The book will be The Moral Bias of Objectivism: How Moral Ideals Cloud Objectivity. You can sign up to be a beta reader if you like. I don’t know what this will be done. I’m taking my time to do it right.
Before you Read, A Real Simple Request
Objectivists routinely accuse me of “misrepresenting” Ayn Rand. They tell me this, as they are always sure to make me aware, after reading only a few sentences of anything I’ve written. (They have always spotted some undeniable error or evil in my thinking right away.) They also accuse me of this without offering anything specific as to how I do this.
Let me make a real simple request. If you are going to challenge my challenge, I insist that you read it. There are too many assumptions, bad definitions, prejudices, and ideologically self-defending tactics that Ayn Rand gives her following for me to deconstruct her philosophy in anything less than, say, 20-30 pages of writing. And, really, I might be able to explain the challenge in 20-30 pages, but to explain why it matters, I need a whole book. But to even understand the issue at hand and to prove some of my assertions, I would need you to read, at a bare minimum, the first chapter of the first section of this book (“Ayn Rand’s Faulty View of Human Nature”). This is 20 pages in a standard 6”x9” book. If you can’t commit to reading even this, please leave now.
And, Objectivists, if you insist on remaining in this ideological fog, where you won’t read the argument yet still wantonly judge it (of which Ayn Rand herself was known to do and, well, is moral bias in action), know that you join a cast of rather difficult characters, who have been a thorn in the side of human progress throughout all of history: the people who were certain the sun revolved around the earth, but wouldn’t look through a telescope; who had dismissive and denigrating attitudes towards the unconscious, without ever having analyzed a psychiatric patient; or who, well, critically reviewed other systems of philosophy without ever having read the original book. You will find plenty of companionship out there to validate you and even have a swashbuckling good time with. But you are not yet fit to read this challenge.
Come back when you are.
The Main Challenges, a List
- We are not born tabula rasa.
- Rand’s definition of “reason” is overreaching and means “the mind dominates the heart” not simply that “A is A.”
- Objectivism acts as a psychology, not a philosophy, but gets no critical review as a psychology, nor was developed by anyone with experience dealing with people’s delicate inner world.
- Objectivism starts off with the premise that natural emotions are inherently untrustworthy and can lead to destruction and mayhem. As such, you need Rand’s Objectivist ethics.
- Rand intends this ethics to be with you in all waking hours of the day for all decisions you make.
- This ethics causes turmoil.
- Objectivism denies that a person’s natural intuition, gut feels, or instincts play any role in life. This is roundly rejected as mysticism.
- By codifying her views into an ethics, Rand sets them in stone. It becomes very hard to sway people from their beliefs when they believe those ideas are tied to morality itself. This creates moral bias, a phenomenon in which one cannot evaluate something objectively because they are too morally attached to it, the main accusation in this book.
- Rand has many ideas of what should and should not make one happy. Family picnics, driving hotrod cars, and more are considered irrational forms of happiness.
- Rand’s characters, however, take sadistic pleasure in watching slave owners whip slaves, as well as have the “slow smile” of an executioner.
- Objectivism has been historically dotted by excommunications and abuse. See especially Therapist by Ellen Plasil. An Objectivist psychotherapist used his position to sexually abuse patients. His tactics were typical of an Objectivist: he was “rational” and his patients were irrational.
- Objectivist members are notoriously caustic, judgmental and abusive. However, they absolutely will not attribute this behavior to Objectivism itself, a system with an entire moral paradigm dictating how to feel, behave, and explicitly advises to judge others.
- Rand explicitly did not support gun ownership for the purpose of self-defense. She also explicitly admonishes that freedom is contextual. It is, as such, rather dubious to think she was here to promote authentic freedom or individual rights.
- There is the sales pitch of Objectivism. And then there is actual Objectivism. I am here to show you actual Objectivism.
Quick Links for this Page
- The Challenge at a Glance
- Ayn Rand’s Faulty View of Human Nature
- What is Moral Bias?
- Objectivism’s Moral Bias
- About Amber / Contact
The Challenge at a Glance
when a person’s “should’ prevents them from seeing the “is”
My challenge is to the Objectivist view of human nature itself. We are not born, as is Rand’s explicit stance, “tabula rasa”—with a “blank slate.” Both our emotional and cognitive mechanism, both of which Rand explicitly writes are born without content, come with a lot of prewired—and damn important—stuff. Attempting to overwrite our emotional mechanism with a new programming is an incredibly serious thing that leads to emotional repression and abuse. Declaring that our cognitive mind is (totally) blank shuts down further inquiry into the enormous topics of life, human nature, and consciousness itself. Rand presents her view that human nature is tabula rasa as plain, simple fact, and, in doing this, she shuts down an enormous amount of superior, competing thought.
Ayn Rand had an incredibly pessimistic view of human nature. She greatly over exaggerated what some call the anarchist instinct. Your natural emotions, according to Rand, could lead you all wrong. They might be manipulative, irrational, and/or sadistic, which could then lead to mayhem, destruction, or dictatorship. (This is her explicit position as outlined in “The Objectivist Ethics,” which can be found in The Virtue of Selfishness.) You as such need (Rand’s word) an ethics. You not only don’t listen to your natural emotions, in Objectivism, you tell your emotions what to do. You must go in and “program”—Rand’s word—your emotional mechanism. You tell your emotions how to behave: what life events will make you happy, sad, fearful, etc. Anything other than the cognitive mind going in and taking tight rein over the inner world might otherwise lead to anarchy. Yes, this is emotional repression in every way possible. And this view, in which natural emotions are seen as potentially destructive and the thus need for a civilizing ethics, remains a view in alignment with Original Sin.
My yet deeper challenge to Objectivists is to check your very definition of reason. This is where Objectivists gets stuck—the place where they cannot be penetrated, where the disease prevents the cure—as they believe Objectivism simply means “reason.” Objectivism, to them, means “think on your own,” and new specific truths can update as information presents itself. But Rand’s definition of reason was not merely “study to come to understand the world.” Rand’s actual, explicit, bastardized definition of reason was that the cognitive mind should be in control at all times. The “mind” should dominate the “heart.” Rand didn’t just defend reason as reason is commonly understood. She presented an entire psychology. She dives into how happiness, emotions, and the subconscious operate—and she identifies her views as reason itself. Objectivists think she gave them a mere tool to understand the world, but she actually gave you a conclusion. By accepting Rand’s “Objectivism” (“truth”) as truth itself and her inflated definition of reason as reason itself, you run the risk of accepting all that she said about important psychological matters as objective, unquestioned truth.
Rand sells her system as promoting rational self-interest and freedom. That’s the sales pitch. And she directly warns, “It’s Objectivism or communism.” (She says exactly this in “Faith and Force” in Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 75) It’s her philosophy or tyranny, abuse, and unhappiness, of which loyal followers tend to absolutely believe. But, after ten years of being entrenched in Objectivism, I can tell you that, in practice, Objectivism is anything but happiness or freedom. You see, if there is rational happiness, then there is irrational happiness. As I will show in this book, all sorts of things are considered irrational in Objectivism. This includes getting “mindless kicks” out of driving hotrod cars, leisurely vacations, even liking certain colors or music. Does this sound like something that engenders authentic joy? Like any overbearing ideological system, Objectivism proposes to tell you what true happiness is. This view, declaring what is “rational” or how one should “appropriately” react emotionally to life events, leads to the cult-like behavior Objectivists have historically been known for. And, no, these ideas do not engender freedom, of which Rand explicitly admonished is merely contextual.
Worst of all, however, is that Rand goes on, unforgivably, to set her abysmal, pessimistic view of human nature in stone by codifying it into an ethics. This creates moral bias—the main accusation in this book. When a person has decided that an idea is tied to morality, it is nearly impossible to sway them from it. Other views aren’t just bad; they are immoral. They are a threat to survival itself. No good thought can ever penetrate the system.
Atlas Shrugged is a decent book. There is wisdom and inspiration in it. But this does not mean that the author, a fiction writer, should be deciding matters of human nature or designing an ethics meant to be with a person for all waking hours of the day, for all decisions they make, as Rand explicitly intends. Rand played psychologist, and she was lousy at it.
The challenge is to the Objectivist ethics: the all-encompassing “rational” ethics that Rand puts on a person. It is unnecessary and even damaging. The wild human—our inner selves—is already designed well. It doesn’t need to be “programmed,” “driven,” or otherwise leashed. We but need to understand it and nurture it. It’s time to give it its natural birthright: a moral defense.
Before you Go, a Challenge
Objectivists usually get to about this point (or sooner) and stop reading. They think I am wrong that Rand says we are born without good emotional instincts or [whatever else]. Or, Rand was right about emotions, so there is nothing more to see or ponder here. They just laugh me off. They typically point to Rand’s fiction (her fiction) as proof against my accusations.
So, Objectivists, before you leave, here is my challenge to you: refute me with exact quotations from Rand. In other words, refute me with reason. I’ll give you some specific areas to look up, specifically about the inner world and emotions, and even what books might be most relevant—yes, Rand’s. Think these topics—about the inner world, emotions, and tabula rasa—don’t matter? Ok, well, they mattered to Rand.
Objectivists always tell me I don’t understand Rand. They tell me to go re-read Rand or Peikoff. I am constantly sent back to the ORC: Objectivist Reeducation Camp. They don’t acknowledge my points; they just override me with Objectivist Talking Points. I am, for instance, lectured that “subconscious integration produces emotions” (which was a direct quote to me), as if it’s obvious fact. I am told that “any rational person” would see that emotions do play a role in life but “cannot produce conclusions.” (By the way, this is not what Rand meant by “Emotions are not tools of cognition.” She said this to mean “emotions are not a reliable guide for action,” not merely that they “cannot produce conclusions,” which is otherwise a completely patronizing point.) Rand, they say, never said to NOT listen to your emotions.
Ok. Contained in this book are an enormous number of exact quotes from Rand that prove my points. I cannot provide a full proof of any of this in 30 seconds, which is all Objectivists usually give me. But—although I was an Objectivist for ten years and read almost all of her books multiple times over and have since rejected the system—I will be your malleable student once again. Take me back to what Rand said. Explain to me any or all of the following:
Points on which Objectivists can pontificate about
- Outline, in detail and with quotes, Rand’s views on emotions. What does she mean that we “program” our emotional mechanism? How do we do that?
- Prove this quote from Rand as objectively true, “If you achieve that which is the good by a rational standard of value, it will necessarily make you happy” (emphasis mine). This quote can be found in “The Objectivist Ethics.”
- Prove any of Rand’s views on emotions as true to how authentic human nature works. You could perhaps investigate any of the following: that emotions are entirely derivative of one’s values; that the subconscious will drive you if you don’t drive it; or that a person’s subconscious is a “merciless recorder” of all the good and vile deeds one has done.
- Bonus points if you dive into alternative views. Perhaps that happiness is primary (naturally given) not secondary (achieved). Objectivists love to compare their philosophy to other philosophies. No, treat it as what it is: a psychology. Compare Rand’s views not to other philosophers but to other psychologists. Compare Rand’s views on the inner world to perhaps those of Carl Jung, Eckhart Tolle, Dr. Christopher Ryan, Dr. Haim Ginott, Dr. Shefali Tsabary, Brené Brown, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Dr. Elaine Aron, or Lundy Bancroft. How are the views the same? How are they different?
- Most of all prove that we are born tabula rasa: with no content in our mind and with no reliable emotional instincts that might have some innate wisdom. This one isn’t optional.
I’m not looking for your thoughts on these topics. This is a formal challenge to Objectivism itself. I am looking for exact quotes from Ayn Rand. If looking for places to start, most of her views on emotions can be found in Galt’s speech, The Virtue of Selfishness, and, surprisingly, she writes most prolifically on them in The Romantic Manifesto.
If you’ve otherwise dismissed me already, after three pages, and you will not investigate Rand (or human nature) any further, I insist you do not leave critical comments about my work, anywhere. And, if you do, well. Time permitting, I take comments that lack any intellectual discipline whatsoever and expose them. My consistent experience with Objectivists is that they:
Example of Objectivist reason
- Directly tell me they stopped reading or watching at a certain point, usually after about one minute’s worth of reading or watching. I’m just that stupid and use words that wrong.
- Directly tell me they will never read anything I write, ever. (This would “sanction” my work.)
- Call me a “clown dumbo” (an exact quote) or the like
- Similarly call me “sweetheart” or “honey”
- Say “Pbbbbffffflllt!”
- Keep me on the hot seat by continuing to ask me questions (They absolutely hate when I won’t play this game.)
- Tell me they “think it’s funny” that I “attack Objectivism”
- Tell me they WERE interested in my ideas, but [something I said of which they won’t say] utterly proved how unworthy of reading I am
- Tell me that since I “judge” them and their moral system, I am thus judging and a hypocrite and the debate is happily over
- Immediately downvote my videos and leave negative reviews
- Tell me to “do something better” with my time
- Tell me to again re-read Rand, without pointing to anything specific
- Re-hash Objectivist Talking Points
- Accuse me of twisting Rand’s views, without telling me how
- Tell me Rand’s fiction proves she had a light, benevolent, unsuspicious view of man
- Tell me not what Rand said but what a “rational person” would necessarily think.
Again, I take these responses and expose them. What else can I do? Reason has failed, so I just aim to expose.
In the absence of any reasoned response that is something other than the seemingly edgy, charismatic insults so typical of Objectivists (and the wisecracking Rand), I’ll otherwise be over here listening to the crickets while I wait for Objectivists to come up with a cogent defense proving we are born tabula rasa. Objectivists, YOU adopt a philosophy with this assertion. YOUR entire philosophy rests on its premises. YOU defend it. I will be proving its opposite in this book and outlining its many ramifications.
And, finally, Objectivists, if I am just that dumb, before you go, if you are even still with me, here are some resources outside of me that either directly or indirectly challenge Objectivism. If you are like I was, someone who knew Objectivism was failing them but didn’t know where to turn, these can also help shake up Objectivist thinking, for the better.
Resources that Directly or Indirectly Challenge Objectivism
- The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult by Murray Rothbard. Read from a prominent libertarian who watched the Objectivist movement go down live.
- My Years with Ayn Rand by Nathaniel Branden. He coined the very term “Objectivism” and made the movement what it was. He says his biggest regret was telling people their natural (subconscious) emotions had no validity.
- The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung. Picking up a book by Carl Jung is a must. We are not born tabula rasa. We are born with archetypes, primitive images developed over millions of years that carry huge emotional weight for any being with a consciousness, in our mind.
- Shrugging Off Ayn Rand by Michael Prescott. I could not agree more that Rand disassociates a person from the more intuitive part of their mind.
- Civilized to Death by Dr. Christopher Ryan. Ryan explicitly discusses the faulty thinking of tabula rasa and how “civilizing” ethical paradigms have taken over science and are crushing our true needs as humans.
- The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. I believe the control Rand tries to take over the inner world is to try to handle trauma. This book offers much better ideas on how to do that.
- Psychology books. Any book by any successful psychologist, which almost by definition will show far better ideas on emotions. Dr. Shefali Tsabary is a great place to start.
The Structure of This Book, a Counter to Objectivism
This book is divided into four parts.
Part I is entitled “Metaphysics and Epistemology.” Metaphysics is the study of what is. Epistemology is the study of how we know it. This book is about human nature itself, so Part I focuses on what human nature is and how we come to know it. The primary (foundational) accusation against Rand is that she has a poor understanding of human nature. Her idea of “reason” is greatly conflated with her own personal biases. As such, in Part I, I discuss:
- The many erroneous assumptions given by Rand about human nature itself
- What reason itself is
- If feelings are a threat to objectivity
- How moral paradigms are a threat to objectivity
- A detailed description, with many quotes, of the Objectivist view on human nature, focusing on the inner world (emotions, happiness, and the subconscious)
- A few counters on how the inner world actually operates, based on actual study
Given the conflated Objectivist view of reason and its relationship to the inner world, ultimately Part I discusses the main issue in this book: if our inner world has some innate wisdom to it such that it can be trusted ~or~ if our inner world is inherently suspicious and must be programmed with a morality. This latter position is the premise on which all of Objectivism rests. Challenging it will affect all of the other areas of its philosophy, to include its morality and politics.
Part II is about how these assumptions end up playing out on a behavioral level. What are the ramifications of trusting the innate wisdom of emotions ~versus~ controlling them with a moral paradigm? This would be the equivalent to the “morality” portion of Rand’s Objectivism, however, I reject an all-encompassing morality as such. Thus, Part II is called “How to Behave: The Innate Wisdom of Emotions versus Moral Paradigms.” In this section, I discuss how trusting one’s emotions would play out in daily life. I also discuss the utter havoc that moral paradigms do to one’s inner life and to the relationships one has with others. In this book, specifically, I call out Objectivism and how its advice ends up playing out in real life. I have many quotes to prove my points, rounded out with my many years of personal experience within Objectivism. However, I call for a rejection of any and all all-encompassing, performance-based moral paradigms. I argue that morality itself cannot inspire fruitful positive action and instead can only prohibit certain unideal actions. I call for emotional intelligence tools to replace what moral paradigms attempt to do.
In Part III, I discuss the practical applications of these competing world views. It is, as such, the technology of applying a new, better science to matters relating to human nature. It would be equivalent to the “politics” portion of Objectivism, but I want to get away from this idea that politics itself (government) guides or shapes most or any of human life. It is, as such, named, simply, “The Application.” In this book, I focus on how it plays out in childcare (and how!), medicine, sex and relationships, and, well, yes, politics itself.
Finally, in Part IV, I discuss how abuse is, always, couched inside a person’s moral paradigm. Abuse is not “unconscious”; people are very deliberate and specific about what punishment, war, or totalitarianism they want to dish out. And it’s always housed inside something they feel is profoundly morally justified. I discuss how to stand up to these abusive moral paradigms, to shift the world more towards one of authentic respect. I call this section “Heroics.” It’s what heroism can do when put towards a worthy cause and when fueled by emotional intelligence.
Heroism fueled by emotional intelligence. It’s almost as if it’s what possible when the masculine and the feminine meet. Indeed, this book is an anthem to the feminine, a natural force that would do its thing if it weren’t chained. This book can be considered an utter battle cry against all patriarchal paradigms, of which Objectivism most definitely is.
Ayn Rand’s Faulty View of Human Nature
Ayn Rand had an abysmal, pessimistic view of human nature itself, and then unforgivably set this abysmal, pessimistic view of human nature in stone by developing an elaborate moral and political philosophy around it.
Ayn Rand is most known for her two entrancing, still popular fictional novels: The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. These novels are most known for their inspiring heroic figures, who obtain enormous success in the areas of business, science, architecture, and more. After writing her fictional novels, Rand went on to develop her philosophy, “Objectivism.” Her philosophy proposes that it stands on the base of reason, gives you the moral right to pursue your rationally selfish goals, and protects individual rights through the political system of capitalism. I will outline the philosophy in detail in this book.
Rand’s Objectivism is proudly hierarchal. Her 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 are held up as morally superior to others.
The problem? Rand’s 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)
This is the main quote I challenge, and the one I will pick apart mercilessly.
The mind is not born blank
I used to write that there are two things in this quote that Rand says are “tabula rasa”: a person’s cognitive mechanism and emotional mechanism. And it was the second thing—the emotional mechanism being “blank”—that I took especial issue with. (Though she mentions it first, emphasizing its importance.)
However, as I continue to research further and further, it’s clear that our cognitive mechanism is not born “blank” either. Jungian psychology decimates this idea. My own child development work continues to add to Jung’s research and theories. Living beings are born with images in their mind.
At a minimum, as a child, you were born with the idea of “breast.” Babies have a “rooting reflex,” which is far more than just a “reflex,” as if it’s just a matter of hitting someone’s knee and the knee kicks back. A baby seeks out a breast. It feels right. Upon birth, there is this natural instinct to seek this particular thing out. Without this preprogrammed disposition, the baby would die.
This is Jungian psychology. Animals are weighted to go seek out particular things that feel right and be repelled by things that don’t. I made this picture of it.
Jung (unlike Rand) developed his theories after successfully dealing with many psychiatric patients. But if you prefer “real” science, the kind where they abuse mice, a study in 2013, published by Nature Neuroscience, offers food for thought. Scientists shocked mice every time they went near a certain smell. What they found is that the offspring of these mice also wouldn’t go near that smell. We are born with innate, ever evolving behaviors.
You could say that this is a small issue or that it really doesn’t matter that much when it comes to human life beyond a few “mere” rooting reflexes. It is not small, and it does matter. My own child developmental research caused me to develop the idea that human consciousness itself forms due to an image projection capability in the mind. The most observable, familiar example that I can give of a child’s image projection capability is a child’s imaginary friends, which they often develop around age 4-1/2, which is also when, I am guessing, you started to remember the daily events in your life, i.e., when persistent consciousness set in. It’s an image that their mind conjures up and projects from the inside out. This is the brain’s image projection capability. It’s almost as if the brain needs a few images—stuff—to get the process of developing consciousness started.
My work documents the age-related “stages” children go through. It is times when children “act up” but on the other side is an astonishing burst of new mental ability. I take elaborate, detailed notes of children and document their natural developmental path. I compare stories between children, as well as photos, to see what persists among them; what seems to matter and what doesn’t. I have tens of thousands of followers of my work. I have hundreds, probably thousands, of notes at this point of how much my work helps parents.
I do a nearly week-by-week study of child development before I publish any of my books. I plot the development often down to the day. In doing this, I started to notice a pattern. Children seemed to routinely go “up” into fantasy play and then come back “down” to reality. In doing this, they refine new skills, upgrade their core personality, and have a sharper understanding of reality. And each of these “hills” follows a predictable cycle. There were sub-stages to each hill. But each hill was kicked off with a child who developed highly wild, imaginative, overly optimistic thinking. It seems as if Mother Nature “gifts” children with this thinking (these images), which then spurs their development. In this wildly optimistic thinking, they think things like they can shrink, they can jump over rivers, that they can move entire houses at will, etc. I argue this acts as an impetus to go try these things. It thus engages them with reality. And, in doing this, they get enormous experience with reality, spurring their mental development. In other words, children’s notorious wild imaginations are not just gibberish. They are doing extremely important work. They are setting consciousness itself into place.
So, routinely, over and over, children are given a gift. At age-related times, some kind of “programming” seems to be released in the brain. I can’t be sure, but I think the programming is released during sleep. Dreams themselves are another example of the brain’s image projection capability.
The human mind is highly weighted to want to see certain things. These images, which are put through the mind’s image projector, make you want to seek out something. Jung argued there are “archetypes.” There is a mother archetype. You are weighted to want a mother. If you don’t have one, you will go seek one out. As a girl, I can tell you I was always scanning sidewalks for cracks. I look back on that, and I see a living being whose consciousness seems weighted to want to forage for plants.
If you were dying of thirst in the desert, your mind would conjure up images of bodies of water—mirages. The brain wants to see what it wants to see. This process can go well or horribly. If it went well, you developed object constancy, and you have the impression, in general, that the world around you is stable. If not, you might think the world is a scary place that simply swirls around you. “Lying,” which to the disordered person isn’t even a comprehensible idea, is your normal. Towards the end of developing consciousness, if humans are well loved and comfortable, it tends to go well. If they are in utter despair, abused and/or neglected, similar to if they are dying in the dessert, it goes horribly. People in extreme despair, such as when dying in the desert, can’t even basic objects correctly. And this has huge implications, big and small.
But at any rate, it utterly disproves this sentiment:
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. (emphasis mine)
I do not think the cognitive mind determines the content of the cognitive mind. There is “stuff” in the brain that is there, outside of our will.
In declaring such things as if obvious fact, Ayn Rand shuts down an enormous amount of curiosity about life, human nature, and consciousness itself.
Programming the emotional mechanism
However, that silly formation of consciousness thing aside, it is a person’s emotional mechanism being “tabula rasa” that this book will focus on. Let me quote Rand again but this time focusing on the emotional mechanism:
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.
A person’s cognitive faculty determines the content of both. The stuff in it. Said another way: the cognitive mind determines the stuff in one’s emotional mechanism. 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 make them behave as you want. You can control what life events will end up making you happy, sad, infuriated, etc. She’s not saying you can control your response to your natural emotions. You control what initial emotion itself arises. 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, no matter what, indeed, feel something. But what you feel—her word—is up to you. You can control, say, if you’ll be ecstatic from seeing a great heroic achievement or, as a random example, if you’ll be ecstatic over seeing a slave owner whipping his slaves. (P.S. It’s not a random example: see We the Living.) 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.
A profound distrust of natural emotions
You must program your emotions, according to Rand, because they could otherwise be all wrong. Here is Rand admonishing “hedonism” and why we cannot rely on our own natural emotions,
If “desire” is the ethical standard, then one man’s desire to produce and another man’s desire to rob him have equal ethical validity; one man’s desire to be free and another man’s desire to enslave him have equal ethical validity… (33)
In short, if you turn inwards to learn what makes you happy, this is hedonism, which may lead to robbery and enslavement. To avoid this hedonism-to-slavery pipeline, we need Rand’s ethical system, which doesn’t just dictate to not enslave one another, but admonishes us towards “rational” behavior and happiness. We must program our emotional core such that we respond “appropriately” (rationally) to life events.
How it works: set yourself to value the right things. Then, when such things happen, you react in an emotionally appropriate way. From Rand:
Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values. If a man values productive work, his happiness is the measure of his success in the service of his life. (31)
If you set yourself to like productive achievement—then you’ll like it! Problem solved.
Wait. What was the problem again?
In Objectivism, we need not simply have a few rules that say things like “don’t rob people” or “don’t murder people.” We need to tinker with the emotional programming of people, to avoid such disastrous fates. Further, we need to make sure people don’t do things that aren’t “rational.” So many things could be disastrous and would not aid in your rational, objective survival—such as “getting mindless kicks” out of driving “hotrod” cars. In Objectivism, all sorts of things that might bring one happiness are considered irrational. This includes family picnics, certain music, certain paint colors, and more. Objectivists never believe me about this. Here. I’ll prove it to you. The following is found in The Romantic Manifesto, Rand’s book on art. This book is, surprisingly, the book in which she is most prolific about emotions. A “sense of life,” as according to Rand, is a set of things that all evoke a similar emotional reaction in a person. To explain it, Rand offers the following two sets of things that a person might emotionally react to. The common emotional reaction to each defines a person’s sense of life. I number the sets for clarity.
…  a new neighborhood, a discovery, adventure, struggle, triumph—or:  the folks next door, a memorized recitation, a family picnic, a known routine, comfort. On a more adult level:  a heroic man, the skyline of New York a sunlit landscape, pure colors, ecstatic music—or:  a humble man, an old village, a foggy landscape, muddy colors, folk music. (27, numbering mine)
The first set are basically what Rand approves of. The second set, not so much. In more words than this, Rand describes a person who “lacks self esteem” as finding, in the second set of items, “relief from fear, reassurance, [and] undemanding safety of passivity.” This includes, indeed, family picnics and muddy colors.
Muddy colors, by the way, are just colors that have some gray added to them. It is an interior design term meaning “grayed,” and it is also sometimes called a “dirty” color. I learned this from reading books by color expert Maria Killam. A Brookside Moss from Benjamin Moore is slightly “muddier” than a Split Pea. And if you like this sort of thing, according to Rand, you lack self-esteem. I’m directly quoting her.
Between Rand and Nathaniel Branden, all sorts of things are considered irrational, including driving race cars, hanging out with friends whom you “feel free to be yourself” (as they have no standards), and quiet ladies parties. You must, according to them, seek a “demanding pleasure” and one intimately tied to cognitive functioning and productive achievement. Boom. True happiness. And these views are peddled as the views in alignment with reason™, objectivity, and truth.
Discipline your emotions to avoid mayhem
The explicit Objectivist view on emotions is that, in the 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. Anything else can result in sadistic things like enslavement or irrational things like family picnics. Your only choice, according to Rand, a fiction writer, is whether you take control of this process or let it happen haphazardly. She writes,
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)
This is the relationship between the subconscious and the conscious, according to Rand. Either drive the subconscious or it drives you. It’s extremely Freudian: a person’s unconscious is a dark, abysmal place that you best not go, except to tame. She accuses those who don’t take the reins over this process, in which they control their inner functions, as having a “soul like a shapeless piece of clay” (26). Ouch.
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—possibly dangerous. 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 nor should “change your emotions by changing your values.”
Notice also that this Objectivist said that emotions outside of values don’t even exist.
Programming our unreliable emotional core
Yes, Rand wants you to go in and control your emotions. She doesn’t just advise that you be aware of your emotions. She doesn’t just say that you don’t use emotions to learn Calculus. She wants you to go in and program the very emotion itself. You control your inner world: what gives you “joy or pain,” what you will “desire or fear,” “love or hate”: what emotional response you have to life events.
This isn’t just an offbeat Objectivist view on a topic here or there. This is what Objectivism is. The Objectivist ethics, if you read Rand’s essay with this title, is entirely dedicated to the premise that your “whims” are unreliable and potentially destructive. You, as such, must bring discipline to them via the Objectivist ethics. The Objectivist ethics, which Rand proudly says her politics are based on and offers her view of the ideal man, is an all-encompassing “rational” morality that Rand explicitly says should be with a person for every choice they make for all waking hours of the day.
In Rand’s system, a person’s inner world, their emotions, their very core, is a blank canvas—wet clay—waiting be programmed and controlled. And this view, that one’s inner world is otherwise potentially all messed up and thus must be controlled, remains a view in high alignment with the idea of Original Sin. It is this that I challenge.
Check Your Definition of Reason
I find I really can’t get any further with Objectivists unless we check some of our premises. No matter what I do or say, Objectivists typically won’t accept my challenge. Even after they read (the first version of) this book, I was told that I “raise some interesting points.” But not enough to challenge the mighty Rand. They say the issues I bring up about emotions can be happily folded into the philosophy. I get told my argument is some unimportant nuanced thing. Or something.
You see, at its core, Objectivists believe they have just a basic foundational philosophy from which all good things can spring. Objectivists believe that Objectivism simply means “reason.” They think it means “think on your own,” and so therefore any and all life conclusions are based on the reasoning mind and can change with new information or context. Therefore, if someone comes along and says something like “Relationships are the key to human happiness,” they think it’s just a new reasoned conclusion that one can simply adopt into their life. But, you see, it cannot. It directly conflicts with Objectivism’s very specific views on happiness.
I find the issue is that two different definitions of “reason” are being used, constantly being conflated. If we needle out what these two definitions are, we might get somewhere.
Definition of Reason #1: Study to draw conclusions
The first definition of reason is what everyone think it is and is meant: you study to come to a conclusion. It’s a way to understand the world. If you’ve taken all data available to you and figured out that Mars orbits the sun in an elliptical pattern, you’ve done this. If you sat down to study child development, comparing stories at age-related times, you’ve done this. If you’ve got a map out to plan a trip, you’ve done this. Study, come to a conclusion, totally loyal to all available facts before you. As Objectivists always admonish, “A is A!”
Definition of Reason #2: The cognitive mind should be in control for all decision making
The second definition of reason is that the cognitive mind should be in control at all times. It is a way to be. It’s what Rand directly intends. She writes:
The virtue of Rationality means the recognition and acceptance of reason as one’s only source of knowledge; one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide to action. It means one’s total commitment to a state of full, conscious awareness, to the maintenance of a full mental focus in all issues, in all choices, in all of one’s waking hours. (28, emphasis mine)
With this definition, you use your cognitive mind—not any gut feel—to make all decisions in life. “Reason” is “one’s only guide to action.” You don’t just use reason to plan a trip or build a lunar lander. You also use it when deciding if you want to break up with someone or quit your job. You do a rational analysis for all—Rand’s word—choices that you make. You use it during all waking hours—Rand’s description. Relying on gut feels, intuition, or instincts is blasted by Rand and her followers as “mysticism.” In Objectivism, your heart’s desires (your inner core) are trumped by your mind’s desires (your ego), always.
Nathaniel Branden writes that this was one of his biggest regrets when promoting Objectivism: the dismissal of what emotions might be trying to tell a person. He writes,
No one pointed out that feelings or emotions might sometimes reflect a more accurate assessment of reality than conscious beliefs. In other words, nobody asserted that the subconscious mind might be right while the conscious mind was mistaken. (My Years with Ayn Rand, ch. 9)
Branden writes in My Years with Ayn Rand that the issue of “the mind versus the heart” was the most important issue to Rand. It was tied in her mind to “the supreme importance of reason in human life.” He writes that when he met her for the very first time,
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 to Rand that she almost wrote another book about it. From Branden,
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.
Branden describes eloquently about what Rand’s idea was and that it was tied in her mind to reason itself,
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 was Rand’s idea of reason and the role it plays in life. It was not just “study.” It was not just that “A is A.” It was not “understand the world through your senses and logic.” It relates not just to our mind and its understanding of the world but our mind and how we run the inner world. It is a philosophy that proposes to tell you to use “rationality” in all waking hours of the day. Your mind must be in the command and control center—not any silly emotions—making all decisions in life. This is what Objectivism, a system with an elaborate moral and political philosophy, is.
This is not reason. Frankly, I find this view of reason appeals far more to people who had caregivers in their youth who were emotionally out of control (likely Cluster B personalities: Narcissistic or Borderline Personality Disorder) than any person of genuine reason. Children from such dysfunctional homes (who might not even know they were dysfunctional) often grow up to utterly despise emotions themselves, because their caregivers used emotions in such highly manipulative ways. But deciding the cognitive mind must be in control at all times (as if it’s going to clean up all of these potential problems) is not what reason is. People of genuine reason are often highly absent-minded in everyday life. “Driving” the inner mechanism, “programming” your emotions, using your “mind” in all waking hours of the day—this is not reason. It is something else entirely. After explaining it more thoroughly in this book, I will give it a name.
Logic that goes round and round
Rand does a bait and switch. She sells you on the idea of “reason” by pointing to skyscrapers and trains. And then she switches “reason” to be “something you do for all choices you make, all waking hours of the day.” You go from supporting industry and technology to supporting an entire particular psychology in a blink of an eye. Her explanations are so fast and quick you probably didn’t notice.
Now I want you to go back and consider how Rand even developed her ethics. This is how she opens her case for her Objectivist ethics:
Is ethics the province of whims: of personal emotions, social edicts and mystic revelations—or is it the province of reason?
Right away, reason and emotions are split. Rand immediately puts emotions on the back burner in her proof for her ethics. She lumps “personal emotions” themselves in with “social edicts” and “mystic revelations.” She doesn’t even call them “emotions” but demotes them as “whims.”
She then develops her proof for her Objectivist ethics. It entirely rests on the premise of tabula rasa. Tabula rasa again is not just that a person is born without robust conceptual knowledge. According to Rand, again a fiction writer, a person is born without reliable emotional instincts. She argues that since man “has no” reliable instincts, unlike animals, he thus needs a code of ethics to guide his life.
So, did you get that? Studying ethics itself must be done with “reason,” which by definition, according to Rand, means, “study, independent of one’s feelings.” And her conclusion is that man must use “reason” to live, which to her means, “think and make decisions, independent of feelings.” Do you see how the very tool she uses to dissect the issue, “reason,” is also the conclusion? Do you see how some kind of bias might be at work?
Objectivists always think the proof for Rand’s ethics goes like this:
- Man is a creature of reason.
- He should use reason to survive and build things.
In actuality, the proof goes like this:
- Man is a creature of reason.
- He has no reliable natural emotional or instinctual programming.
- He thus must use reason to make all decisions in every waking hour of his life.
Step 2 above is an outright false conclusion, and, as such, so is Step 3. It is the premise of tabula rasa. It is what I am trying to get you to doubt as you move in and out of Rand’s proof for her Objectivist ethics.
Rat Park Study: Hyper Vigilance or a Carefree Existence
Why does this matter?
The issue here is the role of the mind. Should the cognitive mind dominate the inner world or can we trust our emotions? That’s the issue. And the implications are enormous. The best way I can explain it, as simply as I can without going into detail of how it affects education, medicine, health, relationships, politics, and more (the topics in the rest of this book) is with the Rat Park Study.
Previous to the study using “Rat Park,” studies done on laboratory rats were conducted in which rats were given the choice of water or water that was laced with some kind of drug similar to cocaine. These studies, using caged rats, showed that the rats would pick the cocaine-laced water over plain water to the point of dehydration and death. Their inner whims were totally unreliable.
But when one psychologist, Dr. Bruce Alexander, attempted this same experiment in the 1970s but put the rats in “Rat Park,” the results were different. Instead of being caged, the rats were allowed to roam, play, socialize, and have sex. These rats, on average and over time, tended to choose the plain water (Sederer). They didn’t need the cocaine.
This could not explain my challenge to Objectivism (or modern science) better. If properly cared for, humans can be trusted. Using nothing but their own internal compass as a guide, they pick water. If denied love, comfort, and relationships, indeed their inner “whims” become unreliable. They pick cocaine.
“Rat Park” but for humans, an abundant, happy world, in which inner and outer world are in conscious, present, joyful harmony, is what I am fighting for. With it, humans tend to well. Without it, not so much. And our modern world can be described as caged rats behaving as caged rats—which ends up further justifying the need for cages.
Psychologists and even philosophers, for decades, have cited the original rat experiments, done on the caged rats, as a reason for the rational mind to dominate the “lower” parts of the brain. Rand similarly starts her Objectivist ethics by declaring that the inner world is chaotic and in need of discipline. She has elaborate thoughts on how to discipline emotions, including happiness, to do what we tell them to. I’ll describe in this book how she intends a person do this: how one should “program” their emotional mechanism.
My basic argument is this is unnecessary and even destructive. These parts of the mind, the inner world, do not need dominated. If traumatized, people sometimes need a strong thought paradigm to program and restrain their inner world, such as the caged rats would. But if properly cared for, which is a gentle and loving pursuit, those “inner whims” can be trusted. Your natural, more intuitive choices—with happiness as the standard—will be right. This inner world is in fact a guiding light, especially when parenting and educating children. It’s the exact place where we can thrive as humans.
Moral paradigms, in and of themselves, crush this vitality. We need to move away from highly “rational” rugged individualism, which is really just control and authoritarianism, and towards proper caregiving of each other, on a personal level. And don’t confuse my argument as one for socialism or altruism. I am proposing proper caregiving.
When Dr. Alexander did this study in the late 1970s, it was rejected by major scientific magazines. It’s no wonder why. It challenged every basic premise science at the time had—and still has. It challenged the idea of a disciplining morality itself. It challenged behaviorism. It challenged our very view of human nature—and who the real oppressors were. (Read: religion). It highlighted what they didn’t have a phrase for, but I now provide: it highlighted their moral bias. I write this book, targeting people’s ethics, which truly cage them mentally, entirely to shake up these stale moral paradigms that block such scientific progress.
Programming emotions is abuse
Attempting to program one’s inner core is a very serious thing. And it’s done by people who think that the care and management of emotions is some small issue that doesn’t really matter.
No, 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 state of happiness, psychology, therapy, and more. Absolutely critical to my own personal healing (Objectivism utterly failed me) was developing a friendly relationship with my inner core. More that just I write about how important this friendly relationship with one’s inner self is: it is a soul connection. And moral paradigms, which seek to control the emotional core of a person, utterly strangle it.
Far superior ideas on emotions exist. I pit Rand’s view that we dominate our emotions with one that our emotions, developed over millions of years of evolution, 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 and instinctual programming.
Programming (manipulating) emotions is, as I will argue, fertile ground for abuse. People usually dismiss this accusation of mine, that Objectivism leads to inter-personal abuse. Well, it starts here with Rand’s views on emotions. Objectivists can readily see that treating physical objects outside of the law of identity results in abuse. If you treated sulfuric acid as if it were water and drank it, you would be harmed. Similarly, when you treat emotions outside of the law of identity (without respect for their identity) so it also results in abuse—and how.
Rand accuses “subjectivists” and others as treating the outer world as if it’s like clay to mold, when it isn’t—every object has identity. In “The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made” she writes:
Observe that the philosophical system based on the axiom of the primacy of existence (i.e., on recognizing the absolutism of reality) led to the recognition of man’s identity and rights. But the philosophical systems based on the primacy of consciousness (i.e., on the seemingly megalomaniacal notion that nature is whatever man wants it to be) lead to the view that man possesses no identity, that he is infinitely flexible, malleable, usable, and disposable. Ask yourself why. (28)
But she does exactly this with the inner world. Your inner soul, your thoughts and feelings, according to Rand, are programmable—pliable, malleable, like wet clay. Who gets to do that molding? As I will argue in this book, this is how abuse work: it is through people’s moral paradigms. Abusers claim the moral upper hand and work through a victim’s own sense of shame. Tabula rasa—blank slate theory—is a necessary premise for all moralists, which means, all abusers. This is what I am putting up a fight against. Your soul need not be open to moral programming. We’ve been plied for abuse through the power of morality long enough. It’s time to say: no more. Our emotions deserve far more respect than this.
Rand was no psychologist—but she was a moralist
Although Rand advocates using reason and objectivity to come to conclusions, she personally studied no humans in a disciplined way to make her enormous, sweeping conclusions about human nature, the main topic at the heart of her entire philosophy. Rand played psychologist, and she was lousy at it. She sets the poorest example of reason possible. Can we at least see this—that she had no disciplined study? Certainly not one in which she successfully treated people.
I will be outlining ten Objectivist Blindspots in this book. That Rand thought she knew all she needs to know about human nature itself, when she didn’t, is Objectivist Blindspot #1.
Far worse, however, is that Rand then codifies her weak understanding of human nature into a moral code. And she entirely intends this all-encompassing rational morality to guide a person for every choice in all waking hours of one’s life.
This is bad enough—moralities come with a lot of toxic stuff, including shame, anxiety, excessive judgment, and abuse. But, in addition, 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—about topics utterly vital to human health and thriving.
And, no, despite being advocates of “reason,” no amount of new evidence can update Objectivist thinking. It’s been made abundantly clear that “Objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand.” Leonard Peikoff’s first book after Rand’s death was of this title, entirely for this reason: what was said has been said. Outside thought is unwelcomed and will not alter the official philosophy of Objectivism. An Objectivist might update their thinking on matters relating to the outer world. But when it comes to the inner world, their views are set in stone. If someone were to say, “emotions play a role in making life decisions,” they 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. Not when it comes to anything related to the inner world or which threatens Rand’s idea of an all-encompassing rational morality. (Or which threatens any moralist’s anything.)
This is especially dangerous, because it’s in alternative views, especially on education, that many of the problems that come up in Objectivism can be resolved. Rand’s intense moralizing creates intense unease, shame, and anxiety, as I will show in this book. Different ideas on emotions, education, and psychology can resolve these issues. But as Rand has condemned these other ideas as irrational and immoral, they cannot penetrate the Objectivist mind. The disease prevents the cure.
Objectivism creates moral bias
I accuse Rand’s Objectivism of moral bias. Moral bias is when a moral ideal (a code outlining ideal human behavior) seems so obvious, so amazing, so glittering, so virtuous, that it renders one blind. It shuts down curiosity into the value of other ideas or ways of being. When a person sees other ideas as inherently evil, one will not recognize their value.
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, as I will outline extensively in this book.
when a moral ideal (a code outlining ideal human behavior) seems so glittering, so virtuous, so desirable that one cannot see the value lost by shutting down other theories and ways of being and cannot see the damage they are causing in pursuing it
Moral bias is built into human nature
Moral bias is a serious thing to reckon with. I believe it is the very thing humanity has been grappling with, causing strife, war, oppression, all the while we maintain that it’s some random, evil, “Devil” out to get us. I’m arguing that it’s not. I am quite different from other thinkers. I do not think the problem in humanity is “psychosis.” Nor do I think the problem is in “feelings.” Instead, I argue that moral bias is a dangerous trait built right into the human psyche. Humans are very prone to it. Moral bias sits mostly latent, until it is triggered by fear. When fear presents itself, humans divide themselves into groups, in which one group, they, are smart, responsible, and moral, and the other, some obviously despicable group, is irresponsible, irrational, and destructive. (Sound familiar?) It leads, easily, to warlike behavior. It’s horrifying, actually. I call moral bias the “Hair trigger away from war and dictatorship” trait in the human mind. Given the right cause, fear, and hero, all humans will succumb to it—including me. (And I have.)
So, I’m not entirely picking on Objectivism. But moral paradigms like Objectivism enflame moral bias. My argument again is that moral bias is there, latent, in the human psyche. It was there in primitive man, and it’s here now in modern man. It’s a thing that easily riles up a person. It makes them sit, mesmerized, as someone talks about how virtuous mankind is. It’s the thing that easily says “raze them” when they feel a sincere threat comes around. My argument is that it’s a trait that works well in the raw wild but has turned highly maladaptive in civilization. In the wild, one has to quickly focus and overcome all odds. But we are no longer tempered by the wild and the many happy obstacles it provides. We, instead, have free reign. This trait of ours never has anything to push back on it. This trait is simply totally out of control now, as modern history can easily show. Tribal cultures may have had their violent episodes, but they never had a Hitler or a Mao. To be sure, my argument is that they were capable of this. It’s just that they were limited in their technology, infrastructure, and too preoccupied by living to do this. They had a happy equilibrium. We do not.
I am proposing our cognitive mind must recognize and temper this trait of ours. We can reach equilibrium, but we are going to have to now actively achieve it. If we identify this trait in ourselves, we can manage it—and no longer be exposed to brutal war and sudden dictatorship. (And be warned, because suddenly is the only way dictatorship occurs.) Moral bias is otherwise a very territorial instinct in humans that is utterly enflamed by fear and tends to be exploited, over and over again, by our political leaders. This otherwise dangerous trait needs tempered, not enflamed. And moral paradigms, such as Objectivism, as well as all religions and most “-ism”s, greatly enflame it. We need a new thinking of how to be: one consciously in touch with our inner core.
Defending the wild in us
We basically have it all wrong. Many have long warned about natural sin or danger in humans. We’ve long blamed emotions, selfishness, or disobedience. Feelings themselves, the sweet things they are, however, are not the problem. We don’t need to squash our mere feelings. This trait is not rooted in feelings. It’s close to, possibly inside, the rational mind. People tend to be very explicit about their moral values and their justifications for whatever punishment, war, or totalitarianism they want to dish out. It’s not unconscious. They are very aware of what they are doing. Abuse is in a person’s moral paradigm. They think what they are doing is good. A parent who spanks their child thinks they are inflicting positive behavioral modification. Domestic abusers feel they are rightfully punishing a woman who was “running her mouth.” Sean Connery gave this exact justification for why he would hit a woman. Every dictator thought they were fighting for a better society. Objectivists explicitly write it’s ok to bomb innocent civilians, if it means winning a war. (See Craig Biddle’s “Defeat Terrorism in Five Easy Steps.”) When people commit acts that are truly evil, they think they are doing something good.
We don’t need to reprogram people’s emotions. We need to challenge their moral values: their Gods, their flags, their Utopian visions, their justifications, their rationale. (No easy feat, by the way.) And by getting it wrong, by blaming feelings instead of moral paradigms, we continue to add fuel to the fire. We are in a despondent cycle. These moral paradigms are designed to contain sin. But they ARE sin itself.
Challenging Blank Slate Theory
Just about every thinker I’ve read who challenges blank slate theory advocates a rather pleasant, joyful state of living in which intuition and instincts happily play a role in life. Imagine driving down a highway by yourself at night, feeling the cool of the night. This is the kind of thing that blank slate theory shuts down as irrelevant to life. It’s seen as mysticism. Yeah, I mean, why would having this feeling of visceral confidence and that you are right for the world matter? I am somewhat surprised that Carl Jung still defends Christianity as necessary to give hope to overcome the brutality of life. I, instead, think that all of this intuition and instinct under a person gives them a great launching pad to negotiate life. This is core to my worldview—we are born with abundance, not scarcity. Rand’s Objectivism gives you a scarcity mindset, telling you that you are born with “nothing” at birth and must learn and achieve everything, including your own happiness. Instead, I offer a view that happiness is given at birth and carries you through life. It’s the launching pad, not the end goal. So, I was surprised Jung didn’t share this view. However, other thinkers, like Dr. Ryan, author of Civilized to Death, do. And all of them make passionate arguments for freedom itself. And their defense is of an uncompromising freedom, not Rand’s admonishment that freedom is contextual. They know the true enemy of freedom: fear. The real threat to freedom is not “looters” as Rand says.
So, people who are opposed to tabula rasa are a bit different, although all that I’ve seen give a genuine defense for freedom (as one does when they understand authentic human nature). All power structures, however, need blank slate theory or something similar. They need to believe that they can or even have to control the emotional core of a person—the stuff deep inside us. It is a tyrant’s best ally. It allows a total onslaught against a person’s personhood: their thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears, what they should be grateful for, who they should regard as a hero, etc. And power structures arise because of moral paradigms. Power structures need moral paradigms. From Butler Shaffer,
The concept of morality –whatever it’s specific form—is particularly suited to those who covet power over others. Advocates of any moral philosophic system share with other exponents of structured human relationships the belief that a totally inner-directed person is a threat to social order, and that people must be conditioned to accept the external direction of their value systems. Moral doctrines not only assume an essentially malevolent human nature in need of institutional restraints; but also, in this secular age, take on many of the functions of religious institutions in searching out a multitude of heresies, blasphemies, and sinful acts.
This blank slate theory, so heavily adopted in (commonplace) science now, is de facto taking us back to a time similar to when Original Sin dominated. It distrusts, guts, and disrespects so much that makes us thrive as humans. I will 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. I am all but begging you to understand this issue. The better ideas simply must win.
Tabula rasa—the idea that we have no reliable instinctual programming, such that we can and should program a person’s emotional mechanism—was, at best, simply the predominant view at the time that Rand wrote. (And I do emphasize, “at best.” Carl Jung lived before Atlas Shrugged was published.) Blank slate theory is being challenged in virtually all areas of science related to human nature (as the good ideas are allowed to surface, anyway, under the weight of power structures). 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 a snake. Understanding this is core to understanding who we are as a species and how we can thrive.
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.
What is Moral Bias?
Moral bias is when a moral ideal shines so bright in one’s mind that it clouds their objectivity.
I developed this idea after noticing it when doing my child development work. I study the age-related “stages” children go through. It is those notorious times when children “act up” at age-related times, but on the other side of this behavior is an astonishing growth in mental ability. The child’s brain was going through an “upgrade.” As such, I take a particular interest in the “misbehavior” of children (their wild). My book series is Misbehavior is Growth. My popular website, with free summaries of the milestones I document, is www.theobservantmom.com.
What I noticed is that people’s perceptions of morality interfered with objectively understanding children. Not just regular parents, but social scientists as well. For instance, a study might find that children who stay up late also showed higher rates of “misbehavior.” The ubiquitous conclusion from such a study is to get children to bed early such that they do not “misbehave.” But my child development work shows that these things naturally correlate. During any of these “stages,” where children tend to act up by becoming whinier, more aggressive, etc., they also very often stay up late at night. The child will want to get back out of bed, be with you, and, at any rate, just plain won’t fall asleep. Too much is going on in their mind. And, yes, it will correlate with times of “misbehavior,” such that a study would find as much. But there is nothing you can do about it. No amount of trying to put them to bed on time prevents it; it is natural development. The moral ideal clouding objectivity in this case is the ideal of a “calm child”: a mythical rainbow unicorn that doesn’t exist.
When we study the planets, we study them as is. We never ascribe their wild behavior to immorality. But when we study humans, our ideas of morality (what we think “should” be) get in the way, big time. This is moral bias. For centuries, moralists have hurled at us that what “is” does not determine the “ought.” I hurl back at them: you are so focused on the “ought” that you cannot see what is. Or, as in the case of Rand, you have a very poor idea of the is, then erroneously develop the ought. (And, actually, hers was an “ought” too: the “ought” to prevent anarchy and lawlessness.) The amount of good that can happen by shedding moral bias is enormous.
when a person’s ought prevents them from seeing the is
As I started to think of many, many issues, I realized how much moral bias clouds objectivity. It alone can explain so much. I realized it follows a typical cycle. In short, a moral ideal shines so brightly in one’s mind that they are on an unwavering mission to enact it. This sound heroic, but it is regardless of if they are enacting any positive change or otherwise doing damage. It invariably starts from a position of weakness, in which a person feels shame, is not succeeding, is full of fear, is distrustful, or chaos has ensued. It is always an attempt to bring order to real or perceived disorder.
Let me use a simple example to explain moral bias. Let’s say someone has decided that running two miles every day will lead to weight loss. So, they go to do this. They diligently run two miles every day. But little happens. They don’t lose weight. Unable to update their thinking, they think the problem must be that they just aren’t committed enough. Perhaps they need to run more miles every day. Perhaps something else is going on, such as they are eating too much. In truth, as they see no results, they will likely stop running every day. They’ll run every other day. Then only twice per week… then never. This is what naturally happens when one doesn’t get results. But, if plagued by too much moral bias, they’ll just beat themselves up over it. “I failed.” “I couldn’t keep it up.” Nothing will alarm them that this is actually not the path to weight loss—and it is not. Read any book on intermittent fasting to find out why.
The Traits of Moral Bias
Using this example, here is a breakdown of the traits of moral bias, how it operates, and how you know you are dealing with it.
How to achieve success is predefined
The moral ideal in this example of running two miles every day is “athletic body, free of excess weight.” To achieve it, one has decided you must run regularly. How to achieve the ideal is, with but some minimal amount of wiggle room, otherwise set in stone.
You can also consider this the “the moral ideal is holy” trait of moral bias. In some systems, they regard this ideal as literally holy.
Shame or fear initiates the system
Shame is when you feel unworthy or less than somehow. In this example, you feel shame because you are overweight. These moral ideals are always pursued stemming from a place of weakness, not strength. Fear is probably the more usual initiator of moral bias. This could be fear of a violent threat, an illness, or even fear of big government. And, actually, fear drives the person who is running for exercise as well: fear they might not get a date, and so on. One is combatting illness, obesity, threats, sin, etc. Through x, y, or z, you will become [strong, beautiful, free, good, great].
The fear that kicks off the system is often made-up, minimal, or the byproduct of another system of moral bias. At any rate, the proposed system was never going to solve the initial problem.
The benefits are overblown
The purported moral ideal is way more dazzling in theory than it is in reality. In this example, anyone selling a weight loss program might make you think you’ll look like your favorite celebrity. Religions promise seas of milk and honey in heaven. Predatory financial advisers promise great wealth, based on horrible math.
Failure to achieve the ideal is your fault
If, when you don’t reach the ideal (as you won’t), it’s not the system’s fault. It’s always your fault. The moral ideal and how to get there are obvious. Run and you lose weight. If you can’t do this, you are lazy.
Damage in pursuing the ideal is ignored
In this example of running regularly, if you experience damage in pursuing your ideal, such as you twist your ankle, you might rest for a bit. But nothing about this solution to weight loss makes people think that maybe asking an overweight person to run two miles every day is a bad idea. Such injuries are seen as things that strike out of the blue.
The damage in this example is relatively benign, but when it applies to political-moral ideals, the damage becomes much more horrific.
Conclusions were drawn based on a poor understanding of the topic
When developing the moral ideal (the heroic solution to a pressing problem), not nearly enough study ever went into understanding the inner workings of what one is trying to fix. No well-performed study showed that running is a good solution to the problem of being overweight, in which tried-and-true, lasting results occur. Based on common sense, it just seems like it would work. Or perhaps some pen and paper exercises, such as calories burned versus calories consumed, showed it will work. This latter, pen-and-paper method is rationalistic science and a tyranny in and of itself.
One thinks they can control what they can’t
Typically, an overly ambitious view of what one can control is at work. Nothing about the system works without this belief that you can directly control/change/fix something, of which they really can’t. (The only thing you can successfully do with sheer will is destroy things, and not the things you intend to destroy either.) In this case, just run and the fat melts off, as if you can all but nearly poke and chisel it off. In other cases, people think they can control some aspect of nature that they cannot.
Alternative ideas are seen as inherently evil
As the moral ideal and its path are so obvious to the person, alternative ideas aren’t even considered. In the example of running, perhaps getting the deep rest that fasting provides, so opposite of the seeming heroic effort that running requires, would seem wildly nonsensical—even laughable.
In other systems with moral bias, other ideas and the people who hold them are seen as wildly irresponsible, hedonistic, immoral, treasonous, etc. Their alternative ideas can never penetrate the system because they are deemed immoral right from the start. People with these alternative ideas are also often falsely accused of the very transgressions that people within the system are guilty of.
In systems of moral bias, snarkiness and bravado abound. People are very confident that theirs is the obvious solution and only disobedience, laziness, or malignant intent are the reasons for failure. Trite bromides are thrown around, which apparently hypnotize people. “What does GOD want?” “Pick up THE book.” “Just get your butt up and move!” As from Craig Biddle, an Objectivist, “Defeat terrorism in 5 easy steps.”
Fake heroes are born
There is no actual success or heroism in the moral system. But if someone puts up a good show that they are attempting to pursue the ideal (usually a very showy, often tragic and martyred performance), they artificially get to be held up in a community’s good graces.
When people have running success, they often “virtue signal” about it. This is when you blast to the world how amazing and virtuous you are. They might put bumper stickers on their car that say “13.1,” which shows that they ran that number of miles. I once saw a car utterly plastered with such stickers, and it was double parked, preventing me from having a parking spot. All that running success, and they remain a jerk. (I can’t tell you how much I love those bumper stickers that say “0.0.”)
In other moral-political systems, you get to claim moral status for often simple acts, such as wearing holy robes. If you do achieve any seeming illustrious end goal, such as running a marathon, staying celibate, or achieving career success, it is often flaunted in front of others.
If the threat that the hero is fighting is one that frightens some set of people enough, that hero gains impunity. They are, after all, warding off a blazing forest fire—give them some grace. Not everything they do is going to be perfect, you know.
Soon, they learn they can completely cash in on this. Their actions become totally above reproach. If what they are doing is perceived as being vital enough to survival, others are to bow to them and walk on eggshells around them. People might be ordered to have hero worship for them, such as by being ordered to have gratitude or attend parades.
In that all this hero-worship comes with so many perks, the hero often gives up before attaining their goal. (The problem was often made up, anyway.) Why continue all that hard work when, at some point on your martyred path, you have been given wealth and women? Here are some examples of this. Have any of these vanquished the threats they constantly warn about?
- NRA: the threat of gun control
- Libertarians: the threat of big government
- Trump: the threat of immigrants
- Clinton: the threat of Republicans
- Clergy: the ever-present threat of the devil
The only thing that changes in these examples are the perceived threat, the moral ideal, and the fake hero who cashes in on it. Yes, all of these things have historically had people who cashed in on their hero status. Sexual exploitation is usually their favorite one.
And, of course, people will not define this behavior, in which the hero acts unethically, as wrong or a product of the system. They’ll chalk it up to “human nature.”
The authentically talented are discarded
The byproduct (or perhaps the entire purpose) of a self-righteous moral system is that the authentically talented get cast to the side. People are so blinded by the goal of the moral system that it’s all they can see. Scientists persecuted by the church is the best example of this. In some systems, certain people aren’t even allowed to talk, by definition, such as how religion does to women. Their voices are silenced—they are even murdered. As such, their wisdom cannot penetrate the system.
Authentic feedback cannot penetrate the moral ideal itself
As its members go about pursuing their ideal, they cannot update in thinking or goals. The path to success is defined. You reference the code/rules/an expert, not your own authentic feedback. As the runner gets no results, they can’t see that this isn’t working. They just beat themselves up. (Politicians, on the other hand, just beat YOU up.) The moral ideal itself is holy—unquestionable.
Feedback is either actively dismissed or it is inverted. For instance, some might say that the damage being caused for any given solution “just means it’s working.” “No pain, no gain,” they rationalize. It’s often built right into the system that you can’t challenge it, e.g., “Who are you to judge?” You often aren’t even allowed to expect results, as in religion when they throw their hands up in the air after you point out their bad behavior, “Everyone is a sinner! We just admit to it!” The system’s victims are desensitized. They are not allowed to trust their own eyes, ears, feelings, or direct experience.
A great indicator of moral bias is when someone who rightfully complains about the system is pointed towards the rules that define the system and then asked, “Can’t you read?” Can’t you read—the system is the system. Stop complaining.
The further away the result is from the system, the better for moral bias. If results are typically seen many years later, this is a breeding ground for moral bias. Take for instance when religion says your choices won’t affect you negatively until after you are dead. Convenient. Systems heavy in moral bias are always asking for more time: two more weeks, five more years, “we’re working on the problem,” etc.
Predatory behavior (and moral bias is predatory) is a game of timing. They want you to give them the benefit of the doubt and stall to act. If you identify this game as soon as it starts, it puts you at an advantage. Put time on your side.
There is a bottomless pit in demands for resources
When you see any person or country get closer and closer to their moral ideal, and yet things keep getting worse and worse, you are dealing with moral bias. As the problem is obviously not their moral ideal and its obvious path for success, it must be a lack of resources. You just don’t have enough time to do all the running you need, including all the warmup, etc.
When operating under moral bias, there is an endless call for resources: more money, more effort, more discipline, more understanding, more enforcement, etc. Their heroic motto is of course, “Don’t quit!” Even when they have an enormously disproportionate amount of power, they still feel victimized and disadvantaged—like they’ll never actually win their battle, as they are fighting against overly powerful, dangerous “others.”
Tight regulations are deployed
The entire system is based on weakness. There is a problem without a good solution, and simply adding energy into the system might fix it.
To see to it that some success is seen, tight regulations are put in place. The system is hyper monitored. These regulations are not put in place to see how and why something works. They are put in place to catch people when “bad.”
And, in truth, the regulation aren’t even meant to catch anyone when bad. They are meant to deflect blame. They are meant to put the heat on someone else, as someone in leadership is acting nefariously, doesn’t know what they are doing, or, at any rate, doesn’t want to look bad. Rules or laws that the public naively think are meant to catch perpetrators will always protect the powerful.
If you see such tight regulations, in the workplace or government, you can probably trace it back to the beginning of moral bias. Some person screwed up somewhere, feels shame, doesn’t understand how to fix the problem, or is trying to get away with something bad, and now they are excessively relying on pointless rules and regulations.
This is one of the easiest parts of moral bias to challenge. The monitors themselves tend to be unpopular. Big Brother is watching you!
Simple solutions would have worked
All of moral bias ends up being one big, unnecessary show. Simple, boring solutions would have worked to fix the problem. In the example of weight loss, a healthy weight should be far easier to attain than it is in modern times. We didn’t have such an obesity problem until the past few decades. And, before this, people weren’t running marathons to stay slim. Some other factor is at work. Fasting, in the absence of other health problems, is indeed quite simple. It was also the norm before about 1970 when “Five small meals a day” advice went into place.
Moral bias results in an over-response to a small problem. Some problem—be it low wages, drug use, obesity, whatever—cannot be tolerated in the least. They are here to utterly obliterate it. They have no ability to patiently work through problems in any sensible way.
Some people cash in on it
Want to lose weight? I have a SPECIAL gym with some extra-special whiz bang thing that will fulfill your hopes and dreams. We all know that last special whiz bang things didn’t quite work. This one is different. It’s black, not blue.
It’s easy to cash in on moral bias: results don’t matter anyway.
It creates other systems of moral bias
In their carnage, this system creates genuine victims, who genuinely have something to be scared of. If government gets too big, out of fear of a threat (poverty, drugs, virus, etc.), other people will respond, as they have been victimized in this war-like rampage. In this case, it is possible some will respond with intelligence and genuine intent, but not always or even usually. Others cash in on another hero opportunity—and another opportunity to steer society back to their favored moral system. (Typically religion: “We’ve abandoned Jesus! That’s why everything is bad!”). And now they are the heroes fighting big government. It is highly predictable that at least one or more counter force enters a cycle of moral bias. The heroes in the subsequent cycle still claim martyred status, still denigrate others (“socialist!” “stupid young’ns!”). They become above reproach. They have doubly the reason to believe the nature of man is bad, lazy, sinful, and power hungry.
Moral bias systems can also compound each other. Let’s say someone starts a “war on poverty.” This is system of moral bias #1. Now another person is worried that cheaters can take advantage of the money being handed out. Again, fear initiates systems of moral bias. So, they institute a policy that all asking for money must be checked for drug use, need, etc. This is system of moral bias #2. Now the original program has extra regulations added to it, making it that much more expensive. Moral bias, again, results in a bottomless pit in its demand for resources. Big government basically is big moral bias.
The place where people’s delusional ideas of how the world ought to work are kept alive.
They cannot see their own behavior
Probably the biggest disconnect with moral bias is the lack of results versus the purported system. With running, the most overweight person will lecture others to get up and start running more. The system itself needs defended, no matter what. They can never see their own behavior as it relates to their very system.
Whatever their moral system, when it is challenged, the person defies all their principles. A person who advocates politeness becomes impolite; a person who advocates grace becomes ungracious, and so on. Challenge Christianity and watch how mean they get. Challenge Objectivism and watch how belittling they get. They cannot uphold their own principles. Christians cannot maintain their love. Objectivists cannot maintain their reason. This is moral bias in action—probably the most maddening trait.
To the moralist, their moral paradigm shines so brightly in their mind that it itself needs defended—not actually practicing any of their actual principles. They do unnecessary mental gymnastics. Christians don’t just support love. Love is by definition Jesus and so any attack on Jesus is an attack on love. Objectivists don’t just support reason. Reason itself is tied to Objectivism. That’s a powerful thing to do in someone’s mind. Love = Jesus. Reason = Objectivism. People are trauma bonded to their moral ideologies. They attack anyone who challenges them. You just attacked their mother, grandmother, AND brother, who’s in jail.
If there is one trait that I would fix to fix moral bias, it’s probably this one. It’s the paradox of moral bias. They use their moral system to control their thoughts and behavior to be “good.” And yet any attack on the moral system causes them to not be good whatsoever. They think they can control thoughts, behaviors, and life, but they cannot escape the moral paradigm itself. They can judge—but not how they judge. They can see—but not see that the very apparatus they see with is by nature limited in what they can see.
The more it fails, the stronger it gets
All of the problems created just serve to get more resources, ever feeding the system (until it’s eventual enormous collapse, anyway). As the problems are created, it’s taken as yet more proof that the original shame-based or fear-based problem really does exist. The system enters its never-ending despondent cycle in which people are broken/scared, to then be saved. This can also be called the “self-fulfilling prophecy” trait of moral bias.
People rip each other to shreds over the fallout
Nothing works and there is an obviously terrible problem (now problems) lingering. It doesn’t go down well. Family members might mock you, “It ain’t the dryer that made your pants not fit; it’s the refrigerator!” There is an utter stench of fear, paranoia, shame, anxiety, hysteria, and abuse in the air—followed then by sickeningly sweet pity, fake empathy, and outright, threatening demands for compassion. Everyone huddles over their despair in the problems created—finally, we as humans have united! Well, I mean, except those immoral swine keeping you in this state. Everyone stands on that precarious ledge, full of tortured, martyred, self-righteous emotions, fighting that one step they are away from death. Depending on the level of hysteria, a system heavy in moral bias is the most effective way to destroy families, communities, organizations, and nations. Even if they survive—it ain’t living.
Tell me: what systems can you name that are steeped in moral bias?
Moral Bias: The Process
Here is the basic process of moral bias.
Moral bias starts with a made-up or highly minimal problem. It always starts with the question, “BUT WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?” What are you going to do if some awful, evil thing were to happen? What is going to happen if your family member succumbs to drug addiction and puts you in the poor house? What if a tornado strikes? What if you are caught unprepared for a deadly illness? You know all your choices, every single day in every single waking hour matter, right? Have you put extensive thought into all of them?
A tried-and-true plan is put together. It is tied to morality itself, because failure means death. The end goal of the moral ideal is to be obtained at nearly any cost. Authentic feedback is directly shut down or inverted: feedback that shows the system is not working might be taken as proof that it actually is working. For instance, when a medical solution causes harm, someone declares the pain “just means it’s working!” Continued failure is always ascribed to lack of discipline or resources. The system needs more.
The practical result is that nothing gets solved or fixed. In fact, many problems are then created. In truth, problems were made up that weren’t there—the whole thing is predicated on lies and/or false premises. Moral crusaders with excessive moral bias are like arsonists who purposely start fires, play firefighter, then look at you, while struggling with their hose, sweat dripping down their face, admonishing, “So what’s your solution? Are you just going to stand there lazily? Don’t you know how complicated and hard life is?” The rest of the population, utterly terrified by the blazing fire, is unlikely to hear your point of view.
Society quickly gets divided into two groups. There are the heroes and the recalcitrant. The heroes get special privileges (of which are usually not much to be jealous of, as, all around, life is not very pleasant for anyone at all). People are admonished to be grateful for said heroes. You are commanded to thank them, pray for them, attend parades for them, etc. In truth, even they aren’t taken care of well. I saw a person post on social media once, “Does it seem like your station doesn’t care about your mental health? That’s because they don’t.” It was about firefighters. That punched me in the gut. Even our “heroes” do not get any actual tender, loving care. It’s all one big show. The only people who cash in on any of it are political leaders and maybe some celebrities. In combination, we can call this group “the elite.” Well, perhaps people who sell “fire insurance” can cash in, as well. (Likely the role exorcists and the like played in past societies.)
The whole thing will crash and burn. It’s entirely predicated upon the idea that people are too weak to solve X problem and they need extra heroics to combat it. So, there is an assumption of weakness—and no one partaking knows how to actually build health, fight off the threat, or make anything “great.” In their mind, it is a weak, ineffective person versus a wildly violent, mostly unstoppable threat.
As their solutions continue to not work, and they cause yet more damage, that they actually are weak and ineffective becomes a reality. Instead of getting stronger themselves, they seek safety from a perceived threat. They bunker down. They build shelters and hide in them. They want to build walls to keep out threats. This panicked “GET YOUR FILTHY, DANGEROUS WAYS OFF OF MY PERFECTLY CLEAN, HOLY, HUMBLE, RIGHTEOUS SELF” reaction is probably the last stage of moral bias. No clear thinking is possible after this. The system needs to totally collapse before anything can be rebuilt. On a related note, please see the excellent, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit.
A disruption in the feedback loop
I think what moral bias comes down to is some trigger in the natural world should be seen as a clue to update or change, but it’s seen, instead, as a problem to vanquish. If the “Check Engine” light is on in your car, instead of checking the engine, you seek to get rid of the warning. What should have been healthy, authentic, if momentarily unpleasant, feedback is seen as a problem to utterly annihilate. The natural feedback loop, which puts us in harmony with our natural environment, is utterly disrupted.
The best example I can give is a big one: child sacrifice in the ancient world. Child sacrifice was in response to natural threats, such as a huge hurricane coming. The hurricane should have been seen as a clue: get out of there. Go mainland. Instead, they resorted to horrific, nonsensical methods to try to vanquish the threat entirely—in this case, killing children. That this system never actually solves the problem is clear. This is probably the best, and perhaps the very first example in recorded human history, to explain how moral bias works. Moral bias is again when a moral ideal is so valuable in one’s mind that they can’t see the damage they are causing in pursuing it. It seems to have formed due to the formation of civilization itself, in which humans decided to stay in one place, instead of being migratory. Instead of listening to nature, they want to dominate it. They have to—they’re stuck. The ultimate moral ideal that drives moral bias is thus “the ideal of staying in one place to live.”
This idea truly explains a lot, especially when you think of it in light of being a malignantly broken feedback loop. You can imagine moral bias as someone who has set their vehicle’s cruise control to 100 mph and is on a mission to get to any given place. Nothing will ever cause them to slow down. They hit animals on the way, fly through school zones, etc. They totally disregard the damage they are doing or any feedback that says they should slow down. But, imagine instead of getting to any random place, the driver is a father going to save his child in a car wreck. This is how people on their crusades always see it. In truth, they initially justify the behavior as a father getting his child. In time, it continues simply because they like driving 100 mph. But the original justification allows it and continues to serve as the then excuse.
This is why whether or not a cause is “legitimate” or not matters so much. When you see any given system dividing people’s goals and activities into “essential” or “non-essential” or “necessary” versus “for pleasure only” or indeed “rational” versus “irrational,” you are dealing with moral bias. What they are basically saying is, “My goal is so noble that all gloves are off.” And this is the only paradigm they understand—so “for pleasure only” pursuits are seen as wildly nonsensical and irresponsible. Their missions—unsavory yet necessary in their mind—can and will result in utter horror. It’s the cost of doing business to them. It’s how life is: it’s naturally brutal. I’ve never seen a system with moral bias that didn’t have a sentiment that life is rough (a “purposeful struggle” as Rand describes it), that it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world, and/or that “no one cares about your feelings.” These systems tend to swing wildly from pure ruthlessness to martyred calls for pity. Thus, for example, in some systems, their demands for “grace” when attempting to follow the “law,” the two of which can never reconcile. Or, to maintain consistency, as in Objectivism, they throw grace out the window. “Nobody’s perfect” they sometimes moan, because, in their system, no one can even come close to anything that looks authentically ethical. (Unless they’ve decided “perfect” can include ruthlessness.) Their systems result in horror. It gets especially bad when the crusader decides everyone must join in, which they routinely do, such as signing up a nation’s youth for the draft.
The errant feedback loop has a malignant benefit to it—the secret sauce to why the whole damned thing can work (until it doesn’t, anyway). In the drive for the moral mission, any person who might challenge the system is easily damaged or killed. In the example of child sacrifice, in truth, the king-Gods probably didn’t want to admit what the looming hurricane implied: setting up civilization there was a bad idea. In the obviously terrible solution to it, child sacrifice (the only tools these crusaders actually have at their disposal are destruction), those who might put up an effective fight against it—young healthy children—have now been killed. It has also sent a clear message to the others: stop complaining. The psychopathic, with a bit of luck and while still living on borrowed time, continue to live. The sensitive, outspoken, strong, and healthy do not. The whole thing works as long as you have no conscience whatsoever. Well, until it doesn’t. The whole thing tends to go up in flames, eventually.
In short, give someone a moral mission and they turn into the most immoral person on the planet. The idea of morality itself is the cause of humanity’s worst immoralities.
This is indeed the power of morality. This is why playing around with morality is playing with fire. I will argue in this book that morality can only successfully prohibit certain unideal actions. Morality cannot inspire positive action.
A psychological trait that has turned maladpative
I propose something biological must be at play here. Moral bias, I am arguing, is a trait built into the human psyche, and it’s enflamed by fear. When the mind is filled with fear, the fear is the only thing that a person can see. They shut down all other data streams to their mind. They definitely shut down empathy. They go into do-or-die mode.
This trait of the human psyche is likely very beneficial when living in nature, where tornadoes, fires, etc., can erupt. People must move swiftly. They must see themselves as undeniably morally worthy of living. In civilization, I propose, this trait becomes highly maladaptive. We have little ability to act to resolve natural threats anyway, so the trait spins haywire. We come up with some damn stupid solutions, otherwise.
But, as if this part of the brain must still be fed, we are easily and routinely sent into crisis mode by our leaders. We still want our horror movies. And it’s not healthy. When the smallest threat comes around, as if it snaps us out of our humdrum existence, far too many enjoy the endless possibilities of what could happen. An overreaction based on panic ensues, of which people seem to enjoy. I call moral bias the “hair trigger away from dictatorship” feature in the human psyche. And I argue it’s built into the human condition. With the right fear, the right cause, and the right hero, everyone will partake. Everyone, including me.
a trait of the human psyche that becomes maladaptive when humans settle in one place, causing one person or up to an entire population to become stupid and soulless as they pursue what they perceive as their morally justified mission for survival
Living your whole life based on an all-encompassing morality, I argue, in and of itself, is not healthy. Perhaps if we can wrestle away do-or-die moral paradigms, we will help resolve this now maladaptive trait.
Objectivism’s Moral Bias
Objectivism is by far not the only system that has moral bias in it. But, it is a great system to unpackage in order to explain the idea. Objectivism is as “drive your stake in the ground and fight until you get what you want” as it gets. Objectivism is basically moral bias defined. Rand is so explicit about her system, such that we can examine not just the effects of moral bias but the explicit justifications. Consider the very end of John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged, in which Rand outlines the main aspects of what became her philosophy of Objectivism. Read the following analytically.
Such is the future you are capable of winning. It requires a struggle; so does any human value. All life is purposeful struggle, and your only choice is the choice of a goal. Do you wish to continue the battle of your present or do you wish to fight for my world? Do you wish to continue a struggle that consists of clinging to precarious ledges in a sliding descent to the abyss, a struggle where the hardships you endure are irreversible and the victories you win bring you closer to destruction? Or do you wish to undertake a struggle that consists of rising from ledge to ledge in a steady ascent to the top, a struggle where the hardships are investments in your future, and the victories bring you irreversibly closer to the world of your moral ideal, and should you die without reaching full sunlight, you will die on a level touched by its rays? Such is the choice before you. Let your mind and your love of existence decide. (978)
Rand invokes hardship, “all life is purposeful struggle,” then summons you to her battle. She also utterly exaggerates her promises. No one can promise you that any path you take will guarantee you success, e.g., will “bring you irreversibly closer to the world of your moral ideal.” This is core to moral bias: the idea that the moral ideal is inherently perfect and will work. If you read this passage again, you might find a similar speech can be made by any dictator. Replace “should you die without reaching full sunlight,” with “should you die on the battlefield…” Moral paradigms create power structures and there is also always a warlike nature to them.
Here is a breakdown of the traits of moral bias as outlined previously and how it applies to Objectivism.
Shame or fear originates the system
In Objectivism, natural emotions are distrusted. Natural emotions, left unsculpted, Rand warns, can be hedonistic or sadistic, leading to destruction and mayhem. This is the foundational premise of the Objectivist ethics and the reason why one “needs” her moral system in the first place. Fear initiates the system, in this case, fear that natural emotions would bring about anarchy and mayhem.
How to achieve success is pre-defined
In Objectivism, “rational” thinking and production are the tried-and-true paths to the twin goals of success and happiness.
Conclusions are drawn based on a poor understanding of the topic
Rand has a weak understanding of human nature. We are not born tabula rasa—with no reliable emotional or instinctual programming. This was Objectivist Blindspot #1: Objectivists think they know all they need to know about human nature, when they don’t.
This is also Objectivist Blindspot #8: They give no real consideration to quality parenting and how integral it is to human success. I said quality parenting. Not the Objectivist idea of parenting.
One thinks they can control what they can’t
Rand says your emotions can and should be “programmed.” I argue emotions cannot be programmed (changed)—not without serious damage done to one’s inner life. This is Objectivist Blindspot #3: Objectivists believe that they can directly control emotions when they can’t. It leaves them unprepared when raging emotions take over. And, oh, do they take over!
Authentic feedback cannot penetrate the system
In Objectivism, natural emotions are shut down as a reliable guide to action. Thus, if you are sad or in despair, these emotions cannot do the work they are meant to do. They cannot alert you that Objectivism is failing you. This is Objectivist Blindspot #5: Authentic emotions cannot jolt the Objectivist out of Objectivism.
Alternative ideas are seen as inherently evil
From “Progressive” education to certain types of music, certain practices are seen as outright evil in Objectivism. This is Objectivist Blindspot #6: Rand shuts down alternative ideas that can heal as immoral.
Failure is your fault
In Objectivism, failure comes down to “your choices,” with no recognition of bigger factors at play. This is Objectivist Blindspot #7. Let’s just call this one “shame.”
Damage in pursuing the ideal is ignored
Objectivism has no built-in upholding of empathy for others. Many Objectivists, for instance, have no issue with killing innocents in war.
Fake heroes are born
Oh—and how! Objectivism is entirely built off of fictional characters. The heroes in Atlas Shrugged especially are clearly based on real men, and yet Rand scrubs it clean such that the industrialists are epically heroic and the rest are looters. Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford were clearly used to create her characters but, in real life, were hardly the entirely virtuous men whose only awakening is to see how evil the world is.
There is a bottomless pit in demands for resources
When Objectivism is failing people, Objectivists typically declare that they don’t understand Objectivism or that the person “isn’t integrated.”
Tight Regulations are Deployed
Rand let’s your own subconscious be the regulator. She calls it a “merciless recorder” of all the good and vile deeds you’ve done in life. Big Brother is watching you: your own subconscious. It’s totally healthy; it is.
Simple solutions would have worked
Emotional intelligence tools are far simpler to employ and more effective than Rand’s all-encompassing rational morality, as to solve the original problem that emotions can be destructive.
The authentically talented are discarded
Many ideas are shut down in Objectivism, so those advancing those ideas are discarded. Objectivists have dripping disdain for John Dewey, for instance. They consider themselves entirely above the entire field of psychology, as well.
Objectivism also gives scant attention to women. They are given a second class status in Objectivism—made worse because they won’t even acknowledge that they do this. That there is something that makes women valuable and indeed authentically heroic is not even acknowledged. They discard the talented in the most effective way possible: pretending the talent doesn’t even exist. This is Objectivist Blindspot #9: it denies the identity, talent, and needs of half the human race.
People rip each other to shreds over the fallout.
Being in Objectivist circles is no fun place. They wantonly tell others “but I don’t think of you,” which is a famous line as found in The Fountainhead. “Excommunications” have dotted Objectivism’s entire history. You all but wait for Objectivists to blow the puff of smoke in your face. This is Objectivist Blindspot #2: its members are caustic and abusive but will not attribute this negative behavior to Objectivism itself.
Why end moral bias?
I hope it’s obvious by now how much damage moral bias can do. I bet you can name systems heavy in moral bias already. We in America tend to mercilessly mock a system like communism for having continued to push its virtuous ideals with no results. Many if not most government programs are widely regarded as “failed.” We often call it the “failed” War on Drugs or the “failing” public school systems. These programs are products of intense moral bias. They are made all the worse when government gets involved. Without the power of government, which has the power to use force against and across an entire nation, these systems of moral bias would eventually die. But these programs that have been institutionalized by law and normalized ethically by the majority are very, very hard to dismantle. (And normalizing it ethically is the more important factor. We are ruled by collective consciousness. Watch moral attitudes change and watch how quickly laws do get changed. Unfortunately, this is complicated by the fact that turning something into law often makes it seem ethical.)
So, reducing war and tyranny would be the biggest benefit of challenging moral bias. Not a bad deal, eh? But, I think, you might find that shedding your own moral bias helps you. Moral bias is a product of unfounded fear. It causes a tremendous amount of unnecessary worry and work. I will admit to my own moral bias. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, I was appalled by Muslim terrorists. I had it in my mind that they could possibly even invade the United States. I had an unusually high fear of Islamic terrorism, and I bought into all the war rhetoric of that time. While I still argue that Islam, like all religion, is rooted in moral bias and thus dangerous, I realize now that my fear of me personally being targeted by any Muslim terrorist was way overblown. Yes, the problem exists. But the likelihood I personally would ever be a victim was quite low. Humanity, surprisingly, tends to outweigh terrible moral systems. As such, even adopting a deeply evil religion like Islam, most Muslims remain good people. Latent moral bias has to be enflamed by fear for it to become a problem. Shedding moral bias makes you far more likely to see your fellow humans as the humans they are. It is fare more peaceful to live without unnecessary fear.
The biggest benefit of understanding this, however, is that you won’t become the victim of it. People who buy into moral bias are its biggest victims, in the same way that people in the Mafia are the biggest victims of Mafia violence. If you understand moral bias and reject overblown, false moral paradigms, you are far less likely to be a victim of those who exploit it. They need to prey on your fear and your willingness to put trust in a seemingly heroic, moral person. They want to be there, to help solve your problems—maybe to launch a career, work through an emotional issue, help pay your bills, or help you lose weight—and they don’t want you to be authentically educated. I am routinely flabbergasted that truly good ideas on health, finance, and more are produced, and yet cannot take hold in the majority. For instance, it is well established that you do not need someone “actively managing” your financial investment accounts. Just put your money in an index fund, perhaps the S&P 500, which by the way already is “actively managed,” and it historically performs better than trying to hand select “better” stocks, as if you are going to game the market with your wisdom. (You can’t. High risk eventually means failure.) And yet, to this day, people are peddling the idea that you should pick a financial adviser who does exactly this—and that you should pay this person a percentage of what you earn, even the smallest percentage of which drains your wealth big time (and goes to them). Why? Why does this keep happening? These predatory financial advisers need to be seen as dazzlingly morally better in order to exploit you. They need to be seen as an amazing, trustworthy, responsible, and moral ideal, while they prey on your ignorance and fear. (And I find Christian financial advisers are the absolute worst at this, in which they tell you they’ll be your buddy and get your account “managed by a pro!” See Dave Ramsey.) They don’t just need you to feel insecure. They need you to see them as the natural hero. They need moral bias. Critical thinking, conveniently, tends to shut down when a victim is too enraptured by moral bias, in which they are dealing with a problem they don’t want to deal with and feel shame or fear about (as one does if they can’t pay their bills) and someone is pseudo-promising them a path to success. You need to be on guard for these heroic “saviors.”
Unfortunately, I do think moral bias is built right into the human psyche. Even I have a hard time reckoning with that. Every new generation of humans born will be prone to it. I have a hard time justifying the need to tame or change something that is built into human nature. Some, even people I respect, have argued that war and dictatorship (what I am trying to minimize) play a role in life—and not for the reasons you think. It is argued, for instance, that war and dictatorship are a natural, unconscious remedy to overpopulation. Thus, if moral bias were tamed, would it cause bad things, such that humans are neutered to act and equilibrium in not reached?
Here is my counter argument. Very often this very overpopulation problem was a result of moral bias. For instance, religious dogma dictates to have as many children as possible and pushes women to have children far faster than they can naturally and happily bear. This causes serious damage to the health and happiness of those mothers and doesn’t allow enough resources to properly raise children. There are then also severely under-loved, under-nurtured children—and there a lot of them. This can cause a lot of problems. And, so, in its own weird way, war and dictatorship gets this problem under control.
But what if we were to stop this insane cycle at its root? What if we were to stop pushing and prodding the world and especially human life to be the way we think is ideal—when it is not ideal at all? Remove the ideals rooted in unfound fear anyway. I think the resulting, more peaceful equilibrium would be worth it.
Demoralize to Humanize
How to end moral bias?
Personally, I think the antidote to moral bias is life experience. As you let life penetrate you and experience its authentic feedback, you update your thinking and ways.
The problem is that moral bias prevents life experience from penetrating a person. It stands like a 3-headed dog, filtering all life events through its moral paradigm. All systems of moral bias have a filter. “What would Jesus do?” “What does a rational analysis say?” It’s in this filter that the damage from moral bias is mainly done.
It is also, unfortunately, not enough to simply show better, alternative ideas. Alternative ideas that are healthy can break up moral bias in some people’s thinking. The problem is some of these alternative systems are shut down as immoral, even criminalized. So, their truth never sees the light of day. Further, even when it does, those who are too stuck with their moral bias see other’s success as a random fluke.
As such, to tear down moral bias, I propose we must stand up to the false moral ideal itself. We must tear down people’s Gods. We must burn their flags. We must punch their hubris right in the eye. Few are willing to do this. But it is what is necessary.
Being that person to shoot down false moral ideals is not for the timid or weak-minded. You have to be just a bit of a ball buster to do it. You have to tell people that their heroes are anything but; that their behavior is unethical; that they themselves—the seemingly innocent and even moral members of society—are corrupt, unempathetic, tyrannical, and abusive.
I am that person that can do this. When I do, people often accuse me of dehumanizing the members of a particular ideology, such as Christianity or Objectivism. I am not dehumanizing you. I am demoralizing you. Literally, I am trying to take away your moral paradigm. I argue that your moral paradigms lead to moral bias and all of the fear, shame, despondent cycles, brokenness, and abuse that moral paradigms bring when you purport to solve problems that you will never actually solve. I know you aren’t used to someone being like this, but I assure you I intend no harm to anyone as a person—just their biases, false premises, abusive ways, and pipe dreams. It is in fact entirely my goal to humanize people. I discuss specific tactics to take down powerful moral structures in the last section of this book.
And then, after this, be sure also to explain moral bias itself. (This very book does a decent job of this, no? Please recommend.) If moral bias is a trait in the human psyche, we will always be prone to it. And we are. I run into it with the religious. But I also run into it with socialistic atheistic people who believe, to the depths of their souls, that their system is righteous and pure. Education is key, but it has to be the real kind of education. Teaching about moral bias is the antidote to indoctrination.
Truly: shed moral bias and watch the world totally transform.
Amber was an Objectivist for 10 years until she had it with the narcissistic abuse, gaslighting, and manipulation that is routinely dished out in Objectivist circles. She now exposes this narcissistic ideology parading around as freedom and happiness for what it is. The book will be The Moral Bias of Objectivism: How Moral Ideals Cloud Objectivity. Contact Amber at firstname.lastname@example.org.