A website dedicated to dismantling this toxic philosophy. Send your friends dealing with the toxic abuse from Objectivists here. Also send anyone caught in the vortex of Rand and wants out but doesn’t know where to turn.
Rand’s Faulty View of Human Nature
Ayn Rand has a faulty view of human nature itself, and then unforgivably builds an elaborate morality and political philosophy around it.
Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is proudly hierarchal in nature. Rand’s politics are based on her view on morality. Her view on morality is based on her metaphysics. Her metaphysics dictates that there is an unalterable nature of man qua man. She develops a vision of what the ideal man ought to be, based on the “objective” nature in which humans survive. Certain behaviors, such as rationality in all of one’s waking hours, are held up as morally superior to others. The problem? Her view of man is based on a faulty view of human nature itself: tabula rasa.
Rand writes in “The Objectivist Ethics” in The Virtue of Selfishness:
Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism; but, at birth, both are “tabula rasa.” (30)
There are two things in this quote that Rand says are “tabula rasa”: a person’s cognitive mechanism and emotional mechanism. It’s the second thing I take especial issue with. I do child development work and it does seem like some children are born with natural, intuitive skills, such as counting at very early ages, such that a person’s “cognitive mechanism” is not entirely “tabula rasa.” However, that aside, it is a person’s emotional mechanism being “tabula rasa” that I take issue with. Expanding the quote above, Rand elaborates on what this means:
Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism; but, at birth, both are “tabula rasa.” It is man’s cognitive faculty, his mind, that determines the content of both.
I’ll pause here to note: determines the content of both. The stuff in each. She goes on:
Man’s emotional mechanism is like an electronic computer, which his mind has to program—and the programming consists of the values his mind chooses.
This is what I take issue. According to Rand, you can program—her word—your emotions. You can tell your emotions how you want them to behave. You can control the content of your emotional mechanism: what life events will make you happy or what ones will infuriate you. She writes:
Man has no choice to feel that something is good for him or evil, but what he will consider good or evil, what will give him joy or pain, what he will love or hate, desire or fear, depends on his standard of value. (31, emphasis original)
Rand says you will, indeed, feel something. But what you feel—her word—is up to you. You can control what will give you “joy or pain,” what you will “love or hate,” and “desire or fear.” I’m directly quoting her here.
The Objectivist view on emotions is that same way you learn to walk, which becomes automatic and performed at the call of the mind, so you can—nay, you must—make your emotions behave as you want. Your only choice, according to Rand, is whether you take control of this process or let it happen haphazardly.
The enormously powerful integrating mechanism of man’s consciousness is there at birth; his only choice is to drive it or be driven by it. (Philosophy and a Sense of Life, 27)
The best metaphor I can give for the Objectivist view on emotions is that emotions are seen as like a wild horse that will indeed buck around no matter what. They are seen as wild and unreliable. Thus, you have to go in and discipline them. It is perhaps best summed up by what an Objectivist wrote to me once,
Rand doesn’t argue that people are born emotionless …
Yes, I know that.
… but that emotions don’t exist outside of (prior to) values and that therefore you can change your emotions by changing your values.
Yes, that’s what I challenge. I do not think you can or should “change your emotions by changing your values.”
Yes, Rand wants to go in and control your emotions. Rand doesn’t just advocate that you be conscious of your emotions. She doesn’t just advocate that you don’t use your emotions to learn Calculus. She wants you to go in and program the very emotion itself. And she wants you to use “reason”–not any gut feel–in “all of one’s waking hours.” This is core to her idea of reason itself. And you definitely don’t listen to what your authentic, natural emotions are trying to tell you. As Rand and Objectivists will admonish, “Emotions are not tools of cognition!”
The “Mind” Dominating the “Heart” is Core to Objectivism
This issue is no peripheral thing. It is core to Objectivism. This idea, of the mind programming one’s emotional mechanism, is the premise on which all of Rand’s all-encompassing rational morality rests, as I will show. It is core to her idea of reason itself, her idea of reason of which is not just that “A is A.”
Nathaniel Branden writes in My Years with Ayn Rand that the issue of “the mind versus the heart” was the most important issue to Rand. He writes that upon first meeting her,
She wanted to know what I thought about “the mind versus the heart,” thinking versus feeling, and did I agree that feelings by themselves were not a reliable guide to action? Of course I agreed.
This issue was so important, she almost wrote another book about it:
For some years, Ayn had contemplated writing a book about “the mind versus the heart,” her thesis being the superiority of the mind and the evil of placing the heart above it. She decided against writing the book because she felt she had covered the issue adequately in Atlas Shrugged. The intensity of her concern with this issue, which surfaced in countless discussions, became a profound if unacknowledged message to distrust emotions.
I wish she would have written this book. It would have made utterly clear what Objectivism really is about.
Branden describes eloquently how this view of the mind and emotions is central to Objectivism :
When Ayn began discussing the idea that all emotions are the product of a person’s conscious or subconscious premises and that emotions reflect conscious or subconscious value judgments, I saw that this was a principle of enormous importance to her. It was tied in her mind to the supreme importance of reason in human life. “Emotions are not tools of cognition,” she said. She would say this often, always with great intensity.
This is core to Objectivism. It is no small thing. It is tied to Rand’s very idea of reason. Her idea of reason is not just that “A is A.” It’s intricately woven with her idea of how the mind and emotions interact.
And yet most Objectivists probably cannot outline for you the Objectivist view of emotions. They treat this issue—of how the mind and emotions interact—as if it’s some small, negligible thing. But this issue—of the mind “versus” the heart—is core to Objectivism and the main thing I challenge. Rand’s entire morality is built entirely around this premise: that our natural emotions are inherently unreliable and must be programmed by the cognitive mind.
Our Relationship with Our Inner Core Matters Profoundly
This is heavy stuff. Whether or not we can go in and program our emotions—our inner core—is huge. The implications are enormous. It affects inter-personal relationships, parenting, education, our relationship with our inner core, our state of happiness, psychology, therapy, and more. Absolutely critical to my own personal healing was finding better ideas on what kind of relationship to have with my inner core—my very emotions, my very subconscious, how happiness itself operates! Far superior ideas on emotions exist. I pit Rand’s view that we dominate our emotions with one that our emotions are here to tell us something. We cannot and should not override our natural emotional programming. It is an incredibly serious thing to try to override any life organism’s natural emotional, instinctual programming. Programming emotions is, as I will argue, a fertile ground for abuse. Manipulating emotions is dangerous territory.
Rand was no Psychologist
And Rand, though she advocates reason and objectivity, studied no humans in a disciplined way to make these enormous, sweeping conclusions. Rand plays psychologist, and she was lousy at it. Can Objectivists at least see this—that she had no disciplined study? Certainly not one in which she successfully treated people for issues related to their inner world.
Far worse, however, is that Rand then codifies her weak understanding of human nature into a moral code, which she entirely intends to guide a person for every choice in all waking hours of one’s life. And it comes with the all the life-denying stuff that moral codes come with: judgment, shame, anxiety, and I’ll say it: a certain geekiness.
In codifying her weak understanding of human nature into an all-encompassing morality, Rand shuts down an enormous amount of scientific inquiry. Whether it’s condemning “Progressive” education, certain types of music, or alternative views on happiness itself, Rand shuts down an enormous amount of curiosity.
And, no, no amount of new evidence can update Objectivist thinking. It’s been made abundantly clear that “Objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand.” Outside thought is unwelcomed and will not alter it. An Objectivist might update their thinking on matters relating to the outer world. But when it comes to the inner world, the views are set in stone. For instance, if a person were to say, “Emotions play an important role in life and can aid our decisions,” Objectivists would be shut down to this. (I find they outright mock it.) Here is Branden describing a conversation with Rand about then recent research on depression:
When I tried to tell her of some new research that suggested that certain kinds of depression had a biological basis, she answered angrily, “I can tell you what causes depression. I can tell you about rational depression, and I can tell you about irrational depression. The second is mostly self-pity, and in neither case does biology enter into it.” I asked her how she could make a scientific statement with such certainty, given that she had never studied the field. She shrugged bitterly and snapped, “Because I know how to think.”
She knows how to think. So, no. New evidence cannot and does not update Objectivist thinking when it comes to anything related to the inner world or threatens Rand’s idea of an all-encompassing rational morality.
I accuse Rand of moral bias. Moral bias is when a moral ideal seems so obvious, so amazing, so glittering, so virtuous, and one has decided they have all the tools they need to understand reality already, that it shuts down curiosity into the value of other ideas or ways of being.
Moral bias also renders a person blind to the damage they cause in pursuing their ideal. We see this with other systems like communism, in which people notoriously could not see the damage of communist regimes in pursuing their ideal society. We also see it in religion, in which for centuries they have behaved atrociously, but people still pass it off as “organized religion not scripture,” with scripture remaining literally holy. But it’s seen in Objectivism, too.
Tabula rasa, which give rise to the idea that we have no reliable emotional programming at birth and thus need an all-encompassing, externally imposed moral code, at best, was the predominant view at the time that Ayn Rand wrote. It is being systematically challenged in virtually all areas of science related to human nature. We have emotional drivers in us meant to pack a punch and aid in our survival—and it’s far more than just running away in fear from snakes. I will quote and explain this extensively in this book. I cannot explain it in a mere few paragraphs or how much it affects literally all areas related to human life. I need time to explain it—and a mind open to understanding it.
Rand’s system is very hierarchical. Her morality is based on her metaphysics. Her politics are based on her morality. The many, many judgments she makes are deeply rooted in her view of the ideal man. And her view of human nature itself is wrong. Challenge tabula rasa and Objectivism comes tumbling down like the house of cards that it is.
Who am I? I’m Amber. I was an Objectivist for about 10 years. People in older and quasi-famous Objectivist circles know me and have described me as “one of the smartest people around.” I realized Objectivism was failing me in about my late 20s and started to look for other and better answers. I wrote the book Towards Liberalism: A Challenge to Objectivist Ethics, which I am re-writing as The Moral Bias of Objectivism: How Moral Ideals Cloud Objectivity, after I had had it with the narcissistic abuse, gaslighting and manipulation that people in Objectivist circles routinely dish out.
I am now most known for my child development work. I am “The Observant Mom.” I document the age-related “stages” children go through. It is times when children act up at fairly predictable age-related times, but on the other side of this behavior is a burst of new mental ability. Their brain was going through an “upgrade.” You can see my work at www.theobservantmom.com. My work is quite popular, is used by tens of thousands each month, and I now easily have hundreds of notes from parents all over the world about how much my work helps them.
My child development work made me doubt Rand big time. I’ve been told my book Misbehavior is Growth: An Observant Parent’s Guide to Three Year Olds gives one of the best refutations to blank slate theory out there. I outline the sections I challenge Rand in this book here: Ayn Rand Challenged in Misbehavior is Growth. And, yes. This issue matters profoundly.
If I have influenced you positively, I like hearing about it. My email is email@example.com.
What’s in It for You?
A new, better way of living and a new path to freedom.
Better Ideas on Life and Joy
When I challenge Objectivism, people tend to say, “Well we can’t just throw reason away! We can’t just succumb to nihilism and socialism!” Rand, and others, put this fear in you. They present their ideologies as nothing but amazingness—as reason and science itself—and pit it against other ways which are, according to them, hedonistic, destructive, mindless, lazy, and sadistic. Rand gives you this very thinking when she says, “It’s Objectivism or communism” (Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World, 75). These are not your only two options. You do not have to choose between Objectivism and people who want to rope you into their stupid ideas via coercion. Far better ways exist.
Objectivism does not just mean “reason,” as in “study.” It’s an entire way to live. It has its very own morality. Rand has elaborate thoughts on how you should think, feel, and act. I lived these principles for 10 years. While no one doubted my work ethic and I absorbed conceptual knowledge like no one’s business, I can’t say I was really happy. I combatted others, giving my no-nonsense explanations of what I thought to be true. Yeah, I easily updated and changed my mind when presented factual evidence, of which people seemed to be shocked by. But I was missing quite a lot. Even though my natural skill set would have lent to it, I didn’t treat others as well as they should have been treated. I turned down ideas—such as that happiness is regardless of life circumstance—at face value. I remember all but crying in my bed in my late 20s once. I knew Objectivism was failing me—but I had no idea where to turn.
When I started to get help for specific issues I had, most of them medical, I started to improve in ways I never thought I even could. This is me in my late 20s, as a software engineer, still living as an Objectivist and then me in my late 30s, having found better ideas.
I think the most important difference is that I don’t think happiness is an achievement anymore. I think joy is the default. It’s the normal. Joy, health, strength, and beauty are the default. They are the springboard in life, not the end goal. We are gifted with abundance, not scarcity, at birth, which we then go do things with.
This is opposite of what Rand says. Rand’s explicit position, as I will outline in this book, is that it’s success first, happiness second. She writes that happiness is an “achievement of one’s values” and you cannot “reverse cause and effect.” Instead, I live by a philosophy that it is happiness first, success second. As I go about life anymore, I know joy is what should be. If something takes me from it, it’s temporary, and I can snap back to joy quickly. It’s enormously powerful in promoting good mental health.
This barometer also guides and teaches me. I know what interests to pursue and who to avoid, largely based on my own internal cues. Literally all of life is built around this paradigm, which is one of sensitivity. I’ll explain more in this book.
But let me ask you this: why would someone not think joy is the default?
How Did Objectivism Historically Play Out?
If you are an Objectivist reading this, you might want to seriously re-consider adopting Objectivism. Branden said his deepest regret in spreading Objectivism back in the day—and Branden is who made it what it was—is telling people their emotions have no validity in making life choices. He writes when he started out,
I was on fire with the notion that ideas were able to explain emotions and behavior—and with the possibility of changing emotions and behavior by changing the ideas that gave rise to them.
He writes about what he preached,
What we said, in effect, was, “Be rational twenty-four hours a day and in every issue; there’s no excuse not to be. The root of all evil is evasion. Value your own moral perfection above all things.”
What people listening would never have heard,
What they would not have learned from us was the importance of listening to their own inner signals, those messages from the organism that are not encoded in conceptual language.
And, ultimately, what it did to people,
… there was a rigidity, a fear of falling into error, and, for the others, a fear of incurring Ayn’s or my displeasure and critical judgment. “In the Collective,” Harry Kalberman remarked to me many years later, “there was always that dread of moral condemnation from on high. I don’t know if you ever really understood how bad our anxiety was.” There was terrible violence done to everyone’s emotional life—the repression or suppression of any feeling that clashed with what an ideal Objectivist was supposed to experience, be it a sexual impulse, an artistic preference, a longing for greater spontaneity, hurt or anger with me for my sometimes abrupt and impatient manner, or hurt at Ayn’s coldness when she found some action to disparage.
If you are an Objectivist, seriously consider reading My Years with Ayn Rand by Nathaniel Branden. See how historically Objectivism played out and what it did to real, live people when applied. See who your adopted mentor really was and the meaning behind some of what she wrote. The main theme that Branden writes about is the same one I write in this book, of “the mind versus the heart.” But Branden still eschewed “all forms of irrationality.” So, he still adopted this view of stamping out “irrationality” and keeping the fundamentals of Objectivism. I, on the other hand, think emotional repression is built right into Objectivism and its all-encompassing rational morality. I will quote Rand extensively to prove this and offer competing, better ideas.
Navigate the Cult-Like Abuse of the World
The other thing that this book can offer you is an ability to navigate your way through any abusive situation. The world, which is still steeped in religion, is much more cult-like than I think most realize or are willing to admit. You might get pressured to act a certain way, think a certain thing—and the sell from those friendly people trying to help you might seem damn persuasive. It’s hard to reach people who are in the situation, because, at first, a person doesn’t even realize they are in the situation. But if there is any little voice in you telling you something is wrong, I want to validate it. If you are self-censuring yourself for others, I want to show you that something must be amiss. I want to guard your heart from the manipulation, control, and abuse that many in your life might try to subject you to. It is time for humanity to evolve: to look at this abuse right in the eye and say “not anymore.”
I have experience with this. Abuse abounds in Objectivist circles. Objectivist typically can’t see it but from the outside, people can always see it. Objectivists are arrogant, abusive, and caustic. As one commenter wrote, Objectivists are:
…self-righteous dudes who take matters into their own hands because they are the only ones capable of making rational decisions, whereupon the definition of the term rational is also entirely determined by themselves? that fits the bill, imo
I finally left Objectivism after I had had it with the narcissistic abuse Objectivists routinely dish out. It’s insidious in nature. At first, they are your best friends. You are amazed two people found each other, who both liked Ayn Rand, who seems edgy. You want to put your best foot forward, because well—we want to be ideal people, right? And we want to be rational, right?
Over time, though, the control sets in. As a female, I was often told to cheer up, smile more, be happier—basically smile for all of these heroic men around me. I realized after some time that I was being primed for sexual abuse. And, by the way, finding out that a leading Objectivist psychanalyst was sexually exploiting a patient is what ended Objectivist Psychotherapy, which was huge among Objectivists back in the day. See Ellen Plasil’s book Therapist: The Shocking Autobiography of a Woman Sexually Exploited by Her Therapist. Of course, I never knew about this until I left Objectivism. They are good at dumping their unsavory history down the memory hole.
I found myself, slowly, over time, becoming more and self-censuring when in Objectivist circles. I was routinely admonished for having any “negative” emotion—we control our emotions and destinies, after all. If sad, why can’t you change it? Rand directly outlines in Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged that you “drive” your emotions. If you find yourself miserable, “check your fuel.” It got you to where you are.
I would have my experiences doubted. I would watch a mother abuse her child, and someone, who didn’t even witness the event, would lecture me to see the whole silly thing in a more positive light. I would be snarled at–snarled–to stop and smell the flowers. But … I…. do? Their constant daily writings of what the “positive of the day” was and how “proud” they were when others started doing this too at some point started to make no sense. Why was I always being pressured to be “positive”? What was wrong with me that this very forceful effort to achieve this had to be made? The constant assumption seemed to be that I or any other person was one lit match away from unbearable rage, jealousy, and anger, and I necessarily had to actively keep this at bay. Nope—not my inner core. I can handle bad things in life, process and deal with them, and get back to calm pretty quick. I realized, however, after studying narcissistic abuse that THEY are the ones with constant jealousy, rage, and anger on the inside. (Unreliable whims, if you will.) And they, like any narcissist, firmly believe that everyone else is also like that.
Although I was held up as “one of the smartest people around” when an Objectivist, now that I challenge Objectivism, I am often accused of every negative thing a human could ever be: angry, bitter, or “just lashing out.” I get told I must be mad that an Objectivist male dumped me. Hmm, ok. Not true. (Quite the opposite, actually–repeatedly.) Or that I just have an “axe to grind.” Ok. What if I were angry at the treatment Objectivists have given me? Because I was—they were very toxic. Why is the natural response to being in a toxic situation–anger and frustration–bad? Am I to zip it up and be happy? Are my emotions not valid? In reality, I am an extraordinarily quiet, patient woman and mother who does child development work and gets notes from all over the world about how much my work and advice helps keep people calm. I can help keep parents calm–who are in the throes of some of the most emotionally provoking situations one will ever be in. It’s my personal example–the stories I tell–that does it. I feel no need to defend myself—but I’m not the angry one, ok? I’m the exact opposite. And I can be both infuriated at injustice and yet remain calm as an individual—it’s not a contradiction. And any reading of human history or observation of the current affairs is enough to make one angry—wouldn’t you agree?
If you are in such an invalidating situation, this work can help. The control in cult-like environments (which seems to be most ideologies and religion, i.e., virtually all of humanity) is hard to spot at first. It’s dished out by people who firmly believe they are all things good and virtuous. They were riveted by something–they have an ideal in their mind that seems to be the answer to their problems or a nice way to live. They were ostracized before by their elders but now they found their tribe. But. There are hidden rules. These great keepers of truth and justice just stare at you incredulously if you disagree with them. They cheerfully tell you how to behave in many, many situations. I absolutely hated that feeling of being pressured to conform when I lived as an Objectivist. It was super confusing. I really liked the system and wanted to stay around what seemed like like-minded friends. And yet if any of them had any ethical crusade against anything, I was forced to internalize it. Let’s say someone decided sarcastic remarks were the sign of a boorish person who couldn’t formulate a correct thought. Although sarcasm can play a healthy role in life—or can indeed be abused—I was all but forced to internalize their comments and vanquish all sarcastic comments from my dialogue. Although I am a very outspoken person, I found myself personally censoring myself more and more. Objectivism presents itself as a moral code to guide a person “rationally” in all decisions. Every choice, as Rand says, can go for your benefit or against. Buy an apple or an orange—one of these is surely objectively better for you. All choices, in everything, should have rigorous thought brought to them. And, so, if someone is seriously studying the issue of sarcasm, we must consider. Are we being rational? If not, you’re bad, wrong, immoral. Rand controls you in the most effective way possible: through your own sense of morality.
Morally Reject Any Abuse that Comes Your Way
I think if you were to ask most Objectivists if they would feel in submission to Rand’s judgment, somewhere deep down the answer is yes, especially if they are younger. If she were alive, they would want to be in Ayn Rand’s good graces. And yet deep down most know they probably wouldn’t be. And this unconscious fear is for good reason. The following, from a Newsweek article, describes how Rand treated a person in attendance at one of her speeches:
“Her books,” said one member of the congregation, “are so good that most people should not be allowed to read them. I used to want to lock up nine-tenths of the world in a cage, and after reading her books, I want to lock them all up.” Later on, this same chap – a self-employed “investment counselor” of 22 – got a lash of his idol’s logic full in the face. Submitting a question from the floor – a privilege open to paying students only – the budding Baruch revealed himself as a mere visitor. Miss Rand – a lady whose glare would wilt a cactus – bawled him out from the platform as a “cheap fraud.” (Hanscom, 1961)
This is what I can offer you. It’s perhaps the best thing I can offer you in this journey called life. If you understand the principles I put forward in this book, you can walk away from such a narcissistic attack unscathed—from Rand or anyone else. You don’t have to put up with this. All of your choices, feelings, and thoughts, in every waking moment, do not need to be open to moral criticism.
Finally Holding Ideologies Accountable
I accuse Rand’s Objectivism of being narcissistic to the core. No, it’s not in the sales pitch that it is narcissistic. It’s not in the stuff about freedom and individuality. It’s in the bowels of Objectivism that it’s dirty work is done. People almost always look at me cross-eyed when I say this. Well. I mean. We have this system that claims all things rational and moral for itself, accuses others of being hedonistic and destructive, encourages its members to judge others in the name of healing the world of its irrationality, and has a hell of a charismatic sales pitch in Rand’s fiction books. How could any of this be narcissistic? At all. Ever.
All abusive systems are the same. They claim all things good, virtuous, rational, benevolent, reliable, dependable, and friendly for themselves. They then malign their victims as irrational, crazy, destructive, hedonistic, etc. They want you to have some different, better moral paradigm that you filter all your thoughts through before acting. I love thinking of Lady Tremaine from Cinderella to explain this, who admonishes the wicked stepsisters, “Remember, girls. Above all, self-control.” (If you don’t see why this is wrong, imagine not you commanding yourself to have self-control, but someone else commanding you.) They all manipulate your emotions, attempting to vanquish all “negative” ones like anger—which are the very kind of emotions that cause people to have boundaries and demand respect. Put your hair in curls, sit up straight, put a smile on that face, and be happy, damn it! Narcissistic paradigms always have a great sales pitch to get you hooked: a promise of brotherhood, a rational society, or an afterlife, typically relying on art, such as fictional stories or music, to do it. This type of abuse operates the same, across all ideologies, even if the particulars change. Understand one system and you understand them all.
Well, that is—if we are finally willing to admit that the ideology itself is flawed. To this day, I am still told that, whether it’s religion or Objectivism, the problem is not the system but that it is “flawed humans” trying to enact an otherwise holy, great, and/or rationally amazing idea. It’s stunning to watch Objectivists use the same excuses as religion has for centuries—when they explicitly say thinking drives an individual and philosophies drive nations. And, by the way, thinking the moral system is above reproach and most definitely not responsible for the behavior of its adherents, is exactly what moral bias is.
Does man conform to the philosophy? Or does the philosophy support man?
A Deep Dive into Objectivism
The abuse I accuse Objectivism is, again not in the sales pitch. To truly explain it, I have to explain all of the nitty gritty details of Objectivism. I will do that in this book. If anything, as an Objectivist, after reading this book, at least you will better understand Rand’s views on emotions and the inner life. And I insist you don’t dismiss my argument until you can recite, fully and accurately, Rand’s views on emotions, happiness, and the subconscious. I am going to be discussing Objectivist thoughts on the following:
10 Questions for Objectivists
- Are the emotions you feel metaphysical (cannot be changed) or man-made (can be altered)?
- Is happiness a result of your achievements (secondary) or a mostly unalterable well inside you (primary)?
- What is reason’s role in life: to understand reality or an all-encompassing guide for every waking hour of one’s life?
- What role do emotions play in learning from life experience?
- What is the purpose of education: to transform a child into the rational ideal or put a child in touch with their authentic strength?
- How are women differentiated from men and what is their unique identity, value, and needs?
- On a scale of 1-10, how important is child rearing to human survival? On a scale of 1-10, how much emphasis is it given in formal Objectivist ethics?
- Who owns land: who got to it first, who fights for it, or based on some other moral paradigm?
- How can the environment be effectively sustained? Does it even matter?
- Do private citizens have the right to use firearms for self-defense?
The implications of the answers to these questions is profound. How you manage your emotions is huge. Do you tell your emotions what to do? Or do you let them in to personally edify you as you experience life?
How we handle children’s emotions is also huge: are we here to mold them or to listen to their feedback, of which is communicated to us primarily through emotions? My most challenging chapter in this book is “Children Are Born with a Spark Plug.” In this, I outline Rand’s authoritarian, traditional views on parenting and education, and how much better educational ideas exist. (I receive the most virulent abuse from Objectivists when I question their ideas on education.) It is amazing how little attention narcissistic paradigms give to child raising, or give terrible advice, and how much they can’t understand why their philosophies end up failing when applied to real, live people.
How women—and sex—are treated is also huge. Rand gives scant attention to women and described women as most feminine when chained. Nope—unleash me and watch what I can do. And sex of ALL issues is one where we should follow our internal rhythms!
I outline better views on emotions, sex, and happiness, as well—with the thought that knowledge into these areas change over time. I offer them to show viable alternatives. And to hammer my main point home: Ayn Rand did not develop any of her conclusions about human nature through any disciplined study. I offer alternative views which, right, wrong or possibly prone to changing over time, are based on actual real, live people.
I discuss also the fallout of Objectivism. Bringing a moral code to every single decision in one’s life brings a certain unnecessary electricity to all decisions. It is a breeding ground for shame, unease, and anxiety. I’ll discuss this elaborately. It also creates the strong propensity to judge others—of which Rand explicitly advises her followers to do.
And Objectivism is predatory in nature. Rand, as I will show, had psychopathic tendencies. (Her predatory stare, quoted earlier, which could “wilt a cactus” is a telltale sign of psychopathy.) Her characters were highly narcissistic. And her philosophy itself follows along identically with how a narcissist thinks, as following along with the work of Sam Vaknin, who most agree, right or wrong on other issues, is remarkable at describing narcissism accurately.
And if you think Rand would allow you to enact your own self-defense—think again. I studied her thoroughly to see her view. Her view is that you do have a right to self-defense, but you must delegate it to the government to carry out. I have quotes, I promise. Like any tyrannical system (which always promises freedom, peace, etc.), Rand disarms citizens. She validated your concern about big government. She did not actually give you the means to protect yourself—and she left all sorts of convenient holes where tyranny can come in (Rand insisted that freedom was not primary and was contextual). That’s it. Your emotions were validated. You were not actually given self-defense or freedom. In Objectivism, which I accuse of being predatory, both your natural intuition—your “whims”—and your physical being are disarmed. I discuss this in “Lay Down Your Whims and Weapons.”
And I discuss how Rand had no moral underpinning for “metaphysical” wealth (naturally occurring), such as land, water, air, etc. And yet, suspiciously, the characters do clamor over such wealth, including copper mines and Galt’s gulch.
If you’ve never heard of Objectivism before reading this book—don’t worry. You’ll have a thorough understanding after reading it.
Finally, I offer a new moral paradigm. Not one that stands on guard against the lazy and the hedonistic, or the atheistic and treasonous. But rather one that stands on guard against those who are actually abusive to humanity: who are emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive. Why do we need a code of ethics–as Rand asks us? Because some people are abusive, narcissistic, sociopath predators who abuse others and we must be on guard against them. I outline their typical tactics: gaslighting, triangulations, insults, belittling, etc. Even if society doesn’t adopt this moral paradigm, it will help you as you will be able to fling off any narcissistic attack aimed your way. To set your boundaries and guard your heart, there is nothing like feeling, on a moral level, that you do not deserve abuse.
And, finally, for any cultural warriors, I also offer some ideas of how to turn this ship around such that we have an overall culture that values an abuse-free world. The bad news? It’s not for the faint of heart. The good news? It’s worth it.
I quite think that this is a path to freedom. A defense of the natural, wild human. One whose authentic emotions can likely be trusted. A paradigm that recognizes things are crazy, mistakes happen, but free humans can usually be trusted.
Moral Paradigms Matter
As I wrote this book and took its message to others, I realized I am challenging such deeply held views about human nature, moral paradigms, and abuse, that it’s necessary to address the widely held assumptions about these issues right away.
There is a deeply held assumption among virtually all people that abuse is something that strikes out of the blue. Abusive behavior is chalked up to “unconsciousness,” past trauma, or of course “selfishness.” None of this is true. Abuse is allowed to live because it has been normalized ethically.
Virtually no one does anything that is outside of their own moral paradigm. They rationalize away their behavior as serving a beneficial purpose, self-defense, or just punishment. When a parent spanks their child, they don’t see it as abuse. They see it as beneficial discipline. That so many political dictators have slaughtered millions while the majority stay silent, seeing at as for the greater good, is all too well known. These abusers, private or political, don’t see their abuse as abuse. They see it as enforcement of a particular way of living, which is necessary for survival. This is what moral bias–something that has plagued humanity for thousands of years–is. In their eyes, they always see it that they must stamp out something “bad”—a traitor, a heretic, irrationality, immorality, Satan, germs, whatever—in order to let the good live. And, so, when you point out the abuse, they can’t even see it. You point out the scars on the child, and they simply remark, “Oh well, that’s because …” They are rendered blind.
You can read recorded history from the start to now and the theme is the same over and over: tyranny lives because the majority sanction it. If you see something that seems atrocious to you—public hangings, circumcision, slavery, etc.—know that it only continued or continues to live because it enjoys some sense of cultural normalcy.
Perhaps it’s easier to explain by stating that in reverse: abuse and tyranny does NOT live if the majority find it unethical. For instance, when the now U.S. state of Texas was under Mexican rule, they were to obey Mexican law, which ordered them to convert to Catholicism. The majority didn’t. They went about their day doing as they wanted. It eventually led to war, and we know how that turned out. You can’t rule people who won’t bow to tyranny.
Lundy Bancroft, an abuse counselor to men, writes in Why Does He Do That:
A critical insight seeped into me from working with my first few dozen clients: An abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable. He may hide what he does because he thinks other people would disagree with it, but he feels justified inside. I can’t remember a client ever having said to me: “There’s no way I can defend what I did. It was just totally wrong.” He invariably has a reason that he considers good enough. In short, an abuser’s core problem is that he has a distorted sense of right and wrong. (35, emphasis original)
Abusers still operate within their own moral paradigm. They’ll smash their girlfriend’s phone and call her a whore, but they won’t kick her in the head—that would be wrong. Bancroft describes that he put on a play about abuse using the abusive men in his counseling program. As he was doing it, the men ratcheted up the abuse as the script was being written, saying such things as
No, no, you don’t make excuses for why you’re home late, that puts you on the defensive, you’ve got to turn it around on her. (36)
Bancroft contends that abusers absolutely know what they are doing. Portraying them as the mistreated child/person who doesn’t know what he’s doing won’t help the situation; in fact, emboldens them. Past experiences and key male role models (and also perhaps: fictional heroes and the writings of philosophers) shaped their beliefs, which set in place their philosophical outlook, without them fully considering all the ramifications. So, there is a certain unconsciousness (blinds spots) there. But they are operating within their adopted moral framework. As this People magazine article describes Sean Connery coolly explaining,
“I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman, although I don’t recommend doing it in the same way that you’d hit a man,” he told the publication. Describing an “openhanded slap” as “justified,” Connery also said it could be used “if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning,” adding, “If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it.”
Abusers aren’t the misunderstood, mistreated child, as they love to make themselves out to be. They are an in-charge adult. The issue is in how they think, not how they feel.
Moral paradigms are extremely powerful. This is what I’m trying to get you to see. Abusers won’t do something if they personally find it wrong. And Objectivism is a moral paradigm. If you see an Objectivist (or anyone) behaving in a particular way, you can rest assured that he does not see the behavior as unethical. This should give us serious reason to investigate, indeed, what they are being taught to think.
But, all of this is actually great news. If abuse is in a person’s moral paradigm, it means we can change this behavior. Make abuse itself immoral and the cultural impact would be profound.
As such, redefining morality can have a tremendous impact. The fact is many abusive behaviors are still highly normalized. It’s still morally acceptable to spank a child. You can still see on social media people who say, “If some whore cheated on me, I’d beat her ass.” If a family wants to portray a particular member, usually a female, as ungrateful, selfish, and irrational, they usually get away with it and on moral terms. We do it on a collective level, such as how we make it acceptable to hate on someone like Kim Kardashian. It’s common for young mothers to get hurtful critical feedback about how they parent. In Objectivism, thick insults and portraying others as wildly stupid is highly normal and even seen as effective and cool. Most of all, across nearly all thought paradigms, punishment itself is still seen as valid in certain context. People feel profoundly justified in the harm they inflict.
Enormous good can be had by challenging these behaviors on moral grounds. When dealing with people who are abusive, no amount of improved conflict resolution helps. If you are dealing with someone who is insulting you, keeping you on the defensive, controlling you, wants you to serve them, and makes you feel inferior—which they indeed do as a permanent way of operation making the battle seem unwinnable—the battle needs to be moved from gee golly nice ideas about how to behave to a moral challenge. We don’t argue points. We call out tactics. We don’t defend our characters. We call out abuse. We no longer work around them cleverly. We expect change. We give teeth to the idea that we should be treated well. And yes: we make the connection between the abusive behavior and a person’s moral paradigm.
The moral framework I’ll provide, one of liberalism, takes away all of the tactics that abusers use. The essence of abuse is to describe what an awful, terrible person someone else is, who thus deserves the abuse. That is the justification that abusers have. “Oh well she was running her mouth.” “Well she’s a lazy mother.” “That child is out of line and should know better.” In Objectivism, “That person a lazy, hedonistic, irrational person.” Abusers will make you out to be this, even if nothing could ever even possibly hint at it. Taking away even this ability to shame someone else on these grounds is what this liberal moral paradigm does. I’ll discuss in the last chapters the supposed “hypocrisy” of judging abusers as such. Nope—not letting victims judge abusers is the same as not letting a victim fight against their attacker. Which is, of course, what Rand explicitly does. I get to judge a person as abusive. And, no, it doesn’t make me a hypocrite.
Punishment itself is the core issue to my entire argument. Promoting a punitive-free world is what I do, in my child development work and in how I want to see adults treat each other. Punishment itself plays an integral role in abuse. Abusers feel they are “teaching someone a lesson.” They feel someone “deserved” it. Make punitive measures themselves—hurting someone with the explicit intent of behavioral change— immoral and you will do a tremendous amount to stop abuse dead in its tracks. (Where does Ayn Rand stand on the use of intra-personal punishment?) I do not know of any thinker so forcefully calling for the end of punitive means as I do. Perhaps this is why we have so far been so ineffective at dealing with abuse.
Morality is indeed the most powerful intellectual force on earth. That’s why it’s so important to set it correctly. We set abuse to be morally wrong such that it then feels wrong. This paradigm is entirely a negative: I outline only a few things that you shouldn’t do. There are a handful of behaviors to utterly eschew, everything else is left in the creative hands of the rest of humanity. A new paradigm in thinking may enact authentic change.
So, Objectivists, here is my question: do moral paradigms matter? Should they be handled with care?
Ball’s in Your Court, Objectivists
Objectivists will get to this point here (or sooner) and leave my page. They’ll go off and say I am “rambling” and will not refute me because “that would sanction” my argument. Ok. Sure, be a bunch of gaslighting jerks–that doesn’t at all prove what I am saying.
But before you go, one thing. Define the Objectivist position on emotions. For yourself. Prove, for yourself, blank slate theory. Defend it–for yourself. You might want to understand Rand’s view on emotions before adopting her system of morality to guide you in how you think, feel, and act in every waking moment–Rand’s explicit intent.
In the meantime, I’ll be waiting for Objectivists to come up with a cogent argument defending blank slate theory, other than statements that it just is or to “sweep away” anyone else who says otherwise (how Rand argues it–in Galt’s speech). I won’t hold my breath.
Penetrating the Impenetrable: The Entrenched Objectivist Mind
When I give my challenge to Rand, my consistent experience with Objectivists is they have already deemed me wrong. They have literally got to this sentence you are reading right now (or much sooner, if they read any of it) and decided I am wrong. I can try to anticipate and defend against their attacks, but I find it’s generally pointless. I am starting to collect their immediate accusations and put them into blog posts. Here they are:
- The Burden of Proof is on
The Person Making a ClaimAnyone Who Wants to Know the Truth
- Arguing Over the Definition of Words is the Sign of an Ideologue
- Rand Shuts Down Intellectual Curiosity by Describing Opposing Views as Possible Enemy Territory
- “It’s Objectivism or communism”–Ayn Rand
- In Objectivism, Reason isn’t just a Tool. It’s a Way to Be.
- Check Your Tools. Your “Reason” is Anything But
- When Reason is Tied to Morality, it Becomes Moralizing
- Defining the “Rational” as “Moral” is Fertile Ground for Abuse
- Weak Arguments from Objectivists Defending Tabula Rasa
- I Never Said Rand Said We Are Emotionless
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Does Not Prove Objectivism
- One Question for Objectivists: Does Rand Say We *Control* Our Emotions? Or Not? Yes. Or No.
- Ayn Rand is Guilty of Moral Bias
- Narcissists and Psychopaths Only Hear ‘Bla, Bla, Bla’ When Others Talk About Emotions
- Accusations of “Mysticism” are Hauntingly Similar to Accusations of “Witchcraft”
- Yes, I Get to Judge You as Abusive. No, I’m Not a Hypocrite
- My Goal Isn’t to Sell You. It’s to Stop You.
I’m not here to play nice or “sell” my thoughts to Objectivists. They’ve utterly proven to be intellectually uncurious, abusive, ever-ready to bury me and smear any challenger, and yet hellbent on saving the world from its “irrationality.” Objectivists Can Dish It but Can’t Take It.
Ultimately, I quite simply can’t get Objectivists to *discuss the issue of tabula rasa itself*. They spin, evade, tell me it doesn’t matter, or attack me. See Common Arguments from Objectivists About Tabula Rasa (spoiler: they’re weak). It’s as if they have no solid argument.
Yes, Objectivism is Abusive
Yes, Objectivism is abusive. Abuse counselors say Abuse is in a Person’s Moral Paradigm. It’s not in their past trauma, it’s not in “unconsciousness.” It’s in their moral paradigm. They feel good about their abuse. They think it’s the right thing to do: that they are enacting something positive. And Objectivism is a moral paradigm.
There are some famous cases of Objectivist abuse. Or some of them are not-so-famous, because Objectivists are so good at putting its unsavory history down the memory hole.
Objectivist psychotherapy was a huge thing back in the day. Never heard of it? There’s a reason.
It ended when a prominent Objectivist psychoanalyst was found to be sexually exploiting patients. How did it happen? He claimed expert, rational status for himself, made her out to be crazy, and invalidated her feelings. A culture of hyper moral judgment didn’t help:
…there seemed to be rules for right and wrong for EVERYTHING in Objectivism. There was more than just a right kind of politics and a right kind of moral code. There was also a right kind of music, a right kind of art, a right kind of interior design, and right kind of dancing. There were wrong books which we could not buy, and right ones which we should… There were plays we should not see, records we should not listen to… And on everything, absolutely everything, one was constantly being judged, just as one was expected to be judging everything that was around him… It was a perfect breeding ground for insecurity, fear, and paranoia. (Pg. 45)
Yes. Objectivism is the perfect breeding ground for insecurity (what I call “shame”), fear, and paranoia (what I call “anxiety”). It is the perfect hunting ground for abuse, too.
She describes how Leonard (Lonnie Leonard, the therapist) make “nude jaunts,” judged her as psychologically inferior, and as not meeting his expectations when she wouldn’t agree to “wrestle” with him. He ascribed her resistance to sexual activity with him as neurosis.
This is how abuse operates. A person claims moral authority and the upper hand and discredits the victim, making her doubt herself. As one review of the book describes, “Just lie down and do what the nice doctor tells you.” This is what abusers do: they make a victim doubt their own senses and feelings. As the psychopath Phantom of the Opera sings to Christine, “Silently the senses. Abandon their defenses.” It is the same pattern over and over. No, they don’t come out and say, “Hey! I’m here to abuse you!” That’s now how it ever works. In war, it’s known you have to confuse and demoralize the enemy. This is what abusers do and exactly what Objectivism does.
And yet still people can’t see it. Another review of this book on Amazon describes “Sad, but no fault of Ayn Rand or Objectivism.”
Here is the antidote to this abuse, from Plasil. I want you to read this slowly:
…there were two lessons learned well. Never, never again would I let anyone tell me they know me better than I know myself. I have learned to trust my emotions—and to act on them… And I have learned never to tolerate abuse that goes unapologized for or unacknowledged… I’ve also learned that I deserve better. (219)
Murray Rothbard describes in “The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult” how Objectivist Psychotherapy was used as a means of control:
But the most important sanction for the enforcement of loyalty and obedience, the most important instrument for psychological control of the members, was the development and practice of Objectivist Psychotherapy. In effect, this psychological theory held that since emotion always stems from incorrect ideas, that therefore all neurosis did so as well; and hence, the cure for that neurosis is to discover and purge oneself of those incorrect ideas and values. And since Randian ideas were all correct and all deviation therefore incorrect, Objectivist Psychotherapy consisted of (a) inculcating everyone with Randian theory – except now in a supposedly psycho-therapeutic setting; and (b) searching for the hidden deviation from Randian theory responsible for the neurosis and purging it by correcting the deviation.
This…right here…is what I’m trying to say.
There is little more powerful than claiming morality, truth, beauty, all things comradery and friendship, and expertise, while others are ignorant, immoral, and irrational, as a way to abuse large numbers of people. Why can’t we see it? At some point, we might surmise that those who can’t see it or make excuses themselves have a vested interested in excusing abuse.
Branden coined the very term “Objectivism.” He made Objectivism what it was through his lecture series. You might want to read his side of the story. He doesn’t write it, but it’s clear Rand had a severe case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Branden describes somewhat how her hyper rationality led to this, but he never really dismisses Objectivism wholly, i.e., all the ground work for abuse remains. But you’ll get further insight into what was actually happening when Rand wrote certain things she wrote. Spoiler: she was sadistic and malicious.
Prescott documents the notes from Rand’s journals in which she admired child murderer William Hickman. Yes, explicitly after he murdered twelve-year-old Marian Parker.
Now go take a look at how Kira’s, Rand’s most autobiographical characters, eyes were “dark with ecstasy” at watching a slave owner whip his slaves or how Roark smiled the “slow smile” of an executioner. Her characters have narcissistic if not psychopathic traits. I will document more in The Moral Bias of Objectivism, as there is a LOT of it and it’s a lot to fully document here.
Now take all this to Objectivists are pseudo-Objectivist admirers and see their reaction. They deny any link between this bad, abusive behavior and Objectivism itself.
An Abuse-Free World is Worth Fighting For
I am actually starting to get good at standing up to abuse. I have a system. I see it as if the abuser is a deceiving magician. They have their bag of tricks. I call out their bag of tricks. When they triangulate me, I say as much. When they belittle, I call it out. And, be prepared, because their next step is predictable: they will triangulate or belittle again. At that point I point out that I called them out and they did it again, and that they are like a shark seeing blood: they know no other way. I send the above article about Abusers Can’t Abuse People Familiar with Abuse.
And, one way or another, I feel really good about myself and the approach. Psychologists call what they do FOG: fear, obligation, guilt. They try to guilt and shame you to gain power. It is literally like a “fog,” a mist, meant to confuse. See through the fog, call it out. Have some potions of your own. Don’t let their tactics silence you. You can walk through a lot more difficult situations when you have these strategies at the ready. I plan on updating my book Towards Liberalism to include these tactics–and include my experience with Objectivists (abusive, caustic) and what tactics are effective against them. In short, catch them preattentively, get your hardest, biggest points in immediately, and use their own quotes do do it.
An abuse-free world is a world worth fighting for. Abuse obviously isn’t ideal when it happens to you. But it ultimately isn’t good if you have abusive tendencies inside you, either. Much more peaceful ways of living exist. Tackle narcissism, which is what it is, and we would be well on our way to a more peaceful, free, enjoyable life.
More on Objectivism
Here are some more articles and resources outlining more on The Objectivist View on Emotions
- The Objectivist View on Emotions: Setting Happiness to Serve You
- 5 One-Minute Videos Explaining The Objectivist View on Emotions
- What Happens When You Judge Emotions as Rational or Irrational?
- The Fallout of Objectivist Morality
- Objectivists on Education
- If you achieve that which is the good by a rational standard of value, it will necessarily make you happy. Right.
- 10 Objectivist Blind Spots
Moving Beyond Objectivism
Here are some resources to move beyond Objectivism.
I have written a blog with other books that, I think, have superior thought on human nature as compared to Objectivism or which challenge Objectivism. Other Resources Challenging Objectivism.
I also discuss how blank slate theory has a molding, controlling, toxic effect in parenting and education in my book Misbehavior is Growth: An Observant Parent’s Guide to Three Year Olds. Yes, Peikoff and Rand make an appearance.
Towards the end of knowing if I have explained the Objectivist view on emotions, I now have a questionnaire asking people about The Objectivist View on Emotions. There are but a few questions. If you want to unload on me about how much of a mystic I am, here is your chance. If you want to tell me about your experiences with Objectivists, I’d also love to hear from you. Have I explained myself well? Did I inspire a spark of curiosity in any way? Where, if you think I am, am I wrong?
We need some cultural warriors standing on guard. Sincerely.
Amber lived as an Objectivist for 10 years until she realized it was failing her. She now writes about this narcissistic ideology selling itself as freedom as a warning to others. See The Moral Bias of Objectivism. We are not born with an emotional blank slate. And this has profound implication.