Integration

1996-10-07

Rand once said that Objectivism is a "philosophy for living on earth". However, I believe that very few people really understand Objectivism, in the sense of living the philosophy for living on earth. Your "stereotypical Objectivist" may know all the arguments and premises and conclusions, but the philosophy is not something that he has integrated into his life. I have my theories as to why this is the case. Fundamentally, the problem is that one is converted to Objectivism. Now, this is not necessarily a problem (you have to be convinced somehow), but there does exist something that I call the conversion experience. This is why Objectivists always ask each other "How did you find out about Ayn Rand?" -- there is a fascination with the conversion experience. And the reason for the fascination is that "conversion day" is really your birthday -- the day you become an Objectivist. Nothing that came before really matters. Once I am converted, I must remake myself in the image of my values and cast off all that I was before. This does not conduce to integration! If I throw away and repress my past, I can never be integrated, because I have not integrated what I am or always was with what I now think and believe. I had this problem as a teenager in a big way. Not to put too fine a point on it, I was a bastard: arrogant, haughty, supercilious, malicious, malevolent, quick-tempered, impatient, argumentative, dogmatic -- not to mention alienated and repressed (I even gave up listening to and playing music, because I was under the impression that music and the pleasure it brought were irrational!). I like to think that I am the opposite of all that now, and I tend to use my former self as the negative example of what I don't want to be.

In my opinion, the stereotypical Objectivist does not live an integrated life, and integration is essential to happiness. It's sad, because all Objectivists have this wonderful set of tools for living -- the problem is that they may not know how to use those tools.

Here's how I think about it: the Randians (the Peikovians, the closed minds, the ones who treat the philosophy like a religion) are Neanderthals, but we (the more open Objectivists, such as those on this list) are only Cro-Magnons. Translation: they are primitive and their evolutionary line is going to die out, but we aren't much better, yet -- we've got a long way to go. We are in possession of this revolutionary set of tools, as radical in its own way as the tool of fire was to ancient men, but we don't really know what to do with it yet. Prometheus has visited and presented us with the fire of the greatest ideas on the planet, but unfortunately we never got the instruction book and we're not really sure how to use the ideas for life. We know they're powerful, we know they're important, but only a very few of us have started to figure out how to use the ideas to live a better life, and even then only incompletely. We are at a primitive stage, yet, in our inner lives. There is so much we have to learn. I believe Objectivism is a powerful tool, but so far many of the people exposed to it have gotten burned. That doesn't mean the tool is bad! It just means we have to learn how to harness it for happiness. I think a big part of doing that flows from thinking for oneself and reflecting on one's experiences and trying to put it all together, to integrate everything one has lived with everything one has thought. This is not easy, but it's what reality and Objectivism "require" (as it were). Furthermore one also has to learn how to live spontaneously and joyously again after in some cases many years of alienation and repression. But if Objectivism is not a philosophy of joy in living, what good is it?

For a long time, I refused to call myself an Objectivist, because I had a pretty negative reaction to Objectivists (especially the official folks) -- they were repressers and patently unhealthy, and I didn't want much to do with them (especially after I had a run-in with the Objectivist authorities). But in a way I don't think it is healthy to identify so completely with a philosophy. Not deep down. At root, you are an individual. That's the bedrock -- a unique, unrepeatable combination of mind, body, and soul. I feel that way about my life. I am an Objectivist in (many of) my thoughts or in my principles, but in my person I am Peter Saint-Andre, with all of my capacities and abilities and experiences and interests. Many people I have known who have been touched by Ayn Rand's ideas reject the person, reject the individual that one is before Rand. Eventually they may tire of self-rejection, and then they reject the ideas (I'm not a damn Objectivist anymore!). But, either way, they don't integrate life with ideas -- they think that these two things are in conflict, when by rights they ought to be in harmony.

I hold that one of the keys to integration is self-trust -- a concept that Rand touches on in Anthem and that is implicit in much of her ethics. I'm writing an article on the topic at present, so I could go on at great length, but I'll spare you the details since I've already gone on long enough. Suffice it to say that true self-trust overcomes alienation and repression and self-rejection, and leads to living with style (one's own personal style, whatever that may be) and to a focus on one's own individual happiness.


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