Most people's New Year resolutions have to do with a new commitment to act in accordance with one's values. Little thought is given to the identification of the course of action that will lead to the realization of those values. Most non-Objectivists, especially those of the Pragmatist kind, consider the relation between values and actions intuitively obvious. Given what we now know, from advances in cognitive science, about the fallibility of intuition, an Objectivist will start the New Year with a principled, conceptual analysis of the actions needed to actualize one's values. The most general principles relating action to values constitute a strategy for the achievement of those values.
Why do Objectivists need a radical new strategy? Since Objectivism is the system of philosophical principles identified by Ayn Rand, is it not enough to follow Ayn Rand's own strategy from, say, 1964, as many Objectivists have been doing for much of the year 2009? Well, no, it isn't. Ayn Rand's 1964 strategy, in the Goldwater campaign, was so counterproductive to the achievement of Objectivist values that she never again collaborated with a Conservative (or "Libertarian") campaign or organization. The main result of 1964 was that by the end of the year, Ayn Rand's name was on the lips of multitudes of Libertarians and Conservatives, millions of whom would have called themselves Objectivists if Ayn Rand had not been alive to stop them. The subsequent drift of Conservatives in the direction of advocating a Christian Theocracy for America, and the drift of Libertarians toward advocating Anarchism - and the political empowerment derived by both from ripping off Ayn Rand's sound bites for use as slogans, in causes fundamentally opposed to her values of individual rights and of individuals using their minds in the service of their own lives and their happiness on Earth - have demonstrated Ayn Rand's wisdom in dissociating her philosophy from such followers. Rand herself followed a new strategy after 1964. By July 1966, she was ready to start publishing, in The Objectivist, her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.
In 2009, the same mindless multitudes of Libertarians and Conservatives found themselves again in need of slogans, and once again drafted Ayn Rand (who, being dead, could no longer object) into their service. In the intervening years, American Conservatives had became outright Christianists. As I documented in October (Three Democides by False Morality: Part III, The Ban On Cloning) the Conservative/Christianist movement eventually allied itself with the worst elements of the anti-technology Left to produce a de-facto (and increasingly de-jure) ban on medical research into cloning-based technologies to reverse organ failure. (And NO, this is not about stem cells: read my essay.) Man's natural lifespan is the lifespan that humans would enjoy by the natural use of Man's natural organ of survival: our minds. For every year of delay in the development of cloning-based cures for organ failure, around 3.8 million individual humans will die (more accurately, will have been murdered by the ban on cloning) short of their natural lifespan. We are now in the 12th year of the de-facto ban: a rough estimate of the number of individuals already murdered by our Christianists ("Conservatives") is 45 million and counting. Other things being equal, a human living today is ten million times more likely to die of Christianist democide than of Islamist terrorism. Yet while in 2009 many Objectivists spoke and wrote about the Islamist threat, the ongoing Christianist democide remains largely unmentioned, even among Objectivists, possibly from fear of alienating potential "allies" (of Objectivism?) in the Conservative movement.
Exposure of Ayn Rand and Objectivism in Conservative media has the direct negative consequence of energizing Conservative activism and bringing more Conservative politicians to power. This can only perpetuate the ongoing democidal restraints on medical cloning research, as well as conservative strangling of individual rights in the areas of freedom of speech, abortion, immigration, sexuality, medical relief of pain; and promote the ongoing subjectivization of "criminal justice," and, more generally, government-enforced adherence to Christian "moral standards." The supposed benefit is greater exposure of Objectivism. In the case of the more naive sections of the public, especially those indoctrinated into an anti-conceptual mentality by the Pragmatist comprachicos who run America's schools, this will mean greater use among the public of Ayn Rand quotes, not as principles but as slogans. More will self-identify as "Objectivists" and thus associate Objectivism, in the minds of their friends, contacts and neighbors, with whatever nonsense those self-identified "Objectivists" happen to favor. At the top, eventually we will find self-identified "Objectivists" in positions of political power. Given the enormous harm done to the reputation of Ayn Rand and Objectivism by just one Objectivism-plated Pragmatist, Alan Greenspan, the harm that could be done by future herds of Objectivism-plated Libertarians and Objectivism-plated Conservatives is best left to the imagination.
In "It Is Earlier Than You Think," published in December 1964, Ayn Rand demonstrates a method for formulating a new strategy. But to use her method in 2010, one must first account for what has changed.
In 1964, Marxism was the only significant ideology of academics around the world. Its only secular competitor in America was Pragmatism, an anti-intellectual anti-ideology relegated mainly to Schools of Education. Supernaturalism was on its last legs, leaving even theologians in a desperate quest for religion without God. Rand's strategy, in "It Is Earlier Than You Think," was to prepare Objectivists to do battle with the Marxists - and to fill the vacuum when Marxism collapsed.
Marxism collapsed much earlier than anticipated: it disconfirmed itself with the implosion of Communism in the late 1980s, long before there were enough Objectivist academics to step in its place. The vacuum was filled by a resurgence (more by bloating from gaseous putrefaction than from intellectual revival) of supernaturalism and Pragmatism. Both supernaturalism and Pragmatism interpreted the disconfirmation of Marxism as showing that it was futile for the human mind to attempt a principled, and applicable, understanding of human existence on Earth. With Marxism deflated,and Objectivists still waiting for tenure, supernaturalism and Pragmatism - each complementing the other, with the effect of a Hegelian "synthesis in praxis" -took over the academy and the culture.
One effect of the supernaturalist-Pragmatist takeover of American education and culture is that the typical American of 2010 lives in a state not merely of value-deprivation, as was already the case in 1964, but of concept-deprivation. Americans no longer hold what had been, from the re-discovery of Aristotle and Archimedes in the Renaissance to the collapse of Marxism in the 1980s, the central idea of Western Civilization: that reality can be made sense of by the human mind. The function of Pragmatist schooling is to keep the student's mind from ever reaching what Piaget calls the stage of "abstract operations." This means that exposure to Ayn Rand and Objectivism in the public arena does not function as exposure to Objectivist ideas, which would undermine and displace the results of supernaturalist and Pragmatist indoctrinations in the mind of the listener. All that happens is that statements of Objectivist ideas are added (as slogans, not as ideas) to the existing inchoate slurry of supernatural-Pragmatist notions in the listener's head. Working for mere exposure of Objectivist ideas in the public arena today is futility in action.
Before it again becomes possible for the bulk of Americans to understand Objectivism, one must restore their ability to think in concepts and principles, and give them confidence that reality can be made sense of by the human mind.
How can this be most effectively done?
I expect every Objectivist to defend his or her values against existential threats, including threats from the realm of politics and culture. It is right for health care professionals to fight their prospective enslavement, for businessmen to fight against non-objective laws and arbitrary regulations, for teachers to fight for the rights of their students, and for everyone to fight for the right to speak and act according to the judgment of his or her individual mind. It is possible, and desirable, to use every argument not only to defend the specific values at stake, but to demonstrate, implicitly or explicitly, the power of Objectivist epistemology. To break a culture that associates principles with un-Earthly supernaturalism, and facts with anti-intellectual Pragmatism, the Objectivist's arguments should insist on, and exploit, the Objectivist linkage between ideas and the facts of reality. (I offer this Op-Ed of mine as an example of how the two can be and ought to be linked.) For many of us, including this linkage in our everyday activism can be the easiest way to infiltrate Objectivist epistemology into the minds of our fellows.
For Objectivist academics and teachers, the deliverable is to replace Pragmatist curricula, Pragmatist textbooks and Pragmatist assessments of knowledge with conceptual, principled curricula, books and tests in the fields, disciplines and schools in which we teach. (As a kind of "demonstration project," I am now in the process of writing, together with John Drake, a radically new, conceptual, principled introductory text in Information Systems.) Nearly any field of study, at just about any level, can be used to introduce students to the art of conceptual thought. I plan to write more about this in the near future.
And, for just about every Objectivist in America, there is the option of running for, and serving on, the local school board, where even one Objectivist may be able to replace at least some Pragmatist syllabi with principled texts that teach the application of abstract conceptual thinking to the solution of real-world problems. In some fields such schoolbooks already exist, in English - but only abroad, from Ireland or India or South Africa or Singapore. As a former elected member of a local school board, this is another topic about which I plan to write at some length.
As Ayn Rand often reminds us, the advocacy of Objectivism is primarily - before anything else - the advocacy of reason. We now live in a culture in which hardly anyone knows what reason is. This will make effective advocacy of Objectivism in the coming decades a demanding - and rewarding - project for every Objectivist.