Timothy Chase
Timothy Chase

Timothy Chase Responds

I wish to thank Lindsay Perigo for keeping The Free Radical open for the discussion of differing viewpoints within the Objectivist community: far too often, differences within the movement are viewed as reasons for regarding those who have different viewpoints as enemies in one way or another. Likewise, I continue to admire Lindsay's genuine passion and principles, as I admire the high scholarship and principles of Chris Sciabarra. I seriously doubt that anyone within the present discussion seeks to water Objectivism down in order to make it acceptable to others at the price of its essence.

Part I: The Nature of the Conflict

I agree with Lindsay that there is no reason/emotion dichotomy within Objectivism. Emotions flow from the premises which we hold, whether these premises are tacit or articulated. Given the nature of Objectivism, it is quite proper for an individual who holds to this philosophy to be passionate about ideas, their principles, and their values. But of course, as I am sure that Lindsay would agree, such passion is not a primary. Of greater importance than passionate belief is that such belief be objective — this is what separates rational belief from religious faith. This — in my view — brings us closer to identifying what is at the root of present and past debates, and at the same time, closer to the essence of the philosophy itself.

By the primacy of existence, identification precedes evaluation, and thus the normativity of the standard of objectivity is fundamental, and that of the standard of value, derivative. By the primacy of existence, cognition precedes emotion, and passion without understanding is worse than useless. And by the primacy of existence, the capstone of objective cognition is intellectual independence, which consists of neither obedience to authority nor rebellion against authority, but of placing no value or allegiance above one's principled, volitional adherence to reality. Objectivity matters more than even one's allegiance to the views of Ayn Rand, to the philosophy of Objectivism itself, and more than even one's own self-concept. Unfortunately there are a great many within the Objectivist movement who have forgotten or never learned this.

Instead, they treat Objectivism as religious dogma, eschewing the method demanded by Objectivism in favor of its content — as they understand it, when of course, both content and method are required, since they form an organic whole. Upon breaking free of once blindly accepted authority, there are some who spend the rest of their lives rebelling against it. Of course, I am not speaking of the leadership at IOS/TOC, whose views sometimes strike me as a bit conservative, but some of their "followers," who seek to bring bits and pieces of all the beliefs and "values" they weren't "allowed" to have before, and simultaneously, to gradually dismantle the philosophy which had been the weapon of their largely self-inflicted psychological oppression. Those who place loyalty to authority above objectivity demonize those who place rebellion against authority above objectivity, and those who place rebellion against authority above their own objectivity follow suit. Each side defines themselves not in terms of what they are for, but in who they are against. Then the dominant passion on both sides is not the love of existence or life, but hatred of those one is against.

Part II: Alienation and Volition

There exists a great deal of alienation within the Objectivist movement, that is, a feeling that the world is against us, and that, as individuals, we lack the ability to change this world, but must remain where it is safe, with those who believe the same things we do. Fortunately, I have not seen this in Lindsay or Chris, but I believe such alienation is rampant throughout much of the movement. In place of the efficacy of the individual, many Objectivists tacitly believe in a kind of millenarian efficacy of the movement, the success of which continually recedes into the distant future. How can a movement of inefficacious individuals ever succeed in anything? The unstated premise is, "Somehow." Perhaps once the civilization which it took fifty thousand years for us to build lays in ashes — and no longer stands as an obstacle to our belief in our own greatness. Perhaps once the rest of humanity — whom we separate ourselves from — is no longer in the way.

In our theory of volition, we recognize a fundamental alternative: the choice to be in focus or not. We have, however, been told that this choice is a little more complicated than that: one can be in focus, intellectually passive, or evading. Moreover, even when one chooses to be in focus, being in focus occurs in degrees, for being in focus is not a passive state, but a state of activity, an active, self-regulating process of cognition. Given this context, there is a ready-made answer as to why others do not believe the same as we do: either they are passive or evading. And if they are actually arguing with us, refusing to accept the conclusions which we draw from our arguments, then it is "clearly" the latter. Such a view of the nature of disagreement serves the cause of those whom Lindsay refers to as the religious Objectivists quite well, cementing their authority, limiting their followers to only one frame of reference, and thus achieving (as much as practically possible) total psychological control over the individual — in the name of a philosophy devoted to individualism.

But — judging from what I have seen within the Objectivist community itself — there are other possibilities. Evasion — in the sense of deliberate evasion — is actually a fairly uncommon phenomenon. It exists, and in some corners of the movement, seems rampant. But, as I have said, there are other possibilities, especially within a social context. When people disagree with one-another, lacking each other's context, they will often feel misperceived, angry, and, rather than attempt to grasp one-another's context, that is — to really understand it, the range of their focus will shrink so that all they can see are their immediate differences. When people are unsure of their beliefs, and come into contact with those who believe differently, they will experience not simply doubt, but self-doubt, then anxiety, then either fear or anger — the primitive desire to either flee or attack, and the range of their focus will shrink even more. This problem is particularly bad for those who feel that they must be certain of everything, for lacking such god-like certainty, and knowing at some level that they lack it, they will nevertheless feel the exaggerated need to act as if they are certain — which, when pursued long enough, turns into a form of evasion. This, too, is a grave problem among the more dogmatic or "religious" Objectivists.

Part III: Repression vs. Passion

Among the dogmatic Objectivists, a common problem is that of emotional repression — for fear that their emotions might conflict with the philosophy they accept. An alternative problem is that of a "passionate certainty" without understanding, for it flows from dogmatic belief with which they cover-up the nagging questions, the doubts, and self-doubt in order to avoid an unbearable state of anxiety. Those with the former problem are likely to become followers. Those with the latter problem are likely to become the leaders. In my belief, it is the latter which is worse, for in time, the one passion which comes to dominate their personalities is potentially the most destructive passion which exists: hatred, hatred of anything alien to what they believe. Hatred of the other.

I am not at all surprised that our movement has had such limited academic success: in the academia, one must be willing to question, willing to entertain doubt, and willing to explore. Only by admitting that there are limits to one's knowledge, things which one is unsure of, and other things which one does not know is one able to seek out that which one does not know, engage in intellectual exploration, look at things from new perspectives, from within different contexts, and even from within different frameworks. Of course, there is a passion behind this as well: curiosity, and when one is rewarded for this activity, a sense of wonder. But for someone wrought with anxiety, someone full of unconfessed doubts, hiding within a dogmatic prison of beliefs, such productive exploration is not possible. Without such exploration, it is impossible to erect a technical, integrated philosophic system, and the only kind of criticism which is possible is of the dogmatic kind: "It is wrong because it is not what I believe," — or, what is worse, "You are wrong because you are not like me." Of even the latter, I have seen far too much - for instance, among heterosexuals within the movement who will grasp at any straw of an argument for the conclusion that there is something immoral in homosexuality.

Part IV: Schisms and the Evolution of the Movement

In Lindsay Perigo, I have found a brilliant, genuinely passionate and productive champion of liberty: if anyone doubts this, all they need to do is look at "In the Revolution's Twilight." Likewise, in Chris Sciabarra, I have found a passionate teacher, one who encourages his students to look at problems from as many different perspectives as possible, encourages them to view things even from within different conceptual frameworks, and to the extent that it is possible, teaches them how to be curious and intellectually independent. I believe that if our movement is to have a future, we need men like Lindsay Perigo. But I believe that we also need men like Chris Sciabarra: if Objectivism is to have any sort of a future in the academia, we are in desperate need of his kind. He is not only one of our most prolific authors, but quite possibly our best teacher — a teacher of teachers, and, like Lindsay, has a highly integrated understanding of the philosophy of Objectivism.

Moreover, we need to learn how to avoid schisms within the movement, even as it becomes more decentralized — for schisms result in the resurgence of false dichotomies and the consequent disintegration of our understanding of Objectivism on a social level. If such schisms are avoided, in time, I believe our understanding of the philosophy will not simply be repaired, but will deepen as logic begins to guide a systemic process made possible by the growing division of cognitive labor within the Objectivist community. Genuine passion achieved by genuine understanding will become more common, and both as individuals and as a movement, we will embrace the world as that which lies within our power to change — with a clear vision of our values. This is what the philosophy of Objectivism offers us, for it combines — in its unified vision of man as he exists in relation to reality — the recognition of the absolutism of reality with the recognition of the contextual nature of knowledge, and it thereby offers us the means to avoid the twin pitfalls of dogmatism and relativism, so that we may achieve objective certainty and what naturally flows from this.

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