Gearing Down

Lanza Morio's picture
Submitted by Lanza Morio on Wed, 2006-06-07 10:00

Objectivism places us at an incredible advantage over the general population because we have better life-serving tools (Sanction of the Victim, A is A, Either-Or, Capitalism is good, Romantic Art gives us goose-bumps) than they do. There is a significant challenge in dealing with the population-at-large because we generally have to gear down to deal with them at all. In business I haven't found this to be a problem probably because we are there primarily to conduct business and that's it. But with family, friends, and new people I have to bite my toungue or, when I don't, their body language displays their discomfort and I become the bad guy for ruining Thanksgiving and making an in-law cry. So the gearing down becomes a habit because day after day we check our toungues at the door because we simply can't go around pointing out every atrocity we encounter.

I wonder if the Objectivists here (and you fakes among us) run into this and, if so, how you maximize the time spent in high gear.

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Perhaps the idea is to fight

Ross Elliot's picture

Perhaps the idea is to fight the fights that are worth fighting, and not merely the ones you can win, regardless of the outcome.

I've got so used to anti-American sentiment that I usually don't bother with it anymore. But, I'll take issue with specifics, and I know I've changed minds in the process. I've been particularly successful with converting people to the idea of private health care and private education.

It also helps to get people alone, or in small groups. Remember the old saying: a person is smart but people are dumb... or something like that.


atlascott's picture

I was more offensive that I meant to be, so if I offended, I apologize.

I have a sort of respect for anyone who seems to have some reason for their ideas and beliefs.  And I respect their right to come to their own ideas.  That doesn't mean I respect the ideas, just the person's right to hold whatever ideas they care to.  It may mean I conclude that they are stupid, dishonest, lazy, or unscrupulous. 

I can understand "Gearing Down" but I do not like the term, because it sort of does seem condescending.  But maybe it is accurate.


Lanza Morio's picture

So I gear down. Way down and keep the discussion to the superficial and just let her talk.

Bam Marnee. You hit it. That's just how to put it. They want to keep things superficial and not question any premises and unless you're willing to take the effort to prove them wrong (that is, if they would even listen) you have to go to the superficial level or else leave.


Lanza Morio's picture

Claudia, I relate. When I was younger I would argue until I KO'd them or else they became exhausted and gave in. And back then I didn't have a philosophical leg to stand on. It was all attitude and Socratic method. But now I take no pleasure in arguing. Winning an emotional argument gets me nothing. I do, of course, like to discuss things (things like this) so as to understand better.

I'm pretty good now at saying, "I disagree", and breezing by when someone makes a stupid emotional argument. So in that circumstance I'm good.

I Have No Patience For Po-Mo

Marnee's picture

To me gearing down means backing off, not necessarily dumbing down and NEVER what I took Phil and Scott to mean:

dumbing down + contempt

My sister is the perfect example of the gearing down with me. She is very liberal (sorta ex-commie) and has bought into lots of po-mo wankerism crap. I have very little patience for it. So I gear down. Way down and keep the discussion to the superficial and just let her talk. It is very frustrating. Fights at family get togethers are not cool.

It has become a habit for me in most social situations as well. I havent found an effective let alone pleasant way to confront people's mixed premises without making them uncomfortable. The Socratic Method may be less confrontational but it sure gets old and aimlessly pedantic* -- fast.

*A terrific line I shamelessly stole from the Reverdy character in Sparrowhawk.


Olivia's picture

Talking and living are inextricably bound, surely.

> PHIL - I don't personally

PhilipC's picture

> PHIL - I don't personally understand how you can have a relationship with a woman who can't even talk philosophy - given that it is the foundation of your sense of life. [Claudia]

Because, we didn't talk it, we lived it.

Doesn't mean there aren't a millon other interesting things to talk about besides philosophy. Or that you can't talk Oism with other people.


Olivia's picture

I know what you mean about gearing down because it feels like the people in the room can't handle it any other way.

I have had this happen so often that I, like Marnee, tend to stay home instead or else find myself at the center of a conflict - often with in laws or friends.

I came to see that this was an act of inauthenticity on my part. Something inside ME felt the need to gear down (either someone will be offended, or loaded silences permeate after I've spoken) - the point is, I felt uncomfortable with THEIR reactions to me.

Now, on principle, I will speak from where I'm at - and take the consequences. If rattled, I used to take the consequences with far too much aggression which usually ended up invalidating anything good I'm trying to say (I have a quick temper).
Then the need to be right would kick in - or rather, the need to be seen to be right by people I care about - instead of just an authentic desire to be so.

Can you relate to this at all?

PHIL - I don't personally understand how you can have a relationship with a woman who can't even talk philosophy - given that it is the foundation of your sense of life.

Sure Kelly, to gear down is

Lanza Morio's picture

Sure Kelly, to gear down is to bring your intellect down to a level that caters the discussion to the lowest common denominator of the group.

This might mean you discuss things at the level of their values which often have to do with them solving some problem or another. Or joking (the jokes are usually initiated by them) about their problems and inability to solve them.

Here is one fairly innocuous example of gearing down. About a month ago in Starbucks I sit down near a girl who is reading a book. I go about my business and at a break from my work I ask her what she's reading. She turns the book cover to me and it says, Atlas Shrugged. Cool! Great! I see that she's toward the end and say that it looks like she's in the middle of John Galt's speech. She's very nice and is enjoying the book. But it is clear that she is reading it not for the philosophy but for the excitement of the story. And that's fine, too. Let me make that absolutely clear: there is nothing wrong, bad, or lame about this girl's experience with Atlas Shrugged. Just the opposite. It's a fine thing no matter how you slice it.

For me, though, I know that there is a great deal to the book that she's currently missing and so to discuss the book at all I have to gear way down and talk about it at her level.

Now I enjoyed talking with this girl so good enough. But when most people flip over a book it will say, "Dealing with Co-Dependency" or "The Bible" or "Kurt Cobain: Hero" and I know right away that (chances are) I have to gear it down or simply vanish.

Examples are difficult to offer for this because they happen so often and are fairly benign case-by-case. It's the accumulation of gearing down that can, as Ross said, make you crazy or at least frustrated. My larger point about gearing down is not that we do it sometimes. That's understandable and even proper. But when it becomes habitual you go in expecting to gear it down and it puts you at odds, well, with just about everybody. It is actually that I do value the potential in people that I give them the chance to show me who they are (this is the opposite of what Scott said from what I can tell).

Marnee, I'd be interested to hear some of your examples because you probably have your own twist on it.

> Phil seem[s] to think they

PhilipC's picture

> Phil seem[s] to think they are nicer than the rest of the Objectivists

Marnee, that's an alteration of what I was saying.

Lance, I'm not sure I

User hidden's picture

Lance, I'm not sure I understand exactly what you mean by gearing down. If you mean, keeping off of subjects likely to make me unhappy in the company of non-O's, I do that all the time. But if you mean being less passionate, less certain, less alive, I'm with Linz. I am my own fanatical self, talking loud, using big gestures, telling it like it is, whether talking about epistemology with rational folks or about the X-Men movie with a stranger at the next table at the Mexican restaurant. Could you explain a little more clearly what you mean?



Lanza Morio's picture

Scott, I don't see anything in your posts that relate to gearing down.

Call me anti-social

Marnee's picture

Who are these people? Both Scott and Phil seem to think they are nicer than the rest of the Objectivists! HUH? I dont know any Objectivists that think non-Os are retarded or a waste of time. What in the world!?

Lance and Landon make the best points. Most people are interesting but the topic inevitably leads to politics and that is when the gearing down usually begins, for me at least. Its not easy.


atlascott's picture

And I certainly do not mean to suggest that anyone must be kind to or spend time with anyone other than whom they choose, by whatever criteria they choose.

I find is DIS-heartening that so many Objectivists evidently have placed themselves in a category where non-Objectivists or pre-Objectivists are presumed to be retarded or a waste of time.  Knowing and meeting and interacting with people is a great value to me.  I guess it is a joy that alot of Objectivists do not share.

No problems

atlascott's picture

I do not argue with people or make people cry.

I believe in freedom--for myself and others.  And that includes their right to be free from my intimidation or harassment.

Most people choose not to live explicitly, or take the time to choose what they believe and how they live.

That, too, is a choice.  But it is not my responsibility to educate them, cajole them, or explain things to them.

If someone makes a mis-statement about Objectivism, I correct them.  If they ask for my advice, I give it--and the underpinnings of how I arrived at the decision, the premises from which I operated in reasoning the decision out.  That's about it.  Just like if I were a Christian, I would still have a beer with a Buddhist or Jewish person, without preaching to them to trying to prove them wrong.

No one in my personal life is anything close to an Objectivist.  My family are all self-starters who don't like being meddled with by the govt, and fans of personal responsibility and 'do it yourself' attitudes.  They uniformly dislike dishonesty and the direction the US is headed in.

That's me, too, in a nutshell, and I think Objectivism explained and provided a better foundation fo r the ideas and beliefs. Turns out I actually agree with most of Objectivism after having read and studied and thought about it.

Don't make people cry or feel bad for no reason.  It's counter-productive.  If you really care about them, be supportive but firm--they are making abig mistake, and here's why...but its there life, and they can do whatever they think is proper.

That is the first and most important part of Objectivism in my opinion, and one of the most overlooked aspects--that Objectivism explicitly says that you should make up your own mind, not even Ayn Rand's ideas or decisions are correct unless YOU decide that they are, and no one has a right to tell you otherwise, because its your life.  I think it is clear that Ayn did not want people to just SAY that they believed in her ideas, ot to accept her ideas because she said so--I think she wanted people to really think about it and accept or challenge the ideas for themselves.  If more people understood that, Objectivism would less-frequently be labeled facsist, or nutty (e.g., where the term "Randroid" came from).

It's one thing to

Lanza Morio's picture

It's one thing to consciously gear down in a given circumstance. That's fine. The trouble is to gear down out of habit. To anticipate that those you meet will be unable to keep up. That sucks. But, for me, it's usually a case where I go in with high hopes and quickly see something that makes me lose interest. Then I gear down while I figure out what to do next. I think Landon's cost/benefit analysis is the best policy.

On a positive note, I do find that almost everyone has some fascination with something that is at least interesting. An interesting hobby or story or something. Maybe a guy is obsessed with aircraft carriers and can tell you about that.


Lanza Morio's picture

Yeah Marnee, the good news is that it only takes a handful of good people to keep it interesting. I have that but too many of them live far away.


Lanza Morio's picture

Landon, you are right with the cost benefit analysis idea. I've never gone wrong by asking myself, "Where does this place in my hierarchy of values?". My habit has long been to not ask that question and I still have to burn in it more.

This'll help. Smiling

> I have to bite my toungue

PhilipC's picture

> I have to bite my tongue [Lance]

I don't find this to be a problem and never have: I usually relate to people (and prefer to) on a sense of life level rather than a philosophical level.

And there are untold millions of people in America with a -great- positive, upbeat, common sense, down to earth, pro-life, pro-happiness, pro-success sense of life. And a great ability to live their lives well. In fact *better* than most students of Objectivism I've met (other than at summer conferences where the level is much higher). I find my "high gear" comes from living my life, rather than everyday philosophical discussions. So I don't find the absence of those..or confining those topics to my writing or occasional websites and discussion be gearing down. I find it to be (for me - contexts can differ somewhat) to be having mind and body and spirit in balance.


I tend to not want to get involved in political or philosophical discussions unless I sense there is a serious affinity, so I have a good sense when a discussion will "work" and how much of a discussion to get into. I'd rather convert people wholesale through writing than retail.

I had a long and good romantic relationship with a woman who had not a clue with regard to philosophy and I am very philosophical. But it didn't matter.


I have little problem relating to ordinary people and having friendships with them. One reason is that, unlike many Oists, I don't view them with contempt for not being Oists and try to hide it (which contempt tends to show...or be hidden by "staying in one's cubicle" throughout life -- a tragic mistake.)

Terrific Metaphor

Marnee's picture

Ohh Lance you got it right. I think this is why I have so few friends. Most of the time I avoid "going out" because the thought of having to gear down is just too unbearable. Usually I have to go through a sort of psyching myself up for it -- deeps breaths (ha!).

Its the people who bear me even at my most rabidly Randian that are closest to me and I absolutely cherish them.

Makes ya appreciate the close friends you do have and places like SOLO, fer sure.

Making Mom Cry

Landon Erp's picture

Been there a bit too often. Main thing I do is I just always try to keep a cost benefit analysis going at all times, if an opportunity comes up to discuss something (or something really bad happens that I can effectivly explain) I go into high gear. Rest of the time you have to force conversation out of me so I guess low gear can come easy for me.


Inking is sexy.

Low Gear?

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I don't know what "low gear" is. Lance, you'll have to teach me. Smiling


High gear? I go to other

Victor Pross's picture

High gear? I go to other sites--Marxists and/or Religionists--and rip into a jugular. Now ask me if I care about sending someone away crying.

Personally, Lance--and I'm

Ross Elliot's picture

Personally, Lance--and I'm dead serious about this--it's the high gear that keeps me *sane*.

But, I know what you mean. I said somewhere once that everything we see or hear is run through an Objectivist filter in our heads. It's automatised and one sure way to make yourself go crazy-nuts is to try and deny it; to suppress or temper it.

I've developed survival strategies (mainly involving lots of alcohol) to avoid getting thrown out of people's houses. We all have, but sometimes you've gotta let rip.

The high gear? Well, SOLO's here for a reason, you know Eye

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