Why I am Not an Objectivist

2001-08-26

I have just started the mammoth task of reading, or re-reading as the case may be, all of the words published by Ayn Rand. I am attempting to do this in roughly chronological order, so I've started with my first reading of her journals. I've had this book on my shelf since it was published, but have never so much as cracked the spine until a few days ago. And here, as early as 1927, I find so much to disagree with in Rand. I cannot honestly call myself an Objectivist given how much my own thought strays from hers. Indeed, I don't think there is such a thing as Objectivism -- to my mind, the appropriate name for the nexus of ideas she formalized and systematized is Randianism, not Objectivism. For the ideas and the system are hers. I can engage in critical reflection and abstract away from much of what she said, then add back in some different measurements to come up with a view of the world that bears some striking similarities to Rand's but that is different enough to bear only a family resemblance. I could fuss and fight over definitions and try to convince others that my viewpoint is actually the one true version of "objectivism", but aside from the fact that I have no interest in doing so, I see that as a misguided and dishonest pursuit. I may not talk much with others about such things since I have neither the opportunity nor the interest, but I certainly think about them. And when I think about them, I realize that for me Rand's philosophy is more and more becoming a ladder that, in Wittgenstein's phrase, I will let go of once I am able to see things through my own eyes.

So I am not a Randian, a Randroid, a Randanista, an Objectivist, or a Student of Objectivism. I see myself as a student of life, as someone who, among other things, thinks clearly and honestly, honors the self, creates value, understands as much as possible about this world of ours (including the human world), and enjoys his brief sojourn on this earth. My thinking was for a long time deeply influenced by Ayn Rand. But over time I find myself thinking much more freely, venturing farther and farther afield from my Randian roots, seeking truths in traditions as diverse as Taoism, Epicureanism, and Gnosticism. And even aside from my thinking, I find myself simply living, enjoying my existence, working, helping to create technology (and helping others to use it), writing poetry, listening to and playing music, reading, reflecting, hiking in the mountains, walking through the city, cooking, and doing whatever else I fill my days with. I don't see these activities through Rand-colored glasses any longer -- I simply do them, and try to do them well.

I suppose one core reason I no longer identify myself with the label of Objectivist, or with any other label for that matter, is that I don't perceive myself as fighting any cultural or philosophical wars -- I perceive myself as just trying to live my own life and create the value I want to create in the world (mainly related to music and poetry, but also more recently to technology). I feel labels are important if you need to keep track of which batallion you're in -- you need a banner to stand under, colors to fly, a distinctive phrase on the battle horn to inspire you. But I'm not fighting any wars, running any races, or supporting any movements. I am living my own life. Perhaps this makes me anti-intellectual in some sense, or a sponge on those who are fighting the good fight for whatever premises make it possible for me to live and create in a society or culture that is free and open. Perhaps. But I find it eminently more worth my precious time to live and create than to argue and fight.

To paraphrase Rand's paraphrase of Patrick Henry: If this be treason to philosophy, then make the most of it. :)


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