Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Objectivist Paternalism

There’s a set of very funny/sad disputes currently going on in the Objectivist world (if you’re unaware of them, pat yourself on the back for having a life). The disputes are almost impossible to follow because so many of the participants substitute volume for depth (e.g. “I clearly don’t know what a BOD is, so I better write an extra long analysis of the functioning of one. And because that doesn’t seem too convincing, I’ll follow it up by explaining to businessmen that it’s like a parent/child relationship!”).

Nonetheless, from a sampling of the arguments, I personally think that there are many problems with the framing and analysis of the issues. As a particularly flagrant and obvious example of the types of contradictions that are advanced, consider this: Objectivists spend much time and energy writing passionate editorials and book reviews denouncing those who would make our decisions for us (e.g. Cass Sunstein’s Nudge and the movement it’s spawned). Yet somehow they ignore those very same arguments when the one usurping other’s decisions is doing so out of Objectivist “magnanimity” or martyrdom. It’s beyond me how anyone could think that, just because it comes from an Objectivist, it’s not outrageously insulting to say to someone: “I see you’re faced with a difficult decision — so I’ll unilaterally make it for you.”

Update: Someone asked me (privately) if I was being “fair” in the above post. Sadly — in the name of not becoming consumed by this — I wasn’t. To be fair would require a much longer and harsher moral condemnation of the first item I mentioned, and it would mean not treating the second with as much plausibility as I did. I think the first point is obvious, and by looking at the second item, I think one might see that while it’s deeply insulting, it’s also pretty ridiculous.

As an illustration, consider how one might characterize the types of decisions any adult (let alone a very capable, 50+ year old CEO!) might face:

“I’ve been informed by my doctors that my terminally ill wife is expected to remain in a vegetative state. Should I pull the plug on her?” — Difficult decision

“I’ve been offered a very interesting and potentially lucrative job. But it’s with a risky startup in New Guinea. Should I completely uproot myself and my family to pursue something which in the end may fail?” — Difficult decision

“A business acquaintance posted an odd letter to the internet. How should I respond?” — NOT a difficult decision.

For the letter’s author to elevate it to the status of difficult, seems (IMHO) mildly megalomaniacal -- not the type of thing one should treat too seriously.


Blogger Richard said...

Many, who call themselves Objectivists, have not properly adopted Objectivist Epistemological principles - they advocate those principles but do not practice them.

In their view, since they recognized the principles as valid, they assume they use the principles.

They are wrong. Even as I struggle to adopt and practice those principles, I observe that graduates of OGC, see far more deeply than I.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I must have a life because I haven't heard anything about Magnanimity or Martyrdom. But now my curiousity is piqued. What venue is this operating in? Or are you warning us that it's not worth the price of admission?

C. Andrew

9:33 AM  
Blogger Kendall J said...

Well put. Enough said.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Amit Ghate said...

C. Andrew, you could put it that way. But for anyone who might take that as authoritarianism, let me just say that it's not that kind of warning (indeed, even were I competent to deliver them -- which I'm not -- I'm not much for intellectual "warnings" or "litmus tests"). My point is simply that if none of your personal values has given rise to your entering the morass, I certainly don't want to be the cause of your doing so.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But just what is Peikoff smoking judgin by his recent public stament?

12:49 PM  

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