So what are the Objectivists drunk on? In a word: statism. In two words: limited government.
These tendencies of the times cause the public to be more disposed than at most former periods to prescribe general rules of conduct, and endeavour to make every one conform to the approved standard. And that standard, express or tacit, is to desire nothing strongly. Its ideal of character is to be without any marked character; to maim by compression, like a Chinese lady’s foot, every part of human nature which stands out prominently, and tends to make the person markedly dissimilar in outline to commonplace humanity.
To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.
Schmale Seelen sind mir verhasst;
Da steht nichts Gutes, nichts Böses fast.
[Small souls I can’t abide.
There’s little good or evil inside.]
Plaudits: Ralph R. Reiland at LewRockwell.com
[T]he great majority of people lack an intellectual conscience.
—Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
—Henry David Thoreau
I think not.
[Note: this post has been superseded. — Ed.]
While wandering the Web back in 1997, I came across Michael Huemer’s Why I Am Not an Objectivist (WIANO hereafter). I was impressed by what I then called “[T]he first reasoned (and reasonable) critique of Objectivism I [had] ever read.” At the time, I considered myself an Objectivist, and though I was impressed by Huemer’s critique, I was not persuaded. In an exchange of emails, I attempted to defend the Objectivist theory of concepts from the Fregean critique Huemer offers in Section 1. My defense was inadequate, to say the least. The very little ground I forced Huemer to give he considered insignificant, and rightly so.
Several months ago, I finally had the time and the inclination to make another attempt, and the initial results are below. It has been a long-standing goal of mine to critique WIANO in its entirety, but, given that it has taken me the better part of a decade to cover Section 1, no one should hold his breath.
Philosophizing is antisocial, perhaps the most perfectly antisocial activity possible, easily beating out murder. Even I will readily admit, however, that man is a social animal. Small wonder, then, that philosophy is most popular among those constitutionally incapable of engaging in it.
Those who philosophize risk alienation, solipsism, exile, poisoning, poverty, passion, horror, ennui, and, perhaps most distressing, knowledge. In fact, philosophers risk more than these. I tend to doubt the credentials of those who show no symptoms of distress, such as those courtly artificers of nonchalance: professional philosophers. (Indeed, the philosopher is not a professional. Professionals are craftsmen — and guildsmen, too.)
Abruptly: what are the consequences for human life if we assume that free will does not exist? Ask this question of the philosophically inclined, and, these days, likely replies are:
- There are no meaningful consequences. (Compatibilism)
- Human life is meaningless, but that’s easy to forget, so forget about it. (Soft Nihilism)
- Human life is utterly devoid of meaning; indeed the most fundamental human experience (consciousness) is an illusion: there is no “human” life. (Hard Nihilism)
- Human life is meaningless only if we…. Hey! Isn’t science neat? (Prestidigitational Compatibilism)
Now suppose that free will, in the strong — and only meaningful — sense of ultimate origination does exist. What kind of thinkers are apt to believe the opposite?
Ascendant now among the liberal middlebrow intelligentsia is an unseemly and anti-philosophical worship of science, which has evolved to include odd little cults growing up around certain prominent scientists. Cultist “brights” and self-proclaimed “reality-based” hangers on exhibit a particularly revolting mutation of collectivism. They seem to be trying to construct a scientistic counterculture, apparently in order to serve “progressive” cultural goals by aggressively confronting the dominant cultural alliances. What makes the evolutionary biology fanboys’ machinations so unpleasant is that they’re making the world safer for scientism. Even if they manage to weaken the cultural alliances now leveraged by mystics (itself a good thing), they’ll do it by exchanging one opiate for another.
Philosophers — countercultures of one — fix their sights on something that by its very nature is invisible to most: that-which-is rather than that-which-is-said. Science is, or has become, a public enterprise. Whatever cannot be seen by everyone must not be seen by anyone, insists the scientist. This of course means that the world of science is delimited by and subservient to culture, which circumscribes the common realm of the real. The public character of scientific practice, in other words, necessitates that the object of scientific inquiry is a derivative and domesticated nature, rather than the raw phusis, the Nature, which is the purview of philosophers. This intrinsic shortsightedness of science is obscured by the fact that domesticated nature and unadulterated phusis are largely coextensive. The telltale signs of artifice show through principally at the boundaries of nature-with-a-small-“n”. On the quotidian main, even philosophers live within cultured nature. The breadth of cultured reality pushes Nature to the margins of life, until anyone calling attention to the unseen world beyond culture becomes like a prophet for an unpopular god, stinking to the scientistic nose of locusts and honey.
To the blunted sense of dupe of scientism, philosophers (as I pick them out) are indistinguishable from mystics, because the philosopher and the mystic both claim access to privileged knowledge, to a reality beyond the common one. In reality (though not in the world we live in) philosophers reach the highest peaks of thought, and gain the broadest view. The limits of philosophy are the limits of the intelligible world. And so, if philosophy is brought to heel by science, there will be no perspective available superior to the culturally given. Man will live in a bubble. Philosophy, deprived of the high country, its native soil, will wither and die, to the restrained applause of disintrested, objective, professionally detached self-delusional myopic wankers.
Or philosophy would wither and die, were it possible for it to be brought to heel. Just as the quintessentially scientific mind is constitutionally incapable of directly apprehending Nature, the philosophic mind is constitutionally incapable of giving a damn what the herd’s new idol is whispering. But if this were the end of the story I would be considerably less concerned than I am. There’s something profoundly hateful about the scientistic Weltanschauung. Reeking forth with the blithe and breathless pronouncements of the “reality-based communityTM,” I smell disinfectant and rubbing alcohol, latex and blood, cold sweat and ozone, and stacked bodies burning.
To answer my earlier question: the kind of thinker apt to believe that free will is so insignificant that he’d never notice if his own went missing — is the kind of person incapable of philosophy, yet proud of his intellect and convinced of the efficacy of rational inquiry. If he and his ilk command the heights of culture for too long, I don’t think I would like it very well.
Imagine this: you wake up one day, and realize you are in an insane asylum. Shortly, you put it together that you’ve been here all your life. There are several reasons why it had been difficult to recognize your situation: The inmates and the staff in this asylum dress and act alike, and it is not a trivial matter to discern each from the other. Though circumlocutory talk of “escaping” the asylum is among the inmates’ favorite pastimes, very few walk out, which is remarkable, considering the grounds are only nominally secured. In fact, only staff are not permitted to leave, which does not seem to bother them. A further oddity is that inmates and staff alike tend to talk of the asylum as if its construction were the definitive achievement of humanity.
This is a tired metaphor. I’ve put it to use in part because I myself am a bit tired. (And, truth be told, I disdain readers who get fussy if the metaphors they’re presented with aren’t “fresh” — by which they of course mean titillating.) For the other part, I’ve put it to use because it’s apt. Providing context and such, nice gentle spiral ramps of words … these are superfluous in an asylum. Freed from the Sisyphean task of translating myself into the carpet-munching vernacular, I hope I’ll feel inclined to post more often. That is all.
Julian Sanchez seems to have become a propagandist for naturalism. I have much to say on compatibilism (the most irksome of the naturalists’ talking points) and the phenomenon, almost unbelievable to me, that there are such creatures as compatibilists. None of it is complimentary. Let me go on record now: compatibilism is not a respectable philosophical position.
Reading Julian’s review tonight got me wondering. Compatibilism is so obviously false, so plainly ludicrous, that perhaps it is best understood as an article of faith. Are Dennett and the other leading compatibilists selling a new Platonic noble lie? Are Sanchez and Wilkinson, et al., dupes, unwitting inductees into a priesthood called to prevent the advent of nihilism, which the compatibilist vanguard expect to be the popular reaction to the deadly truth that we are automatons?
Probably not. But I am again bewildered. What gives?
Among some Objectivists I have noted a fetishistic obsession with finality in arbitration, and I have been well-disposed to them for that, for this unlikely obsession reveals something quite … miraculous. Sublimated Christianity, it appears, was inadvertently taken up into the Objectivist corpus as Ayn Rand breathed life into it in the mid-1950s.
Well, I’m putting the point perhaps too forcefully, as I’m on my third beer tonight, and I’ve been reading Hume today, which has put me in a pugnacious mood. I didn’t intend to post tonight at all, but continue my reading on the current thinking on free will, which is impossible to understand without dancing with the fat, bekilted nightmare of Hume. Before I could get started on my late reading, however, a friend called my attention to the website for the Oregon Firearms Federation, where he had been doing research regarding concealed weapons permits in the State of Oregon.
Get this, he said:
I’ve noticed signs at the Portland Airport that say “No Firearms.” There is no exception for license holders noted. Is this legal?
Marv in Milwaukiee.
Good question Marv. The Port of Portland issued an ordinance in 1996 saying “no guns, no exceptions.” This was ordinance 377-R (Of couse, this does not apply if you are legally traveling with a firearm and it’s in your checked baggage.) This obviously was not a reaction to 9/11, sinced it was written well before that. The problem is, Oregon law very clearly PROHIBITS the Port of Portland from enacting any such ordinance. When we contacted the Chief of Police of the Port of Portland, Chief Phil Klahn, and asked him (very politely) about this contradiction, he had their lawyer, Barbara Jacobsen call us back. She left a voice message telling us that she had given our name to the Department of Homeland Security. (Insert joke about them here.) After numerous attempts to get an answer, we finally recieved a long letter from Jacobsen explaining why she believed the Port had the right to create such an ordinance. We then forwarded THAT letter to House Representative Wayne Scott. He took it to “Legislative Counsel.” These are the lawyers for the legislature. They actually write the laws the legislators request. Their response was pretty straightforward. In their opinion, the Port of Portland may NOT enact any such ordinance. Here’s a direct quote from their opinion: “You have asked whether the Port of Porland has the authority to enact regulations prohibiting a person from carrying a firearm in the terminal at the Portland International Airport. The short answer is no.” We then fowarded their opinion to both Chief Klahn and Barbara Jacobsen. The Chief had advised us to advise you (our supporters) not to carry in the terminal. After reading the opinion of Legislative Counsel, he replied once again that his officers could cite license holders and then they could “have their day in court.” Attorney Jacobsen has not responded at all. Your tax dollars at work. So, as it stands, the law says you may carry in the terminal. The Port of Portland says you can be arrested if you are obeying the law. Legislative Counsel says the Port of Portland may not enforce this ordinance, and the Port of Porland Police say they don’t care Hope this clears everything up.
We thought this was damn funny. We anarchists get to laugh at things that should make minimal-statists uneasy.
For those unfamiliar with the whole Objectivism vs. Market Anarchy political philosophical battle royal, you’re probably reading the wrong post, but in a nutshell, here’s what’s funny and what it has to do with Final Arbiters: According to Objectivism (or at least according to some who call themselves Objectivists and to my own recollection of the Objectivist doctrine on this point), one of the problems with anarchy is that, in an anarchic order, there would be no final arbiter for resolving disputes. Contrast the United States’ present dispute resolution system: you get arrested for a crime which you didn’t commit. You’re convicted. You go to jail. Your lawyers start the appeals process. Legal incantations are uttered before various magistrates, demonstrating some technical irregularity in your trial. The state thinks you should be in jail anyhow, and decides to fight it out with your lawyers in the appeals process. Finally, the appeals process terminates, and you’re either set free or not. If the technical irregularity is sexy enough, your case might make it to the Supreme Court (cue angelic singing) before the thing is over with. But, one way or another, the system makes sure it’s over with. Justice may or may not be done, but The Law and Process have done their due.
Phew! This isn’t an easy joke to explain. Well, there is a view in political philosophy that law is prior to rights, i.e. that legal systems don’t merely enforce rights, they create and define them. For adherents of such political philosophies, Law and Process, which are ultimately arbitrary, create the context in which “rights” have meaning. There is no extra- or super-legal standard by which Justice can be recognized. For folks like this, having a final arbiter in matters of law is merely a pragmatic necessity, insurance against the gumming-up of the system. The final arbiter isn’t meant to function as the Ultimate Guardian of the Rights of Men.
Objectivists don’t agree with this. By their lights, a government’s sole legitimate purpose is the protection of individual rights, such as life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Governments that protect individual rights, to the extent they do so, are Just.
Ayn Rand wrote:
A private individual may do anything except that which is legally forbidden; a government official may do nothing except that which is legally permitted. This is the means of subordinating “might” to “right.” This is the American concept of “a government of laws and not of men.”
You see, Objectivists take law to be a means to an end — Justice — and law serves this end in part by circumscribing exactly what government officials are permitted to do while they work at protecting our rights. Objectivists cannot endorse the Kafkaesque kind of misgovernment exemplified by the officials of the Port of Portland. These humorless 21st-century Keystone Kops obviously don’t care what the law says.
“Lucky they’re not the final arbiters, huh?”
Not so fast, my imaginary Objectivist interlocutor! The essential problem here is that we’re dealing, wherever the Port of Portland is concerned, with a government of men, not of laws. The laws say one thing, the men assigned to enforce them do another. Funny.
And it gets funnier. Let’s take a look and see if we can find, as we follow the ascending lines of authority and listen to the music of the jurisdictional spheres, where government of men ends and government of law begins. Aw, hell, lets just jump right up to the Supreme Court. Let’s see now … Ginsburg, Souter, Thomas, Breyer, Scalia, Stevens, Rehnquist, O’Connor, Kennedy … wait a minute! These are people! Soylent Government is People! It’s Peeeeople!
The tyrants of the Port of Portland don’t show us what’s wrong with government so much as they show us the essential nature of government. Vets don’t hem and haw about what to do with a rabid dog. When something is as good as dead and still deadly dangerous, you just put the beast down. This isn’t rocket science.
Yet even though there is no such animal as a government of laws and not of men, even though such a chimera is impossible in principle, Objectivists cling to it. And this is where the best part of the joke and the Christianity come in, together.
Objectivism requires, for its politics to work, a Final Authority. Nothing on this earth can fit the bill. In all of history the only semblance of one I can find is the God of Judaism and Christianity: the Perfectly Just Judge Whose Authority Is Absolute and Beyond Whom There Can Be No Appeal. Objectivists aren’t supposed to be interested in impossible ideals, which is one reason they reject Christianity, explicitly. Implicitly, however, there appears to be another story. All constitutions are implemented, interpreted, and enforced by men. Good men have better things to do than govern; their time is too valuable. I can’t imagine many trading their time away to public service. And many would be needed, sadly, to keep a constitution, even one written by Ayn Rand herself, from becoming a mere pretext for usurpation and tyranny. Power attracts the absolutely corruptible. And the power of government will always attract the worst men, not the best. But I’m rambling and repeating points that Plato should have hammered into everyone’s head hundreds or thousands of years ago. It’s way too late, and I have too much more to say on this. Suffice it to say that it appears that, since nothing in reality can give rise to the concept of Just government, as human nature precludes the possibility, the Objectivist belief in it must rest, not on the evidence of the senses, but on faith — which is hilarious.
Earlier this month, Diana Hsieh posted a nice little jab at the profession of philosophy. Her title is a bit of a misnomer, as not all the points of mockery are apropos to “analytic” philosophers. That said, professional philosophers, be they the get of Wittgenstein or the spawn of Heidegger, deserve a great deal more mockery than has been forthcoming. Enjoy.