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.

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)

In this speech—the end of Galt’s speech—Rand is very emotionally evocative. She invokes hardship, “all life is purposeful struggle,” then summons you to her battle. 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…”

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: its ideals are overpromised.

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 unprogrammed, Rand warns, can be irrational, 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 anarchy and mayhem. (This is a little like Eve biting the apple or opening Pandora’s box, by the way.)

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, of which, Rand argues, are seamlessly congruent.

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.

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. There is also no sense that emotional damage done to oneself or others, due to the Objectivist ethics, might be problematic.

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 in the book 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 looting masses are.

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: Objectivism denies the authentic identity, talent, and needs of half the human race.

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

This is the Objectivist ethics itself. All of the Objectivist ethics is one tight regulation over all of a person’s choices in life. All of your choices, every day, matter, so you had best put thought into all of them.

And Rand lets 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.

They cannot see their own behavior

Objectivists might say that all of these problems are “human problems.” That other people are not plagued by some of the problems unique to Objectivism doesn’t occur to them. Compared to the ever looming threat of big government and irrationality, the inter-personal problems among Objectivist members are seen as entirely minimal, or, at least, unsolvable.

It creates other systems of moral bias

When Objectivism fails people in an Objectivist community, they typically outline more rules that detail exact ways to behave. They might write a book on “manners” or the like. People just constantly become more and more subdued, as more and more rules are created.

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.

Some people cash in on it

Oh, yes. There are “Objectivist” schools (which are scant), with their superior, mysterious, esoteric, better ways of educating children, as well as Objectivist art dealers, the occasional Objectivist politician asking for donations, etc.

People rip each other to shreds over the fallout.

Being in Objectivist circles is no fun place. They wantonly tell each other, supposed friends of each other, “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.

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  1. A particularity about Objectivism is that it encourages the notion that it is the solution to *everything*–not just in the field of philosophy, but in all fields and all aspects of life. On the one hand, if you are an expert in Objectivism, then you are halfway to being an authority on the fundamentals of: history, psychology, economics, pedagogy, criminology, literature, mathematics, music theory, law, infectious disease, diet, and more. (Objectivists would deny that they believe this, but they act this way–and the more serious they are, the more they act this way.) On the other hand, all of these fields are ripe to be revolutionized with Ayn Rand’s ideas at their new core. It is absurd how often some Objectivist or another has the same delusion of grandeur: that he or she has, with one book, revolutionized a field of human knowledge (all of the above) or area of human life (dating, parenting).

    Partly this must be because Objectivists are taught that philosophy is the most “fundamental” science, and therefore the most powerful and broadly applicable knowledge. Partly it must stem from the importance put on personally being a heroic creator. And now I am thinking it is also related to the fact that Objectivism is above all else a moral crusade (system of moral bias): the world is in a great war of morality, and so the most important thing, the only thing that really matters, is Objectivism as a morality super-weapon.

    1. Yes, they definitely do this. Adam Smith has a quote that universities of his time spent far too much time on what he called “metaphysics” and not enough on “physics.” The former, basically being philosophy, he says has but a few fundamental truths. The latter, physics, the study of everything else, is something he says one could spend countless hours on, making useful observations. Rand does a similar thing. We are so focused on philosophy and she overstates its power. It itself gets applied into every other area of life. She, after all, has identified the correct definition of human nature, which should be upheld everywhere else. Everything is about protecting and promoting the idea of “man the rational producer.” In history alone she way overreaches. The light, happy art before WWI she says was destroyed by people with evil philosophical premises. I mean. I don’t know. A world war might have also done that. Everything comes down to the philosophy/values you hold, which then drive all your actions. Objectivism is basically the ultimate in blaming all bad things on bad character. Rand didn’t just provide a philosophy. She provided a psychology. And a rather lousy one at that.

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