crap on the floor in order to punish a child for anything? (Actually, I'd rather no one answered that; I'm sure there are some, but I'm hoping that there are only maybe 3 or 4 and that they are safely interned. Please don't spoil my pretty delusion.) This is unacceptable behavior, from anyone. We don't engage in behavior that is unacceptable, in order to prove that the behavior is unacceptable. Oh, but we do, don't we? And thus parents manufacture violent human beings, creatures who are taught by their idols that might is right, that violence is an option, and that the biggest, hardest hitting person in the vicinity gets his or her way under the most commonplace of circumstances. Couple that doctrine with the idea that it's ok to say "Because I said so" and "Because it's my house" and you've got a recipe for human beings who either perpetrate violence or who accept violence perpetrated upon them, or both.

Before September 11th 2001, I was just about to begin a concerted campaign to end all violence against children. The violence of that day makes it seem all the more urgent. It made me think about how we train our little ones for war: we show them violent films, teach them to engage in violent games, permit them to perpetrate violence upon each other in the name of "kids being kids" and most importantly, adults subject them to their own violence. I submit that violent kids are not being kids; they are being their violent parents in the only place that they can get away with it. And thus when it is time to draft them and send them to war, they are ready. You think it's cool to watch things explode in the movies? Good. Now go to it for real.

It is up to parents and guardians to curb the violent habits that their elders taught them, so that they can teach their children that the strategy of swinging an arm is as unacceptable as the strategy of crapping on the floor. Our society, our laws, should enforce this, not just sit and hope that nobody is getting tortured in the dark somewhere. And because captives aren't able to call the police on their own behalf, we have an unhappy choice before us: watch the kids and protect them, or wallow in violence for the rest of eternity. We need an Amnesty Intranational.

When I start to rave like this, my libertarian and objectivist friends are appalled. You think this is appalling? Live with my mother for a week.
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2001-02-14:17:41

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objectivist doctrine reconsidered

Sanction



(Note: 'Sanction' is a weird word. In some contexts it means 'approval'. In others, it means 'punishment'. Herein, I use the word in the objecti-sense of 'approval' because I'm talking mostly about an objectivist context.)

An issue that I've had a hard time with is the orthodox Randian issue of sanction; specifically, the idea that one should avoid sanctioning the moral wrong-doing of others.

It's an appealing idea in theory, but it's a bit hard to practice, simply because there are so many thoughtless, ill-intentioned, mean-spirited, resentful, vengeful, and even downright viciously evil people in the world, that you can't possibly remain alive and avoid sanctioning someone who has treated you or someone else irrationally. And because, even when you think a particular person deserves to be punished by the removal of your sanction, most of the time you end up punishing a whole bunch of people who don't deserve to be so punished--not the least of whom is you yourself.

It's especially hard for me, having so many friends and acquaintances and colleagues who are objectivists, many of whom subscribe to one or another dogmatic versions of the doctrine of sanction. I don't think most of them really get what it's about. They are apt to engage in punishing people on a whim, and based entirely on unexamined emotional responses. In the idea that sanction should be withheld for moral wrong-doing, Rand provides a very convenient way for people who are inclined to base their actions on their unexamined emotions, to take revenge upon people without really thinking about what it all means and how it really squares with human life as the standard of value and their own happiness as their highest moral purpose.

People beat each other over the head with the doctrine. When I left the nazi, for example, he pointed out that of course I wouldn't have any more to do with him, given that I had complained so bitterly of his personal treatment of me. I believe that what he really meant was that he didn't want anything more to do with me; but of course he would have had to have defended that, and there was no defense other than "I'm mad at you" which is a defense not "sanctioned" in the objectivist community. Or else he was simply yanking my chain, pointing out all the incomparable benefits that I'd be losing by breaking up with him, that I'd no longer have the privelege of speaking to him, if I was no longer sleeping with him, and no woman could bear such a terrible loss.

Yet it hadn't been obvious to me that I should lose these things. Yes, average, normal males do sometimes express their bitterness at the end of a romantic relationship by sullenly refusing to have anything else to do with their former partners. I guess I'm still a little naive, and I don't expect that kind of wildly emotionally-motivated but rationally unjustifiable reaction from objectivists, especially when they are the type that go around criticizing people for their emotionally-motivated actions. I continue to hold out hope for all people, continue to ask, "What has my not being romantically involved with you, or friends with you, to do with our professional relationships?" Indeed, I wouldn't trust the nazi with important responsibilities or enter anything but iron-clad legal contractual agreements in the presence of witnesses at this point, but that is because I don't trust him, not because I "withdrew my sanction" in order to punish him. These are different things. Why should I punish myself, for evil that he did? If there is some unique benefit that he could offer me, why not take it, as long as I would be amply protected from his violence by the presence of other people?

If the end of a friendship or a romance also must entail the end of all other associations, then how does one justify doing business with or in the vicinity of people who are not one's friends? Does anyone ever address this question? Or is it that you get to associate with people in all and only those cases in which you haven't already decided that you aren't inclined to be friends with each other?

Yet there is something about the issue of not sanctioning evil that strikes a chord with earlier versions of myself; that chord is almost silent now in light of this winter's psychological restructuring, but I can still hear a whisper of it. I've thought a lot about it in the context of the question, "How can I be nice to humans, even if I happen to think that they don't deserve it?" One part of it goes like this:

One of the lesser benefits of being nice to someone who has done you wrong, is that it gives them very little excuse or motivation for retaliation. Suppose you choose to attempt to hurt someone in the interest of seeking justice, in a tit-for-tat fashion. If she did you wrong intentionally, then it is very likely that she is the sort of person who would be happy to enter into an all-out brawl (literal or figurative) with you, if only you give her an opening. I know many such people. Though I have keenly felt the injustice of such situations, I have come to believe that attempting to play their game, however slightly or however far removed from the original situation, only provokes them to worse and worse behavior. In some cases, even suggesting that you find something objectionable about their actions provokes the person to retaliate at an escalated level. Someone who would hurt you intentionally, lie to you, steal from you, cheat you, abandon you in a case of life or death--a person capable of such things is just ready and waiting for a chance to "take revenge" should you retaliate in any way. And the funny thing is, if the person actually has any conscience at all, she will be eager to find excuses to retaliate. Because then, in the amazing confabulatory reconstruction that ensues, she will find a way to reverse the order of events, so that your retaliatory action is taken as the very motive and the excuse and the justification, for her prior crime against you. There has to be some way to assuage that aching conscience, and the excuse your retaliation provides may as well be the way.

But most importantly, whether you anticipate retaliation or not, your own mental health is at stake. There is a difference between telling someone that what they did was OK (or worse, morally justifiable) on the one hand, and on the other hand finding a way to understand, for your own mental well-being, what was done to you. I always prefer explanations to bare apologies. The former make sense of the universe, while the best the latter can do is show some recognition that your universe was made a little less comprehensible by the action. And where neither is forthcoming, the reason to continue to be nice is your own entitlement to peace of mind. This is a theme I will elaborate on in forthcoming work; for now I mention only my own progress.

Finding a way to understand what was done can be exceedingly difficult, for example if the crime was particularly horrid, or went against the proclaimed moral system of the perpetrator. How could someone break a promise, for example, if integrity, honesty, and pride were part of that person's moral code?

I used to find such occurrences unthinkable, even when they happened--and happened again and again!

I'm learning to take inspiration from the bad things that people deal out to me. It's still difficult for me to return niceness for meanness, but I think that is only because I still have to do some more psychological restructuring--that's the project for February! It's going pretty well so far. I had a phone conversation today in which I very reflexively kept reminding myself that this person simply isn't capable of doing any better, so there's no point in being disappointed in him. That's a big step forward for me. I tend to hold people to the same standards to which I hold myself, especially if they are objectivists. And I'm just beginning to realize why that is so, why it is not in accordance with reality, and how, in a phrase, to be nice to people anyway.

Consistency has been a driving force in my life since I was a preschooler. Having a lunatic for a mother and living in an urban jungle made this almost inevitable. My mother was nuts, but she was honest, and therefore the inconsistency stood out like a sore thumb; the wild animals in my neighborhood were completely dishonest, unreliable, and also inconsistent. Justice, as an instantiation consistency and honesty, therefore was the obvious contradictory to all that. Contrast objects are invaluable in this respect. People need good role models, true; but they also need to get their hands dirty with the contrast objects, to see how awful it could be otherwse. Consistency, honesty, and justice became the principles around which I organized my psyche. These are powerful principles, far-reaching and all-encompassing, and with good reason: they are the very formulations of objectivity. My hopes for a community that was based on these principles led me to forget the animal nature that lurked just beneath the surface. Merely being able to use language and memorize principles doesn't make an animal human.

I used to think that, in comparison to other people, I was pretty dumb. When I was small, I couldn't keep up with what I know now were simply inconsistencies and instances of dishonesty and injustice. And later, I felt pretty dumb because couldn't keep track of all the jargon and name-dropping that I now know to be desperate bluffing. I know now that I always saw right through it, then second-guessed myself, positive that it couldn't possibly be the case that people would behave so badly. From a young age I blamed myself for not being able to understand these things or predict their occurrence. It was a puzzle that just kept getting worse, until I met the nazi, and completely hit rock-bottom. He was the embodiment of all the mistakes I'd made in an effort to survive in an irrational society, all the bad behavior I'd accepted and forgiven and immediately forgotten in an attempt to think well of the people whose actions were unforgivable. It was in the aftermath of my relationship with him, that the scales began to fall from my eyes, facades began to crumble all around me, and I began to see people as they really are--but only just a touch, and not without a great deal of backsliding into forgetfulness and naivite, my faithful protectors since infancy. It was simply easier to believe that I wasn't very smart, that I just didn't understand, that I didn't, as Nathaniel Branden puts it, see what I saw and know what I knew. Like Berkeley's God, who keeps the world in existence for us while we are not looking at it, I was the god who kept the world rational and sane and in one piece despite what everyone else was up to. I had to. I would gone insane, otherwise.

At least, it was easier for the little girl to engage in this daily conversion of the irrational into the rational. But it's a lot of work, finding rational explanations and excuses for all the nasty things people do and say. For the woman, it created no end of trouble, and landed net after net of ill-intentioned persons and perfect criminals who clung to her infinite forgiveness like their one last life-vest in a sea of just judgment. Instead of brushing them off and seeking out better companions, she dug out whatever small glimmer of goodness she could find in them and held that up as a prize. And in the end she had to be grateful to the nazi for clinging the hardest and in the most obvious way, for being rock-bottom, and for grinding her face into rock-bottom until she finally got it.

I still believe that it is reasonable and psychologically healthy to look for the good in people. Moreso than ever now, I believe Pollyanna is correct. Jesus too. I am a fisher of men. But now, I strive to hold only those small bits of goodness in my heart. Instead of blaming myself for what they do wrong and imagining them to be better than they are, I keep the horrid bits away with a very long stick. And through it all, I keep learning ways to be nice to them, even when they don't deserve it, because I never applied for the job of Police Officer to the Universe. I am honest because I deserve it, and similarly I am nice because I deserve it.

This is the most important thing: the scales of justice are balanced. People who do intentional evil get what they deserve, even when it looks on the surface like they've gotten away with it. And they get what they deserve whether you or I or all the human race withhold our sanction or not, because, in fact, the universe does make sense.