In my book, Towards Liberalism: A Challenge to Objectivist Ethics, I have identified what I now call “Objectivist Blind Spots.” I have identified 10.
Objectivists think they have all the answers to the major, pressing life problems. But like all ideologies, it’s just a thought system that fails to satisfactorily answer the life problems it says it solves. It just turns into a system of ever expanding rules, domination, and control.
As with all poor thought systems, it is in its blind spots that you can dismantle it. Of course–good luck getting its adherents to see it tends to be exasperating. Ideologies never like seeing the damage they do, believing so hard it is something outside of the ideology that causes the damage.
Objectivist Blind Spots:
1. They see no connection between the philosophy and the bad behavior of its adherents
Objectivists are notoriously caustic, judgmental, and abusive. I argue this has to do with the philosophy itself, which lacks empathy. This is in alignment with what abuse counselor Lundy Bancroft says: abusers have a distorted sense of right and wrong. They feel profoundly justified in their abuse, as part of their ethical framework says it’s OK. And defining right and wrong is exactly what Objectivism does. Objectivists feel good about themselves when they give what they think are intellectually devastating arguments, laced with abusive commentary, as they think they are advancing a “rational” society.
The irony is they think philosophy drives the core of a person. Rand literally says you drive your emotions and if you find yourself in a bad position to “check your fuel.” But when you point out this link between Objectivist’s abusive behavior and the philosophy, they reel, “well the adherents don’t indict the philosophy!” This philosophy which proposes to tell them what to do in almost every area of their life.
2. They think they have defined all of human nature
Objectivism declares man as a “rational animal.” When I argue that this is too narrow of a definition and ignores too much about humans, I get told, “but it’s just a basic scientific definition that separates us from animals!” Yeah but you take this “basic” scientific definition and build an elaborate moral-political system based on it. They identify who is moral and who is immoral, who deserves political protection and who doesn’t. It has profound effects in all areas of life. The other parts of humans, their emotional, instinctual, visceral side—the stuff that truly humanizes us—is ignored. And it’s not just ignored; Rand advocates to dominate these parts with the rational mind. All because of this “basic scientific definition.”
3. It outlines that all emotions can be controlled
Rand has elaborate thoughts on emotions. All of Objectivism is basically crawling into a person to set their value system such that their automatic emotional appraisals in life aid in their daily survival. Rand says your thinking sets your values, therefore sets your emotions.
My main argument to Rand is that she has no system of thought for how to handle emotions as they arise in daily life. She sees emotions as something you discipline to do work for you, like taming a horse. But emotions can be more like a wild horse that bucks up and runs away. What then? Objectivism has no answer. And these wild, raging emotions are where much human strife comes from. She offers no healthy way to deal with them. Thinking you have total control over your emotions, that you can set them to basically do what you want for you ahead of time, is dangerous territory. Hence it is Objectivist Blind Spot #3.
4. Rand does not allow you to defend yourself
Rand’s views on gun control itself are a bit vague. This is mostly because she agrees you might own a gun to hunt. But she does worse than deny a person gun rights. Her views on self-defense are clear: you have a right to self-defense, but you personally do not have the right to enact it. You must defer this to the government. She makes her arguments by taking the reader’s mind to other places than the issue at hand: what if your life is immediately threatened? She doesn’t discuss it. She doesn’t really grant that you have a right to save your life in an immediately threatening moment. She explicitly writes that you do not have the right to the retaliatory use of force, as your “whims” cannot be trusted, let alone given the power of a gun. That she purposely distracts the reader’s mind from this very important point and leaves a person defenseless more than makes this Objectivist Blind Spot #4.
5. It denies the authentic feedback that emotions give us
Rand declares one must “always know the motives” for what they are doing. Reason isn’t just a focusing of the mind, it’s an all-encompassing thing to her, to do in every moment of your life. If you have some little voice telling you something isn’t right, this is seen as irrational intuition. So, if your conscious mind is telling you something is right, but your own body is rebelling, you override it. And this is an especially bad blind spot. As Objectivism is failing you and you feel terrible about it, you are left to feel you failed rather than something about Objectivism is failing you. This blind spot serves to keep Objectivism entrenched in a person when all other warning signs should be telling a person to reject it.
6. It demotes therapies that could heal trauma as “immoral”
In this book, I outline how Rand does this for music, but it can apply to any similar situation. For music, Rand demotes music that might simply makes one feel good as that meant for dull people. She theorizes that bringing objectivity to music might mean that the more complex the music is, the “better” it is, and a “better sort” of man would like it. In doing this, she denies music’s role in healing people. She tends to get especially testy about anything that could heal trauma, such as “monotonous” music or validating art. That she pathologizes practices that have healing effects makes this Objectivist Blind Spot #6.
7. It denies that outside forces might affect a person
Rand outright mocks that outside forces might influence a person or their ability to succeed, or, rather, anyone who suggests as much. And yet, almost all successful therapies focus on helping a person see the bigger picture. Your failures in life probably weren’t because you personally made terrible decisions. Something bigger at play was likely going on. That Objectivism denies that other factors do influence human life, ones we haven’t even yet discovered, more than makes this an Objectivist Blind Spot.
8. It does not ethically uphold quality child raising
Objectivists might argue that raising children properly is “implicit” in Objectivism. This plain isn’t good enough. They don’t understand what quality childcare is. They have no idea how much work and dedicated effort it requires—if they did, they would uphold it in their ethical system. It’s only implicit in that children are expected to conform to the poorly thought out Objectivist ideal: taking a child born “tablula rasa,” blank, and turning them into a rational producer. This by nature engenders a heavy handed, authoritarian approach, where children are pushed to the peripheral.
9. It denies the identity and needs of half of the human race
Rand only references “man” in her work. When I say this, people always insist, “well she means women too.” Yeah, well, women are different than men. Women don’t just fold into men’s agendas and typical thought patterns. They have different bodies, different needs, different sexualities, and almost always different prescribed roles in society. What their difference is—an entire reproductive capability—is nowhere in formal Objectivist ethics. Rand says the most feminine look of all is being “chained.” Think about it.
10. It has no moral underpinning for abundant (“metaphysical”) wealth like land
Rand based all of her politics off of her morality, and her morality says man is a rational producer who must produce everything to live. This isn’t true. Some wealth, like the air, land, water, and raw resources, are readily abundant. Their care is also not intuitively obvious, such as taking care of the environment. Objectivism can offer no good insight into the management of these things, because its moral underpinning ignores their very existence. This makes this Objectivist Blind Spot #10.
Objectivists are so very arrogant about how they study and understand reality better than you, you irrational hedonist. But it’s in their blind spots that you can dismantle this system.
See my book Towards Liberalism.