My Intellectual History, Part II

1999-12-06

A great deal of my "intellectual history" in the nineties can be traced in what I have published. Starting in 1991, I have published a number of poems as well as essays on everything from the music of Bob Marley to the philosophy of Epicurus. Here you can witness my infatuation with the Libertarian Party in the middle of the decade as well as the creative inspiration provided by my starting the Monadnock Review in 1997, which has enabled me to work with some fine writers and thinkers over the last few years.

Many of my essays have related in one way or another to Ayn Rand, whom we introduced in Part I of this history. I see these essays as part of my effort to work through what I think of Rand's ideas. Now that it has been almost 20 years since I first read The Fountainhead (I received it as a Christmas present in 1979) and I have gotten some experience of life, I feel that I am in a better position to sort the good from the bad where Rand is concerned. And the more I reflect on it, the more I realize that there is a lot of good here but that the good is mixed up with some rather misguided thinking. This is especially so in the Objectivist "movement" (of whatever flavor) spawned by Rand. Rand's philosophy is, if anything, a kind of individualism, so the existence of an organized movement of Randians is suspect right from the start. Indeed, I think that the most healthy representatives of what she stood for have kept their distance from organized Randianism, and have taken some of her insights to heart and then gone on to simply live their lives. This is what I find myself doing more and more. The results of shaking off the Rand meme will, I hope, find fruit in my future work.

At the same time, I have become less and less interested in philosophy. So much of philosophical work seems barren to me now, a needlessly abstract and desiccated activity divorced from real human living. Most recently, especially as a result of doing in-depth research on the ideas of Jacob Bronowski (mathematician, poet, author of The Ascent of Man, and all-around Renaissance man), I have come to think that the most productive route for learning about the world is not philosophy but science -- combined with a healthy dose of art. It seems to me that philosophy tends strongly towards being the kind of closed, rigid, proprietary system that cannot successfully find truth, and that science is the kind of open, flexible, free system that can. These thoughts are inspired also by the manifest success of open source software. I have been running Linux for quite some time now, and I'm struck by the productive potential of open systems as opposed to closed systems. Apple's Macintosh all but died because of the closed nature of its technology, and I think Windows will do the same. Open systems are the future, and it seems to me that philosophy does not experience the "market pressures" that science does, with the result that it cannot so closely track truth.

Exactly how these musings will affect my future work I'm not sure. I would like to complete my reflections on Ayn Rand by publishing one or two books on her ideas, probably The Tao of Roark and a collection of essays. After that I might fall silent intellectually (unlikely, but possible), or I might move on to working in a more scientific vein (with, I hope, at least a few bursts of artistic creativity interspersed). Part III, anyone?


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal