I have been standing up to ideologies for likely two decades now. After 9/11, I stood up to Islam. After I found most Objectivists I knew to be toxic narcissists, I started standing up to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. As I realize that religions (all of them) are meant to pacify people to accept the authority of the state, I’ve stood up to religion, including Christianity, the widespread religion in the west.
In doing this, I’ve found the same rinse, wash, repeat patterns of ideologues. They always think they are the ones genuinely for peace, joy, enlightenment, and freedom–meanwhile having all sorts of “in context” things that justify abuse and oppression (ones that make sense to them, based on their way of living). They are always utterly blind to the damage they cause. They are all convinced they are the victim in a world that will never understand them. They feel the world won’t be good/peaceful until their ideology dominates. Their followers all tell you you don’t understand their philosophy. They tell you to keep reading their literature over and over and keep directing you to their experts, for you to listen and learn, of course.
And they all argue over words. They argue over what words themselves mean. They constantly put you on the defensive: you don’t know what words mean and can’t use words properly. And it’s always they who don’t use words properly.
Now, any time someone argues with me over words, I know I am dealing with an ideologue. Here is a recent example. A story came out that a woman died due to kidney problems, and some blamed the keto diet. I was part of a fasting forum where keto is very popular. Someone wrote that, indeed, keto was known to be hard on your kidneys and one had to drink a lot of lemon juice to prevent this. Wow. He thus blamed the woman. She just didn’t do the diet right. This is always ideologues too: you’re just not doing their enlightened philosophy correctly. I said to him, “your regular diet shouldn’t cause kidney stones.” He responded, “there is no such thing as a regular diet.” Ok. That’s clearly not what I meant. I meant, “the stuff you eat every day should not weight one towards kidney disease.” He turned it all around as a faux-enlightened position to mean “there is no ‘normal’ across any human diet.” It’s just…not what I meant. He was so incredibly dense. And when I saw this, I knew I was dealing with an ideologue. Tick off “keto diet” as another ideology. And pssst: it’s been around since the 1920s. It’s nothing new, dogs.
I call this “word arguing.” I made up the phrase. I have no other term for it. “Word smithing” is close. But I don’t think people would understand what I meant. And they would be prone to … word arguing. They would tell me “word smithing” is valid in many cases. Ok. Sure. If you write a legal document and you know you have a particular audience that needs to digest it, you might need to “word smith” it to make it more palpable for your audience. There is, however, a hint of “manipulation” in the term. But I like “word arguing” better, anyway. And that’s what they are doing. They argue with you over words.
This is the opposite of what actual deep, authentic, intellectual conversation looks like. Let me give a made-up example. Let’s say I said, “board games are shown to increase lifespan.” But the person I was referring to played card games not board games. It’s really the same thing. You are still using your mind in the same way. If there way any amount of confusion, a person who was interested and honest would say something like, “Yeah, I know you said_____ but I knew you meant _____.” Women do this all the time when they talk to each other. They preface a lot with, “I’m not trying to be ___ here but you know___ ” and the other woman says, “Yeah, yeah____ I totally get _____.” This is what fairly healthy conversation looks like.
Not so with the ideologue. They tell you how you speak and what you say is WRONG. So WRONG. You failed to use a word right–you lose. Before they read your argument to completion–before they read two sentences, usually. They are right there trying to define the “terms” of the debate …thereby guaranteeing they will win. If they will debate or read at all. Though they are always sure to tell you that YOU are the one who can’t read another’s argument, YOU can’t handle a challenge, YOU “can’t show respect” for disagreement. All after dismissing you within seconds. This is the maddening part of ideologues. They are so convinced they are right. They are so aggressive in setting up their way of living. And they are totally shut down to reason–made all the WORSE when they think they are people of reason.
My consistent experience with Objectivists is this. I am never able to get any point across, because they jump all over the words being used. I once said Rand said a person is born “blank,” instead of using “tabula rasa.” This was a cardinal sin. Not to one person, either. To about a dozen. With flames coming out of their ears, I was maliciously accused of all sorts of things. The word “empathy” seems to be like garlic to Dracula to them. They will argue about what this means–or that one shouldn’t even care about such a stupid thing. So why would they read your article that had the word “empathy” in the description for the article? All true stories. Then, after keeping it on this “definition of words” territory for so long, with endless circular reasoning, endless attacks, putting you on the constant defensive, they announce, “why don’t you polish your argument and come back later!” Objectivists are the most dense ideologues around, made all the worse because they think they are men of reason.
Murry Rothboard discusses this explicitly in The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult: “One method [to have power over minds], as we have seen, was to keep the members in ignorance. Another was to insure that every spoken and written word of the Randian member was not only correct in content but also in form, for any slight nuance or difference in wording could and would be attacked for deviating from the Randian position. Thus, just as the Marxist movements developed jargon and slogans which were clung to for fear of uttering incorrect deviations, the same was true in the Randian movement. In the name of “precision of language,” in short, nuance and even synonyms were in effect prohibited.”
This was my constant experience with them even in 2020: they attack you relentlessly over how you use words.
And Ayn Rand uses words improperly. She writes that “value” is “that which one acts to gain and/or keep.” Take note of the word “act” in this definition. Her definition presupposes her philosophy of scarcity and thus the need to create all values: you have to act to gain and/or keep values. It is not the dictionary definition. The dictionary definition of value is “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.” Much of life is readily abundant; one does not need to act to gain and/or keep the value. Here is just one example: the sun. The definition she uses, however, weights the word “value” itself towards her philosophy, which is based explicitly on a scarcity mindset. Rand says we are given nothing and must produce everything. It’s NOT true. Much value around us is abundant and free, and we are given resources in our youth, in fact we need them: our parents. But my point: her definition is wrong.
And to drive home how entrenched Objectivists are, when I gave this example of the sun being an abundant, free resource, I got told, “that’s not true. some parts of the world don’t get enough sun and need technology to enhance it.” They will do anything and everything to bend the facts of life to their ideology.
Rand, our erudite scholar, similarly says “selfishness” per the “exact dictionary definition” is “pertaining to one’s interest.” It’s not true. There is no dictionary that says this. That’s cool to define “self-interest” this way, but her statement that it’s the dictionary definition is an outright falsehood. So much for our always-uses-words-properly, scholarly leader.
It’s the same with every ideology. Try to pin a Muslim down on what “jihad” means. Talk to a Christian on what “The Dark Ages” mean. They seek to take over these words and ideas, manipulating them to their advantage. They want control over language–and education and history. They’ll make sure YOU aren’t allowed to insult them–but they’ll punch all day long. Oh. That was mean. How dare you insult a sensitive flower like them like that–you rotten, angry bitch.
It is all manipulative. To them, it’s ideology first; conclusions second. They cannot break from their ideology. They see no reason they should ever have to break it. They see their ideology as the very tool to enlightenment. If you aren’t using their tool, by definition you can’t see. So why engage in debate with another human if you aren’t using their words, their resources, their style of debate? They are truly blind. I write about this in my book Towards Liberalism: A Challenge to Objectivist Ethics.
Send this article to anyone who is engaged in word arguing. And then watch as they unload with the “nuh uhs,” and the “this is poorly researched” and the arguing over the word arguing. 🙂
Amber was an Objectivist for 10 years until she realized it was failing her. She now speaks out against this narcissistic ideology selling itself as freedom and endures their constant insults that she is a bitch to warn others about its toxic nature. See Towards Liberalism: A Challenge to Objectivist Ethics.