Check Your Premises
In the following sections, I am going to be dissecting and challenging Objectivism. Before I really get into it, however, I find I need to ask the reader to check some of their basic assumptions. If bias abounds, I find I get nowhere.
Rand famously admonishes her readers to “check your premises.” You might have seen a meme on social media with a picture of her glaring and with this very quote attached to it. Inspiring, right? Not at all menacing. The healing power of reason itself.
I always felt annoyed by this idea. It seemed wise—and yet I saw no wisdom in it that I could personally apply. And I think I now know why this was so patronizing to me: Rand puts you on the defensive. You are to check your premises. You are to update your thinking. Not her. It’s a gaslighting technique. No, Objectivists, I am asking you to check your premises.
Here are some basic premises about how to understand the world itself that I ask that you check.
Your “logic” is just your intuition
If you got upset over this sub-chapter title 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 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. And if we get it remotely right, it helps us. But it’s still a bit hit or miss. The problem comes when we see it as authoritative—which is what we routinely do.
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, and 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 has today. 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 what is about to go on. It lets me, as a woman, cross the street when I feel scared by a man walking by. 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 is on 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, as if it’s obvious fact, and then tell any challenger “the burden of proof is on you.” Cool power tactic, bro.
This is an issue core to human nature itself. The importance of getting it right is enormous and far reaching. 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. (That it has is why current science is such a cesspool.) 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. Set to a hair trigger, they are quick with the “Nuh uh!”s. They are instantly judgmental and dismissive. Yet more problems with 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. They just utterly gaslight me and others: they pretend we don’t even exist.
Or they grossly misrepresent me. They might say I said that Rand said we are emotionless, which is not what I 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. One way or another, we’re getting absolutely nowhere in them defending tabula rasa.
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. 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 fictionwriter 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? Just a bunch of, indeed, “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 dismissive attitude 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 that tabula rasa as plain, simple fact. Or, 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 challenge about the Objectivist view of 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 (and there is some good), you could probably do a study of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 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. When it comes to matters of the inner world, for them, it’s not evidence first, conclusion second. It’s conclusion first, evidence second.
And this is what happens with all ideologies, er, I mean, “integrated views of existence.” They create moral bias. They create a system that, despite their utter insistence they are for the truth, is extremely detached from reality. They cannot accurately assess their own ideology.
Objectivism needs to be something better than “better than communism”
When I challenge Objectivism, Objectivists 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 itself is still flawed.
I find this kind of argument nefarious. It is like Jonathan trying to escape from Dracula’s mansion so Dracula opens the door to howling wolves, telling him he holds no one as a prisoner: 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 utterly encourages this kind of thinking when she says (Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World, 75),
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 something better than something that is “a philosophy that is better than communism.” 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
If there is one thing that I could do to get Objectivists to understand my argument, it is this: 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. The entire reason for the Objectivist ethics is that Rand argues that man “has no” reliable emotions and thus needs her all-encompassing, rational morality. She pushes it to be a morality that thus penetrates your every single choice. It acts as a psychology.
By claiming it as a “philosophy,” Objectivism is given almost a stamp of authority. It is kept away from any critical review when it comes to application to real, live humans. Stop comparing Objectivism to communism, religion, Kant, or Nietzsche. (All systems with moral bias, by the way.) Start comparing it to Carl Jung, Dr. Christopher Ryan, Dr. Shefali Tsabary, Dr. Haim Ginott, Dr. Elaine N. 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 that it’s on us to prove them wrong. They are caught in a vortex of fear—against nihilism, religion, or socialism. With nary a thought, they dismiss extremely important issues relating to human life, such as how emotions actually operate. There are many more bizarre ways that they dissect the world. For instance, one told me that I had “had to” give two countering ideologies valid weight at all times, otherwise I was “not objective.” (In fairness, this is not really Objectivist thinking, but I encounter all sorts of bizarre things when I interact with them.) 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.
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” and to instead to value “emotions” as I allegedly do. (I do not reject “reason” and I 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—the ones 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, again, prevents the cure.
Beware Rand’s hypnotic way of writing
Finally, I want you to be wary of Rand’s style of writing. She is very hypnotic. Indeed, this is another problem with moral zeal—it excites something deep in humans. It has the power to cloud objectivity and to manipulate.
Rand is really good at taking your mind and throwing it where she wants. She relies on repetition, superlatives, and do-or-die scenarios to make her points. 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 he will consider good or evil, what will give him joy or pain, what he will love or hate, desire or fear…” their mind is taken and thrown in one direction. Rand especially draws you in by emphasizing the very first “what.” She lists three “whats” in a row, grinding your mind to focus on her point, then provides relief in the rest of the list by no longer saying “what.” The effect on the reader is that they get mentally taxed by the pattern. They are in the weeds and do not 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. (By the way, it is known that psychopaths use hypnotic language to seduce their victims.)
Rand is also very superlative in how she writes. She puts asides everywhere with very emotionally evocative language. For instance, she writes, “Man,” but before continuing her point, she puts the emotionally evocative aside, “the highest living species on earth…” (21). Or when she is describing other “bad” thoughts, she demotes them, quickly describing people as looters, hedonists, moochers, etc. With how superlative she is in how she writes, she commands a sort of reverent salute in people. I’ll be blunt: it’s very Baptist preacher-esque.
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. That Dagny Taggart kills a man who won’t make a decision is probably the best example of this. Or take when she demands that we answer the question, “why does man need a code of values?” And she goes on to tie this question to be a matter of life or death. I notice this about abusive personalities: they are always demanding you focus on what they want you to focus on. They are always asking the questions that you are to answer. You can’t just be in Objectivism: inaction is still a choice. So, dance, citizen, dance. Answer me! Rand makes war on peace.
One way or another, I am asking you to put all of this aside and take a cold, hard look at Objectivism itself.
See the unseen
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.
Here is my formal challenge: when you read Rand try to see the unseen. Don’t just look at what she brings up. Look at what is not being said. In this book, I will be giving alternative theories and evidence in order to round out what is not being said. I am doing this on purpose, to try to break up the moral bias Rand gives her followers. It is often in these other ideas that truth and beauty exists. It is also in these other ideas that Rand has an interest in instantly denigrating.
But I need you to not inherently see these other ideas as “immoral” at face value. That’s the thing about moral bias. It renders people blind to new ideas. The new, better ideas are given an automatic ugliness from the start, clouding their beauty and truth.
A Case for Liberalism
Morality itself, a labeling of good and evil, is potent. When you describe a person as evil, you’ve put a hell of a label on them. Evil people are naturally 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. I am looking to liberalize thoughts on the inner world and emotions. Like any kind of liberalization (such as in markets), it will result in more abundance of what is truly good in life. In this case, when liberalizing the inner world: joy, peace, presence, sexuality.
And, no, despite the false sell, Rand’s system is not liberal, not even in the good sense of liberal (which is in fact the only form of liberalism)—her adherents routinely mock this word itself. Moral systems are, for the most part, the exact opposite of liberalism. They cause 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.