Monday, May 25, 2015

Hard times for Objectivists

It was a golden age for Objectivists back when nobody but Objectivists were paying attention to Ayn Rand. But thanks to a combination of the two Rand biographies that were published in 2012, as well as the Tea Party and Libertarian-esque politicians like Rand Paul and Paul Ryan Ayn Rand has gotten much more attention in recent years than since her glory days in the 1950s.

And therefore hilarity has ensued.

I've done plenty of research on Rand for my DARK MARKET in the past couple of years (the re-write is currently on hold) and found much Rand-spoof humor. This weekend I found even more from 2013 - John Hodgman appeared as Ayn Rand for something called The Dead Authors Podcast. Possibly the highlight is when Hodgman as Ayn Rand ranks the heroism/tragedy of the members of the Village People.

I was pretty surprised to find her listed in The Partially Examined Life (PEL) philosophy podcast and blog. But actually soon into the 2-hour long podcast it's clear the discussants don't take Rand or her "philosophy" seriously.

As the blog notes:
First Rand grounds everyday human knowledge, largely by dismissing the concerns of other philosophers (even those whom she unknowingly parrots) as absurd. Then she uses this certainty to argue for her semi-Nietzschean vision of Great Men who master their emotions and rely only on themselves. Mark, Wes, Dylan, and Seth are satisfied with neither effort. 
Warning: This attempt to make sense of Rand's texts will likely offend any Randians out there, and our reading numerous passages from her alleged "texts" may offend the rest of you. When in doubt, curl up in the fetal position and moan "A=A!" over and over again until the bad sounds stop.
As so often happens when intelligent people are confronted with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, these discussants express infuriation. Beginning at 01:05:45 in the podcast on Rand's epistemology:
SETH: The whole thing about how she can go 50 pages before addressing Wittgenstein's argument about use and then to just dismiss it in one sentence infuriated me... 
WES: ...She doesn't really know what linguistic analysis is, or positivism is, she says things about positivism which are just absurd. She associates it variously with relativism, everything seems to get associated with relativism and so she doesn't really have a solid idea of what Kant is about or positivism, linguistic analysis, things she's railing against so it's sort of a weird contemptuousness of something, and she's talking about definitions, she just doesn't even know the definition of them. She just doesn't even have the vaguest idea of what these things stand for philosophically.
DYLAN:'s just so clearly what I would call nostalgic - it's this attempt to "I am very hostile to the idea that there can be ambiguity or disputes, we need to have an absolute authority upon which we can found our conceptual system"... the fact that she criticized Kant doesn't make sense to me because it sounds like she's an uber-Kantian in a weird way, although a misguided one.

WES: ...she characterizes academic philosophy as all one big cesspool of relativism and here she is riding in to save the day, and bring back the concept of objectivity - no all these people were worried about saving the concept of objectivity... that's the big straw man of this essay,that all these things are relativism...

On Rand's ethics beginning at around 01:18:00
SETH: This is a perfect example of a straw man she makes. Nobody advocates the kind of altruism she's talking about. 
WES: Right. Sacrifice ourselves totally. 
DYLAN: It just doesn't exist. It's like she's thirteen years old or something. And running around "you want me to give up everything in my whole life! I can't"'s just so pre-juvenile... (she builds) extreme versions of every case and takes one straw man after another, it's absolutely infuriating in this respect.
WES: her philosophy can be called "sentimentalism"'s this need for simplicity and certainty... 
By the second hour, Dylan gets to the heart of Ayn Rand and her "philosophy":
...she's like a celebrity of some sort, who somehow managed to get a grip in popular culture and called herself a philosopher and had philosophical aspirations... but you spend more time figuring out what she should have meant if it was actually consistent or thoughtful... 
I will definitely be checking out this PEL series further - not only do they have several podcasts devoted to Schopenhauer, but they have a good healthy contempt for the New Atheists, especially Sam Harris. For example:
Scientism is what makes it possible for someone like Sam Harris to be taken seriously on morality, despite the fact that his arguments flunk philosophy 101. That intellectually curious people are influenced by that kind of stuff (and freebase it regularly via TED lectures) is a crime. They're better off with "The Secret."
Love it.