This is a sub-section of the Introduction of The Moral Bias of Objectivism
Check Your Intellectual Tools
In the next sections, I am going to dissect Objectivism, followed by alternative views on many issues relating to human nature: emotions, education, sex, and more.
Before I do, I am asking you to check the tools you use to understand the world. Yes, your metaphysics and epistemology.
The biggest issue I run into with Objectivists, constantly, is they believe, to the depths of their being, that they have the right tools for understanding reality—reason—and therefore no challenge to Objectivism itself is warranted, ever.
But their very definition of “reason” is suspect. Here is my challenge to check the very tools you use to understand the world.
In Objectivism, Reason Isn’t Just a Tool; It’s a Way to Be
Objectivists consistently think reason is just a way to understand the world. If new information were presented, they would gladly update their thinking, they tell me. They can’t understand my challenge, because, to their core, they think Objectivism means “reason.”
But I find they are always using two different definitions of “reason,” constantly conflating the two. If we needle out the two definitions of “reason,” which are used interchangeably, it becomes much clearer as to what is actually going on.
Definition of Reason #1: Studying Draws Conclusions
The first definition of reason is what everyone think it is and is meant: you study to come to a conclusion. If you study to learn Calculus or Physics, you’ve done this. If you sat down to study child development, poring through thousands of pictures of children and 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, coming to a conclusion, totally loyal to the facts before you. As Objectivists always admonish, “A is A!”
Definition of Reason #2: Using Reason in All Waking Hours, for All Decisions
The second definition of reason is as 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 thinking—not any emotion or gut feeling—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 marry someone, 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 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.
As quoted previously, this issue of the mind versus the heart is core to Objectivism and intricately tied to Rand’s view of reason itself. Nathaniel Branden writes that this was one of his biggest regrets when promoting Objectivism: the dismissal of what emotions might be trying to tell us. 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)
This is what Objectivism is. “Reason” is not just a way to learn something at certain times, but as a way to live.
If you really insist on it, we can call this Objectivist view, which is the formal Objectivist view, “rationality,” instead of “reason,” as Rand describes it above. I would argue against this too, as it suggests any other way to be is “irrational,” and that’s not the case. (And core to my argument against Rand: she claims “rationality” for herself, thus demoting others as “irrational,” i.e., crazy.)
And I don’t think this is “reason” at all. “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.
But consistently I find this is the source of confusion among Objectivists: what “reason” is or means. They don’t realize that Rand pushes “reason” as a way to be “in all of one’s waking hours,” as “one’s only guide” in “all choices.” They conflate both 1) the tool to understand the world and 2) her conclusion, which is her ethics: an all-encompassing guide for all human behavior. I am challenging the second thing.
This causes a massive amount of confusion. I think it’s the very reason Objectivists seem to get stuck inside the vortex of Objectivism, spinning from one Objectivist idea to another, never feeling they can truly understand Objectivism. But if you dismantle tabula rasa—which is the exact argument Rand uses to justify the need for this “rationality”—you get out of this vortex with its never ending circular logic.
Your “Logic” is Just Your Intuition
If you got upset over the sub-chapter listed because you intuitively don’t like “logic” being challenged, you lose.
People love to see themselves as “logical.” If something is based on “logic,” it’s given a stamp and an air of authority. But a “logical” approach is actually not necessarily an observational approach, nor one that gets verification from the successful implementation of an idea. It is a leap in conclusion, based on some amount of evidence.
I long wondered what “logic” meant. This is because I’ve never had an example given to me that proved satisfactory. I thought math might eloquently show what “logic” is, as you balance each side of an equation. But mathematics is considered a separate branch of study from logic.
Logic is a leap in conclusion. “If A, then B.” If your car is covered in snow in the morning, it probably snowed last night. There is some amount of evidence leading to a conclusion—which is better than no evidence. It can also be a theory put forward that has, as of yet, no contradicting evidence. But there is still a leap of faith in all “logic.” It’s a lot of, “It stands to reason that…”
The problem is there is no way you have all evidence to make any of these leaps in conclusions. Sure, it provides a paradigm to help humans think about things. And if we get it remotely right, it helps us live. But it’s still a bit hit or miss. It should not be seen as authoritative—which is how we routinely see it.
For instance, Bernoulli’s Principle of flight was given as a reason for why airplanes fly. But it has since been proven wrong. The principle is that flowing air over the top and bottom of an airplane wing creates different pressures, with more pressure on the bottom pushing the wing up. But this was proven wrong. Colorized smoke under slow motion cameras did not cause this theory to hold up. And yet. Airplanes still fly. It was a “logical enough” explanation. It, apparently, gave enough of an explanation to let people trust that airplanes fly—and be willing to sit, in a pressurized cabin with some wings, that flies literally on nothing except air. Somehow.
But my point remains: these are, at all times, thought models. These “stands to reasons,” where we fill in the holes, are always apt to be wrong. Can you be utterly sure aliens didn’t come to earth last night and cover your car with snow? I mean. Really.
This is not mere philosophical discussion. It profoundly impacts how we think and understand the world. “Logic” is a concept invented by the Greeks, and, no, it’s not an observational method. The Greeks, who again invented “logic,” came up with the idea that the universe was made up of spheres. This was the only way they could explain the weird behavior of stars versus planets. Stars spin around predictably at night, a bit like a merry-go-round going around. Planets, however—they’re a bit different, aren’t they? So, through a bunch of “it stands to reasons,” they invented a complex system of spheres that just must have been out there in outer space governing these objects. It took centuries to challenge the thought of these spheres. People could not go against the mighty Aristotle, who came up with them. These spheres are an eloquent visual of what logic itself is. It helps connects all the dots in a way that makes sense—wrongly.
Ancient educational models were entirely designed around this type of “what if” thinking: the trivium. It had a Grammar-Discussion-Rhetoric model. Grammar is when you learn something, the “grammar” of a topic, the alleged nuts and bolts. Discussion: you work it out…through discussion. Rhetoric: get up and defend yourself.
And I propose this paradigm is abysmal for finding deeper or meaningful truths. There is a minimal evidence gathering in the “grammar” stage–learning…what? How? How other people did things? Aristotle’s view of spheres? Are you getting hands-on experience to see what works? Discussion…with whom? Peers? The “experts”? Did you make anything at all successfully work? And the rhetoric stage kills me. They get up and defend their position. They are right. They are now the expert. They have every reason to dig in and stay entrenched. It is combat, not curiosity.
This system encourages mind games, manipulativeness, being a good speaker and persuader, not any humble pursuit of the truth. The word “rhetoric” deserves every bit the negative connotation the word itself today has. This system creates “knowledge” that is now stamped with “logic,” “reason,” and “experts.” And this is the tyranny we’ve been living under for thousands of years.
An observational approach of understanding the world came during the Enlightenment. It was kicked off by Copernicus who wrote the book The Little Book on the Revolutions on the Celestial Orbs. The little book. His humble little thing. Because there’s no way he could state it out in the open–he would be persecuted by the Church. The urban legend is his book was published and placed in his hands on his death bed. He wasn’t learning the “grammar” (from Aristotle?) of celestial orbs, discussing with others what they thought, or making speeches explaining himself. He did his work, in private, using detailed notes to come to conclusions. Yes, that is reason.
As noted, I do child development work. My work shows it is utterly natural for humans to make logical inferences. At Toddler Milestone 8: Inference, around 2 years and 6 months, children start to do this, naturally. They hear the garage door is opening, and they conclude, from the sound alone, that their dad must be home. They see their brother’s door is still closed in the morning and conclude he must still be sleeping. This is how we humans live. We are constantly gathering data and information, and this information allows us to make conclusions. Life is “predictable enough” to let us make such “logical” conclusions and use them to successfully live. But it’s something already by design: you are designed to make connections in causal relationships.
And you can safely call this intuition. That’s what intuition is. It’s a tremendous amount of life experience that lets you make an on-the-spot guess as to what is going on or about to go on. It lets me, as a woman, cross the street when I feel scared. Carl Jung argues we have not just our own personal experience but all the experience of our ancestors, etched somewhere in our unconsciousness, as well. (And if you dismiss his theory outright, at face value—sorry, but you lose again.)
But this is what it is. Your “logic,” your guess as to seeing what is there even when you can’t see it or directly predict it, is actually your intuition.
The Burden of Proof Anyone Who Want to Know the Truth
This model of “logic” creates a system in which truth comes down to combat. It is very common for Objectivists to tell me that if I want to challenge tabula rasa, then the burden of proof is on me. No, it’s not. First of all, you made the assertion. You said humans are tabula rasa. You should have pressure on you, night and day, to prove this. You don’t get to make an assertion and then tell any challenger “the burden of proof is on you.” Cool power tactic, bro.
This is an issue core to human nature. If you have no curiosity about it, I’m not going to drag you kicking and screaming. I personally think understanding and respecting the inner world—not programming it—is a far superior way to live. If you aren’t interested, I am not going to go out of my way to sell it to you for you, especially as you berate me as irrational and a mystic all the while.
The “burden of proof” argument applies, at best, to a court of law (and even there this is not without its issues). It certainly does not apply to scientific inquiry. The burden of proof is on anyone who wants to know the truth: to help heal and solve issues for humanity. If you can’t pursue truth about human nature itself in a spirit of curiosity … what can I say? You want me to kick down your defensive stance… for you? I challenge the Objectivist view of tabula rasa entirely as a self-defense move. I think this view causes damage. It leads to abuse, of the inner core and inevitably in intrapersonal issues. People inevitably dish out abuse to others to fix their “wrong” emotions.
Where is Rand’s proof that we are born “tabula rasa”? Objectivists have given me some arguments. Here are some of them.
Weak Arguments from Objectivists Defending Tabula Rasa
The arguments I get from Objectivists pertaining to my challenge to their philosophy are pretty weak. This is if I can even get them to discuss it at all. I am usually dismissed immediately. A very typical situation is I make one post in which I challenge Objectivism, perhaps doing absolutely nothing but pointing people to my website, “Ex Objectivist” where I have the tagline, “We are not born tabula rasa.” Or, in a post, I might simply reference the name of this book, The Moral Bias of Objectivism. I get told, instantly, “You must have never read Rand.” Ok, not true. I press them, always: “Did you even read my argument?” The answer is always no. For being such great creatures of reason, they come up with the conclusion that I “must never have read Rand” with almost no proof whatsoever (except that I challenge Rand.) Set to a hair trigger, they are quick with the “Nuh uh!”s. They are instantly judgmental; instantly dismissive. Welcome to the problems of moral bias.
If Objectivists do check out my website, I often get told I am “rambling.” Or they tell me they won’t refute me because that would “sanction” my argument. So, we’re getting absolutely nowhere in them defending tabula rasa. Or they grossly misrepresent me. They say I say Rand said we are emotionless, which is not what I say or said. I have even been accused of making up fake conversations—that these previously described conversations must not have ever happened—because the Objectivist conversing with me cannot personally see them for himself right then and there.
If I do get them anywhere near the argument, they might tell me, “No Objectivist cares about tabula rasa anyway.” Oh. We’re not taking Objectivism seriously now? The Philosophy of Ayn Rand™?
Or I get told “Leonard Peikoff cleared all this up already.” In a podcast. Somewhere. The entire underpinning of Objectivism—the entire emotional repression problem built right into Objectivism. It’s been cleared up, somewhere. The person can never say how. But they are sure of it.
I did finally pin down one Objectivist to actually defend tabula rasa. He did at first accuse me of rambling and that I “had no studies” to prove myself. I told him Rand was a god damn fiction writer and had no studies. (And I do. I just can’t put them out all at once. Giving time to totally explain oneself is not a courtesy Objectivists give. And, yes, I swear now. It’s the only way to penetrate them.) After he was finally on the defensive about Objectivism itself, he said, “Well in the absence of hard evidence, an emotional blank slate is the default.” He defended this in terms of “Occam’s Razor.” Oh really. This is what counts for valid knowledge now? About human nature itself? Just a bunch of “logical” arguments? This is a puff of hot air. That’s it. We’re using Occam’s Razor to identify human nature itself. Behold, your philosophy of reason and objectivity.
Objectivists get this from Rand herself. I’ve been told Rand already disproved any “mystic” who says we use anything but “reason” to guide us in the world. Really? How did she do that? Because in my reading, she just states the argument of “tabula rasa” as plain, simple, obvious fact. O, some Objectivists have told me that this idea that internal drivers still play a role in life is an old idea that Rand has finally disproven, hence my argument is stale. Ok. This is how she dismantles it. In Galt’s speech, she says to “sweep aside” anyone brings up the “animalistic” side of humans (Atlas Shrugged, 928). Just … sweep them aside! Powerful.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Does Not Prove Objectivism
Many Objectivists sweep over my argument about emotions, as if it’s just barely worth discussing in any meaningful way whatsoever. I might discuss how the mind should not override a person’s emotions. In response, one told me that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy proves Rand’s view of the mind and emotions.
So. No, Cognitive Behavior Therapy does NOT prove Objectivism. There is lively debate about this therapy and all others. Not everyone thinks CBT is wonderful. Here is Dr. Aron describing it in The Highly Sensitive Person:
This approach is “cognitive” because it works on how you think, and it is “behavioral” because it works on how you behave. It tends to ignore feelings and unconscious motive. Everything is meant to be practical, rational, and clear. (ch. 8)
Dr. Aron’s description of it is hardly flattering. And her criticisms of it are very much like my criticisms of Objectivism: ignores (authentic) feelings, unconscious motive, and focuses way too much on trying to “fix” how a person thinks and behaves. If you want to know what good and bad there is to Objectivism, you could probably do a study of CBT and get a fairly accurate idea.
But that is not what matters most here. What I want to point out is that the default, in the Objectivist mind, is the Objectivist view. After this, they go to seek proof that that Rand was right. It’s not evidence first, conclusion second for them. It’s conclusion first, evidence second.
Which is what happens with all ideologies, er, I mean, “integrated views of existence.” They create moral bias. They cannot accurately assess their own ideology.
Objectivism Needs to be “Better than Communism”
When I challenge Objectivism, people often sniff, “And what about all the GOOD that Objectivism does? Why can’t you focus on that?” They typically point to Rand’s devastating arguments against socialism and religion.
Ok. One can readily agree that just about anything is better than slavery, communism, or religion. What is being compared makes a big difference. If you compare a tennis ball, which is yellow-green, to green, it will look yellow. If you compare it to yellow, it will look green. Comparing Objectivism to slavery or communism makes it come out looking like shining gold. But Objectivism is still flawed.
I find this kind of argument nefarious. It is like Dracula opening up the door to howling wolves when Jonathan tries to escape: it’s Dracula’s potentially murderous mansion or the dangerous night. Why are you using fear to sell me? It’s the same reason nearly everyone (in America) keeps voting Democrat or Republican: they are always voting for the lesser of two evils. They constantly vote based on fear—which is what politicians want. It’s way easier to say, “Hey that thing over there sucks. I’m not that thing. So you should vote for me.” Meanwhile, they otherwise don’t have to do anything. And Rand, as previously quoted, utterly encourages this kind of thinking when she says,
Objectivism (might be) better than communism or religion (I mean—it doesn’t even have weekly sermons to help its followers). But this is not the issue. The issue here is Objectivism itself. It needs to stand, on its own, as it sells itself, as a philosophy for living life. It needs to be better than something that is “a philosophy that is better than communism and slavery.” I am going to be looking at Objectivism, as is. I ask that you do the same.
Objectivism is a Psychology; Treat it as Such
I would actually also ask that you see Objectivism as a psychology, because that’s how it attempts to operate.
Rand has elaborate views on how the mind, subconscious, and happiness works—and pushes it to be a morality that thus penetrates your every single choice. By claiming it as a “philosophy,” it is given a stamp of authority and is kept safely away from any critical review when it comes to application to real, live humans. Stop comparing Objectivism to communism, religion, Kant, or Nietzsche. Start comparing it to Carl Jung, Dr. Tsabary, Dr. Ginott, Dr. Aron, etc.
Yes, there are more options out there than Objectivism or communism.
The Dangers of Moralizing
So, those are some of the bizarre ways that Objectivists dissect the world. They make claims, then tell others it’s on them to prove them wrong. They are caught in a vortex of fear—against nihilism, religion, or socialism. They handily dismiss extremely important issues. There are more bizarre ways that they dissect the world. One told me that I had “had to” give two countering ideologies valid weight at all time, otherwise I was “not objective.” I cannot comprehensively cover all the weird ways they use to understand the world or their many errors, which cloud objectivity. But: this isn’t reason. And, to add insult, in Objectivism, all actions are hued with morality. I mean. What could go wrong?
Rand ties “rationality” to “morality” and in doing this, she thus moralizes literally all human actions. There is a danger in doing this. People tell me it’s ok to not value “reason” but to instead to value “emotions” as I allegedly do. (I do not reject “reason” and resent being told I “just value mysticism.”) But, at any rate, that’s the thing. You can’t make that argument. If you’ve identified “rational” men as moral—by which Rand means men who “use reason” for “all choices”—you’ve labeled other men and women—who see value in trusting one’s authentic emotions—as “irrational” and “immoral.” There is no agreeing to disagree with Rand—or anyone who has put their otherwise subjective values explicitly into a moral system. She has drawn the line. She has said this way of being and this sort of person is morally superior. Anyone else is immoral, irrational, lesser. And this is the ground on which abuse is formed: supposedly more rational people have the right to judge and denigrate other immoral, irrational, possibly destructive others. Moral zeal has an inherent danger in it.
Just as bad or worse, it shuts down intellectual curiosity into any other way to be or any insight into human nature. Other ways of being or systems of thought, such as “Progressive” education or certain types of music, are considered irrational in Objectivism, and, worse, immoral. People are not going to do something they see as irrational or immoral. And these things—new ideas on education, even new music (which has a role in trauma therapy)—are the very things can get a person out of Objectivist thinking. The disease prevents the cure.
See Outside the Objectivist Binoculars
Rand gives you a pair of really powerful binoculars and focuses you on particular aspects of reality. I’m asking you to check the very tool she gave you. It seems so crystal clear to you, but all you are seeing is out of one lens.
Here is my challenge to you: when you read Rand try to see the unseen.
Rand is really good at taking your mind and throwing it where she wants. She has a very hypnotic way of writing. Take when 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)
Humans are pattern finders. As they are reading her list, “what [that start of the pattern is given emphasis and draws you to it] will give him joy or pain, what he will love or hate, desire or fear…” their mind is taken and thrown in one direction. You get inside that pattern and don’t see the bigger picture. I’m asking you to take two steps back and see the bigger picture, not getting too caught in her vortex. (BTW, it is known that psychopaths use hypnotic language to seduce their victims.)
Rand is also often presenting issues with only two options and demands you pick one or the other, as if your life depends on it. Take again when she asks, “Is ethics the province of whims: of personal emotions, social edicts and mystic revelations—or is it the province of reason?” And she goes on to tie this question to be a matter of life or death. Take also when Rand says she is here to develop a “scientific” morality. I mean who doesn’t want to be scientific?
One way or another, I am asking you to be on guard for Rand’s rhetoric.
A Case for Liberalism: For Wonder and Curiosity
Morality itself, a labeling of good and evil, is potent. When you describe someone as evil, you’ve put a hell of a label on them. Evil people are to be shunned, rejected, discarded, fought. If there is evil in you, it creates shame. Morality is potent. It is so incredibly potent. We are all but playing with fire here. Rand herself says morality is the most powerful intellectual force on earth. It should be handled with an incredible amount of care. Morality is too potent to use except in the most careful of cases.
I will be arguing that as few actions as possible should be labeled as moral or immoral—and that this is a distinctly liberal position. Morality itself causes the potential to pass around blame, shame, and pain. And it creates for what I accuse Rand: moral bias. It clouds our lens as we study reality, most notably human nature itself.
The Charge: Moral Bias
I, again, accuse Ayn Rand’s Objectivism of moral bias. She performs no serious study of human nature itself. She then unforgivably goes on to codify this weak understanding into an entire moral-political system—a powerful thing to have for oneself, indeed.
Amber lived as an Objectivist for 10 years. She has since found much better models for living. She is most known for her age-related child development work as “The Observant Mom.” See her book The Moral Bias of Objectivism.