One of the biggest challenges to applying any set of abstract principles, ideas or any philosophy to your life is this: Most people try to wear ideas as one would wear garments…they tend to wear these ideas on themselves, and believe that they are being rational or are properly following the idea or principle by doing that. The basis of that approach is what Ayn Rand calls being a Platonist, the belief that ideas exists as entities in some other realm, as opposed to being an *Aristotleian.
In the Art of Non-Fiction, Ayn Rand says (Pg 29)…” The purpose of philosopy is to guide a man in the course of his life. Unfortunately, many Objectivists have not fully accepted, concretised, and integrated this principle. For example, in the presence of a given event, work of art, person etc., too many Objectivists ask themselves, “What do I have to feel?” instead of, “What do I feel?” And if they need to judge a situation which I have not discussed before, their approach is, “What should I think?” instead of, “What do I think?” This is the childhood remnant of anyone who to some extent was influenced either by the religion of the culture or, later in college, by Platonism….”
I can think of an example to explain this point and bring out the problems that would follow. Let us suppose that an “Objectivist” knows twenty prospective women whom he could consider to pursue romantically (i am visualising that he is in a party surrounded by all of them…) And let us say, that the twenty of them are at different levels of ability, character, rationality etc…so they would have amongst them women who have no character and are pretty irrational, to ones who are slightly better, to ones who are more rational, to ones who are able and rational to ones who are pretty integrated, intense and developed. Now, how does an Objectivist who is basically a Platonist approach this situation. He will ask himself what is he supposed to do as an Objectivist? 🙂 (The answer is that he is supposed to value someone who is a heroine, who has a lot of character and ability as opposed to someone who is not). Based on this criterion, he tells himself that he “has to feel love and admiration for the heroine” amongst them and properly pursue her. ‘What he feels in the matter’, whether he desires her or would be happy with her would be besides the point for him.
Instead, what he should have asked himself is which out of the twenty would HE be happy with, irrespective of their level of character/ability. The point is that he will be happy only with somone who matches or comes close to his level of self-esteem..if he chooses someone below it, he will get bored of her, if he chooses someone above his level, she would frighten him and not value him as much…so, in any case, it would not work. Let us say that he himself is not very rational and has lot of flaws…so, as a natural response, he would get attracted to someone like him, who also has flaws.
Now here is the classical conflict for the Platonist Objectivists…’Reason’, seems to be telling them to pursue the heroine, but their ’emotions’ tells them to pursue the woman with flaws. Now, the Objectivist who is a Platonist, has also read somewhere that ‘one must never given in to his emotions and always follow reason’ (a statement least understood among “Objectivists”, I would say)…So, he would suppress what he really feels, and orders himself to start valuing (or at least pretending to value) the heroine.
Incidentally, as an aside, when he would approach the heroine, she would instantly sense that he is faking it, that he is artificial, doesn not really value her, but is imposing it on himself…in turn, the Objectivist would come out as dogmatic and find it difficult to mingle with her and make friends..it would never work. This also answers the first question as to why many of them find it difficult to make friends. Had he rather sought whom he found attractive, then he would be at ease, be his true self, and had found it very easy to strike to relate with her and strike friendship. Also, many of the Objectivist have a nagging fear that others will disapprove of their choice and judge them as being irrational…(“how can you possibly think of befriending Mary, who is so irrational, and not befriending Jane, who is such an achiever…you can’t be a true Objectivist..phew..”)
An example that comes to my mind from AR’s fiction, which is not the right example, is Peter Keating choosing to marry Dominique over Catherine. Mind you, Keating is not doing it for the above reasons, for him, marrying Dominique is more a practical advantage…but all the same, in the sense of the disastrous results, this example could suffice. Catherine is at Keating’s level of self-esteem, if he had married her, then both would have been happy, at least as happy as they could hope to be, with their internal flaws etc. But Dominique is way, way above Keating’s level of self-esteem, and Keating would never be comfortable or at ease with her, and Dominque would never find Keating exciting or worthy…in short, it would never work…and it doesn’t.
To sum up, the example of romantic love is just one example…most people have a similar approach to all aspects of their lives (with disastrous results) and that too, with the different aspects of any philosophy, be it at the level of understanding it, integrating it, or applying it. And when they find that ideas cannot be ‘worn’ like garments, they sooner or later discard the ideas…become cynical and give up attempting to live by any principles, as Shruti points out.
To generalise this point, let me use another example: Let us say that “Z” is the ideal action that one ought to take in a particular context, according to Objectivism. Also, one has to be at the level of ‘E’ in terms of maturity and proper habits, to actually have arrived at, both emotionally and practically to be able to take that action (in other words, one is at the stage where one actually values and desires to do “Z” from within, as opposed to imposing it on himself).
“E” would most likely be the stage at which Ayn Rand herself would have reached, in terms of personal development and integration, when she wrote about doing “Z’…Now, an aspiring Objectivist might be many counts below that level of “E” in terms of maturity, he might be, say, at the level of “A”. Now, what most people would do (and I have gone through this myself) is to impose that choice of “Z”, even if he is nowhere actually valuing it…this is what they think is being loyal to Objectivism is. This is the intrincists in action…”Z” is like a garment to be worn by him…To quote Ayn Rand again from the Art of Non-Fiction….”For example, in the presence of a given event, work of art, person etc., too many Objectivists ask themselves, “What do I have to feel?” instead of, “What do I feel?” ”
But since he is at the level of ‘A” and not at “E”, he will not be able meaningfully value or be happy with ‘Z”…what he should have done instead is accepted himself as he is, at the level of A, and done something appropriate to that level, say “M’ or N. That would be being true to yourself…at least having the courage and honesty to live by what one really is, rather than pretend to be better or bigger than one’s own shoes. At the same time, through an active mind and constant effort, he should have worked himself to evolve gradually from A to B to C to D to E…and when he would have reached the stage of E, he would have found that now, he naturally desires to do Z. Now it actually makes sense for him to do Z as he is happy doing it.
And the truth is, there is no other way….any other means is impractical and self-defeating…the person attempting it will sooner or later conclude that ideas or any philosophy is all meaningless and become cynical.
Notes: *The Aristotleian looks within his own experiences and primarily using his own judgement, forms and validates concepts while a Platonist seeks to find ready-made concepts evolved or floated by others and his primary focus, at best, is to be loyal to these ideas (such as being loyal to ‘Objectivism” or the ideas of X or Y or Z, as opposed to being loyal to his own judgement and grasp of reality…of course, to stand solely on one’s own judgement is a tall and scary task at times. This is not to say that one doesn’t learn anything from others, but that an Aritotelian treats what others have to say as ‘raw material’ to be processed and validated by his own mind, while a Platonist treats what others have to say as a ‘final product’ to be directly applied, consumed or worn by him/her).
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