The Curse of Objectivism

I have grown up on a diet of hard-core objectivity, rationality and logic. I believe (believed?) that these suffice and necessarily explain all phenomena in the world.  Most of the current political and economic systems also advocate the same -libertarianism and free-market economics, most prominent of those. When I read Ayn Rand the first time, I was blown over by her celebration of the human mind, objectivism and the glory she places on rationality. It read and sounded right in my head. But, on some level, I distinctly felt uncomfortable with her thoughts. They appeared to be devolving the importance of each individual as a human being with thoughts, emotions and beliefs of his own. I dismissed them at that time because the views on objectivism sat very well with my learning so far.

Over the past few months, I have had debates with my cousin on science being the basis of explanation for everything, with my best friend on free-markets and with my parents on the existence of God. I have had debates with myself on all of these. Yes, I am confused because rationally my mind supports the objective view but on an emotional level, I can sense I am wrong. To hold an objective view is to not only hold a simplistic view, but to view the world with a narrow view. Let me quote an example – Driving on Bangalore roads can offer you sights of other people blatantly jumping signals, jumping lanes and cutting across other vehicles. When I view this rationally, I view the offender as doing something wrong. In turn, I get annoyed because I feel I am getting a raw deal because of the offender, the cops, the traffic system and the whole world, in short. This either leads me to getting angry or repressing my anger, both of which are bad in the long term. The reason I am unhappy is because I am viewing the world as an outsider. I view the entire system as an impartial observer, say like an examiner in an exam hall. Now, rationally this appears right because I am right in saying that rules are being broken and it is all unfair. But, the error lies in assuming myself in the role of an impartial observer. I am not. I am a participant in this system, in this biosphere and I have a stake.

Instead, if I rather accept that world is an imperfect place and I have to do whatever I find myself happy, I will begin to view the traffic situation, the city, the people and the whole world as a happy place. It might seem too cliched and a godman-like statement, but I believe it is very true. Also, though this seems a very trivial conclusion, it is not internalized easily. I remember one of the things my friend said when I was fined by the cops. She told me – “The one good thing about this is that now you are a part of the system. This means, you can stop complaining about how screwed-up the system is and instead, have to make it change.” I laughed it off then but I understand what she meant now. I am still trying to come to terms with it and one of the reasons of writing all this down is to really voice what I think about objectivism.

I call it the curse of objectivism because objectivism is not to be dismissed altogether. In almost all of your workplaces, you will need to be objective to succeed at your jobs. But, dissatisfaction ensues when you try and extend the view to everything else in your life. That in itself now sounds wrong to me. When it is your life, you cannot be objective. You yourself are the life, so how can you be an impartial objective viewer? The challenge with life, at least for me now, is to accept it with all its imperfections, warts and spots. I cannot do this if I am rational about it because I will have myself passing judgments and drawing conclusions about my life. Doing that would be morbid.

Call it coincidence, but one of my recent favourie web-authors, Steve Pavlina wrote about this yesterday, just when all these thoughts were running in my head. He has written a beautiful essay on the view to assume when you deal with relationships.  For me personally, being rationally-minded has translated to holding rigid, stubborn views on the world and having a mind that is unwelcome to influences. It has meant that I have stopped growing and evolving. It is not a happy state to be in and hence, I have to change. This radical change in my world-view is a huge leap of faith to take, but it is about time I begin now.

PS: Do you know any truly happy Libertanian?

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The Curse of Objectivism

10 thoughts on “The Curse of Objectivism

  1. Oh Yes,i do know someone!!

    And hopefully happy.

    Very good piece of writting…since iam on the other side of ‘opinion’ in question i can appreciate it only too well.However it is pretty funny since i have been trying to see the benefits of being objective/rational these days :)

  2. Hmm ok Sin.. I guess I know who you mean.

    Well each to his own! :) At least with conflicts related to one own, I feel subjective is the way to go. Objectively, I will never be satisfied; it has to be decided hmm.. irrationally!

  3. A few questions and comments …

    First, the questions –

    1) What is the definition of objectivism in your opinion?
    2) What is the difference between objectivism, rationality, libertarianism? Is there any difference in the first place? How are they connected to one another and one’s happiness? Should one refuse to accept a “code of conduct” just because it makes one unhappy?
    3) What is right – the mind (as in the intellectual self) or the heart (as in the emotional self)? Why should we know what is right?

    The comments –

    1) You seem to — at least personally — associate objectivism and rationality with a closed mind. In my opinion, being rational and objective offer greater incentive for open mindedness. Confronted with phenomena like ESP, a rational mind acknowledges the inability of science to come up with a convincing answer. But that inability does not mean there is no answer; just that science hasn’t found it yet. So, one likes to keep onself open to interpretations. To blame objectivism and rationality for your being rigid is, in my opinion, a little unfair.
    2) Ayn Rand’s brand of objectivism has a lot of shortcomings. http://www.nathanielbranden.com/catalog/articles.php?tPath=2# – this essay, for example, has a lot of valid points to make, and I agree with all of them, especially the encouragement of repression. It might answer some of the implied questions in your post. The thing with Ayn Rand is not to be fanatic about her philosophy and at the same time not side with her haters as well. “The impartial observer” is what one needs to be. On a personal front, Ayn Rand fails because she doesn’t give enough reasons to live. She answers the “What”s well but fails miserably on the “Why”s and the “How”s. She puts forth people like Howard Roark and John Galt as ideals (the “What”) and unloads upon her followers the responsibility of becoming like them without equipping them with tools to get there (the “how” is simply not there). And when they fail in their attempts, people feel guilty and unhappy.
    3) Objectivism makes one judgmental, yes, but since when was being judgmental a bad thing? Popular opinion is that one should be more perceptive and less judgmental, as if both are mutually exclusive, but they are not. It is possible to be both, for if one can’t perceive properly how can one judge? And more importantly, just because something/someone is “wrong” doesn’t mean it/he/she is “bad”. Wrong != Bad and Right != Good (forgive me, I’ve been coding all morning). That’s an important distinction to make. Of course, the driver of the car in front of you running through a red light is doing something “wrong”. but is that a “bad” thing? (How does one balance between intent and outcome?) That connection is simply not there by itself, like you suggest here – “When I view this rationally, I view the offender as doing something wrong. In turn, I get annoyed” … how does your judgment of a “wrong” thing lead to your being “annoyed”? That is something for you to explore. Objectivism does not say that people should be condemned for their “wrong”s, although Ayn Rand does that in her books. People committing wrongs are instantly labelled as bad, but in the real world it’s rarely like that. People evolve, for the better or worse. Personally, the trick for me is to pass judgment but withhold the sentence, and constantly reassess that judgment with an open mind. Is it necessary to get “annoyed” at bad things? Can one be detached enough to judge without concluding? These are questions I ponder all the while.
    4) Finally, happiness is as abnormal an emotional state as anger. Anger, unlike what you say, is good in some cases (I’m not saying it’s totally good; you need to rein it in most of the times). Like I read somewhere, it shows you’re still passionate about whatever it is that makes you angry – be it the world or people. Anger is sometimes an indication of one’s ideals being violated. Whether one wants to hold on to those ideals or compromise is an entirely personal choice. One cannot pass value judgment on a person, saying he’s good because he’s idealistic and he’s bad because he compromised on his ideals.
    5) I do agree, in principle, with the writer of that article you’ve linked to in that a lot of what makes us angry with others is actually what we are angry with ourselves about, which means it is we who have to change more than the others. But that anger is totally different from the anger that one feels when ideals are violated.

    Apologies for spamming the comments.

    -RS

  4. @Musafir:

    Thanks for dropping by! :)

    First, here are the answers:

    1. I define objectivism to mean a view that defines the world around you on an ‘as is and as was’ basis than on a ‘what one feels’ basis. So, for example, a ball is a sphere to both you, me and anyone else who has seen one. That is an objective view. But, if I ask you what a relationship is, you have your own definitions, I have my own and each one in the whole world has his own. I cannot claim to say I have an objective view here.

    2. All three are linked in someway and I am not going to go into the definitions of each. They might or might not be important to one’s happines depending on whether you follow the tenets of that view. To your last question, of course YES! I am uncomfortable (these days) with a code of conduct. As long as I am doing nothing illegal, I do not want any code of conduct, least of all coding over my happiness!

    3. Frankly, I do not know about the mind and heart! Don’t we employ both in decision-making? So where’s the exclusivity bit coming from? Right and wrong are what your values guide you by.

    For the comments:

    1. Yes, it has made me rigid and closed. You contradict yourself when you say science will find the answers. What if science does not and God does? Will you be able to interpret that if you do not believe in God first place? That is what I mean by my mind being closed. I have already assumed science is the only solution. It may be, but I will not refuse blatantly if I find the solution elsewhere.

    2. Good point. Yeah, I guess that is one of the reasons I felt dissatisfied reading her.

    3. I do not want to judge because on some level I am judging myself. That is the whole point of my post – Am I truly an impartial, third-party, out-of-the-system observer to a traffic violation? If I was, I should not be affected by the outcome. If I am not, how can I judge? And once I accept I am a part of the system, I can change my view of the world just by changing myself. I use just here lightly. Changing oneself is tough.

    Please explain the difference between ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’. I get annoyed because I believe the system I am operating in is a rule-based system. So, in this system, the traffic violator should be punished. I do not see this happening. Hence, I am annoyed. Where is the missing connection?

    I certainly don’t think detaching yourself actually works in situations you are involved in. At least for me, it doesn’t. I cannot, for example, get myself out of a boss-employee relationship issue and view it objectively. I am a part of it and my solutions will be involved and subjective.

    4. Anger on a daily basis leads to elongated frustration and it makes me feel very bad indeed. Finding passion in this anger is, I think, being too idealistic.

    5. You say anger when ideals are violated. Violated by whom? If someone else, why should it bother you? Those are your ideals, applicable for your practice, aren’t they?

    Thanks again for making me think about my thoughts. Looking forward to your responses.

    PS: I will let you know if I read that essay.

  5. sameer says:

    hi shreyas,
    first time i came to your blog via rajat’s blog….cant understand all this…
    my logic of obeying the traffic rules is that if everyone does that traffic would be relatively smoother and safer

  6. Hi Sameer!

    Yeah that’s exactly what causes annoyances for me – I am assuming that everyone will follow traffic rules. It may or may not happen but for me to retain my calm, I need to view it realistically, not hold an impractical, idealistic view.

  7. Objectivists are bores.

    Shrilly whiney democrat girls are still hot in bed if you are single.

    Libertarians can be OK too. You just have to avoid the hairy ones (same as liberals) and the mental illnesses that seem to go with being a libertarian girl.

    Of course you want to marry a good Republican wife to bring up your children well.

    I’m a secret libertarian and objectivist, but out here in the real world… I vote Republican (until Bush… now considering an occasional Democrat vote) and don’t talk objectivist stuff at parties because it reveals what a bore I really am.

    Yes… libertarianism and objectivism are correct. So what? Live a little and don’t bore other people with the obj crap or shove drug legalization arguments down the throat of your wife… since you want her to teach your children to stay away from drugs.

    Don’t worry… be happy.

    -John Galt (not)

  8. @John Galt: Well said. Objectivism has made me a bore and too much of an analyzer.

    @dodo: No….. just the fact I am growing older (and I realize all this while I have been acting old, letting life pass)

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