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New Rules for Rand Criticism
Submitted by Chris Cathcart on Wed, 2010-12-29 13:13
(Originally published at TheUltimatePhilosopher.com)
I have made the following integration: Approximately 99.9% of critical commentary out there on Ayn Rand can be summarily dismissed as lacking certain minimum qualifications. The chief minimum qualification I have in mind is a working familiarity with Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.
That may not even be enough. I think the standards may have to be made more stringent than that, to ensure quality-control. As far as I'm concerned, a working familiarity with OPAR only gets you in the front door, onto the consideration list as it were. What would ensure quality control and prima facie status as someone with a clue is a familiarity with Peikoff's Understanding Objectivism course, and a familiarity with his advanced seminar course on OPAR would be a much-desired icing on the cake.
Short of that, it's pretty much a crap shoot whether you're getting commentary from someone with a clue. The minimum qualifications otherwise would make the number of qualified commentators verge on the vanishingly small. It would probably take, at minimum, some advanced training in philosophy, a solid background in Aristotelianism, and a keen awareness of Rand's place in the neo-Aristotelian tradition. Dougs Rasmussen and Den Uyl make the cut. That's about it. The number is frighteningly small in any event.
(I'll merely mention that the noteworthy academic commentary on Ayn Rand to date has been from those with a very favorable view of Rand overall. Pieces like Nozick's "On the Randian Argument" do not qualify as noteworthy even in this context; it's telling that the Dougs' response to that piece has never been answered, in over 30 years. There's a reason for that.)
One of Rand's associates interviewed for 100 Voices mentioned how Rand made her speeches in Atlas as lengthy as she did because she wanted to ensure that she would not be misunderstood, that she wanted to cover all the bases (in essentialized terms, of course). The interviewee goes on to mention how even that didn't help much - as evidenced by how intellectual thugs such as Whittaker "Gas" Chambers seemingly went out of their way to misunderstand it all, the fuckers. Clearly "familiarity" with the novels has guaranteed nothing by way of solid understanding in the popular culture. Too many goddamned hooligan thugs running around screwing up the discourse - and way too many without any philosophical sophistication whatsoever. Not to mention all the hooligan thugs that became cultist followers whom Rand wanted nothing to do with. (Not that you'd ever hear about her disdain for the cultists from the outsider thugs who call her a cult. Oh, in this context, Michael Shermer gets the boot unless or until he shapes up.)
It's also worth pointing out here that Understanding Objectivism served as a wake-up call to Objectivists who had been studying the printed works for years. There really was no substitute for years-on-end, first-hand interaction with Miss Rand. (I'll mention, as I have in the past, that John Hospers, a professionally-trained and widely-respected philosopher, was influenced tremendously by his own couple years of extensive interaction. You just never hear about that from the legions of neck-wringing-worthy thugs, now do you.) The Peikoff courses are the closest thing the general public has. When Peikoff introduced to Objectivist audiences the concept of rationalism and its insidiously destructive effects, it's like a veil had been lifted for many. (Hyper-rationalism is standard M.O. in academic philosophy, FWIW. There's a reason Rand found herself fundamentally at odds with the academy in her day. Perhaps it's getting better now with the modest influx of Aristotelian influence.) The concept of methodological integration is almost unknown outside of the circle of people familiar with these lectures. Not even "spiral progression of knowledge" appears in the Ayn Rand Lexicon, but it's partly definitive of a healthy, well-lubricated cognitive process.
To even so much as have a cognitively-clear, schmutz-free grasp of what Rand was ever getting at - and the clear thought is all hers, not her critics'; they only wish their cognitive processes were clear - requires a certain (re-)wiring of the mind/brain well removed from that of the mainstream "norm." (Did I also mention in a recent blog entry that Kubrick stood out far ahead of everyone else, and his cognitive processes were normal in the true sense of the term? The mainstream is a swamp.) The standard criticisms - you know how they go, they're so fucking cliche'd by now you can rattle 'em off like any old thug who doesn't engage in mental effort - have some kind of inbuilt misunderstanding-bias. None of that is surprising if the critics have - unbeknownst to them - been Comprachico-ized by the schools. That guarantees a lack of ability to handle serious ideas generally; the cognitive deficiency can only be multiplied when the ideas in question are Rand's. And no academic-level criticism is going to gain any headway without first making it past the quality-control committee at the Ayn Rand Society. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Distinguished Professor Leiter.
So, if you're one of those serious students of Objectivism who is sick and fucking tired of the same ol' same ol' about Rand wafting around in the culture, whenever you read some commentary or criticism that so much as suggests the critic doesn't know what he's talking about, just invoke the New Rules:
(1) Is the person familiar with OPAR? (This usually disqualifies the critic right off the bat.)
That's gotta remove 99% of the stuff out there from serious consideration already. You may not even need to consider the contextually-optional Fourth Rule:
(4) Is the person familiar with Peikoff's major Objectivism courses? (This narrows the field way down.)
By the way, FYI: if you don't know what "contextually-optional" might refer to, you are disqualifed from serious consideration as Rand-critic. Ahhhh, ya see how easy it is to wipe away the otherwise aggravating mainstream and/or second-rate schmutz, once you've integrated and automatized the Rules? Go ahead, it's for your mental health - just wipe away "Gas" Chambers and Anne Hellish and the rest of their rationally-non-integratable ilk from your cognitive field of vision, like so much bug-splat from windshield, and pay them no further heed. It's very refreshing!
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